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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Kvasov, 'Boundless Power' and Anonymity

Vladimir Kvasov, the Cerberus at Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's door, is a man who has roused strong opinions, but remains virtually unknown. He has been called a man of "boundless power," a dedicated bureaucrat and an opponent of reform. Kvasov, head of the government apparatus, can lay claim to being the most powerful bureaucrat in Russia. He is at the peak of an entity with almost a million employees. He has the rank of minister, allowing him to attend all cabinet meetings. He is also a deputy in the State Duma. Yet Kvasov prefers to stay out of the limelight. His bare reception room on the fifth floor in the White House along the corridor from his boss Chernomyrdin gives no clue to his character. There are no books on the shelves, only one small picture -- a landscape -- on the wall. He answers questions with the smooth assurance of a career chinovnik, a trained government official. Kvasov's face, hidden behind large spectacles, is one you could miss in a crowd. He is uncomfortable when asked what he does in his free time. He carries on working, he says, then after a minute or so he says carefully that he "likes the countryside." But President Boris Yeltsin clearly thought Kvasov was too powerful two weeks ago when he rapped him sharply in public. "I told Chernomyrdin we need serious purge of the apparatus," Yeltsin told a press conference. "With Kvasov at the head, they have taken on so many people. It will take us a long time to sort it all out." Kvasov told Moskovskiye Novosti that after the press conference he wrote a note to Chernomyrdin offering to resign but the prime minister kept him on. Kvasov said brusquely that he did not want to discuss the matter further and changed the subject. "We took account of the president's remarks. We will keep track of the quality and number of the apparatus," is all he would say later. But Kvasov went on to say he did not understand what Yeltsin had been trying to say and that he was proud of the professionalism of the apparatus. Kvasov, 57, is a Moscow-born career bureaucrat who joined the government in 1978. Before that he, like his boss Viktor Chernomyrdin, worked in the gas industry. In January 1993, the experienced Kvasov replaced Alexei Golovkov, an academic from Yegor Gaidar's economics institute, to take charge of the government apparatus. Yeltsin said in his recent book that Golovkov was not right for a job that "required an incredible amount of purely technical initiative and experience. As a result, office work began to pile up or go astray." Kvasov said that he had initiated a fairly serious "purge" in the apparatus, sacking 170 people and appointing 207. In the meantime he had tried to streamline the government, abolishing several "parallel structures." Golovkov in an interview said that while he had tried to delegate more power downwards in the government, Kvasov was doing the reverse. "There is another tendency at work now, smoothly to take away the powers of the ministries and raise the level at which decisions are taken as high as possible," Golovkov said. Kvasov agreed that he was at the heart of the government's decision-making process. "Not one government decree or resolution comes out without my participation because I read them all," he said. For the radical reformers of the Gaidar generation, Kvasov and his apparatus were a hindrance and a threat. "It's obvious that he is harmful to our work, that he is from the old guard which came from the old Bolshevik system," Mikhail Poltoranin, who was information minister in the government until the end of last year, said of Kvasov. "When I was working there many of them longed for us to leave," Poltoranin said of the apparatus. "They hated us because they decided that we had come and sat in their chairs and were getting in their way." Kvasov has clashed with reformist ministers like Boris Fyodorov and Ella Pamfilova who left the government in the winter. Izvestia reported that the decision to build a new parliament building was made with Kvasov's approval but without the knowledge of Fyodorov, then the finance minister. Last month Yeltsin launched a package of decrees on the economy, stepping on the usual preserve of the government and criticized his prime minister for being too slow in implementing economic policy. Kvasov said that the government had anticipated Yeltsin's decrees and that Yeltsin had merely "pushed them ahead and speeded them up." Kvasov himself was elected a deputy to the State Duma in December and has joined the centrist New Regional Policy faction, a group with strong links to the energy sector from which he comes. At the same time he was given the rank of minister, which allowed him to keep his seat in parliament. But asked if he intended to play a more active political role in the future Kvasov said only: "Time will show." "He is really an apparatchik," said Sergei Markov, a professor of politics at Moscow State University. "But his role is very important. As Chernomyrdin has to spend more and more time on political matters he is forced to give most of the apparatus work to Kvasov. And in that way Kvasov's position is growing."