Sep 6th 2016

All the President’s Little Men

by Andrei Kolesnikov

Andrei Kolesnikov is a senior associate and the chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin has been methodically purging his closest and longest-serving advisers. The latest – but surely not the last – victim is Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB operative (like Putin himself) and defense minister who has just been forced out as Kremlin chief of staff.

Ivanov, a relatively substantive policymaker, is being replaced by a toothless factotum: the former head of the Protocol Schedule Directorate, Anton Vaino. Likewise, the reform-minded education and science minister, Dmitry Livanov, has been fired and replaced with the faceless apparatchik Olga Vasilyeva, a rare woman appointee known only for her Stalinist views (imagine the French president handing an important cabinet position to a mid-level official from the far-right National Front).

As usual, Putin is offering no real explanation for these changes, leaving Kremlinologists – who have gained a new lease on life under Putin – little to work with other than a clear pattern: those who could speak to the president as equals are being replaced by those whom he has created, and who owe their careers to him.

Why now? According to a member of Putin’s inner circle during the early years of his regime, the latest purge simply reflects the president’s idea of effective management. Years ago, during a meeting between Putin and his regional plenipotentiaries – whose job was essentially to keep an eye on regional governors – someone in attendance asked the president how he would describe the envoys’ role. He replied that, “Well, they are supposed to be sort of…liaison officers.”

In other words, Putin expects members of his team to be loyal, follow orders like soldiers, and efficiently relay the will of the sovereign down the chain of command. This explains the composition of the new guard – technocrats and officers from the military and security establishment, known as siloviki – that Putin is grooming to serve as the new Russian elite after the 2018 presidential election.

And make no mistake: the relative youth of Putin’s new elite does not mean they will be more liberal. Not one of his new appointees espouses anything like a liberal viewpoint; in fact, they show no ideological commitments or aspirations whatsoever. They are merely what the Chechen warlord and Kremlin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov calls “Putin’s soldiers.”

The old associates are being removed under different pretexts and by different means. For example, Ivanov – whom many viewed ten years ago as a potential successor to Putin – was given a new job: “Special Presidential Representative for Environmental Protection, Ecology, and Transport.” The head of the Federal Customs Service, Andrey Belyaninov, left office in disgrace after police raided his opulent private residence and emerged with shoeboxes full of cash.

Putin knows that his old cronies are tired, ineffective, often excessively wealthy, and comfortably corrupt, which is not what he needs for a new presidential term. What he does need are his slightly younger “liaison officers,” who will carry out his orders without asking questions. Members of Putin’s new guard already see themselves as loyal subordinates, and, unlike the old guard, they don’t expect the president to be their friend.

It’s hard to say what will become of the old guard’s remaining members. Some – such as Sergey Chemezov, the CEO of the hi-tech and defense state corporation Rostec, and the Kremlin’s “grey cardinal,” Igor Sechin, the executive chairman of the state-owned oil company Rosneft – still hold powerful positions and show little inclination to resign on their own.

But Putin has a lot of time to work his will – the 18 months until the presidential election, and then another six-year term. In the meantime, by appointing an archconservative as his education minister, he is supplementing his military-laden new guard with mid-level officials who hold rabidly isolationist and imperialist views. This will not only jeopardize whatever liberalizing achievements remain from his predecessor Boris Yeltsin’s era, but also the limited social improvements made during his own rule.

Putin’s canny instinct for self-preservation seems to be the only thing preventing him from eliminating the few loyal liberals who still hold key economic positions in his government. These include the Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, and the head of the Central Bank of Russia, Elvira Nabiullina.

Even if these officials remain in place for Putin’s next presidential term, we can safely assume that he will not appoint a prominent liberal, such as former finance minister Alexey Kudrin, to replace Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister. His current personnel strategy suggests he’ll choose a bloodless satrap – someone like Vaino.

One thing we know for sure is that Russian foreign and domestic policy is not about to change, and that it will continue to be determined solely by Putin. The presidency is the only institution in Russia today that has not been hollowed out, so it is the president who will make all major political decisions. Everyone else is just a liaison officer.


