No Loyalist Left Behind

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I have heard some disparaging remarks about the recent government reshuffle. Some people had expected bigger changes. Although official announcements indicated that up to two-thirds of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's staff were new, those changes were accomplished by simply reshuffling the same old people around. Of course, optimists say Putin is very energetic, so the White House will now work with greater vigor. They point to Putin's decision to create a presidium of 15 ministers as proof of his efforts to increase efficiency.

One of the main criteria in the recent reshuffle was making sure that none of Putin's loyalists got left behind. Those who were unable to use their personal connections or political status to gain positions in in President Dmitry Medvedev's Kremlin were still able to find places in Putin's White House. These include Igor Sechin, Sergei Ivanov, and the most prominent example, Viktor Zubkov, who became Putin's first deputy prime minister. True, Ivanov, previously a first deputy prime minister, now occupies a lower position, but this might not be the last word in his career.

Medvedev also has tried to resolve the siloviki problem. He replaced FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev with a Patrushev underling, Alexander Bortnikov, and appointed Patrushev as Security Council secretary. Patrushev's rival Viktor Cherkesov was also pushed aside. He lost his influential position as Federal Drug Control Service chief but was not left without a job. He now heads an arms procurement agency. Meanwhile, Putin's former aide Viktor Ivanov took over the drug agency. Although he has never worked in this field before, he has proved himself a Putin loyalist by supervising Kremlin staffing issues.

The transfer of Vladimir Ustinov, the once-powerful prosecutor general and later justice minister, to the post of presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, should not be viewed as a demotion. During Soviet times, this kind of position had particular influence with the general secretary and ruling elite because they all vacationed in the south. As an added bonus, Ustinov is taking the position just as multibillion-dollar projects start flowing into the region ahead of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The government's economic team, led by Igor Shuvalov, appears to be liberal. And this represents the main goal of Putin's White House: to continue integrating Russia's leading businesses -- with powerful state-owned corporations topping the list -- into the world economy. The Russian market has become too limited a playing field for these companies. They want to operate on a global scale and become a part of the international business elite. This is why foreign economic policy will become one of the most important activities of Putin's Cabinet. As president, Putin demonstrated a strong interest in international business, including in oil and gas exports, getting Russian companies into foreign markets, and closing multibillion-dollar arms deals. So it is still unclear who will play a more dominant role in the international arena, Medvedev or Putin.

Only two new senior officials have reputations as Medvedev loyalists: Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov and Konstantin Chuichenko, who will oversee the Kremlin audit department.

Sergei Naryshkin's appointment as Medvedev's chief of staff, and former press secretary Alexei Gromov's promotion to deputy chief of staff came as complete surprises. The reason is apparently to maintain control over Medvedev's administration, although that impression might be deceptive. Vladislav Surkov has retained his political capital with his appointment as first deputy chief of staff.

The central theme during this transition of power has been stability -- the thing most valued by the entrenched bureaucratic elite. The result is that, in the tandem Medvedev-Putin administrations, it is difficult to discern a single sign indicating that there is potential for significant modernization. But Russia is in dire need of modernization to stop lagging behind the developed world.

Georgy Bovt is a political analyst and hosts a radio program on City-FM.