Russian Politics, & Personalities

Posts Tagged ‘Igor Sechin

Kudrin vs Sechin

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There has been a story floating in and out of Russian politics for a while regarding former Finance Minister and Deputy PM Alexei Kudrin.  It went like this: Kudrin was the leader of the economic liberals, and a counter-balance to Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, and his clan, the siloviki.

And, the narrative continued, Alexei Kudrin was the only person preventing the siloviki from dipping into the pot of money called the Stabilization Fund (a kind of rainy-day investment portfolio created for when oil prices dropped). The siloviki, the rumour mill alleged, wanted to use the money to improve infrastructure.  Finance Minister Kudrin, however, wanted to keep that money safe for its intended use: riding out any future financial crisis.

After Kudrin’s dramatic exit on Monday (video here; and English transcript here), I’ve started to wonder if the story was all fake: something that Kudrin made up and then leaked in order to make himself seem more powerful in the eyes of the West.

We may never know, but it will be interesting to see if Putin ends up authorising any withdraws from the Fund in the coming months.

P.S. I do have some reactions to the decision of the Tandem to swap, but after poring over so many others’ reactions, I may just end up doing a summary.

United Russia

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United Russia is still in the process of holding their “primaries” in order to create their party lists for their big conference in September (as far as I can determine, this is something like National Conventions in the US, but probably not as fun).  The Moscow Times had a piece today outlining how the primaries are going, but the process is so convoluted and confusing that it is a wonder anyone follows it.  But that might be the point, to make it so confusing that people don’t want to follow it.

Anyway, it raised a few questions in my mind, not the least of which is this: if Deputy PM Igor Sechin is actually running for a seat in the Duma (which I still think is slightly shady, to say the least), does that mean he is a member of United Russia?  I know that something like 5 members of the Russian Government are registered members of United Russia, but I’ve never been able to quite pin down who those 5 (or so) people are.

  • Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik (maybe);
  • Deputy PM Vyacheslav Volodin (was a member before becoming Deputy PM, and never resigned, I think);
  • MChS Minister Sergei Shoigu (supposedly a founding member);
  • Vladimir Putin (apparently still is not a member, but in charge, anyway… whatever);
  • Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak (I think);
  • Deputy PM Alexander Zhukov (actually, I am pretty sure that he is a member);
  • Sergei Sobyanin (might have been, but he doesn’t count anymore because he’s Mayor of Moscow)…

Obviously, my list is incomplete, and full of holes.

I wonder if it bothers Putin and Co that we laugh at them behind our hands (and sometimes more publicly) for the mockery they continue to make of themselves.  But how can anyone actually take them seriously?  And at this point, why do they even bother?  I know the answer, of course, legitimacy.  But how much legitimacy can you have when you act in this manner?

EDIT: Slon.ru had a piece this morning (or morning my time, anyway) on the illegality of allowing members of the Government to participate in the Putin’s Peoples Front (or ONF).  The article actually names names.  The names include the ones I named previously, and a few more that I missed:

  • Minister of Natural Resources Yuri Trutnev (who is running in the primaries, as far as I know); and
  • First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov.


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VTsIOM conucted a poll recently on the members of the Government, and I was kind of surprised by the results.

First of all, Sergei Shoigu has the highest approval rating of anyone in the government (people were not asked about Putin).  I have mixed feelings about Shoigu.  He has held the post of Emergency Situations Minister since Boris Yeltsin came to power.  On the one hand, I feel like he must be doing something right, and his approval rating has always been pretty high.  But then yesterday’s incident makes me pause to think.  His solution to the Bulgaria tragedy is to put black boxes in all boats.  What?  That’s his response?  Quite frankly, the man has never been good in an “emergency” (Beslan, Dubrovka, etc.), and I’m still not sure where he is getting such high numbers.  Unless people are just saying that they like him because they know who he is (he has been in the Government since 1991, after all).  That’s the only thing I can come up with anyway.  Also, presumably, the poll was conducted before the Bulgaria tragedy.

