New Russian government will hardly be independent
President-elect Vladimir Putin has started thinking about the new cabinet of ministers. First, he has to consider how many new people to include in the new government and what its functions will be. Clearly there have been demands for fresh faces, even a peaceful personnel revolution. People are tired of the old team, and want new names and ideas.
But let’s not forget that Putin has a reputation for sticking with people he has worked with for a long time. He is very reluctant to part with members of his team. So there is a serious conflict between the need for significant personnel renewal and Putin’s loyalty to his team, and it is not yet clear how this conflict will be resolved.
Second, appointments of personnel to senior positions have been a weak point of Russian policy in the last 10 to 12 years. That personnel policy has been reduced to an all but random choice of people who have made political and administrative careers for unclear reasons and in unknown ways.
It seems that for Putin such criteria as loyalty, political affinity and membership in his team matter more than professionalism and efficiency. Right now, there is no any indication that this model will change. Tried and tested personal connections and interests will continue to trump performance.
Third, it is unclear what role the government will play. What influence will the presidential administration, presidential power and the president himself have on the government? Will the president be the dominant force or will the government pursue an independent line?
Another important question is, what will be the function of the prime minister? Will Dmitry Medvedev become a token prime minister like his predecessors during Putin’s first two presidential terms, performing a purely technical role while the president actively presided over the government?
Off the record, Putin has expressed support for the American system of administration where the president directly runs the government and the position of prime minister does not exist. Putin is not ready to make such a change to the Constitution, but this idea may appeal to him because it allows one person to concentrate all responsibility and there are no mechanisms in between.
The role of the so-called “big government” should be noted; however, its configuration is still unclear. For all intents and purposes, it will be a mere gesture to civil society and the idea of liberalization and government transparency. This “big government” will not play an independent role except for being a political and information medium.
There are many other factors that influence the integrity of the government. Will it continue to be a vertical power structure or will it become flatter? Elections of governors, which will probably start this year, will clarify the role local governments will play, what piece of the budget pie they will get, and what results the reform of the political system will produce. All these factors have a bearing on what the future government will be like.
So far, we don't know an answer to a single question. We don’t know what team the president-elect will have. Whom has he proposed apart from Medvedev? Strange as it may seem, we have elected a president who carefully concealed his personnel preferences. When asked to describe the future government, Putin replied that he will speak about it after the elections. Now he intends to put this off until after his inauguration.
Putin has said repeatedly that it is not worth replacing people without a good reason – such replacements require time and make government less effective. He does not favor a personnel overhaul.
There has been an enormous amount of information and speculation on future appointments – who might be appointed, by whom and to what positions. But all these leaks to the media are coming from interested parties who want to promote or discredit various individuals. Reflections on whether the new government will be conservative or liberal are relegated to the background. More interest is being shown in the functional importance of the government and the prime minister and the principles by which people will be appointed to these positions.
We have not learned any lessons. Nobody remembers anymore that during his many years as president Putin made totally unexpected decisions without consulting anyone. We are familiar with this personalized and closed appointment model. This will be a Putin government – it will not be independent. It will carry out the will of the president and play the role that he assigns it.
Nikolai Zlobin is Senior Fellow and Director of the Russia and Asia Program at the World Security Institute in Washington, D.C., member of the Valdai Discussion Club.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise