Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin's Choice Balances Siloviki

By elevating Dmitry Medvedev, a St. Petersburg technocrat, to his chief of staff, President Vladimir Putin has prevented the siloviki from becoming virtually the sole players in his administration and will thus retain his position as ultimate powerbroker.

Late Thursday, Putin accepted the resignation of Alexander Voloshin as chief of the presidential administration and immediately appointed Medvedev to fill the vacated seat. Dmitry Kozak was promoted to become Medvedev's first deputy.

Medvedev, 38, and Kozak, 44, graduated from the same St. Petersburg law school as Putin and worked with him in the St. Petersburg city administration in the early 1990s. Putin brought both of them into the Kremlin shortly after he was elected in 2000.

Voloshin is widely believed to have stepped down after realizing that he was no longer able to defend the interests of the Family, officials appointed by Boris Yeltsin and their big business allies, from the onslaught of the siloviki.

Putin's decision to accept Voloshin's resignation, after mulling it over for five days, was seen as a victory for the siloviki, officials from the security services who came into the Kremlin with Putin.

"There should be no doubt that the balance of power has shifted greatly toward the siloviki with Voloshin's departure," Yury Korgunyuk of the Indem think tank said Friday. "This signals that the Family is losing the remnants of its clout, but it should not necessarily be interpreted as a full and final victory for the siloviki."

As if on cue, Medvedev came out Sunday night on Rossia television and questioned the decision last week to arrest shares in Yukos. He said the legal effectiveness of the action was not clear and warned that it could have serious consequences for the economy.

Andrei Piontkovsky, an independent political analyst, said Medvedev's comments were a sign Putin was bowing to those who oppose a full victory for the siloviki.

If Putin had picked one of the siloviki to replace Voloshin, the siloviki would have gained near monopoly influence over Kremlin policy, said Korgunyuk and Alexei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies.

Instead, Putin picked Medvedev and promoted Kozak. He also promoted Igor Shuvalov, another lawyer, to the rank of deputy head of the administration. Medvedev and Kozak belong to neither of the two main rival groups, and their appointment indicates the emergence of a new group, which Kommersant on Saturday dubbed the "Petersburg lawyers."

Given that the presidential administration outweighs even the government when it comes to formulating, if not implementing, policies, Medvedev and Kozak are in a position to pull strings on many issues.

They cannot, however, match the weight of Voloshin, who was the longest-serving chief of presidential staff in post-communist Russia.

"Voloshin was a generator of ideas, a creator," Makarkin said. "While formally a subordinate, he was also somewhat of a partner for Putin, while the newly promoted men are more the obedient executioners of the president's will."

Despite serving as first deputy chief of the presidential staff for more than three years, Medvedev is still a dark horse. He has maintained a low profile, fulfilling his duties quietly and only occasionally drawing the spotlight, as when he engineered the changing of the guard at Gazprom in 2001.

Kozak, who pushed through the liberalization of Russia's judicial system and other legal reforms, has been more outspoken.

Medvedev and Kozak will be able only to limit, not match, the political clout of the siloviki group, which is led by deputy heads of the presidential administration Viktor Ivanov and Igor Sechin, according to Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank.

Their relative weakness and lack of experience in economic policymaking will inevitable lead Medvedev and Kozak to gravitate toward liberal economists in the government such a Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, also natives of St. Petersburg.

If allied, these two groups would probably be able to prevent the siloviki from monopolizing influence on Putin, Korgunyuk and Makarkin said.

However, they would be neither capable of nor willing to prevent Putin and the siloviki from getting rid of other members of Voloshin's team, the two experts said.

The appointment of Shuvalov was seen as a concession to the Family. Kommersant said he will take over Voloshin's role as overseer of the economic bloc in the Kremlin administration and will become the informal leader of the Family group. Voloshin's Kremlin team includes deputy heads of the administration Vladislav Surkov, Sergei Prikhodko, Alexander Abramov and Dzhakhan Pollyeva and presidential spokesman Alexei Gromov, according to the newspaper.

Surkov, the informal supervisor of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, is considered likely to stay through the State Duma elections in December.

It is also a matter of time for Yeltsin-appointed Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, the experts said.

With the Family weakened and on its way out, Putin will rely on the siloviki and the liberal wing of his team, and play one off against the other to remain the ultimate arbiter, Korgunyuk and Makarkin said.

According to Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Moscow Center, however, the siloviki are already unstoppable and will continue to gain influence.

The liberal-minded natives of St. Petersburg in the Cabinet and presidential administration will likely continue to draft and implement economic and administrative reforms to ensure economic growth, but will do so under the watchful eye of the siloviki, Petrov said. "Neither Medvedev nor Kozak nor others are thinking about balancing the siloviki. ... They will be hired managers, but not more."