Here are some more numbers:

  • Sergei Lavrov — 47% approval rating.  Okay, I’ll buy that.  He’s one of the most public figures of the Government since he is the head diplomat.
  • Sergei Ivanov — 32% approve of the job he’s doing (or have heard of him, anyway).

And the lows are:

  • Andrei Fursenko — 50% disapprove of the job he is doing.  Hardly suprising since he’s the face of education “reform”, and most teachers are upset about it.
  • Tatiana Golikova — 41% disapprove of the job she is doing.  What is she doing, anyway?  I don’t even know.
  • Alexei Kudrin — 34% disapprove of the job he is doing.  Well, he’s not exactly populist, is he?  And I doubt he’s really out to win any popularity contests.  But then none of these people are, are they?  Their job doesn’t depend on what the general populace think of them.  It only depends on what Putin and Medvedev think of them, and their work.

Some other numbers:

  • 75% of people don’t know who Igor Sechin is;
  • 72% don’t know who Vyacheslav Volodin is; and
  • 71% have never heard of Igor Shuvalov.

I was a little shocked when I saw those numbers, but I bet if you asked Americans the same questions about their Government, they would say the same thing.

Kudrin for PM?

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This WSJ article showed up in my Google Reader this morning (several days late), and since I am following the so-called elections pretty closely, I thought it would be an appropriate lead in to some things I’ve been thinking about.

Here is what the article claims:

Several members of Moscow’s elite business and economic circles have suggested that Mr. Putin may run for president and, when he’s inaugurated, select longtime Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin as the country’s next prime minister.

I can see why this alternative would be attractive to people, particularly investors (as the article says later).  I personally am a huge fan of Alexei Leonidovich.

But here is why this is wrong: first of all, the qualities that make Kudrin a good excellent MinFin are not necessarily the qualities that are needed for PM: “…he is seen as a fiscally conservative, clearheaded technocrat with an almost single-minded focused on reining in budget spending.”

If Kudrin were PM under Medvedev, it would be more believable (you need someone conservative to kind of hold Medvedev back, I think).  But as a balance to Putin, which is this author’s premise, Kudrin would not be a good choice.

Also, lest we forget, Igor Sechin is the counter-balance to Kudrin, and putting Kudrin over Sechin would not really mesh with the way VVP “leads”.

So that’s where I am going with this.

P.S. I really am going to write the piece about the Presidency, I swear!

Written by Nina Jobe

July 11, 2011 at 6:54 PM

Clan Wars

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I was going to write a piece about Yuri Luzhkov, but Russia Profile has had some good articles about the subject recently, so it seems a moot point.  I would, however, like to postulate a theory about the clan wars.

There have been two articles recently that have inspired an idea.  SWP had an entry that called Putin a “capo di tutti capi”.  Essentially, his whole job is to keep peace between the clans, and moderate when there is a problem.

Meanwhile, Yulia Latynina latest article in The Moscow Times claims that Putin is bored, and that is why he has been travelling the country.

These two pieces got me to thinking, what if the so-called clan wars are set up by Putin for his own entertainment?  Think about it.  Was the Sechin-Cherkessov fight really necessary?  It was all set up by Putin.  Cherkessov’s job was not even real.  It could have just as easily been left to Customs, or whoever was overseeing it beforehand.  Of course, there were practicalities involved, and I see that.  But to create a job that was somewhat fake, and then to hamper it at every turn, implies that you want that person to fail.  Or at least that you want some excitement out of it.  Which we all certainly got.

Then you have the obvious Sergei Ivanov vs Dmitry Medvedev.  Does anything more need to be said about this one?  Besides the fact that it was unnecessary, it also exposed Sergei Borisovich as kind of crazy.  Although, has anyone noticed how much more relaxed Sergei Borisovich is looking now?  Seriously, check out some recent pictures.

