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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin's Move Fans Hope For Reform

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President Vladimir Putin explained his first major government reshuffling as "a step toward the demilitarization of public life" and said that the move was motivated largely by a desire to kick-start his stalled military reforms.

These are certainly laudable goals and, from initial appearances, the personnel shifts announced Wednesday could well lead to progress toward them — if they are accompanied by a sustained, visible commitment by Putin in the months to come.

There are definite advantages to having a civilian politician take charge at the interior ministry. Likewise, having the semi-civilian Sergei Ivanov (who is, after all, a retired KGB general) at the helm in defense is more conducive to change than the leadership of 62-year-old Igor Sergeyev was — although probably not as radical or rapid a change as genuine civilian leadership would bring.

However, if these changes really indicate the dawning of an era in which politicians — rather than narrow specialists — call the strategic shots in government, then they may turn out to be little short of revolutionary.

Russia's previous attempts to entrust fundamental reforms to people who were products of and committed to the old system have failed time and again. In fact, we still see crucial judicial and criminal-procedures reform blocked by Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov. Only leaders who are able to see what the country needs to move forward rather than what individual ministries need to continue along their merry way will be capable of conceiving and carrying out reforms.

Nonetheless, it is by no means certain whether Putin appreciates this. His replacement of Nuclear Power Minister Yevgeny Adamov — which in itself is the most welcome move that Putin made Wednesday — with the narrow technocrat Alexander Rumyantsev seems to reflect old thinking.

While the country certainly needs such high-caliber specialists advising its nuclear power minister, that minister should be someone who is capable of seeing beyond the narrow limits of technical questions. The main problem with Adamov — leaving aside serious malfeasance charges raised by the Duma's anti-corruption commission this month — was that he was stubbornly politically tone deaf, unmoved by the fact that the vast majority of the country opposes his spent-fuel-importing scheme.

Many hopes now rest on the new defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, and the new interior minister, Boris Gryzlov. Some of the most painful problems confronting Russia — from Chechnya to organized crime to the stifling burden of Russia's overmilitarized society — are now theirs to deal with. If Putin stands by them, maybe we'll see some progress.