Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 62

For months now, observers have been predicting that President Vladimir Putin would begin his long-awaited government reshuffle by replacing Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Kasayanov and the other members of the cabinet’s economic team, however, managed to keep their jobs–at least thus far. The main changes were instead in the so-called “power ministries” (see previous story). In announcing the cabinet changes, Putin called them the “logical conclusion to the completion of our bid to modernize the country’s military structure,” stressing that reform of Russia’s armed forces required a civilian defense minister–a term which, if you can call a career officer in the Soviet KGB and Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and Federal Security Service (FSB) a civilian, applies to Ivanov. Last November, Putin signed a decree giving Ivanov, then a lieutenant general in the security services, civilian status, which furthered fuelled growing speculation that he was being groomed to become either prime minister or defense minister (AFP, Russian agencies, March 28; RFE/RL, November 10, 2000; see also the Monitor, January 30, February 1, 28).

While Putin’s military reform plans undoubtedly played a role in the shake-up, a number of observers said that his primary motive for the changes was political: Putin simply decided it was time to place the country’s two primary armed forces–those of the Defense and Interior ministries–under men completely loyal to him. According to a widely held view, Ivanov, who served as Putin’s deputy when the president-to-be was FSB director and Security Council secretary, Ivanov had already become the second most powerful man in the country–as a kind of de facto vice president (according to some rumors, Putin even considered reviving the vice presidential post and giving it to Ivanov). For his part, Boris Gryzlov is known above all for his total devotion to the president, and only this factor can explain why he was rewarded the Interior Ministry portfolio despite having no experience in police or security work–unlike, for example, his fellow Unity member Aleksandr Gurov, who is a former Interior Ministry major-general–and following his less-than-elegant handling of the recent no-confidence vote in the State Duma (see the Monitor, March 14; Fortnight in Review, March 16). Indeed, the loyalty factor was the source of derisive comments from some Kremlin critics yesterday. Viktor Shenderovich, creator of NTV television’s satirical puppet show Kukly and host of its satirical news analysis program Itogi, called Gryzlov’s appointment a “powerful personnel move,” noting that Gryzlov had once said he would leap out of a window if Putin ordered it. “It seems he’s already in the process of doing so,” Shenderovich quipped. Valeria Novodvorskaya, leader of the small Democratic Union party and a virulent radical democratic critic of Putin, said of the cabinet reshuffle: “[Putin] knows that it is necessary from time to time to give dogs pieces of biscuit. And Gryzlov is better than some poodle, except that he doesn’t bring slippers in his mouth. The president loves all of his dogs, but the number of lucrative spots are limited, so that there will either be more resignations or new positions created” (Kommersant, March 29).

While some might consider Novodvorskaya’s characterization a bit crude and harsh, a number of observers agreed that Putin’s cabinet reshuffle was aimed not only at consolidating his grip over the power ministries, but doing so at the expense of the main force which has heretofore prevented him from acting as a free agent–the holdovers from the Yeltsin-era inner circle. Among them was Vladimir Rushailo, the now former interior minister and a reputed ally of Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, the oil baron and Chukotka governor. While Rushailo’s successor, Boris Gryzlov, has never served in the Interior Ministry and is expected to need time to get his bearings there, a ministry veteran, Vladimir Vasiliev, will be his deputy. Vasiliev, until yesterday a deputy to Sergei Ivanov at the Security Council, was previously a deputy interior minister, before being purged by Rushailo. Now, as Gryzlov’s deputy and the person likely to run the Interior Ministry for a time, Vasiliev is likely to show little mercy for Rushailo’s allies in the ministry (Vremya Novostei, March 29). Meanwhile, observers were virtually unanimous in predicting that the Security Council, which had gained unprecedented influence under Ivanov, will now, under Rushailo, go back to being a strictly advisory body, while the Defense Ministry’s influence was likely to increase.

The ouster of Yevgeny Adamov as nuclear power minister can also be seen as a move which weakens the influence of the Yeltsin-era “Family.” According to a report by the State Duma’s anticorruption commission, Adamov, described yesterday by Irina Khakamada of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) as “a serious lobbyist who was connected to Boris Berezovsky,” channeled the ministry’s deals through Konversbank, a controlling share of which was subsequently sold to MDM-Bank, an institution connected to Abramovich and Aleksandr Mamut, another Yeltsin-era Kremlin insider. This gave MDM control over a US$12 billion contract for processing weapons-grade plutonium, among other things. The Duma report also alleged that Adamov served as president of a U.S. consulting firm and had a home and bank accounts in the United States while service as nuclear power minister. Adamov also pushed a controversial bill which would have allowed spent nuclear fuel to be imported into Russia (Moscow Times, March 5). On March 22, the State Duma postponed considering that bill in the face of growing opposition. Adamov’s successor, Aleksandr Rumyantsev, director of Moscow’s Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, said yesterday, however, that he supported the importation of spent nuclear fuel (ORT, March 28; Greenpeace.org, March 22).

Khakamada and fellow SPS leader Boris Nemtsov hailed Adamov’s dismissal yesterday. Nemtsov also said he provisionally welcomed Ivanov’s appointment as defense minister, as long as the former Security Council secretary genuinely carried out military reform (Russian agencies, March 28). The business newspaper Vedomosti, however, warned that the Defense Ministry, transformed into a “super-department” under Ivanov, could become a “hotbed of isolationist policy” which could come into conflict with the “liberal aspirations” of the economic ministers–meaning Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who is also finance minister (Vedomosti, March 29). Ivanov has, among other things, strongly criticized NATO and U.S. plans for a national missile defense. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, meanwhile, welcomed the ministerial shake-up.

In his speech announcing the changes, Putin promised that there would soon be other dismissals which would “attract the attention of society.” Most observers agreed that Prime Minister Kasyanov, another Yeltsin-era insider, looked particularly glum yesterday (NTV, Russian agencies, March 28).