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Medvedev On the Margins?

medved-1.jpgPresident Medvedev’s non-committal comments regarding Vladimir Putin’s All Russia People’s Front at a radio interview yesterday confirmed to some minds the evidence of a breach between the Prime Minister and the President as the 2012 elections loom.  Which of the two men will run for president has been a primary topic for Russia analysts in recent weeks.  Today’s Financial Times has an extensive examination of the President’s plays for power in recent months, and considers to what extent he has been successful in maneuvering in a cabinet that remains largely loyal to Prime Minister Putin:

So it may have been especially satisfying for Mr Medvedev to force Mr Sechin out of his eyrie at Rosneft. On March 31 he issued a decree that cabinet ministers had to vacate board seats they occupied at state companies, eliminating untold privileges and conflicts of interest. A few weeks later, Mr Sechin duly stepped down.

It was a rare victory for Mr Medvedev. As the junior associate in the ruling “tandem” with Vladimir Putin – his more powerful, and more conservative, predecessor and mentor, who is currently prime minister – making good on his reform pledges has not always been easy.

[…]

Many of Mr Medvedev’s instructions to the government havefallen on deaf ears: the finance ministry under Alexei Kudrin, a closePutin ally, is legendary for its unresponsiveness, say a number ofinsiders and former officials. Mr Kudrin is himself a respected reformerand economic manager, but clearly his loyalties lie with Mr Putinrather than Mr Medvedev, as do those of most of the cabinet. “The deputyministers don’t see Medvedev as their boss, they see it as Putin,” saysone economist.

Mr Medvedev’s 2009 order toestablish a unified national payment system, to expand the use ofconsumer credit and debit cards, took 17 months before the financeministry made it into legislation. The ministry maintains that the delaywas due to problems in co-ordination with other ministries, not to lackof will or interest.

Persistently, Mr Medvedev uses the commission to prod ministers intodoing his bidding. At its last meeting on April 25, he took AndreiFursenko, education minister, to task for poor co-ordination betweenacademia and the private sector. “The ministry should work – not sleepbut work seriously,” he said, apparently noting that Mr Fursenko hadbeen nodding off during the four-hour long session. “Maybe you should dosome ‘doping’,” joked the boyish-looking president – slang for a briskshot of espresso or vodka to get the blood flowing.

He also admonished Mr Kudrin, the finance minister, urging him to “worktogether with the administration, so the results are useful to all” – aswipe at Mr Kudrin’s evident lack of co-operation with the Kremlin.

Targeting the cosy relationships between cabinet ministers and statecompanies was the most noteworthy of 10 points on a reform agenda thatalso promises to strengthen corporate governance and weed out corruptionby empowering whistleblowers. Outlined by Mr Medvedev on March 31 at ameeting of the modernisation commission in the industrial city ofMagnitogorsk, it led not only to Mr Sechin’s departure from Rosneft butthe resignation of Mr Kudrin from the board of VTB, the state-controlledbank, though those close to him say the finance minister agreed withthe president’s action.

“Medvedev’s decision clearly had a political aspect to it,” says AlexeiMakarkin of the Centre for Political Technologies in Moscow. “Most ofthe cabinet ministers covered by the decree were appointed by Putin,loyal to Putin, and Medvedev was interested in a way to weaken theirinfluence.” He says it was clear the man Mr Medvedev was really goingfor was Mr Sechin, leader of the group in Mr Putin’s circle known as thesiloviki, literally “strong guys”, with security backgrounds whom MrPutin brought with him into the Kremlin in 2000. Mr Sechin’s ousting waswidely seen as a blow to siloviki power.

Read all here.