Russia’s new cabinet is unlikely to deliver the “substantial renewal” promised by President Vladimir V. Putin, observers suggest.
The selection of the cabinet was “unusually opaque, even for the Russian political tradition,” said one analyst, while the government’s composition confirms former President Dmitry Medvedev’s marginalization and casts doubt on his ability to deliver promised reforms.
“Medvedev has promised many things,” said Lilia Shevtsova, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center think-tank. “This government is officially Medvedev’s, but in reality it is Putin’s.”
Putin ally Igor Shuvalov, the subject of widespread allegations of corruption benefiting his wife, Olga, to the value of over $100 million, was reappointed as sole first deputy prime minister.
“This appointment surprised no one,” said Shevtsova. “Shuvalov, who is very experienced, will coordinate the work of other ministers.”
Medvedev’s Cabinet lacks the political weight to undertake major programs, said former Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovsky.
“In reality, it is a technical Cabinet, with the exception of the prime minister, who has been handed unique vice- presidential powers,” he said.
The new government will face “difficult, and somewhat thankless work,” said former finance minister Aleksei L. Kudrin.
“There are many capable people in it, but I cannot fail to note that it is a technical cabinet, it is not a breakthrough in government,” he said “I have serious doubts that it will be able to cope with all the challenges that face Russia today.”
The list of new ministers “was notable for the absence of several Putin-era heavyweights, and included many new names, though none known to be proponents of radical change,” the New York Times reports:
The most significant player to leave the cabinet is Deputy Prime Minister Igor I. Sechin, considered the leader of a group known as the siloviki, powerful Putin allies who once served in Russia’s security and intelligence services….
Medvedev has also selected, as his chief of staff, the veteran political operative Vladislav Y. Surkov, who played a key role in concentrating power in the Kremlin but recently began advocating more open political competition, asserting that “centralization has reached the limits of its capacity.”
The return of Surkov, known as the Kremlin‘s chief ideologue, “strengthens Medvedev’s hand,” some observers suggest.
“Of course, Surkov is a very competent political technologist, so he will keep his boss alive,” said Sergei A. Karaganov, a dean of the faculty of international relations at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. The cabinet’s selection was “unusually opaque, even for the Russian political tradition,” he said.
Putin’s ascendancy signals the return of his Cold War approach to U.S-Russian relations, writes Joel Brinkley.
“Putin, a vain and vulgar man, was born and bred to despise the United States,” he argues. “And in recent times, Washington has given him little reason to change his mind.”