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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Conducting the State

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President Vladimir Putin's appointment of former Primorye Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko as chairman of the State Fisheries Committee would seem to provide a comprehensive answer to the common question, "What exactly will the 'personnel revolution' that society has expected from Putin ever since he took office be like?" There will be no revolution, but evolution instead. The hopes of one portion of society and the fears of the other — that the bureaucrats of Boris Yeltsin will be swiftly replaced with faceless functionaries from Lubyanka — have turned out to be unfounded.

Nazdratenko's appointment was made over the strenuous objections of many highly placed figures in the administration and the government. Putin personally insisted upon it. We can only speculate as to why the president would show such concern for the fate of the politically compromised and managerially challenged Nazdratenko. Most likely, the reason is that Nazdratenko is politically compromised only in Moscow. In Primorye, he retains strong popular support and could have spoiled the Kremlin's plans for the upcoming gubernatorial election. As a result, he was taken out of the game by offering him a prestigious and lucrative government post.

That is just one version, of course. The point is that for the first time since Putin became president, a high government post has become the object of petty trading.

But how differently things looked just last summer! Then, we were marveling at the beauty of the Kremlin's new management model. The main feature was that Putin — unlike his predecessor who was obsessed with maneuvering and balancing — intended to create a strong vertical power structure and to strictly, but justly, manage through an obedient, smooth-functioning apparatus.

But it was not to be. Instead of being able to simply issue an order that would be immediately and exactly executed without protest, Putin is forced to negotiate with a man whom, by all indications, he neither respects nor likes. That is, he is doing exactly what Yeltsin excelled at— handing out posts in exchange for loyalty or, at least, neutrality.

Setting Nazdratenko aside, we should note how the administration was able to play off Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's government against the Duma last week. And how the ambitions of Anatoly Chubais (and not just those related to the restructuring of Unified Energy Systems) were balanced against the Security Council. Putin really seems to be conducting the orchestra with his predecessor's baton.

I think that the simplest explanation for this is that, thank goodness, at heart Putin is just not a revolutionary. He didn't come to the presidency through politics, but through service in the bureaucracy. That fact has both positive and negative consequences. It is indubitably good that he understands the bureaucracy from the inside, having himself climbed the ladder from the bottom rung to the top. He worked inside the Yeltsin administration and knows firsthand the Russian bureaucrat and the rules of their games.

For this reason it is laughable to hear commentators suggest that it was only after Putin took his oath that he suddenly realized with horror that the bureaucrats in his administration and the government are only secondarily concerned about conducting the state's business. It was no revelation for Putin that bureaucrats are primarily worried about their own financial interests and those of the oligarchic groups supporting them.

Equally laughable are comments that Putin decided to clean the house altogether and bring in his own team from St. Petersburg, but only at the last minute discovered that his friends weren't ready for such high government posts. That is why he has been slow to fire people.

On the contrary, I think that Putin's maneuvering is determined by the fact that he understands perfectly what the Russian bureaucracy is and what his Petersburg team is capable of. The bureaucracy is a force to be reckoned with. It either accepts or rejects any bosses placed over it. It tolerated, for instance, Viktor Chernomyrdin and Yevgeny Primakov. And it rejected Sergei Stepashin and Sergei Kiriyenko. Likewise, it tolerated Yeltsin, who in exchange played by the rules of the game.

It would seem that Putin intends to break up that game, if only to prevent himself from becoming a figurehead. But he cannot carry out such radical transformation within the administration or the government in a few months. Trying to do so would only have — at best — completely paralyzed the state apparatus.

Keeping all this in mind, it is not difficult to describe Putin's strategy for the coming government and administration reform. Firstly, it will come, but only very slowly. Secondly, the basic pattern will be to replace leading bureaucrats with their first deputies. First deputies are, of course, bureaucrats themselves, but as a rule they are less compromised than their bosses. And they will be grateful to Putin for promoting them.

The posts of prime minister and chief of staff are special cases. Indications are that Sergei Stepashin and Sergei Ivanov are the favored candidates. But the changes will not come in March, as some have speculated. And Kasyanov will not be the first to leave the White House. After all, he has to finish the task of creating a model of government reform.

Sergei Chugayev is deputy editor of Strana.ru's foreign division. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.