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Medvedev's 'Krysha'


President Dmitry Medvedev (right) meets with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the Gorki residence on October 1.

President Dmitry Medvedev (right) meets with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the Gorki residence on October 1.

In my last post I noted how President Dmitry Medvedev is replacing governors at a much higher rate than Vladimir Putin did during his presidency.

Now, thanks to a new study by Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Center for Elite Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology and Gleb Pavlovsky, president of the Effective Politics Foundation, I have some hard numbers on the two leaders' respective personnel policies. (I am searching for a link to the full report. Meanwhile, here are accounts of it from kreml.org and "Izvestia.")

According to Kryshtanovskaya and Pavlovsky, Putin replaced just 24 percent of the Kremlin administration during his fist two years in office. Medvedev, in contrast, has already replaced 63 percent of Kremlin bureaucrats as well as 40 percent of the country's governors. Under Medvedev, the average age of the country's regional bosses has fallen to 48 years old, down from 63 under Putin.

The average age for civil servants now stands at 50, but as "Izvestia" reports, that figure is likely to go down because Medvedev is proposing reducing the maximum age from 65 to 50.

As I have blogged here, Medvedev has been trying to bring in a fresh cadre of elites, many of whom have been dubbed "civiliki" due to their backgrounds in civil law, to balance the powerful siloviki faction that came in with Putin.

"Izvestia" quotes Kryshtanovskaya as saying that Medvedev's strategy carries risks:

Medvedev might find himself without support from the bureaucracy. Politicians are bound to start thinking one fine day whether they ought to continue supporting the man who would not support them. It is not an idle threat. Consider the opposition leaders we have in Russia nowadays. All of them from Zyuganov to Nemtsov to Yavlinsky to Kasyanov are political 'exiles' if I might use the term.

And this is where Putin comes in.

Medvedev's personnel policies have often been presented as part of a power struggle with Putin, but I think this interpretation wildly misses the mark. Putin understands as well as anyone that the system he painstakingly built over the past decade runs the risk of ossifying and stagnating without an infusion of new blood -- just as Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's stability-of-cadres approach did in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

As I have blogged on numerous occasions, Medvedev's real rival in the ruling elite is not Putin but Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin. The technocratic faction of the elite, that Medvedev leads, and the siloviki wing, headed by Sechin, are two integral parts of the Putin system.

When Putin was building his power vertical and bringing the country's media and business elite under its control, Sechin and the siloviki wing was dominant. But reforming that system and making it a force for modernizing the economy in the wake of the global crisis requires a different approach. And this is where Medvedev comes in and where the technocrats, civiliki, and modernizers get their moment in the sun.

Putin, however, is not prepared to let the reform and modernization process get out of control as it did during perestroika. "The trends that emerged in the late 1980s scare the domestic elite to this day," political analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev wrote in a recent commentary in "Vedomosti."

As an editorial in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" suggested this week, Medvedev is being given the space to rotate elites and pursue his modernization plans under Putin's protection -- but only to the extent that the current system and its key figures, including the siloviki, are not touched (Yury Luzhkov is expendible. Putin's siloviki allies are not):

The premier is very good at maneuvering to retain parity and maintain stability...Putin is prepared to offer Medvedev a shoulder to lean on when the president takes dramatic steps such as this. Putin serves as an additional insurance, as someone to cover the president's back. Being too independent and lacking strength from the bureaucratic point of view, the president could be stabbed in the back. Willing knife-wielders and always available, after all.

So to borrow the language of the Russian criminal underworld, Putin is serving as Medvedev's "krysha," or roof, giving him protection from the siloviki and a potentially vengeful bureaucracy to reform, refine, and modernize the system -- but not to fundamentally alter it.

-- Brian Whitmore

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The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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