Publication: Prism Volume: 6 Issue: 4

By Elena Dikun


The week after the presidential election was one big party for the Kremlin administration. They celebrated Vladimir Putin’s victory at Alexander House on Yakimanka street (his election campaign headquarters), where they made merry until the early hours, and finished up with a Sunday picnic alfresco on April 2. This event took place in the Volynskoe government complex in a park near Moscow, not far from Stalin’s old dacha. Tables were laid in a clearing, in the shade of great pine trees; the guests were plied with three types of shashlyk (kebabs)–pork, lamb and trout. Virtually everyone who had helped forge Putin’s victory was there: The members of his campaign team; the leaders of the presidential administration, reinforced by Tatyana Dyachenko, Valentin Yumashev and the court spin-doctor Gleb Pavlovsky; and the cream of the government: Vice-premiers Mikhail Kasyanov, Ilya Klebanov and Sergei Shoigu, and ministers Mikhail Lesin, Leonid Reiman, Vladimir Rushailo and Nikolai Aksenenko.

The only people missing were the boss of Unified Energy Systems (UES) Anatoly Chubais and Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny. Neither man will have a role in the new administration. It is possible that Putin will part company with Kalyuzhny even before a new cabinet is formed. “Viktor Ivanovich [Kalyuzhny] has become a hate-figure, and Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] is fed up with answering questions about when he’s planning to get rid of him,” a high-ranking Kremlin official explained. Chubais’ prospects are no better. In December the Kremlin was touting Chubais as a potential prime minister to Putin’s president; by April they were graciously saying: “OK, we’ll leave him UES, but in return he’ll have to curb his ambitions for a special role in politics, and start concentrating on economic issues.” The sweet fruits of victory have passed the Right by; not one of them seems destined to for a government job.

In Volynskoe the statesmen told jokes rather than talking business. The running theme was the career hopes of those present. Putin’s expression gave nothing away about the prospects of the guests as he moved methodically from table to table chatting to his associates about this and that. “Vladimir Vladimirovich behaved in the same way towards everybody; he didn’t demonstrate any particular friendliness towards anyone. Nobody asked him any inappropriate questions, though,” says our informer.

When the party broke up the guests were none the wiser as to who should be packing their bags. But those in the know comforted themselves and others with the consideration that the president himself did not yet have a final plan for the alignment of forces in the future government: Putin was still thinking. On the one hand, Kremlin officials think that in order to present it as a “new government,” at least 50 percent of the cabinet should be replaced; otherwise the public would not understand the newly crowned president. On the other hand, where will he find so many new ministers and vice-premiers when the breeding ground for candidates is the same? “The St. Petersburg connection has been exhausted; experience shows that governors do not settle into very well in government. Basically, we’re back at square one,” admitted one administration official.

Prism sources say that Putin is somewhat at a loss. He is, for example, being given friendly but persistent advice to dispense with his interior minister, but he likes Vladimir Rushailo, and does not know what to do about this. Putin has, furthermore, a host of problems with his Petersburg colleagues. He still feels that Petersburgers are more in tune with him than anyone else, but they still have a great deal to learn. Kremlin professionals consider the government chief of staff Dmitry Kozak to be (frankly) not up to the job, but it would be awkward to leave him without a ministerial portfolio. Putin would like to show his gratitude to his family friend, Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, and elevate him to the rank of minister, but Kudrin is clearly a weak candidate. Another fellow Petersburger, German Gref, has been very active in promoting the work of his Center for Strategic Developments. Last autumn, Gref was being dubbed the “new economics guru,” but the same people today are asking in disbelief: “Who is this Gref? Is he the one who wrote the new 500 days? Who needs that?” Experts claim that as candidates for the post of minister for the economy there is no great difference between Gref and the current minister Shapovalyants: The one is an “imaginative dreamer,” the other an “unimaginative doer.” “It looks very much as if the final decisions on appointments will be taken at the very last minute, the day before the government is announced,” one of our interviewees suggested.

One of the leaders of the Union of Right Forces, Boris Nemtsov, believes that “until he feels himself to be a political heavyweight, Putin will not bring any politicians into the administration or the government. To start with the new president’s team will be reminiscent of the government Boris Yeltsin formed after his reelection in 1996–a rather arbitrary, weak and undistinguished group.”

“Vladimir Vladimirovich is a real pragmatist; there is no reason to expect anything unusual from him as regards his staffing policy,” says Putin’s campaign manager, Dmitry Medvedev. Indeed, as yet there do not seem to be any surprises in store. The main contender for prime minister is still Mikhail Kasyanov, who (it is said) will obey the president unquestioningly.

The power ministers are almost certainly guaranteed to keep their jobs, as are Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Press Minister Mikhail Lesin and Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko. Valentina Matvienko–who was pulled from the St. Petersburg gubernatorial race by the Kremlin because she could not win–may remain in the government as compensation. She will not be left in charge of social services, however; this portfolio will go to the head of the Pension Fund, Mikhail Zurabov.

All in all, no big changes are expected in the presidential administration. At this stage, all that is clear is that, prior to Putin’s numerous foreign jaunts, he will need to strengthen his international department. It is said that the Kremlin deputy chief of staff responsible for international affairs, Sergei Prikhodko, will soon be replaced. Sergei Yastrzhembsky is expected to take over his office. It is thought that Yastrzhembsky has atoned for his defection to the Luzhkov camp by working conscientiously on the “Chechen front.” He may now be trusted with honing Putin’s export image–that of democrat and continuer of the reforms. The chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, is “ready to leave” according to one of his deputies, but will be doing so “gradually,” not until late autumn at the earliest, so that he can cultivate his successor. The man whom Voloshin is planning to groom for the job is his First Deputy Dmitry Medvedev, who must use this time to develop a few Moscow contacts.

Another Petersburger, Security Council secretary Sergei Ivanov, is also being considered as an understudy to Medvedev. The question of the candidate to head up the president’s administration in the Kremlin is being taken much more seriously than the formation of the government.