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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Top Cop to Rely on His Deputy

The appointment of Unity faction leader Boris Gryzlov to head the Interior Ministry was perhaps the most surprising in the Cabinet reshuffle. It left open the question of why President Vladimir Putin gave such a powerful tool to a relative political novice with no obvious police experience to speak of.

In announcing the reshuffle Wednesday, Putin said Gryzlov's appointment was "purely political." Gryzlov has distinguished himself in the State Duma largely through his boundless loyalty to the Kremlin, and as Interior Minister he is expected to continue doing the Kremlin's bidding unquestioningly.

Because of Gryzlov's inexperience, much of the day-to-day running of the police force is likely to fall to Gryzlov's new deputy, Vladimir Vasilyev, a veteran high-ranking Interior Ministry official.

Vasilyev had been unwilling to work under Gryzlov's predecessor, Vladimir Rushailo, and left the ministry for the Security Council. In the council, he was a deputy to Sergei Ivanov, who was named defense minister Wednesday.

Rushailo was close to former President Boris Yeltsin's inner circle, and seen as allied with one-time Family member Boris Berezovsky. Thus Vasilyev's return to the Interior Ministry and Gryzlov's appointment effectively takes the ministry away from the Family and puts it in the hands of people who have proven their loyalty to Putin.

Vasilyev can be counted on to start his new job by "smashing Rushailo's team to pieces," said Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center.

"He [Gryzlov] was named minister solely because he will be willing to implement any Kremlin decision," Ryabov said. "He has no understanding of how the Interior Ministry functions nor will he ever get it."

In his first public appearance after being appointed, Gryzlov said only that he would try to solve the "social problems" within the Ministry.

Gryzlov, 50, has spent most of his life out of the public eye, working as an engineer for more than 20 years in closed military factories in St. Petersburg.

After the fall of communism, the factory where he worked opened to new markets and he became the head of a newly created subsidiary in charge of export. He later tried his luck at numerous commercial projects until jumping into St. Petersburg politics in late 1998.

After running unsuccessfully for the city Legislative Assembly in December 1998, he gave politics another try in 1999 by heading the campaign of gubernatorial candidate Vikor Zubkov.

Zubkov lost, but Gryzlov's organizational talents were spotted by people putting together the new pro-Putin party, Unity. In October 1999, Gryzlov was chosen to head Unity's campaign in St. Petersburg, and three months later was picked to be its leader in the Duma.

"There was no real choice; there were very few normal and reasonable people in that hurriedly put-together movement," said Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former Unity member, in an interview published in Itogi magazine. "Gryzlov was one of the few who made a good impression: diligent, a good implementer, with a higher education, able to speak coherently."

His absolute loyalty to the Kremlin led Gryzlov from forging a power-sharing deal with the Communist faction in early 2000 to making enemies of the Communists last month by threatening to take them up on their call for a no-confidence vote and then voting against it. Gryzlov's actions were seen as a political game organized by the Kremlin.

When the Duma met earlier this month to discuss the no-confidence motion, Grzylov accused the Communists of "playing out a farce," which set off salvoes of laughter among the deputies.

Gryzlov may not find it easy to break into police circles. "The civilians always have a hard time getting accepted by the power agencies, and the Interior Ministry is the most difficult in this respect," Kommersant said Thursday.

"Boris [Gryzlov] once said that if ordered to by Putin, he would be ready to jump out of the window," political satirist Viktor Shenderovich commented Thursday in Kommersant. "It looks like this process has just started."