Downgrading the Siloviki

sechin072308.jpgIt’s been a little while since we have seen an extended analysis of the latest from the Kremlin’s clan wars, and before I got the opportunity to spend a few hours on this, Gordon Hahn has already beat me to the punch. I agree with him that there is much to glean from the new round of post-election appointments, as many key siloviki have been given “golden parachutes.” Below are just a few highlights from his article:

Internal history: the hard-line siloviki faction began to move aggressively against softer-line siloviki and more liberal civilian clans in and around the Kremlin. Immediately after Zubkov’s confirmation, Anti-Narcotics Agency chief Viktor Cherkesov’s right hand man General Alexander Bulbov was arrested on corruption charges instigated by Sechin clan member and the Prosecutor General’s Investigations Committee chief Alexander Bastrykhin. Bulbov had led the investigation into the ‘Tri Kita’ (Three Whales) smuggling operation led by FSB and former FSB officers associated with Sechin. Then weeks later, two Anti-Narcotics Agency officers were killed in St Petersburg, and many in Moscow saw the Sechin clan’s hands in the affair. The Sechin faction also moved against the liberal Petersburg ‘financiers clan’ associated with Zubkov and Finance minister Alexei Kudrin. In December, Kudrin’s deputy minister, Sergei Storchak, was arrested and charged with attempting to embezzle the fantastic sum of $47 million. This was not the sort of behavior that helped ensure a glitch-free managed election campaign and presidential succession.

The untimely and largely one-sided war between the various siloviki clans apparently forced Putin to forego a dangerous interregnum in which a weak Zubkov or other interim leader would have to control the unruly siloviki. Instead, Putin backtracked and developed a transition modality in which he could keep his hands on the helm gradually letting a less hard-line, more practical, if not liberal successor take over. His successor would have to be one who was not tied to either of the siloviki clans, could enlist the support of moderate civilian jurists, economists, and financiers, and like Putin would stand above and balance the interests of Moscow’s competing clans.Not surprisingly then, Putin decided to anoint his long-time Petersburg associate, the more independent and less conservative Dmitrii Medvedev, as his crowned successor. The pro-Kremlin United Russia party won the State Duma elections with a constitutional majority, Medevdev won the presidential election and appointed Putin as his premier and the rest (and perhaps the Sechin clan’s clout as well) is history. (…)However, despite Naryshkin’s relatively smooth transition, the Peterburg siloviki clans have suffered a series of significant albeit limited demotions or ‘golden parachutes’. This substantially but not drastically reduces their influence within the power configurations in and between the Kremlin and the White House. Most importantly, the chief of the more hardline siloviki clan, Igor Sechin was demoted from his position as first deputy head of the presidential administration and appointed first deputy premier in charge of industrial policy and energy minus the defense industry, natural resources and environmental issues, and technology and nuclear energy oversight. Thus, Sechin’s energy portfolio may not include oil and gas. New government apparatus chief and deputy premier, the former presidential administration chief Sergei Sobyanin is a gas and oil man, having been Tyumen ‘s Governor. Also, a separate Energy Ministry has been set up from the Natural Resources and Ecology Ministry which is run by Yurii Trutnev, former governor of the oil region Perm Oblast, and it is unclear whether the former will be under Sechin’s jurisdiction. This may mean he will be removed from the board of RosNeft, which would be consistent with Medvedev’s desire and Putin’s claim that government officials on state company boards are not ‘state oligarchs’ but temporary representatives of the state on state enterprises’ boards. A sign that Sechin may be forced togiveuphis chairmanship of RosNeft’s board of directors is his simultaneous new appointment as chairman of the board of directors of the Russian state’s United Shipbuilding Corporation, replacing new presidential administration chief Alexander Naryshkin. The heavy industry sector that Sechin now seems tied to is less prestigious than the oil, gas, defense, and high technology sectors.That Sechin’s new post is a demotion, because he was passed over for an appointment as a first vice premier. That post would have been more commensurate with his former status as first deputy head of the all-powerful presidential administration. On the other hand, non-silovik deputy presidential administration head Igor Shuvalov was appointed as one of two first deputy premiers along with another non-silovik, former premier Vitkor Zubkov. Moreover, with Sechin’s demotion it has been leaked that as first deputy presidential administration head he stalled Putin’s decisions and attempted to convince him to reconsider key appointments (Russian Newsweek 12 May 2008). This leak may be an attempt by Putin to further distance himself from the Sechin clan.Similarly, Sechin clan member, first deputy premier and former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was demoted from holding one of two first deputy premierships to one of seven deputy premiers, though he remains in charge of the defense and high technology industries. Since Ivanov was the Sechin clan’s favorite to succeed Putin, his receiving a demotion rather than the highest promotion is a clear defeat for the clan. However, Ivanov remains a key player given that he is responsible for sectors that Putin and Medvedev have promised will be key foci for investment and development under the modernization program. (…)In sum, the siloviki clans, most importantly the powerful chekist clans such as the hardline Sechin clan, have experienced a serious setback during the transition to the Putin-Medvedev duumvirate. It has taken none of the first deputy premierships and two of the five deputy premierships in the government and lost nearly all of its clout within the presidential administration. In sum, even if more power now resides with Putin than Medvedev by virtue of his control of both the government and the ruling party, the Sechin clan failed to convert its former weight within the presidential administration in full to the White House, while being deprived of all but one ranking post in the Kremlin.It should not be excluded that the siloviks’ decline has been authorized by more than Putin’s desire to distance himself from an element which proved itself to be a destabilizing one during ‘operation successor’. It may also be related to the Putin-Medvedev duumvirate’s desire to have more technocratic and less corrupt and politicized administration as it endeavors to finalize and implement a long-term modernization program. More optimistically still, it could set the stage for a political ‘thaw’ later on in the Medvedev administration.