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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How to Become a Minister

A Russian government reshuffle is not a clear-cut thing. It is a fluid process that ebbs and flows for weeks before anything is actually decided. Boris Yeltsin likes to have several candidates in mind for any post and then pore over the possibilities for days.

The newspapers are an essential part of the game. Correspondents cite "competent sources" and publish leaks of information, which actively influence the appointments procedure. Some aspirants can get knocked out of the race this way and others join it for the first time.

How should an aspiring candidate act to get what he wants? In the deeply cynical world of Russian politics a few tricks seem essential to ensure success. Here are a few of the more obvious ones:

Appear in public at the right moment:

Some of the most powerful people in Russian political life rarely appear before the public. The number of interviews given by Alexander Korzhakov can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Viktor Ilyushin is only slightly more forthcoming.

Compare that with the voluble but not so powerful Vladimir Shumeiko, Sergei Shakhrai or Sergei Filatov.

However Ilyushin has been appearing before the press quite a lot recently, and all of a sudden raising his public profile. The press, starved of contact with Yeltsin's first aide, has responded with plenty of coverage. If, as is rumored, Ilyushin wants to get a job in government to start building a new political base he has been doing the right thing.

Now consider Yury Yarov. "Yury Who?" you ask. In fact this man has been deputy prime minister since December 1992. His responsibilities are rather vague; he is in charge of the reburial ceremony for the tsar and some social welfare programs. Yarov is sensible enough not to appear in public too often, but on July 4, the day after the election victory, there he suddenly was, sitting alongside Ilyushin and Chernomyrdin. That was enough to put a stop to talk about his leaving the government. Now we can expect both Ilyushin and Yarov to be part of the same cabinet.

If you want a job, actively encourage interest in a rival candidate:

Experience suggests that the front-runner for a job often trips up before the finishing line. When a name is mentioned too often for a job, the exposure can be damaging. This is what happened to Boris Gromov in May when he was being tipped as defence minister while Pavel Grachev was still in office. Grachev and his supporters actively sponsored a spin campaign against Gromov and he dropped out of sight.

The same thing almost happened to Igor Rodionov, who did actually get the job. Rodionov had to wait a month after the appointment of his sponsor, Alexander Lebed, to become defense minister, even though Lebed started promoting Rodionov almost at once. Clearly Lebed had to fight tooth and nail for Rodionov's nomination. I imagine he could have secured it a lot more easily if he had talked less freely about it.

Deny any interest in the job you want:

The really sophisticated Russian politician spreads the rumor that he was offered a job and turned it down. This has the effect of diverting attention from your claim while simultaneously enhancing your reputation as a worthy man for the job. By renouncing your ambition you come near to getting your goal.

A lot of instances bear this one out. Who was the favorite to be foreign minister in succession to Andrei Kozyrev last fall? Yevgeny Primakov. But then the rumor began to spread that Primakov had turned the job down. Who eventually got the job? Primakov. Or listen to what Anatoly Chubais said only last week: "I have no intention of working in the government or the presidential structures." Only a few days later he was appointed head of the Kremlin administration.

In the same vein Vladimir Panskov has let it be known that he is happy to give up his job as Finance Minister. The Western analyst's interpretation of this may be that he wants to leave government. The Russian cynic's explanation is that he is throwing his critics off the scent.

Do the newspaper correspondents knowingly comply with this Byzantine game? I suspect many of them do. The price of having an inside informer in the Kremlin or the government is sometimes to relay misleading information. The political reporter becomes an accomplice in political intrigues.