Publication: Prism Volume: 6 Issue: 6

By Elena Dikun

As expected, the Russian government was formed without any revolutionary changes of personnel, but the ideology behind the selection of individuals was very highly charged. Essentially, the president was caught in the cross-fire between two influential groups–the “Family” (represented by Aleksandr Voloshin) and the right-wingers and “neutral” members of the St. Petersburg government (represented by Anatoly Chubais). Both cliques were fighting to secure important cabinet posts for their representatives. One senior member of the Kremlin administration summed up the results this way: “Vladimir Putin did not want to jeopardize his relations with either group, so he sensibly acceded to the wishes of both.”

The skirmish was perhaps most clearly evident in the struggle which developed around Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny, whose job prospects became a matter of principle for both groups. Public ultimatums were issued. Sergei Kirienko (at the time still the leader of the Union of Right Forces [SPS] in the Duma) announced that the Right would only support Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov’s government on condition that Kalyuzhny was not in it. This ultimatum was not delivered to Kasyanov, of course, because he had no say in the forming of his own government. The Right, just like Kalyuzhny’s defenders from the Voloshin-Abramovich-Berezovsky-Dyachenko-Yumashev team, were putting the pressure on Putin.

Deciding Kalyuzhny’s fate would not have presented many problems for Putin, however. When presented with a new candidate one has to make inquiries, speak with the candidates’s former colleagues, request reports from the intelligence services and the Prosecutor General’s Office. But Putin had been working with Kalyuzhny since August of last year, and if he had not been able to form an opinion about Kalyuzhny’s professional suitability in eight months, then a few days more would not shed any further light. The longer the Kalyuzhny issue dragged on, the more it pointed to the fact that Putin’s decision depended on the outcome of a battle going on behind him. But something occurred which made the “Kalyuzhny question” a matter of honor for Putin.

This was the appointment of the prosecutor general. When Putin nominated Yuri Ustinov instead of Dmitry Kozak, the former head of the government apparatus who had been the declared candidate, any lingering doubts that Putin was an unwilling captive of the Family were dispelled. If Putin had overlooked a candidate from SPS such capitulation could have been passed off as a sign of his independence and equal distance from the rival clans. But Kozak was Putin’s choice. On top of this, Putin wanted to use this appointment to encourage the “new Petersburgers” group.

Curiously, Chubais played an active part in the intrigues surrounding the prosecutor general. Some even think that he may instigated it. We are reliably informed that on the eve of the Federation Council session at which the question of the appointment was to be decided, Chubais asked his trusted senators to support Kozak. Those in the know say that Putin had even signed Kozak’s nomination, but that the Family then intervened. Their effort, which went late into the night, was to persuade Putin to back Ustinov, because having a “friendly” prosecutor was an essential condition for a “happy Family.” Putin protested by saying that Kozak was also “friendly,” and that the question of confidence in the president’s candidate was a question of confidence in the president himself. And in any case, how could he reverse his original decision if, thanks to Chubais, the world already knew about it?

Informed sources say that Voloshin, agreeing that Chubais’ untimely initiative put the Kremlin in an awkward position, played his trump card: He asked Tatyana Dyachenko to put her father onto the case. When Yeltsin telephoned Vladimir Putin, Putin gave in. Voloshin quickly redrafted the nomination, replacing Kozak with Ustinov, and, without registering it in the office (the secretaries had been in bed for hours), gave it to the couriers.

The senators, furious that someone was playing games with them for no apparent reason, categorically refused to debate the document, which did not contain the proper reference information (it was neither numbered nor dated), and thus had no legal force. Nothing could persuade the speaker of the Federation Council, Yegor Stroev, to change his mind. Then Stroev got in touch with Voloshin who promised to fax him a correctly drawn up nomination form. Time ticked by, but no fax came through. Again Stroev called Voloshin, and this time Voloshin said that Ustinov would bring the document from the Kremlin himself. But the runner arrived empty-handed. Eventually, the senators gave in and took Ustinov’s word for it that he was the person Putin was nominating.

After such a demonstration of “family power,” for Putin to leave Kalyuzhny in the government would have been tantamount to a public admission of his lack of independence. And neither influence group would be happy with that. The little-known mayor of the town of Kogalym, Aleksandr Gavrin, was swiftly recruited to the rank of minister in place of Kalyuzhny. The Right would have been happy with anyone but Kalyuzhny, so they quietly notched this appointment up as a victory, only to learn that Gavrin had been recommended by the president of Transneft, Semyon Vainshtok, who used to work with him at Lukoil. Vainshtok was appointed to his current post by Nikolai Aksenenko and Kalyuzhny. The new fuel and energy minister–once again–is a family protege. And, in the end, Kalyuzhny himself was certainly not hard-done-by: The president appointed him his Caspian representative, with the rank of deputy minister for foreign affairs.

The overall score in this match, then, was not in the Right’s favor, though it can certainly credit itself with some appointments: Its leader Sergei Kirienko is the president’s plenipotentiary in the Volga okrug, Aleksei Kudrin and Viktor Khristenko have become vice-premiers, German Gref is minister of the economy, and Aleksandr Pochinok and Ilya Yuzhanov have entered the government. The president’s administration made no secret of its categorical opposition to the appointment of Kudrin and Gref. It was no coincidence that the Kremlin kept leaking to the press stories about how Gref wasn’t up to the job of “economics guru,” and that the post of deputy minister of finance was as high as Kudrin could expect to go. Yet the Right’s gains pale in comparison with the successes of the Family. They have on their side their own prime minister, Kasyanov, Prosecutor General Ustinov, Interior Minister Rushailo, Railways Minister Aksenenko, Atomic Energy Minister Adamov and virtually the entire Kremlin administration under Voloshin.

In the opinion of Boris Nemtsov, who succeeded Kirienko as SPS leader in the Duma, the current cabinet may be considered a “coalition oligarch-liberal government.” It will be torn apart by internal differences between the two rival groups, which will inevitably tell on its performance. When asked what Russian government ministers are up to, it is now possible to answer with confidence: Fighting each other.

Elena Dikun is a political columnist for Obshchaya gazeta.