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Russia’s new government shows continuity with predecessor - analysts

May 22, 2012, 17:06 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The composition of Russia’s new government under Dmitry Medvedev, announced on Monday, made no big sensation in the country, although some appointments did surprise many. Experts evaluate it in moderately positive terms, saying that despite the cardinal renewal the Cabinet shows continuity with the previous one, which was led by Vladimir Putin. Also, it is a government of professionals. Some have even called it a government of technocrats. Its composition is a result of a compromise between Putin and Medvedev, but the key decisions will be made in the Kremlin, analysts say. The more so, since many of the former ministers have been given jobs at the presidential staff.

Putin and Medvedev, as they had promised, fundamentally renewed the composition of the Cabinet. Of the 21 ministers fifteen are new-comers. Among the seven deputy prime ministers only two are new ones. Igor Sechin and Viktor Zubkov have been replaced by Medvedev’s former aide Arkady Dvorkovich and Moscow’s deputy mayor for social development, Olga Golodets. Dvorkovich will supervise the real sector of the economy, including the fuel and energy complex and transport, and Golodets, social issues. The decision to split the ministry of health and social development and to create a ministry for the development of the Far East are the most considerable structural changes.

Deputy Prime Minister, multi-millionaire Igor Shuvalov, will be in charge of the financial and economic segment of the Cabinet. In the Putin-led government he was responsible for the investment climate, privatization, deregulation, the Eurasian Union, infrastructural construction sites and the development of the Far East.

Changes among the government ministers are far greater, although on the face of it amendments to the structure of the government are few. There is the new ministry of the Far East and two ministries instead of the Health and Social Development Ministry.

Only five members of the previous Cabinet have retained their seats. For instance, Elvira Nabiullina is out. Her successor in the capacity of the minster of economic development is Andrei Belousov, who is called the president’s candidate. Gone are unpopular Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova and Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko.

Putin has created jobs for the replaced ministers at once. The new presidential staff includes Rashid Nurgaliyev (Deputy Security Council Secretary), Tatyana Golikova (presidential aide), Andrei Fursenko (presidential aide), Elvira Nabiullina (presidential aide) and others.

In the new government there are fewer lobbyists than in the previous one, a government staff member is quoted by the daily Vedomosti as saying. “Whereas Sechin has always been associated with the fuel and energy complex, this cannot be said about Dvorkovich. The same is true of the appointment of Energy Minister Alexander Novak instead of Sergei Shmatko. Now, that Zubkov has left, there will be no special deputy prime minster for agriculture, he said.

It is lobbyists, Medvedev said, that have hindered the adoption of a large-scale privatization program. “First, decisions are made, but then crowds of lobbyists start attacking the country’s leadership,” Medvedev complained last April. Vedomosti recalls that Sechin has always been against privatization, including the privatization of fuel and energy complex enterprises, while Dvorkovich, on the contrary, campaigned for accelerating it. He was appointed for the purpose of speeding up the privatization of energy assets, the daily quotes the source in the government staff as saying.

However, it is far from guaranteed Medvedev will find it easier to carry out privatization, a high-ranking federal official said. “Sechin’s new place of work is still unclear, but he is unlikely to lose his influence, and the door to Putin’s office will stay open in front of him.

In the meantime, Shuvalov on Monday said that a schedule of faster privatization would be ready within ten days.

“The new government is not so much a united team as a hodgepodge,” says the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets. “In the new Cabinet there are several personal appointees of Medvedev – Dvorkovich, Abyzov and Konovalov. One should remark, though, that the allies of the former president are far from taking top positions in the Cabinet.”

All of the most influential positions in the government, the daily said, are occupied by Putin’s men. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov have retained their posts. Respectively, no fundamental changes in these key spheres of government policy should be expected.

Finance Minister Anton Siluanov is a special case. As is known, he is a successor to and ideological ally of the former finance minister, Alexei Kudrin. This is a clear sign that in shaping the economic policy Vladimir Putin will continue to turn an attentive ear to the advice and recommendations of the former finance minister, the daily speculates.

“If one takes an abstract look at the Dmitry Medvedev-led Cabinet, society seems to have no reasons to complain,” says the daily Kommersant. But the role of Dmitry Medvedev in the structure of the new government remains very uncertain. Being the team’s leader is a very complex task, and the function of ‘supreme controller’ is unrealistic. There remain only protocol functions. The daily believes that in the new structure of the presidential staff and the government structure Dmitry Medvedev’s role will be very much similar to that of a vice-president.

The general director of the Political Technologies Center, Igor Bunin, is quoted by the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta as saying he does not believe the new Cabinet of ministers is a purely technical one. “Putin’s hand and Medvedev’s hand were surely at work here. Candidates came from both sides. Putin has retained three key positions very important for him in the economic sphere – those of economics and finance ministers and the head of the anti-monopoly service. This allows the president to control any decision made at the economic level.”

The head of the institute of modern development INSOR, Igor Yurgens, has offered a generally favorable comment on the current composition of the Cabinet, adding that there were many promising personalities with managerial skills. However, the expert has certain fears, though. Should a crisis break out, they will have a hard time. “There are top tier ministers – deputy prime ministers under First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, and there are junior ministers – with much room for career growth. But if, God forbid, a second recession in Europe follows and a second wave of our own crisis sweeps us – I do not think all of them will be prepared for that march of events.”

Sergei Zhavoronokov, of the Yegor Gaidar Institute for the Economy in Transition, has told the RBC daily the new government is “a government of deputy ministers.” “Most of the newly appointed ministers either were deputies of their predecessors, or held the posts of deputy ministers several years ago,” he said. The greatest strength of the new government is experience.

“This is not a kamikaze Cabinet, appointed to achieve a breakthrough and die, nor is it a technical government, contrary to its predecessors under Putin’s two prime ministers,” he said. But the white marble building of the new Cabinet will not become an omnipotent citadel. “Putin has his own people there, and he continues to control them through his presidency and through the people who have been transferred to the Kremlin.

The appointment of a new government is not the end of the story, but its beginning, says Vedomosti. In the Cabinet there are many new names. They are people who have remained in the shadow of their bosses so far. Most of them did not participate in discussing Strategy 2020 or in any other public discussions. They kept doing their non-public, technical work. They have no experience of political struggle or public campaigning for their views.

In the new government there is not a single person who enjoys great personal authority outside the inner circle of professionals and subordinates, let alone recognition outside the country. All this does not mean, though, that among the appointed government ministers there are no professionals. There are professionals and quite competent ones. But there is the feeling that the professionalism they are expected to display is the professionalism of those who take orders.

In the meantime, the government, which is expected to bring about a development breakthrough, should be nothing but a think tank employing independent, large-scale personalities with clearly expressed (and different) views. History indicates that only governments consisting of authoritative and bright politicians, capable of advancing reforms with the strength of their personality, succeeded in steering their countries towards “economic miracles,” the daily says.

MOSCOW, May 22