Russia's New Cabinet

The nominations for the new cabinet are the clearest sign yet that President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister–designate Vladimir Putin are planning to work “in tandem” to govern Russia.

The nominations for the new cabinet are the clearest sign yet that President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister-designate Vladimir Putin are planning to work "in tandem" in governing Russia.

An overriding concern of Putin-going back to his first days in office-was on ensuring "stability of power." When the Rose and Orange Revolutions happened in Georgia and Ukraine in 2003 and 2004, the West celebrated these events as triumphs of democracy. In the Kremlin, however, these developments were seen in a different light. In both cases, the Russians believed that the revolution had happened not because of pressure from below, but because the governing elite had been unable to resolve questions of succession.

One option-changing the constitution to allow Vladimir Putin to have unlimited terms of office-was apparently rejected as being too destabilizing in the long run. Instead-in keeping with precedents dating back to the Byzantine Empire-the current ruler "anointed" his successor who nonetheless does not take power from his predecessor but rules alongside him as his junior associate-which provides for both continuity of power but also a period of time in which the successor can be more fully wired into the structure of governance.

The new Cabinet appointments seem to indicate that, for the foreseeable future, we are entering a period of "cohabitation" between not only Putin and Medvedev, but their "teams".  Many of Putin's aides, particularly those described as being of the "siloviki", will enter the prime minister's office, either as deputy premiers or as members of his personal staff-in turn freeing up spaces in the presidential administration for "Medvedev's men." Many of the economic "liberals" who retained their positions in the Cabinet are going to be balanced by deputy premiers who will have overlapping areas of responsibility. In essence, one might see a "dual-key" system emerging. So the new minister of industry, Viktor Khristenko, who will supervise the Russian state property and investment funds, will find himself needing to consult and coordinate with former Putin aide Igor Sechin, who is now the deputy premier in charge of industrial policy.

All of this seems to be done in order to ensure that the Putin legacy is set in concrete, especially his vision for restoring Russia to great power status as one of the world's leading economies by 2020. Then, the real transition can begin, perhaps by 2010, where Medvedev will increasingly emerge from the Putin "chrysalis" to take his mentor's plan to the next stage of development.

Most Russians see continuity-44 percent see Putin's cabinet continuing the status quo (although 42 percent hope that Putin's government, working in tandem with the new president, will lead to major improvements). The Russian stock market also saw renewed gains as traders digested the news of the new cabinet.

And for those hoping for major changes in Russia's international posture, think again (not simply because so much of the old national security team remains in place). Medvedev is poised to continue the foreign policy course charted by his predecessor-including restoring Russia as an independent pole in international affairs, cultivating relations with China and India and continuing Russia's integration into Europe on its own terms.

So, as our French colleagues might advise--plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

 

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is the editor of The National Interest.