Andrei Kolesnikov is a senior associate and the chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2016.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Feb 18th 2020
Extract: "In late 2019, Zogby Research Services (ZRS) once again had the opportunity to poll public opinion across the Middle East and North Africa about many of these issues that are of such critical concern to the region and its peoples..............One of the more intriguing results in our 2019 survey were the changes in Arab views toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most Arabs still blame the US and Israel for the absence of peace and have little confidence that the conflict can be resolved in the near future. Maybe as a result of this despair, this issue now ranks low as an Arab priority. Also noteworthy is the fact that majorities in most Arab countries now say that normalization with Israel, which they acknowledge is already happening, may be a good thing. This development shouldn’t be overstated, however, since there is still no love for Israel. It appears, from our survey, to be born of frustration, weariness with Palestinians being victims of war, and the possibility that normalization might bring some economic benefits and could give Arabs leverage to press Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians."
Feb 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Global dissatisfaction with democracy has increased over the past 25 years, according to our recent report. Drawing upon the HUMAN Surveys project, the report covered 154 countries, with 77 countries covered continuously for the period from 1995 to 2020. These samples were possible thanks to the combination of data from over 25 sources, 3,500 national surveys, and 4 million respondents. Not surprisingly, the gloomy headline finding – rising democratic dissatisfaction – attracted the most attention. Less widely discussed, however, is the “good news” – that a small sample of countries has bucked the trend, and have record high levels of satisfaction with their democracies."
Feb 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "This is how dictatorships begin. As the US prepares for its next presidential election in November, it is every citizen’s responsibility rationally to examine Trump’s dictatorial impulses, which reelection would only reinforce. It is not safe to assume that he won’t go too far, or that he is too much of a “mediocrity” – as Leon Trotsky called Stalin (an assessment with which many Bolsheviks agreed) – to transform his country......Vladimir Lenin, himself a ruthless Bolshevik, wrote in 1922 that, “Stalin concentrated in his hands enormous power, which he won’t be able to use responsibly,” owing to traits like rudeness, intolerance, and capriciousness. Trump has all of them in spades. The more power he concentrates in his own hands, the dimmer the long-term outlook for American democracy becomes. His reelection could mean lights out."
Feb 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Does this mean that the dream of European unity is over? Does the exodus of a member state obliterate the vision of Victor Hugo and Václav Havel? Does Europe now fit the description of what the great American president Abraham Lincoln called a house divided against itself? Not necessarily. History is more imaginative than we are. The EU still has the option of keeping Britain close in heart and mind. We can still benefit from our absent partner, by resurrecting the partnership through our actions."
Feb 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "There, no formal change from a republican system to an autocratic system ever occurred. Rather, there was an erosion of the republican institutions, a steady creep over decades of authoritarian decision-making, and the consolidation of power within one individual – all with the name “Republic” preserved.........Will the GOP-led Senate’s endorsement of this defense clear a path for more of the manifestations – and consequences – of authoritarianism? The case of the Roman Republic’s rapid slippage into an autocratic regime masquerading as a republic shows how easily that transformation can occur."
Feb 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "So all that is why Cramer is talking about the death knell of petroleum stocks. We probably agree on almost nothing else, but when people are right, you have to give them credit. He is right."
Feb 3rd 2020
EXTRACT: "........as the citizens of the remaining 27 states have observed the destabilising impact that the referendum decision has had on British politics, they have been inoculated against the desire to secede from the EU. Outside the UK, national-populist parties have moderated their anti-EU rhetoric and nowadays profess to want to change the EU from within instead of destroying it."
Feb 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Senators will soon decide whether to dismiss the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump without hearing any witnesses. In making this decision, I believe they should consider words spoken at the Constitutional Convention, when the Founders decided that an impeachment process was needed to provide a “regular examination,” to quote Benjamin Franklin. A critical debate took place on July 20, 1787, which resulted in adding the impeachment clause to the U.S. Constitution. Franklin, the oldest and probably wisest delegate at the Constitutional Convention, said that when the president falls under suspicion, a “regular and peaceable inquiry” is needed."
