In his first major political announcement since his re-election, Putin unveiled his new government which critics have described as uninspiring.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has unveiled his new government, with a line-up that critics described as uninspiring and which offered no concessions to the opposition demonstrators who have taken to the streets.
In his first major political announcement since returning to the Kremlin, Putin removed several unpopular ministers. Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev – described in US diplomatic cables as a “pragmatic hardliner” – was replaced by Vladimir Kolokoltsev, the head of the Moscow police, who has orchestrated the often-brutal crackdown on protesters in the Russian capital since December. The previous health and education ministers also lost their jobs.
But most other leading Cabinet members retained their posts. Sergei Lavrov remains Russia’s long-serving foreign minister, while Anatoly Serdyukov stays at defence, as does Anton Siluanov as finance minister.
Vladislav Surkov, the powerful “grey cardinal” sometimes described as Putin’s brain, kept his seat as deputy prime minister. One notable name missing is that of Igor Sechin. Sechin, seen as the leader of the Kremlin’s ex-KGB “siloviki” faction, leaves his job as deputy prime minister. He may emerge elsewhere, possibly as the new head of the FSB, Russia’s spy agency.
Last week Putin also offered a job to a former tank factory employee who pledged his loyalty to Putin on a live TV phone-in. Igor Kholmanskikh (43) the head of a Urals tank-making factory, rang Putin during the show in December. He offered to send in “the boys” to deal with the largely middle-class pro-democracy protesters who took to the streets in Moscow and St Petersburg to protest at fraud in December’s Duma election.
On Friday Putin named Kholmanskikh his new presidential envoy to the Urals. The appointment of someone with no government experience appeared to signal that loyalty to the boss was more important than administrative capability – with Kholmanskikh reminiscent of Joe the Plumber, the conservative activist adopted by John McCain and Sarah Palin during the 2008 US election campaign.
Putin met his new Cabinet on Monday morning. He read out their appointment, with each minister standing up when his name was announced, and in some cases, bowing deferentially. Putin told his ministers they faced “difficult work”. He described the global economic climate as “uncertain”. The new administration is dominated by men in grey suits, with just two women.
Critics said the new government showed that Putin – faced with the biggest street protests since the fall of the Soviet Union – was carrying on with the same approach as before. He had made no concessions to the opposition, they added, unveiling a cabinet made up of trusted loyalists and stooges.
Myths about Russia
Former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who fell out with Putin in 2004, tweeted that the new government was the familiar “Putin 2.0 version” from 2004-2012. “The policy … is to press on business and citizens,” Kasyanov wrote. Other bloggers turned their ire on the new culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, a 41-year-old former journalist and Kremlin propagandist whose books combat “myths about Russia”.
Putin returned to the Kremlin for his third stint as president on May 7. He said he was too busy working on the formation of a new Cabinet to attend last weekend’s G8 summit in Chicago, and sent Dmitry Medvedev – now prime minister – instead. The snub reflected Putin’s belief that the US state department had incited anti-Kremlin demonstrators to rise up against him, as well as his unhappiness about Washington’s missile defence plans in central Europe.
On Monday one leading analyst said the make-up of the new Cabinet was largely irrelevant, since most of the key decisions would be taken deep inside Putin’s presidential administration. Alexey Makarkin, deputy director of the Moscow centre for political technologies, said: “The key question is whose opinion will the president listen to? The most important thing in our country is informal influence.
“It’s very important to know the correlation in future between the president’s office and the PM’s. What will be the real powers of the president’s aides and the ministers? We can’t exclude that people in the administration will have more influence over economic policy than the Cabinet.”
All the signs pointed to the presidential administration being the real centre of power, with the government led by Medvedev of lesser importance, he said.
The new Cabinet also includes one gifted dancer. Footage that has proved a hit on YouTube shows Russia’s new minister for agriculture, Nikolai Fyodorov, showing off his moves at an open-air festival. – © Guardian News and Media 2012