Yury Boldyrev, a prominent social commentator and deputy head of Russia's Audit Chamber during the Yeltsin era, discussed the development recently during an interview with RFE/RL's Russia Service.
"It's as if we simply don't have other qualified, deserving, responsible people, other than the relatives of those who are already members of the government," he said. "This is not only unethical, but also, I think, inappropriate from the point of view of an attitude toward society, toward the people. In society there are more than enough deserving people, qualified and able, who could have headed the ministry and developed an ideology.
"A situation in which a husband and wife [Golikova and Khristenko] are developing the ideology of energy resources and social politics is totally absurd for the government, for Russia with its population of 143 million -- this is something inappropriate."
From Ideology To Practice
Boldyrev argues that while the issue of nepotism is receiving the most attention, it is not the most disturbing trend in the Russian government.
That, Boldyrev says, is "the formation of a particular kind of government...in which we have a ministry that develops an ideology and an agency that puts it into practice." The practice, he warns, constitutes "an admission of the absolute failure of administrative reform."
As an example, he cites the replacement of Mikhail Zurabov as head of the Health and Social Development Ministry with Golikova. Boldyrev says this is a bad situation not only because she is married to another minister, but because "a financier has been appointed to a major social ministry."
Boldyrev says that "if the same Golikova were appointed to some agency that purchased medicine or something like that, it wouldn't be an issue. But to a ministry of public health -- one that supposedly formulates an ideology, social development and all that -- one needs to, strictly speaking, appoint a humanist, a person who understands this kind of problem. What can a financier do there? It's absolutely absurd."
Asked why he believes Golikova was appointed, Boldyrev appears bewildered.
"If I were a total cynic, I would say [that it was] just because she's a relative," he says. "But maybe this isn't exactly so. I can't even find explanations or justifications. I simply can't find them."
A Growing Phenomenon
Boldyrev's puzzlement regarding the new government is not restricted only to the Health and Social Development Ministry. "With the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, there is a practically analogous situation," he says.
At a time when developed countries are beginning to restrict Russian investment, what is needed is "a second look not only at [Russia's] politics, but at the doctrine of economic development and economic politics."
But instead, he says, with the appointment of new Economic Development and Trade Minister Elvira Nabiullina what Russia got was "practically a second [German] Gref," the man whom Nabiullina replaced. "I think this is very disheartening," Boldyrev concludes.