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The Kremlin Gets Hyperactive

President Dmitry Medvedev is having a busy week.

In a nationally televised interview on Sunday he promised Russians a new deal -- more transparency in exchange for loyalty.

Then on Monday he sacked four regional leaders, a one-day record since gubernatorial elections were scrapped in 2005 in favor of Kremlin appointments.

And today he revealed the first one hundred lucky members of Russia's new nomenklatura -- the so-called "golden 1,000" officials recruited to bring fresh blood into the political elite.

This Kremlin hyperactivity appears to be rooted in a deep unease about the future as Russia reels from the effects of the global economic crisis and the country's fragile social contract risks coming unglued.

Here's how Deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vladislav Surkov justified the gubernatorial purge -- in which the leaders of the Orel, Pskov, Voronezh oblasts and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug were replaced -- as reported by "Kommersant":

This is not a campaign. These resignations should be viewed from the standpoint of management efficiency... The crisis itself compels us to take a look at the quality of governance. It's nothing personal. For the most part, the president trusts the gubernatorial corps but an emphasis must be made on efficiency now, what with the crisis under way.

Surkov's protestations notwithstanding, some kind of "campaign" does appear to be under way -- as Medvedev made clear today in remarks to the Federation Council:

There will be an ongoing rotation in the cadre. In a situation where the impacts of the crisis are not subsiding but intensifying, the leaders of the Russian regions are required to have the ability to be able to work under these new conditions - to be able to work collectively and in a highly disciplined way.

The Kremlin is clearly nervous about regional and local elections scheduled for March 1, when 10 legislatures and eight mayors will be chosen. The ruling Unified Russia party has even lowered its threshold for "success" in the elections to winning a paltry 50 percent of the vote.

Moreover, in recent weeks, a number of conflicts and clan battles have flared up within regional elites. Most recently, in Daghestan, local groups blocked a Kremlin-appointed tax chief from entering his office.

In a commentary published in "The Moscow Times" today, Nikolai Petrov, an expert on Russia's regions at the Moscow Carnegie Center, explained the Kremlin's emerging strategy for dealing with the increasingly restive provinces:

Before, United Russia used the governors as "locomotives" to promote party candidates in regional elections. But now, the party is trying to distance itself from the authorities, particularly since the federal government has come under greater criticism during the economic crisis.United Russia is conducting an intensive house cleaning of its regional party ranks, most frequently opting for candidates favored more by the regional political elite than by the Kremlin. This is especially true of the speakers of regional parliaments, many of whom also run United Russia's local offices.

As far as Medvedev's "Golden 1,000" anointed members of the new nomenklatura goes, it is unclear whether this will turn out to be just another parlor trick or a real effort to replenish the elite. A recent post on Robert Amsterdam's blog said this of the initiative:

The best possible outcome of such a drive would be to dilute some of the government power currently concentrated on Vladimir Putin. Whether or not it will have this effect is another question.

We'll take a good hard look at the 100 names revealed so far in another post soon enough to see if any interesting patterns emerge. (after a quick perusal of the list, a few names jumped out for already being members of the elite: Aleksandr Bulygin, CEO of the RusAl aluminum giant, Arkady Volosh, CEO of the Russian Internet search engine Yandex, and former Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov, and Leonid Melamed, CEO of the services conglomerate Sistema).

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

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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