Half Steps Backward in Government Reshuffle

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Two decisions stand out in the recent government reshuffle: the appointment of former Federal Security Service director Nikolai Patrushev as secretary of the Security Council and the creation of a special government agency in charge of CIS affairs. Both represent cases of good intentions gone awry.

The Security Council needs a revamp, as it has grown dysfunctional and serves little useful purpose. Since the departure of Sergei Ivanov to defense minister in 2001, the Security Council has morphed into something of a retirement home for high-level officials. It has produced a number of doctrinal documents of dubious quality on topics as diverse as Internet security and environmental protection. Some of the "doctrines" and "security strategies" penned by the council's staff were so poorly prepared that Larisa Brychova, the Kremlin's top lawyer, reportedly wrote on one of the drafts that it should be immediately classified top secret because "the contents presented a threat to the security of Russia.

Yet, the Security Council could have played a useful role as an interagency coordinating body on national security, foreign policy and intelligence matters. As such, it could have prevented the feuds between the security services that flourished during Vladimir Putin's second term as president.

Its ability to perform that function, however, heavily depended on who its secretary was or, to be more precise, whether that person was on the ascending (Putin, Sergei Ivanov) or descending (Vladimir Rushailo, Igor Ivanov) trajectory of his political career. President Dmitry Medvedev could have picked an ambitious loyalist to engineer a massive overhaul of the council to turn it into an effective policy-making machine. Patrushev's appointment, however, signals the continuation of the status quo.

For Patrushev, rumored to have health problems, it is a dignified retirement. The long overdue Security Council reform will be postponed.

The Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, meanwhile, is a flashback to 1990s, when Russia used to have an entire ministry for the organization. It fought many turf battles with the Foreign Ministry, which was opposed to treating former Soviet republics as not entirely "foreign."

Russia does need a body for interagency coordination of its CIS affairs, which are important. An attempt to place this function within a special unit of the presidential administration in 2005 proved ineffective, as the unit lacked political or bureaucratic clout. Its rightful place is within the Security Council, not the Foreign Ministry. An agency with an unclear mandate subordinate to the Foreign Ministry is a half-step -- backward.

Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government relations and PR company.