Politburo 2.0 Before the Elite Reshuffle

The formation of the Big Government (that includes the government as such and the presidential executive office) around Putin with duplicate functions and diverse staff (both in terms of professionalism and clan representation) has increased Putin’s personal influence on the one hand but slowed down the adoption of strategic decisions and reduced their quality, on the other.

Yevgeny Minchenko, President of the Minchenko Consulting Communication Group presented the continuation of his report The Big Government of Vladimir Putin and Politburo 2.0. In the first part of the report he analyzed the elite groups within Politburo 2.0.

The previous report presented a concept of Russia’s ruling elite as a counterpart of the collective Soviet government body – the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The goal of Politburo 2.0 is to maintain the existing balance between the clans . Power in Russia is held by a conglomerate of clans and groups competing with each other for resources. Vladimir Putin’s role in this system remains immutable: he is an arbiter and moderator but an influential one, and his word in the conflicts is decisive, at least for the time being.

The formation of the Big Government (that includes the government as such and the presidential executive office) around Putin with duplicate functions and diverse staff (both in terms of professionalism and clan representation) has increased Putin’s personal influence on the one hand but slowed down the adoption of strategic decisions and reduced their quality, on the other.

Importantly, Dmitry Medvedev’s government was the main target of criticism from the business community, political elites and the president himself. The speed with which ministers were replaced in the first several months of the cabinet’s work was unprecedented.

At the same time setbacks in the government’s work were also caused by objective factors, such as:

• The president’s contradictory election promises;

• Careless political strategy towards political protesters; 

• Declining role of the parliament and its transformation into a department for endorsing the executive government’s decisions.

Decisions that were made quickly and without public and expert discussion began to fail at the implementation stage. However, the ruling coalition managed to reach its tactical goals:

1. To keep political protests at a manageable level;

2. To guarantee acceptable figures for the ruling party during the regional elections in October 2012;

3. To reduce the potential of external influence on the Russian elite (apparently the anti-tobacco bill was proposed out of the same logic because until recently the lobby of tobacco TNCs was the most powerful foreign lobby in the Russian government bodies).

The use of the foreign threat rhetoric, law-enforcement agencies and the anti-corruption campaign led to serious changes within Politburo 2.0. The law-enforcement corporation substantially consolidated its positions in it. Head of the Foreign Intelligence Service Mikhail Fradkov returned to the list of Politburo 2.0 candidate members. New Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was promoted to full scale membership in Politburo 2.0. The heads of national security ministries and agencies that were once in the orbits of influence of Rosneft’s CEO Igor Sechin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev continue to disassociate themselves from their former partners.

The role of the judiciary in shaping the intra-elite balance has grown. This was reflected in the promotion of President of the Supreme Court Vyacheslav Lebedev and President of the Higher Arbitration Court Anton Ivanov to the rank of candidate members of Politburo 2.0.

At the same time, the decrease in the ratings of the president and the prime minister (which has recently stopped) conditions the demand for the appearance of new charismatic figures in power. This is why Sergei Shoigu has sharply enhanced his intra-elite positions. He is practically the only federal minister who has recently had growing trust rating. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Speaker of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin are also trying to play the role of charismatic leaders albeit with mixed success.

United Russia’s relative success at the regional and municipal elections in the fall of 2012 was based on the active use of administrative leverage and fairly low voter turnout. In these conditions the figures with their own political projects and additional instruments of political influence are playing a growing role. This applies to CEO of Rostekhnologii Sergei Chemezov, First Deputy Head of the Presidential Executive Office Vyacheslav Volodin, VTB Chairman and CEO Andrei Kostin and Presidential Envoy to the Central Federal District Alexander Beglov.

The formation of the intra-elite coalition (Sergei Chemezov, Sergei Ivanov, Dmitry Rogozin and Igor Shuvalov), which secured the resignation of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov (who quit Politburo 2.0 as a result), took place with active participation of Chairman of the Gazprom Board of Directors Viktor Zubkov, who has thereby restored his status as a Politburo 2.0 candidate.

