Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 42

Vedomosti reported on March 4 that Russia’s president-elect, Dmitry Medvedev, held a victory gathering at his campaign headquarters on the evening of March 2 to which both journalists and “associates who helped him win” were invited. According to the newspaper, the latter group consisted of presidential administration chief Sergei Sobyanin, who also headed Medvedev’s election team; deputy Kremlin administration chief Vladislav Surkov; First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov; Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak; State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who also heads the United Russia party; Vyacheslav Volodin, secretary of the presidium of United Russia’s General Council; and Aleksandr Voloshin, the former presidential administration chief who is currently chairman of the board of Unified Energy Systems, Russia’s electricity monopoly.

Vedomosti quoted the sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a leading expert on Russia’s ruling elite, as saying that in bringing these people together, Medvedev was signaling that they will be among those who will maintain or strengthen their positions in his new presidential administration or cabinet. The newspaper quoted Medvedev as telling journalists that he plans to form the new government and presidential administration together with outgoing President Vladimir Putin, whom Medvedev has invited to serve as his prime minister. Medvedev will be inaugurated as president in May. Sobyanin, for his part, said that he is prepared to work in any post in the new administration.

Kryshtanovskaya told Vedomosti that Sobyanin has a strong chance of remaining Kremlin administration chief, but she also said that Aleksandr Voloshin’s presence at Medvedev’s victory celebration March 2 is a sign that he may receive a high post in the new administration. The newspaper also quoted an unnamed government source as saying Voloshin’s “return” cannot be ruled out – although it was not clear what position the source thought Voloshin may be given. Over the last several days, both Russian and Western media have been speculating that Voloshin, who was Medvedev’s boss during the several years Medvedev worked as deputy Kremlin chief of staff, may indeed return to the Kremlin to work as Medvedev’s chief of staff.

Kommersant last month quoted Voloshin as telling the French Institute of International Relations that Vladimir Putin’s plan to become prime minister under Dmitry Medvedev could lead to “internal bureaucratic conflicts” but that power would be firmly in Medvedev’s hands if he were elected president. Voloshin also said Medvedev would have his own “political face” as president but that this would not entail “radical changes in policy.” Voloshin said if there are changes in policy, they will be made “smoothly and gradually”(Kommersant, February 19).

In March 1999, then-President Boris Yeltsin named Voloshin head of the Russian presidential administration, a post in which he served through the first several years of Vladimir Putin’s presidency. Voloshin, who was widely seen as representing the interests of Russian big business, stepped down as Kremlin chief of staff in October 2003, immediately after the arrest of Yukos oil founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky. According to some press reports, Voloshin had reportedly advised Khodorkovsky not to flee abroad. Voloshin’s departure was interpreted at the time by some – for example, Unified Energy Systems CEO Anatoly Chubais and then Union of Right Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov – as a move away from liberalism (Associated Press, November 2, 2003). Thus for some key members of Russia’s political-business elite, Voloshin’s return to head the Kremlin administration or to take up some other significant post in a Medvedev administration would signify a move back toward liberalism.

However, in the Russian context, terms like “liberal” are relative. Voloshin, after all, served quietly as Putin’s chief of staff through the first three years of the second Chechen war and reportedly played a key role in the prosecution and exile of opposition tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, whose media empire, including the pioneering NTV television channel, was eventually taken over by the Gazprom natural gas monopoly. In fact, Voloshin was reportedly behind the first of the Kremlin attacks on Gusinsky’s Media-Most group that culminated in its destruction: in July 1999, Media-Most accused Voloshin of being behind a tax police raid on its publishing house, Seven Days, that took place amid a torrent of mutual accusations between Media-Most outlets, on the one hand, and Voloshin and the Kremlin, on the other.

In any case, if Medvedev’s election as president signals a turn toward liberalism, even relatively speaking, there have thus far been few signs of such a turn. On March 4, a court ordered Maxim Reznik, the head of the Yabloko party’s branch in St. Petersburg, to be detained for two months pending trial for allegedly attacking a policeman, a charge that Reznik’s supporter deny (Reuters, March 4). Reznik was arrested on March 2, the day of Russia’s presidential election, shortly after he told a television station that Yabloko activists had been able to obtain ballots from election officials at polling stations that day without providing proper IDs simply by saying they wanted to vote for Dmitry Medvedev. Reznik was reportedly beaten while being arrested (see EDM, March 3). On March 3, police forcibly suppressed an opposition demonstration in Moscow protesting the presidential election. Dozens of protesters were detained (Moscow Times, March 4).