Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 66

President-elect Vladimir Putin is likely to be inaugurated as Russian head of state on May 7, according to Aleksandr Veshnyakov, chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC). In an interview aired yesterday, Veshnyakov said that the CEC plans to issue the official results of the March 26 presidential election on April 7. By law, the new president takes office 30 days after the official election results are released. Veshnyakov said Putin’s (still unofficial) total currently stands at 52.9 percent of the vote (RTR, April 2). While the official election results have not yet been released, a battle is already brewing to influence Putin’s choices to head his new government and staff the new cabinet. Putin is likely to unveil his new cabinet shortly after his inauguration.

According to one analysis, three main groups are vying for influence over the president-elect (NTV, April 2). One is the so-called “St. Petersburg” group, which includes the economist German Gref, first deputy property minister and the head of the Center for Strategic Research, Putin’s policy think tank; Aleksei Kudrin, deputy finance minister; Ilya Klebanov, the deputy prime minister who oversees the military-industrial complex; and Valentina Matvienko, the deputy prime minister in charge of social policy. Gref promised last week that Putin’s economic policy, which is also supposed to be unveiled in May, would involve “radical” market-oriented reforms, including significant tax cuts. Gref also insisted that the economic program being produced by his Center, which includes such well-known economists as Vladimir Mau and Yevgeny Yasin, a former economics minister, will be the one that Putin implements (Russian agencies, March 30).

Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russia’s controversial privatization program who now heads United Energy Systems, the country’s electricity grid, remains the unofficial leader of the St. Petersburg group, and is reportedly working behind the scenes to get some of its members into Putin’s next cabinet. Kudrin is reportedly being considered either for the post of finance minister or of first deputy prime minister in charge of economic policy. Gref, meanwhile, is being discussed as a likely candidate for the post of economics minister (Reuters, April 2). Chubais himself, however, is unlikely to receive a cabinet post, given his overall unpopularity in the country because of his association with privatization. Publicly, Putin has kept his distance from Chubais, and in one of the interviews used in “In the First Person: Conversations with Vladimir Putin,” the president-elect criticized Chubais’ “Bolshevik” approach while praising his managerial skills.

The main rival to the St. Petersburg group is the one which reportedly includes such leading “oligarchs” as Boris Berezovsky, founder of the LogoVAZ automobile concern, and Roman Abramovich, head of the Sibneft oil company. Both men are now deputies in the State Duma. Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin and First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov are said to be close to this group. Kasyanov is widely seen as the leading candidate to become the next prime minister.

It is not clear whether there are any major policy differences between this group and the St. Petersburg group. However in Russian politics, policy usually takes a back seat to power struggles. Thus it is no surprise that the two rival groups have already started throwing mud at one another. For example, in an interview last month, Berezovsky described Gref as a “weak person” who “doesn’t understand basic issues” (Vedomosti, March 24). Earlier in March, a Berezovsky-owned newspaper alleged that Gref had been connected to four corruption cases while serving in St. Petersburg’s privatization agency, and that a witness to a bribe taken by Gref was murdered. The newspaper provided no proof for the allegation (Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 16).

Meanwhile, allies of Chubais, including former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, have accused Viktor Kaluzhny, the fuel and energy minister and a reported ally of the Berezovsky-Abramovich group, of being involved in a corrupt oil deal earlier this year. Kaluzhny’s accusers allege that he asked the State Customs Committee to allow a private company to re-export some one-and-a-half million tons of oil from Kazakhstan without paying export tariffs. According to Kirienko, this deal would cost the state more than US$350 million in direct and indirect losses from unpaid tariffs (Russian agencies, March 31).

The third group which is reportedly vying for influence over Putin represents such “power ministries” as the Federal Security Service (FSB), which Putin headed before becoming prime minister last year. This group reportedly includes FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev and his deputy, Viktor Cherkesov, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev (NTV, April 2). Both Cherkesov and Ivanov, also a career state security officer, have been close to Putin, and Cherkesov is reportedly in the running to replace Patrushev as FSB chief. In the 1980s, Cherkesov led a crackdown against political dissidents in St. Petersburg while working for the KGB.

A fourth group that reportedly has influence over Putin’s Kremlin is the Alfa Group, the financial-industrial group headed by Pyotr Aven, its founder and president, and Mikhail Fridman, its chairman. Aven recently said he urged Putin last year not to shut down NTV, the television channel belonging to Media-Most that has been critical of the Chechen war and Putin himself. Aven, however, has urged Putin to follow the model of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. This, in Aven’s view, would mean the use of extra-judicial force to fight crime, corruption and bring Russia’s oligarchs and regional leaders into line (see the Monitor for March 31).