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Putin Consolidates His Administration

  • Victor Yasmann --> During a discussion with journalists at the president's Black Sea residence in Sochi on 27 March, President Vladimir Putin announced that the sweeping reorganization of the presidential administration, following shortly after the reshuffling of the government earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 12 March 2004), should complete the first stage of the country's administrative reform.

Like the government reorganization, Putin's rearrangement of the presidential administration was essentially technical-bureaucratic in nature, rather than political. Under the plan, which was drafted by administration chief of staff Dmitrii Medvedev, the new structure will have three levels. At the top will be Medvedev and his two deputies (under the old system, there were eight deputy administration heads). The two remaining deputies are Vladislav Surkov, who formerly oversaw elections and work with political parties and public organizations, and Igor Sechin, who until recently was responsible for the president's schedule and for work with documents. Surkov is reputed to be close to the so-called Family of the era of former President Boris Yeltsin, while Sechin is associated with the "St. Petersburg chekisty," leading analysts to believe the two will maintain a balance between the interests of these groups.

The remaining six deputy-administration-head slots have been abolished and many of the former deputies have been given the status of presidential aides. Under the new scheme, former deputy administration head Aleksandr Abramov, who was responsible for federal issues, will become a presidential aide and will also serve as secretary of the State Council. Former deputy administration heads Dzhakhan Pollyeva (who oversaw the Kremlin experts' group and speech writing), Igor Shuvalov (economics), and Viktor Ivanov (personnel matters) will become presidential aides. Sergei Prikhodko will continue as presidential foreign-policy aide. Rounding out the administration's second tier, State Legal Department head Larisa Brycheva has also been given the status of a presidential aide.

The third level of the administration will comprise the heads of 12 functional departments and other administration units.

Outside of this three-tiered system, but also part of the presidential administration, there will be the offices of the seven presidential envoys to the federal districts, the Security Council and its apparatus, the presidential chancellery, and the secretariat. Aleksei Gromov will remain head of the presidential press service, and Igor Shchegolev remains chief of protocol.

Speaking to journalists on 27 March, Medvedev said that the precise division of labor among the deputy administration heads, the presidential aides, and the department heads is yet to be worked out. He indicated that most of the administration's 2,000 personnel will keep their jobs, although there could be some cuts in departments that will be abolished. It is believed, for instance, that the administration's economy departments will be incorporated into the structure of the experts' groups, while the Domestic Policy Department will be folded into the Territorial Department. Likewise, the Information Department will become part of the presidential press service.

The administration reform parallels the recent government restructuring proposed by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. The three-tiered system consists of 14 "super-ministries" responsible for policy formulation and decision making, followed by a layer of federal services responsible for policy implementation, and a tier of federal agencies responsible for monitoring and oversight.

The parallel structures should help consolidate the administration and the government and enable Putin to be more actively involved in the workings of the cabinet than he was when Mikhail Kasyanov was prime minister. The abolition of the presidential administration's Economy Department is indicative of this consolidation. Under Kasyanov, the administration's Economy Department was headed by Anton Danilov-Danilyan, who frequently debated economics with Kasyanov and the government, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 March. Analysts believe that Putin has such confidence in Fradkov's economic judgment that he does not feel the need to monitor the government's economic-policy ministries anymore.

Speaking about the administration reform during the press conference in Sochi on 27 March, Putin noted that the administration had not been restructured since it was created in 1991. "That was a time of revolution, and the administration was founded as the headquarters of revolution," Putin said. "Now we need an efficient tool of government that will correspond to its tasks and will not intervene in the spheres of jurisdiction of other power bodies, including the government."

Putin also spoke about his decision to dismiss Kasyanov's government on 24 February, just over two weeks before the 14 March presidential election. At the time, Putin said that he wanted to present his new government to the electorate before the vote. On 27 March, however, Putin said that Kasyanov's government had lost the momentum of reform and that it is necessary "from time to time to shake up such a structure because people...begin to value their posts" more than working effectively.

Neither explanation, however, seems convincing, since very few key officeholders lost their posts as a result of the government shakeup, with the notable exception of Kasyanov himself. Many analysts continue to believe that the shakeup was rushed through before the election in order to eliminate Kasyanov as a real or imagined political rival to Putin. Some forces within the Kremlin likely viewed Kasyanov as a figure capable of consolidating the anti-Putin political forces and gaining support both at home and abroad among those who are irritated by Putin's style of governance.