Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 100

President Vladimir Putin conducted a meeting of his newly formed cabinet of ministers today, during which he said that the formation of his government was “practically finished” and that this was a “good sign” for society (Russian agencies, May 22). On May 20–in what appeared to be a gesture to the “St. Petersburg group,” represented in the new government by Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin and German Gref, who is heading the newly created Ministry of Economic Development and Trade–Putin removed Viktor Kaluzhny as fuel and energy minister. Kaluzhny was widely seen as being close to the Kremlin “Family”–which includes the tycoon Boris Berezovsky and Sibneft oil company director Roman Abramovich. Kaluzny’s removal had become a cause celebre for former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, United Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais and other leaders of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS). Boris Nemtsov, an SPS leader, said over the weekend that Kaluzhny had represented the interests of “concrete groups” and thus that his removal was a “a good sign” (Reuters, May 20). Former Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin, who is closely connected to the Center for Strategic Development, also hailed Kaluzhny’s ouster (NTV, May 21).

It is by no means clear, however, that Kaluzhny’s replacement will be any less connected to “concrete interests.” The fuel and energy ministry has been replaced with a newly formed Energy Ministry, which will be headed by Aleksandr Gavrin, until now the mayor of Kogalym, in western Siberia (Russian agencies, May 20). Kogalym is the location of Lukoil-Kogalymneftegaz, an important subsidiary of Lukoil, the giant state oil company. What is more, Gavrin was reportedly promoted to energy minister at the recommendation of Semen Vainshtock, a former Lukoil vice-president who was put in as head of the Transneft state oil pipeline company last year by then First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko and Kaluzhny himself (Segodnya, Vremya novostei, May 22). It was precisely the removal of Transneft chief Dmitri Savelev and his replacement by Vainshtock which so angered Chubais, Kirienko and the other SPS leaders. Meanwhile, Aksenenko, who is seen as a leading “Family” member, will retain his position as railways minister in the new cabinet.

Indeed, despite Kaluzhny’s ouster, most Russian observers believe that the “Family” has decisively outmaneuvered the St. Petersburg-Chubais clan in the battle to form the cabinet. And, despite the presence in the new cabinet of Kudrin, Gref and Deputy Prime Ministers Ilya Klebanov and Viktor Khristenko–all seen, to varying degrees, as tied to the Chubais clan–these observers believe that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who is seen as close to the “Family,” will hold the preponderance of power in the new cabinet. A newspaper wrote today that the “Kremlin group”–meaning the “Family”–will control the energy sector, weapons’ sales and the interior ministry (Vremya novostei, May 22). Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, widely seen as having close links to Berezovsky, was reappointed to his post. Besides Rushailo, Kasyanov and Aksenenko, other reputed “Family” members in the new cabinet include Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, Justice Minister Yuri Chaika and Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov. The veteran economic journalist Aleksandr Bekker, whose sympathies clearly lie with the St. Petersburg group, wrote today that Kasyanov had “technically removed from circulation the system of checks and balances” and thus become the “master of the situation” (Vedomosti, May 22).