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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Restructured Ministries Take Shape

Amid President Vladimir Putin's recent barrage of decrees aimed at tightening the Kremlin's grip on the regions, the restructuring of the federal government's executive branch - including the elimination or merger of certain agencies - did not cause much of a stir among politicians.

Meanwhile, the changes to the Cabinet left political analysts questioning the new structure's longevity and wondering whether the modifications are intended to please the politically connected groups vying for control of the government or to help trim the bureaucratic state apparatus.

According to the decree signed by Putin last Thursday, entitled "On the structure of the federal organs of executive power," 13 of the ministries and committees making up the previous Cabinet have been eliminated, while their powers are to be transferred to the remaining agencies or to newly formed ones.

Overall, the number of ministers has been cut from 30 to 24 and the number of government agencies from 39 to 33, according to The Associated Press. There will be five deputy prime ministers instead of seven, and no first deputy.

Among the abolished agencies are the Ministry for the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS, the Science Ministry, Trade Ministry, Economics Ministry, State Committee for Northern Regions, Environmental Committee, Youth Policy Committee, Federal Service for Civil Aviation, Federal Migration Service, Federal Service for Currency and Export Control, the Road Agency and the Cinematography and Land committees.

Among the most significant changes was the creation of two "super" ministries: the Economic Development and Trade Ministry headed by German Gref, the liberal economist in charge of the Center for Strategic Research, and the Industry, Science and Technology Ministry to be headed by newcomer Alexander Dondukov.

Under Putin's order, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry will not only takeon the powers of the former Economics and Trade ministries, but also part of the powers of the former CIS Ministry, Committee for Northern Regions, Federal Service for Currency and Export Control and even the Sports and Tourism Ministry, which was transformed - in diluted form - into an eponymous committee.

The formation of such gargantuan structures caused skepticism among some political analysts who dubbed the measure "a risky step."

"I have grave doubts about the formation of these monstrous ministries," said Yevgeny Volk, a political analyst with the Heritage Foundation.

"When Gref gets control over six ministries, the question that arises is whether such a structure can be managed at all. A merger [of the ministries] does not suggest that they will become more manageable," he added.

Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center suggested that the new giants are temporary structures designed as an experiment, and might be restructured again soon.

"These super-ministries are only an experiment and the future will show whether they can be managed," Ryabov said.

He suggested the result and/or purpose of the restructuring will be twofold: to serve the interests of influential clans controlling parts of the Cabinet and to reorganize the state apparatus by getting rid of some obviously useless agencies.

For example, the CIS Ministry was an "artificial structure" that partially duplicated the Foreign Ministry and led to some confusion in its foreign policy, Volk said.

"It's impossible to divide foreign policy into two parts - one concerning CIS countries and the other for the rest of the world," he said.

Other controversial points in restructuring the government agencies include the abolition of the Cinematography Committee, which will be absorbed by the Culture Ministry, and the Environment Committee, whose functions will go over to the Natural Resources Ministry.

Ryabov called the elimination of the Cinematography Committee, or Goskino, Putin's big mistake and suggested that conflict with the influential cinema community could have been avoided if the president had chosen to leave the committee untouched.

To protest the abolition of Goskino, dozens of prominent cinematographers held a rally Monday outside the committee's headquarters in central Moscow, and the Izvestia daily ran an open letter to Putin from well-known members of the film community expressing their indignation at the decision.

Volk said the restructuring is unlikely to lead to a substantial reduction of the bureaucratic apparatus as Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov had promised earlier.

"Any reduction eventually turns into an expansion, " Volk said.

"It [the promise of a cut in bureaucracy] is pure fiction, a regular populist slogan exploited by any government," he said.