And now you have Chaika vs Bastrykin.  This is just a repeat of Sechin-Cherkessov. A job was created that was totally unnecessary, in order to pit two men against each other.  Plus, you have the added problem that Yuri wanted the job of Pros Gen for a long time, was promised it, then had it taken away, then was given it, and is now being forced to fight for it every day.  So there has to be more than a little anger involved.  Which is more than a little worrying.  At least with the exposure that Ivanov-Medvedev received, there was some accountability, and nobody died (we think).  Chaika-Bastrykin has the potential to deteriorate to a degree that Sechin-Cherkessov never did.  And that’s a problem.

Written by Nina Jobe

September 14, 2010 at 1:46 PM

KGB Inc.

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Interesting article by Nina L Krushcheva on the make-up of the energy corporations.  According to Krushcheva:

About 30% of the Kremlin elite used to work with the secret services or still do, and an astounding 80% are associated with either the Russian or Soviet-era military-industrial complex.

These numbers do not particularly surprise me.  Although, I think that the first number seems a little low.  Even so, I wholeheartedly recommend this article, along with “Russia’s Significant Seven“.  The Seven that Potts refers to are from Forbes Russia’s editor Maxim Kashulinsky.  According to Kashulinsky, the Seven are:

1. Vladimir Putin;

2. Igor Sechin;

3. Dmitry Medvedev;

4. Alexei Kudrin;

5. Vagit Alekperov (Lukoil President);

6. Oleg Deripaska (Basic Element);

7. Patriarch Kirill.

I get why he chose these people, I just do not know that I would choose Alexei Kudrin over Slava, and Oleg Deripaska over… choose your own oligarch.  Because, let’s face it, while Vagit is at least independent (per Kashulinsky), Deripaska is almost entirely dependent on VVP.  It is the nature of the system.

Written by Nina Jobe

November 17, 2009 at 2:01 PM

Surkov & the Civiliki

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As you may or may not have noticed, I am a bit obsessed with Slava Surkov.  It has gotten to the point where even I wonder if I have imbued him with more qualities than he actually possesses.  So, I was surprised to discover myself a little sceptical of Stratfor’s breakdown of the clans within the Kremlin.  I do not disagree with the essence of what Friedman says, but with certain facts, and his interpretation of those facts. Read the rest of this entry »

Pavel Baev

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has a great piece on the Tandemocracy.  He addresses several topics that I have mentioned in previous posts.


The common opinion is that this claim for leadership [in Medvedev’s Gazeta article] can only be taken seriously if it is accompanied by action; but Medvedev escaped from this self-laid trap by departing on his state visit to Switzerland, followed by his trip to the United States.

In paragraph 5, Baev brings up the issue of replacements, and Yury Luzhkov:

The immediate problem for Medvedev is the reshuffling of the cadre that would demonstrate his authority to “hire-and-fire,” which is the main source of power in any bureaucratic system. Replacement of several governors does not quite fit the bill, because the real proof can only be delivered by promoting new people to the higher echelons of federal bureaucracy, while among the regional leaders, the key figure is Moscow’s Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who defends his turf with fierce determination and controls tighter than ever the forthcoming elections to the city Duma (Kommersant-Vlast, September 28).

There are only so many people Medvedev can fire (though I do not exactly like to use that word in reference to the Tandemocracy).  People who are out? Anyone in the Power Ministries really.  These include: Rashid Nurgaliyev, Nikolai Patrushev, Anatoly Serdyukov, and Alexander Bortnikov.  I still hold that the next to go will most likely be Yuri Chaika (possibly after Medvedev’s speech to the Duma next month).

As I’ve discussed previously, Luzhkov’s hold on Moscow is too strong to get rid of him.  I would not rule out Gromov, however.