Feb 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "Britain will be celebrating its glorious independence from the complications of international cooperation at a time when the intellectual, political, and economic hostility between China’s communist leadership and liberal democracies is becoming ever clearer. If liberal democracy is to survive, it must stand up for itself. And we should be under no illusion: open societies under the rule of law, from the Americas to Europe, Africa, and Asia, are in China’s hostile sights. The West should not aim to encircle or pen in China. But liberal democracies cannot allow it to distort international norms in its own favor."
Jan 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "Switzerland and Denmark have gone furthest into negative territory, both offering unprecedentedly low rates of -0.75%. The Swiss National Bank, which has kept its rate at this level since 2015, signalled recently that it intends to stick with this experiment and is not ruling out going even more negative. It has said that negative rates were boosting the economy and that the country’s fundamentals were not being significantly affected."
Jan 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "Electricity will dominate the future global energy system. Currently, it accounts for only 20% of final energy demand,......Without assuming any fundamental technological breakthroughs, we could certainly build by 2050 a global economy in which electricity met 65-70% of final energy demand,....."
Jan 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "With the world economy operating dangerously close to stall speed, the confluence of ever-present shocks and a sharply diminished trade cushion raises serious questions about financial markets’ increasingly optimistic view of global economic prospects."
Jan 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "Gibson’s diagnosis is supported by international attitude surveys. One found that most Americans rarely think about the future and only a few think about the distant future. When they are forced to think about it, they don’t like what they see. Another poll by the Pew Research Centre found that 44% of Americans were pessimistic about what lies ahead. But pessimism about the future isn’t just limited to the US. One international poll of over 400,000 people from 26 countries found that people in developed countries tended to think that the lives of today’s children will be worse than their own. And a 2015 international survey by YouGov found that people in developed countries were particularly pessimistic. For instance, only 4% of people in Britain thought things were improving. This contrasted with 41% of Chinese people who thought things were getting better."
Jan 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "........while over 80% of the ECB scheme buys government and other public sector bonds, a huge chunk still goes into corporate bonds and other assets. At the time of writing, the ECB holds €263 billion worth of corporate bonds – a very significant amount in relation to individual firms and the sectors in question. According to the ECB, 29% of these bonds were issued by French firms, 25% by German firms and 11% each by Spanish and Italian firms. As at September 2017, the sectors they came from included utilities (16%), infrastructure (12%), automotive (10%) and energy (7%)."
Jan 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Thanks to cutting-edge digital technology, cars are increasingly like “smartphones on wheels”, so manufacturers need to have access to the latest patented 4G and 5G technologies essential to navigation and communications. But often the companies that hold the patents are reluctant to license them because manufacturers will not accept the high fees involved, which leads to patent disputes and licensing rows."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the absence of a declaration of war against Iran, the killing of a foreign official – by a drone strike on Iraqi territory – was possibly illegal. But such niceties do not perturb Trump. The evidence is that Trump’s decision was taken without consideration of the possible consequences. The national security system established under Dwight D. Eisenhower, designed to prevent such reckless measures, is broken to non-existent, with ever-greater power placed in the hands of the president. If that president is unstable, the entire world has a very serious problem."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is possible that Trump’s reverential base won’t be sufficient to keep him in the White House past 2020. But such ardent faith is hard to oppose with rational plans to fix this or that problem. That is why it is so unsettling to hear people at the top of the US government speak about politics in terms that rightly belong in church. They are challenging the founding principles of the American Republic, and they might actually win as a result."
Jan 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "If anything has become clear in our recent Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling in Iraq, is that most Iraqis are tired of their country being used as a playground for regional conflict, especially the conflict between the US and Iran. In fact, our polling has shown Iraqis increasingly upset with the role played by both the US and Iran in their country. Majorities see both of these countries as having been the major beneficiaries of the wars that have ravaged their nation since the US invaded in 2003. "