Medvedev’s cabinet is taking minor, if conspicuous, steps, instead of offering a model for meeting global challenges. It is a transitional government. It was strong when Vladimir Putin was prime minister. Now Putin is president again and his Executive Office is acting as a parallel government.
A little bit more than one year into this new cabinet, it is clear that it is a transitional government. It was strong when Vladimir Putin was prime minister, or perhaps even “super prime minister.” Now Putin is president again and his Executive Office is acting as a parallel government.
The cabinet has become something of a punching bag. On the one hand, it must resolve insoluble problems and find new tax revenues for increased government spending. On the other hand, many of the current cabinet members are politicians from Dmitry Medvedev’s team, including Vladislav Surkov, who has resigned. As a result, we have a government that is taking minor, if conspicuous, steps, instead of offering a model for meeting global challenges. The government initiated a campaign against plagiarized theses and created a wild scandal involving the Ministry of Education. Medvedev’s cabinet is a shadow of the Presidential Executive Office with wrong powers. In fact, there are no powers as such, but they do have real responsibilities.
The problems facing the country require a fundamental solution. This can come in the form of strict “manual steering,” but those with their hands on the wheel should be held accountable as well – personally. In this case, either the government or the Presidential Executive Office is redundant.
We have seen this conflict before, but it was not as pronounced because Boris Yeltsin did not concentrate as much power in his hands as Putin has. So we have two options. We can establish a replica of the US Department of State, in which case it will be Putin’s government and he will be personally responsible. But there will be no punching bag on the side. The other option is to form a strong government, and invest it with freedom of action and the responsibility to pursue unpopular but effective reforms. It could be headed by Alexei Kudrin who would assume all responsibility, like the reformers did in the 1990s. This would be a step in the right direction that will push us forward. We have to take such risks. In this case, the President would move into the background and his approval rating would suffer. The totally ineffective government we have now is the result of this political dilemma.
It is common knowledge that Mikhail Kasyanov was the best caretaker prime minister. Later politics began to trump caretaking, and Kasyanov was dismissed. He was a conservative prime minister, but he got the system going and finally dealt with our foreign debt.
As finance minister, Kudrin was a very conservative “accountant” and showed little interest in politics. But people grow more sophisticated and the prime minister’s position comes with more power than that of a deputy prime minister and finance minister. In my opinion, Kudrin is the only person who can absorb the blows of criticism and maintain more or less decent relations with the President. He is the only one who can assume responsibility for unpopular reforms while helping to maintain the President’s popularity ratings.
What the government needs now are not people. Forward-thinking experts understand that we are on the verge of an administrative crisis. This concerns the very institution of government. What functions does it fulfill? How does it make decisions? How does it address its responsibilities and what feedback does it get? The government requires fundamental, not cosmetic reforms.
I said this during the presidential campaign in 2004: We must start with the institution itself rather than endlessly reshuffle people. At that time I debated this point with Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar. They did not agree with me. They believed that the Federal Government was functioning normally and that the main thing was to appoint the right people. Now we see what this leads to. As Viktor Chernomyrdin used to say, “We tried our best you know the rest.” Personality plays an important role in political trends. If Putin wants any government to be a caretaker affair, people are neither here nor there. It doesn’t matter, therefore, how long he keeps them in their positions. Some will step down, others will be persuaded to stay. It’s a faceless cabinet without resources.