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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Unknown Prime Minister May Be Costly for Everyone

Late into the night Monday, in dozens of Moscow offices, the lights glowed and the computer monitors flickered, as the West's resident army of diplomatic and business analysts picked through their slim files on Viktor Chernomyrdin.


The files are thin, not because the new Russian prime minister's life has been shrouded in mystery, but because he has never been viewed as prime-ministerial material.


He is a career energy-sector manager. He probably played a key role in keeping that sector off the privatization target list. He was a 30-year member of the Communist Party. For anyone outside the oil and gas industry, this was about as much as seemed necessary.


This, far more than the details of his background, is what is disturbing about his sudden ascension to leadership. Whether or not he is a centrist or conservative, a technocrat or plutocrat -- these are very much second-order questions.


The first order of business, on the evening of and the morning after Monday's Congressional voting, should have been how, despite the veneer of constitutionality and multi-partite compromise, an almost total unknown can become this nation's head of government.


This goes to the core of what business people often call uncertainty. It does more than merely make life uncomfortable.


Risks, where they are quantifiable, cost money in insurance costs, shareholder returns and debt ratings. and where risks are not quantifiable, many forms of business are simply not possible. Certain types of investment capital simply disappear.


A new government leader, largely unknown beyond his specialty, certainly constitutes an unquantifiable uncertainty.


Political processes are usually designed to limit, rather than enhance, the possibilities of surprise. Yes, there may be a dark horse who surprises everyone by winning office. But to have that dark horse entered into the lineup of contenders within hours of the voting -- this, almost anywhere, would be impossible.


To this extent, the process played out over the weekend and through Monday in the Russian Congress was a symptom of continuing instability, rather than a sign, as the U. S. State Department officially described it, of legal and constitutional forces at work.


In fact, with the exception that much of the deal-making took place in public, there was little difference between this process and those which led to leadership changes in the Soviet era.


And even more disturbingly, the result is vaguely familiar too. The last Soviet prime minister, prior to the August 1991 coup attempt, was the now-jailed Valentin Pavlov, another bureaucratic careerist with a grey and colorless past.