After forming only one month ago on Monday, May 12, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Cabinet of Ministers is still in its infancy. But unlike a child, the state has no time to be weaned. Immediately after its inception, the Cabinet of Ministers faced the myriad problems of a sprawling Russia.
What do the new state’s first steps tell us? What should be expected of Putin’s government? KP discussed these questions with renowned Russian political scientists.
Last December when Putin’s future role as prime minister was announced, he asked then-head of state Viktor Zubkov to structure the job so that his “arrival to the post of prime minister would be cause for celebration.” It should be noted, though, that there was quite a bit of anxiety despite the jovial atmosphere. The ministers had no idea who would remain in office until almost Putin’s first day in the White House. Spectators may safely assume that some officials learned their fate only that Sunday evening.
The heavy workload began on day one. Although the ministers might remember previous governments as “good times,” they will look back on Putin’s term as head of state differently. Before that Monday’s presidium, the vice ministers and ministers lugged around massive 20-centimeter thick folders and voluminous documents and discussed Putin’s arrival to the post. The faces were serious and concerned. In a word the officials were already working away.
Not all the White House department directors have been appointed just yet. And the authority has not been divided among the ministries. A handful of new arrivals to the government are also expected and the situation may continue as such until autumn. But the organizational work is progressing without halting manufacturing. The ministers are laboring over their tables, charts and figures trying to combine their economic dreams with reality. However, Putin is not always satisfied with the White House’s creative thinkers. At one presidium, he glanced at the presented prognoses and remarked: “I looked at the figures and for some reason they do not smell of innovative development.” Minister Elvira Nabiullina immediately headed off to search for new resources.
Even on weekends, the White House officials are toiling away. As one of the civil servants said, Putin has set a tough rhythm and hopes to eradicate bureaucratic tenacity. For instance, when Putin spoke at a recent presidium about lowering taxes, his report as prepared by his assistants mentioned that the state must introduce amendments to the State Duma soon. But when Putin read the report he disagreed and said that the amendments should be introduced within a week. And they were.
But the government is not just equipped with a tough prime minister. There is also his First Deputy Igor Shuvalov. The White House officials fondly remember the disciplined manner in which he ran the ship during his time as chief of staff years ago.
“Of course, Putin is setting the goal to make the state’s work more dynamic,” said Director of the Institute of Strategic Studies and Analysis Vagif Guseinov. “Putin understands the White House’s problems well — bureaucratic delays, in-fighting among civil servants, if you remember Defense Minister Sergery Sokolov and Federal Culture Agency Director Mikhail Shvydkov (removed from their posts after Putin’s arrival)… But these are only the incidents which came to light. How many conflicts were there behind the scenes?”
“The state is looking for its path,” said political scientist and PR-3000 Director Stanislav Radkevich. “It’s already known that a well-defined socially oriented policy and tax indulgences have been declared. But here’s the question — will offering benefits provide a new impulse for inflation, which is in essence a hidden tax on the population that goes unwritten in legislation?”
“It is obvious that the Cabinet of Ministers wants to execute the so-called Livshchits system (ed. sharing with the people)… Social expenditures have been announced,” said Nikkolo M Strategic and Analytical Director Mikhail Afanasev. “But some of the government’s steps cannot be judged unequivocally. For example, the appointment of Putin’s inner circle as vice prime ministers — how effective will they be? Is this just handing out earrings to all one’s sisters?”
“All the staffing was done appropriately,” said Guseinov. “The people close to Putin have remained in the Kremlin and individuals close to Medvedev have come to the White House. The prime minister and president have sorted their people in different teams and established a system of interdependence. This is insurance against conflicts and confrontation. Shuvalov is both Putin’s and Medvedev’s man. And another important figure in the control mechanism Chief of Staff Sergey Sobyanin is an effective manager and non-conflicting person. The state has liberal figures and those loyal to the state. It is good when an orchestra has different voices — not all trumpeters for example.”
Why an ambassador for the White House?
As soon as Prime Minister Putin went to Paris and started speaking about foreign policy he was heavily criticized. He is usurping presidential authority, they said. But it would seem strange indeed should Putin have suddenly lost all interest in international affairs. It was Putin who changed the world’s attitude towards Russia from one of neglect to respect. Putin’s proactive nature in the country’s foreign relations does not hinder President Medvedev. Take his tough speech in Berlin. In many ways Medvedev’s stance follows the course set by his predecessor.
“I feel a bit sorry for Lavrov,” said Radkevich. “Either the prime minister or president is doing his job… And Lavrov is a top professional.”
But it is unlikely that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be left twiddling his thumbs. Ultimately, the preparatory work that he puts in, which often goes unseen by the public, ensures that Medvedev and Putin are able to make their colorful speeches in the West. It is also difficult to talk about resentment in world politics. In almost any nation, the country’s leading figures make the strategic speeches that define the state’s foreign policy.
Speaking about professionals… Recently Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Yury Ushakov became Sobyanin’s deputy. They say that the U.S. is in shock. It seems almost impossible to pressure Ushakov. He firmly defends Russia’s interests without considering U.S. authority or demands. Here is a short segment from his article published in the Los Angeles Times last year: “We will not allow anyone to define our domestic and foreign policy. We find the point of view upheld by some officials in Washington D.C. to be insulting that Russia can be used when needed and then shoved to the side and abused when the country does not benefit U.S. interests.”
Ushakov’s appointment to the state is symbolic. The move means Russia will continue to advance its interests on the international area. Prime Minister Putin will allocate serious attention to this issue.
Of course Putin and his team know that today curtailing inflation is vitally important and a priority issue.
“It is clear that the Cabinet of Ministers wants to tackle inflation, but they are using what seems to me to be a unilateral approach at the moment — reducing the money passing through the banking system,” said political scientist Mikhail Afanasev. “Experts say that the economy has overheated, but this is doubtful. Inflation must be fought through economic development and not limiting funds.”
“Competition and a viable market are necessary to conquer inflation. We have neither at the moment,” said Economics Professor and author of “Russian with Putin after 2008” Yury Boryan. “Look, they decided to cut down on U.S. chicken imports and said that our manufacturers will earn instead. But who knows that this is what will happen? I think our manufacturers will simply raise their prices. The Anti-Monopoly Committee is underfilling its role. This is evident by the prices on gasoline. Costs will decrease only in a competitive market.”
Professor Boryan said that the ministers need to explain how their steps will affect everyday people. He added that in the Soviet era, the economic effect on each individual was always broken down and demonstrated.
“But how does our government function today?” he said. “If a project brings in money it is good and if it does not then it is bad. They go on and on about macroeconomic figures and the country’s prestige. But they do not say a word about what the project will specifically bring you and me. And that is exactly what the people need to know.” READ MORE