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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kadannikov: More Fodder For the Polls

On the face of it, Vladimir Kadannikov is an ominous choice as a replacement for Anatoly Chubais to spearhead Russia's economic development. He has presided over the virtual collapse of AvtoVAZ, the country's largest carmaker, which has run up trillions of rubles in debt while not paying its workers since November or introducing a new model in eight years.

It is tempting to ask: Why, if Kadannikov ran a company so convincingly into the ground, should he be able to do better for the economy as a whole?

But that would be too simple. There is much in Kadannikov's background to suggest he is no reactionary Soviet-era state manager. With education and corporate experience in the West, he is hardly ignorant of what a free-market economy means. His statements in the press, while rather bland, indicate an understanding of the need for a dynamic private sector.

And if you can know a man by his friends, then it is interesting that this industrial boss had a mutual admirer in liberal economist and former acting prime minister, Yegor Gaidar. Reportedly, Gaidar advocated Kadannikov to replace him as prime minister when he was forced out of the job in 1992.

Indeed, Kadannikov now enters the Cabinet faced with many of the same suspicions as Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former boss of Gazprom, when Chernomyrdin got Gaidar's job instead. Chernomyrdin seemed at the time to symbolize the stolid conservative industrialist, but he has since gone on to confound skeptics and become, after Chubais, the government's leading advocate of reform.

The political scene, however, has changed dramatically since then, and Kadannikov reportedly has changed his friends. Today, Gaidar says the two are no longer so close, while Kadannikov is said to be chummy now with Alexander Korzhakov and First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets -- denizens of the so-called party of war.

So there are some important questions that remain unanswered. Will Kadannikov ally with Soskovets -- who on Wednesday made clear his disdain for Western-style reform -- or with Chernomyrdin? And, granted the political imperatives of the coming election campaign, will it matter?

But Kadannikov must be given time in his new position before he can be judged. One early verdict will come from the International Monetary Fund, which is deep in talks on a critical $9 billion, three-year loan to Russia, and has expressed concern over the Chubais succession. IMF officials, doubtless, would like to know what are the "serious corrections" Kadannikov said Thursday are needed to improve the domestic industry.

Bluntly put, what policy changes will this change of personnel bring? The rest is merely food for ulcers.