Baev writes on the happenings in the Executive Office in paragraph 6:

Medvedev may be a master of Kremlin intrigue, but he is clearly stuck with the dilemma of having too few loyalists, who remain rather indifferent to the ideology of “innovation,” and mistrust the awakening reformers who would never prove sufficiently loyal. The Institute of Contemporary Development (INSOR) has tried to position itself as the key think-tank for Medvedev’s strategy, but their economic recommendations are combined with a plea to sack Vladislav Surkov, the deputy head of the presidential administration, who is in charge of PR (Ekho Moskvy, October 2). Medvedev, however, remains reluctant to relax control over the crucial media instrument –the three national television channels– and keeps Surkov close, not daring even to replace the top speechwriter (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 30).

There’s a lot of information here, so let’s break it up.  “…[Medvedev] is clearly stuck with the dilemma of having too few loyalists, who remain rather indifferent to the ideology of “innovation,” and mistrust the awakening reformers who would never prove sufficiently loyal.”

What Baev seems to be saying is that Medvedev is being pulled in two directions.  First by the Ciliviki (the lawyers, and bureaucrats) who are somewhat scared of change.  Or if not frightened of it, at least (in Baev’s words) “indifferent”.  Second by Yurgens, et al (see page on Institute for Contemporary Development) who perhaps expect too much, and would jump ship when Medvedev did not meet their expectations.

Some interesting news on Slava Surkov:

“The Institute of Contemporary Development (INSOR) has tried to position itself as the key think-tank for Medvedev’s strategy, but their economic recommendations are combined with a plea to sack Vladislav Surkov, the deputy head of the presidential administration, who is in charge of PR (Ekho Moskvy, October 2).”

Baev also implies that Surkov is tied to (and supports) Dzhakhan Pollyeva (something that does not surprise me in light of their biographies):

“Medvedev, however, remains reluctant to relax control over the crucial media instrument –the three national television channels– and keeps Surkov close, not daring even to replace the top speechwriter (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 30).”

Finally, Baev brings up Anatoly Chubais, and the accusations he is facing over the incident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power station.  He concludes:

Many “modernizers” have become guilty by association, which means that Medvedev is left to drag his failing presidency to the conclusion that he was right about the inability of the system to cope with the crisis but wrong about its capacity for reforming itself.

Vladimir Frolov & More

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I do not want to give too much weight to what Vladimir Frolov says, but I think that it is important to at least read what he has to say.  This week’s article actually takes what I said previously to a new level.  I believe that Medvedev’s article “Russia, Ahead!” was actually an appeal for legitimacy to the West in the run-up to UNGA, and G20 last week.  He wanted to be acknowledged as both a powerful player in Russian government, and a serious contender for 2012.  However, as Frolov points out, it ended up backfiring on him mostly due to timing.  Putin recognised what Medvedev was trying to do, and undermined him at Valdai by making what was essentially an announcement of his intent to run for President in 2012.

What I really have a problem with in this week’s article is Frolov’s patently false belief that these two men are in any way different from each other.  Of course they are different people, and they have different backgrounds, etc. But their ideology (such as it is) is essentially the same, Great Russia.

What continues to bother me is who Frolov is being paid by.  I think it is Big Brother (aka: Igor Sechin), but I am not entirely sure.

I would also like to draw your attention to Nikolai Petrov’s piece “The Virtual President”.  Some quotes:

…the Kremlin is both nervous and uncertain. The Kremlin realizes that it must finally do something to correct the situation but is unable and unwilling to do so. This realization is a break from its former state of self-complacency.

Two factors are compounding the problem — the desire of the authorities to preserve their high popularity ratings at any cost, and the paralysis of government officials who cannot take action without approval from the top.

I am not sure that the Kremlin is both unable and unwilling to make the appropriate changes to deal with the crisis.  They are definitely unwilling, but maybe what Petrov is trying to say is that it is too late to make any changes.

I thought that the conclusion was too great to pass up:

This is Russia’s latest risky experiment: the attempt to carry out Medvedev’s transition from a relatively unknown political figure to the country’s chief executive. Were it not for the crisis, the experiment might even be amusing. Under the current circumstances, however, it is a disaster waiting to happen.

Written by Nina Jobe

September 30, 2009 at 10:05 PM