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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Is It About Efficiency Or Loyalty?

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Tuesday's government reshuffle and reorganization of the security block has given rise to a great deal of speculation about the possible motives behind it and whether the changes have run their course or there's more to come.

This is perfectly understandable. President Vladimir Putin has eschewed the "trigger-happy" and unpredictable style of his predecessor Boris Yeltsin regarding personnel policy. While government shake-ups seemed to become a monthly affair under Yeltsin, Putin has undertaken only one serious government reshuffle in the three years of his presidency, and that was two years ago.

However, Putin's commentary that the changes were to increase efficiency between government agencies in fighting terrorism and drug trafficking seems to be far from the whole story. Analysis of the reshuffle should not be divorced from the general political context and the fact that national elections are rapidly approaching.

While "efficiency gains" may be part of the story, other factors are clearly at play. In the process of reorganization, increased powers have been concentrated in the hands of those people that Putin trusts most and who owe their appointments to him (Patrushev, Ivanov, Cherkesov); and the powers of the FSB, the institution Putin is closest to, have been beefed up significantly. Those who have lost out and been packed off to sinecures -- Fradkov, Matyukhin, Totsky -- are all Yeltsin-era holdovers.

So is it efficiency or loyalty that is at the root of the shake-up? It is not unreasonable to assume that it was triggered in part by Putin's nervousness about the forthcoming elections. Putin seems to be relying increasingly heavily on the "power ministries" and state-run companies (such as Gazprom) to deliver victory in the parliamentary and presidential elections. FAPSI, which some say is responsible for the GAS Vybory system, has now been safely transferred into the hands of the FSB. (FAPSI denies any link to the system, however.)

Putin's goal in the next presidential election is surely to win without running up any debts to the "family"/oligarchs in order to give himself as much of a free hand in his second term as possible. Putin's first term, it will be recalled, was essentially handed to him on a plate by the family.

Moreover, Mikhail Kasyanov (much more a family man than a Putin man) has emerged as an increasingly independent figure in the past 12 months -- even having the temerity to challenge the president publicly on certain policy issues.

So, contrary to expectations, Putin could have a real battle on his hands in the next 12 months.