Siloviki Offer Eyes and Ears

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When Vladimir Putin became acting president in January 2000, he appointed his trusted colleagues as presidential envoys, including many from the Federal Security Service. After his inauguration in May of that year, Putin announced federal reforms that included the appointments of presidential envoys consisting largely of military officials. The envoys who were replaced later became federal inspectors, which meant that their ranks were significantly altered.

Now there have been a few, insignificant changes among the president's "eyes and ears" in the federal districts. Alexander Konovalov, former presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District, has been called to serve as justice minister in the government, and presidential envoy Grigory Rapota, former envoy to the Southern Federal District, was moved to the Volga Federal District in order to free the Southern Federal District post for former Justice Minister Vladimir Ustinov.

Only two of the presidential enjoys appointed in 2000 remain at their posts -- Georgy Poltavchenko in the Central Federal District and Pyotr Latyshev in the Urals Federal District. Both have firmly established themselves. Since Poltavchenko's appointment, his name has repeatedly come up as a probable candidate for a wide range of posts, including head of the presidential administration, prime minister and mayor of Moscow.

There is a certain logic behind the current rearrangement of presidential envoys. It is more logical that Rapota, the former chief of the Rosoboronexport, serve in the Volga Federal District, and that Ustinov, a former top official with the Prosecutor General's Office in the North Caucasus, be placed in the Caucasus as presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District. When Ustinov was removed from the post of prosecutor general, there were rumors that he and Igor Sechin, now a deputy prime minister, had been preparing to arrest Semyon Vainshtok, then head of Transneft.

Now history has repeated itself. First, Vainshtok was replaced as the head of Olimpstroi by former Sochi Mayor Viktor Kolodyazhny, and then Ustinov, former prosecutor general for Sochi, became head of the Southern Federal District. Ustinov's appointment to the Caucasus is not simply an honorable reassignment for the once-powerful prosecutor general and brother-in-law of Sechin. It is a further building up of the local clan system in a region where security is of paramount importance and huge capital projects will generate enormous profits for those in positions of authority.

The new staffing appointments are a repeat of what we saw from 2000 to 2003. With the departure last fall of civilian envoys Dmitry Kozak and Kamil Iskhakov, former presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District, the only nonmilitary envoy remaining is Ilya Khlebanov in the Northwest Federal District, and he is a former supervisor for the defense industry.

What is the political logic behind naming military officials as presidential envoys? Early in Putin's presidency they were effective in bringing the regional siloviki in line with the Kremlin, and then with the siloviki's ruling elite in Moscow. Now, they can accomplish just the opposite by maintaining stability in the regions through large-scale changes at the top.

Military officials are not very good at selecting their civilian staffs and forming political relationships. Nor are they particularly skilled at solving the economic tasks that Putin has declared as priorities. What they are good at, however, is following precise orders and maintaining control in their regions. This might turn out to be an especially important consideration, given the reshuffling of the siloviki and law enforcement agency heads.

President Dmitry Medvedev once worked with regional envoys in his capacity as Putin's chief of staff. Sergei Sobyanin, who worked with envoys in recent years, now is the government's chief of staff. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the connection will be strengthened between the envoys and the Security Council, now headed by Nikolai Patrushev, former director of the Federal Security Service.

In Putin's White House, the seven deputy prime ministers -- as with the heads of the siloviki -- represent complex and competitive relationships among people who view each other as both friends and enemies. The presidential envoys, who hold equal status with the deputy prime ministers, are a continuation of Putin's policy of "divide and conquer" -- this time applied to the regions.

Nikolai Petrov is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.