With Dmitry Medvedev set to be inaugurated as Russian president in May and to name his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, to serve as prime minister, speculation over the likely composition of the next presidential administration and the next cabinet has been intensifying.
According to Ekho Moskvy radio correspondent Yevgeny Buntman, the current head of the Kremlin administration, Sergei Sobyanin, who headed president-elect Dmitry Medvedev’s election campaign, may leave his post either to replace Yuri Luzhkov as Moscow mayor or become a deputy prime minister. Buntman said Sobyanin himself may be replaced as presidential administration chief by Igor Shuvalov, the Putin aide seen as a key figure in the “liberal wing” of the Kremlin. “Analysts note that Shuvalov’s arrival will above all strengthen the positions of the so-called ‘old Kremlin-ites’ who lost influence with the appearance of Petersburg natives in all branches of power,” Buntman said. “And a case in point is, above all, former [Kremlin] administration chief Alexander Voloshin, whose shadow many see behind the figure of Shuvalov.”
Buntman said that Igor Sechin, the long-time Putin associate and deputy Kremlin administration chief who is frequently identified as the de facto head of the faction of security services veterans known as the siloviki, will likely leave his post in the Kremlin administration. He will either become head of the Putin cabinet’s apparatus, with the rank of deputy prime minister, or remain without a formal government post while “devoting himself completely to the leadership of Rosneft,” the state oil company whose board he currently heads, and therefore the de facto head of “Russian oil in general.”
Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, according to Buntman, is likely to replace Medvedev as chairman of the board of Gazprom and may also become prime minister Putin’s first deputy. Buntman said that Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and Alexander Zhukov will both undoubtedly retain their deputy prime minister ranks, with Kudrin continuing to head the Finance Ministry and Zhukov exclusively involved in preparing for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, said Buntman, may return to the post he held eight years ago, that of secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council, with the rank of deputy prime minister (but not that of first deputy prime minister). Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov is unlikely to be replaced, given that he is conducting “an implacable fight against corruption in the army,” Buntman said.
Another key personnel issue is the Moscow mayor’s post, given that Luzhkov’s retirement has been expected for some time. According to Buntman, aside from Sergei Sobyanin, other possible candidates to succeed Luzhkov included Igor Shuvalov, Kremlin property manager Vladimir Kozhin and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin (“Vlast,” RTVi, Ekho Moskvy, March 14).
Meanwhile, Mikhail Rostovsky wrote in Moskovsky Komsomolets that life in the Russian White House, the headquarters of the prime minister and his government, is basically “frozen,” with the agendas for government meetings having been reduced to a minimum. “Everyone, naturally, is guessing at the new composition of the government,” he wrote. “And everyone realizes that prognoses that are even slightly accurate are impossible.” According to Rostovsky, Putin himself is of course working on the make-up of the new government. However, former Kremlin administration chief Alexander Voloshin, who has an office across from the Baltschug Kempinski Hotel in Moscow, is also working on “momentous administrative plans,” while presidential aide Igor Shuvalov, who formerly headed the governmental apparatus, is doing much the same. In addition, Nikolai Kropachev, rector of St. Petersburg State University and a close friend of Medvedev, is working on similar “projects.” “What will come out of the interbreeding of all these numerous plans – God only knows,” Rostovsky wrote.
Rostovsky said that a majority of his sources believe Putin’s cabinet will be distinguished by an “impressive number” of deputy prime ministers – eight or possibly even nine, which is more than any cabinet since the one that Viktor Chernomyrdin headed in 1996. He said the current prime minister, Zubkov, is the “most obvious” choice to be one of those deputy prime ministers, noting that, according to “government apparatchiks,” Zubkov has been given tasks that cannot be finished before May and is also a “semi-official candidate” to the post of Gazprom board director, which is traditionally held by a deputy prime minister.
Meanwhile, the figure of Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin is the subject of major “intrigue,” Rostovsky wrote. While he is the government’s “indisputable economic star,” who was even able to force Zubkov to back down from holding a meeting on the future of the Stabilization Fund, “Kudrin’s opponents from among the siloviki have long hungered to remove him from the Finance Ministry” but were only able to get a “consolation prize” in the form of the arrest of Kudrin’s deputy Sergei Storchak on corruption charges last November. “Now they have the chance to recoup their losses,” Rostovsky wrote of the siloviki. It should be noted that President-elect Medvedev met with Kudrin on March 14. According to Interfax, the two discussed “issues concerning the fine-tuning of executive power in the country.”
Whatever shape the executive branch ends up taking in May could be transitional and short-term. Citing veteran apparatchiks, Rostovsky wrote: “The main source of danger is that a deep split exists, as before, in the midst of the Russian siloviki. The ‘Sechin clan’ and the ‘Cherkesov clan’ are firmly disposed toward, if not destroying, then maximally weakening one another.” As a result, according to Rostovsky, many officials are even welcoming the prospect of losing their jobs in the post-election shake-up because they would prefer that to getting caught in the crossfire between the warring clans (Moskovsky Komsomolets, March 17).