Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 98

Mikhail Kasyanov’s confirmation as Russia’s new prime minister, according to some observers, marks a defeat for the advocates of radical pro-market reforms who, until now, have been seen as having the ear of President Vladimir Putin. The State Duma yesterday voted overwhelmingly to confirm Kasyanov, 325 to 55, with 15 abstentions. Kasyanov received unanimous support from the pro-Putin Unity and People’s Deputy factions, from former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s Fatherland-All Russia faction and by Vladimir Zhirnovosky’s LDPR. Only one of the Union of Right-Wing Forces’ twenty-eight Duma members voted against Kasyanov. A majority of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) faction–thirty-six members–voted against Kasyanov, while twenty-eight voted for him. Among those independent deputies who voted for Kasyanov were Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky. The two Kremlin-connected tycoons are said to be close to Kasyanov–an assertion the new prime minister has denied. A majority of Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko voted against Kasyanov (Russian agencies, May 17).

On May 16, the day before his confirmation, Kasyanov met with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) faction in the State Duma. He reportedly told its members that he had not even read the economic program written by the Center for Strategic Research, the think-tank led by Deputy Property Minister German Gref, which has been widely touted as “Putin’s think-tank.” At the same time, Kasyanov said he had read an alternative economic program drafted by Yuri Maslyukov, the KPRF economist who served as first deputy prime minister in Yevgeny Primakov’s government (Kommersant, May 17). Maslyukov once headed Gosplan, the Soviet state economic planning body, where Kasyanov also once worked. Kasyanov told the KPRF that Maslyukov’s program and that of the government “coincided” in several areas–above all “in relation to the use of investment to lift the economy.” Some observers interpreted this to mean the use of state or state-guaranteed credits, not private investment. In his speech to the Duma yesterday, Kasyanov said the government would consider various economic plans, including the Gref center’s, in early June (Russian agencies, May 17).

In the view of some observers, the Gref program would have a chance of being realized in full if Gref himself were made a first deputy prime minister in the new cabinet. Kasyanov, however, will not have a first deputy. Even if the Gref program falls by the wayside, of course, it does not mean that Kasyanov is poised to adopt the KPRF program. Yet the new prime minister seems not to share the goals of de-bureaucratizing the economy and shrinking the level of state involvement in the economy which has been expressed by members of the Gref center, Andrei Illarionov, Putin’s economic adviser, and some members of the SPS. Indeed, some members of Gref’s team seem to have sensed that they are losing–or have lost–the battle for influence over Putin. Yevgeny Yasin, the former economics minister who now heads the Higher School of Economics and has advised the Gref center, predicted yesterday that Gref’s program would be adopted by the Kasyanov government, but with “modifications.” Vladimir Mau, a liberal economist on the Gref team, said the government’s economic decisions would depend on the “political situation” in the country, and that the strong economic growth envisaged in the Gref plan would depend on the government carrying out “a responsible economic policy” (Russian agencies, May 17). These were hardly votes of confidence.

Other observers have been more blunt–and, from a liberal point of view, gloomy–about what Kasyanov’s appointment means. According to an analysis posted this week on Polit.Ru, a news/analytical website, Kasyanov’s appointment shows that Russia’s leadership has staked on an “Asian model” of economic development–meaning “capitalism with a weak competitive environment, paltry development of small- and medium-sized businesses and five to ten powerful private-state holdings, [which are] provided with preferences and protection by the entire state machine” (Russian agencies, May 16).