The corps of regional governors does not have meaningful influence on the political agenda. Only two regional governors – Head of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov and Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov – are Politburo 2.0 candidates. The position of St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko has weakened considerably and he is rapidly turning into a lame duck. In the meantime presidential envoys to three federal districts – Alexander Khloponin, Viktor Ishayev and Alexander Beglov – can claim the role of regional heavyweights. Two of them, Khloponin and Ishayev, are former governors and government members (deputy prime minister and minister, respectively).

In assessing the resource potential of full Politburo 2.0 members, it is important to note the following:

- Preserving his first place in the scale of resources, Prime Minister and nominal leader of United Russia Dmitry Medvedev has lost part of his influence on securocrats after Serdyukov’s resignation; his vague image positioning has decreased his rating.

- The tandem of the Head of Presidential Executive Office Sergei Ivanov and CEO of Rostechnologii Sergei Chemezov is on the way up. Both have enhanced their influence on the administrative machine and power agencies;

Vyacheslav Volodin, who is involved in the Kremlin’s political management, has also consolidated his positions as a result of success at the October elections and gradual waning of protests;

- Sergei Shoigu, a newcomer to Politburo 2.0, is demonstrating impressive growth of his rating both in the public and among the elites, particularly in the regions. However, despite his positive image, his rating will grow only to a certain point. A number of military experts believe that he has already made a number of mistakes as defense minister (triggering a backlash in Serdyuklov’s wake). Moreover, Shoigu’s administrative influence in his former domains (the Emergencies Ministry and the Moscow Region) is limited by the fairly extensive independence of his successors. At any rate, the personnel policy of Acting Governor of the Moscow Region Andrei Vorobyov shows that today he is in Gennady Timchenko’s orbit of influence;

- The tandem of businessmen Timchenko and Yury Kovalchyuk retains stable positions in Putin’s environment. Nonetheless, the contextual reconciliation of Timchenko and Sechin is unlikely to last for a long time, considering the systemic character of the companies they run.

- Despite a number of unpopular decisions, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin continues to remain on the list of potential successors and prime ministers. However, the growth of his influence is limited by the poor start of his team members – Viktor Basargin and Yevgeny Kuivashev – as the governors of the Perm Territory and the Sverdlovsk Region, respectively;

- Contextual decline in the influence of Rosneft CEO Sechin is linked with a change in his status that is reducing his administrative and power resources, as well as his involvement in numerous conflicts in the industry.

The following conflicts will remain on the agenda this year:

- Competition at staff level for the control over the fuel and energy sector between Secretary of a special-purpose presidential commission Igor Sechin and profile Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich (and the coalition of nomenclature and business groups that has joined him);

- Competition over the big-time privatization program;

- Tensions between the heads of Moscow and the Moscow Region, and adjustment of the contours of the Greater Moscow project; tensions will be escalated by the elections of the Moscow Region governor in the fall of 2013 and the Moscow City Duma in the fall of 2014. Sobyanin may have more problems because of his deteriorating relations with Medvedev caused by the gossip about his potential appointment as prime minister;

- Opposition of securocrats to the formation of the unified Investigative Committee. Few enthusiasts are supporting this idea because it is unclear what consequences it may have and the influence of all law-enforcement agencies has been growing recently. The FSB has used its own investigators without the support of the Investigative Committee in clearing a number of recent high-profile cases;

- Struggle around the launch of the corporation for developing Siberia and the Far East;

Gazprom management is likely to be subjected to a new attack with a view to its reorganization. Alexei Miller’s positions have recently weakened because the role of the national asset – gas – has been threatened by the shale revolution and a partial loss of the markets for Russian gas. Therefore, the idea of restructuring Gazprom, which is actively promoted by Sberbank CEO German Gref, may be revived.

The growth of objective contradictions between the Defense Ministry and producers of military hardware is inevitable. Their intensity will also largely depend on the political correlation of forces and coalitions.

In addition, there will be also other tensions at staff level:

- Between ministers and ex-ministers who have become presidential aides (this trend is more pronounced at the Communications Ministry, the Ministry of Healthcare and the Ministry of Education and Science);

- Between government staff and Presidential Aide Elvira Nabiullina.

The Big Government is trying to remove these contradictions by the practice of regular ministerial reports to the president on the implementation of his executive orders. There may be a cabinet reshuffle later this year. A number of Putin’s former ministers may return to the cabinet as deputy prime ministers.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.