Political scientists told about changes in Putin’s entourage

Political scientists told about changes in Putin’s entourage
Vladimir Putin Photo: ander Nemenov / Reuters

According to Minchenko Consulting, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and businessman Gennadiy Timchenko have increased their influence, and State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has dropped out of those close to the President.

Experts with Minchenko Consulting have presented the report called Politburo 2.0 and the Anti-Establishment Wave on the entourage of Russian President Vladimir Putin, RBC reports. Political scientists consider Politburo 2.0 to be the most influential informal political institution in the country. The authors of the report establish belonging to it through informal expert interviews with representatives of Russian elites. The expert panel includes more than a hundred people.

According to political analysts Konstantin Kalachev and Nikolai Mironov, the state government is too closed for an accurate assessment of authority, proximity to the President and influence on him. Informal personal relationships are key in it, Kalachev believes. Mironov argues that the President "tries to maintain the balance in his inner circle as best he can and minimize conflicts."

The report of Minchenko Consulting tells about the shake-up in Vladimir Putin’s inner circle that has occurred over the past few years. In particular, the deteriorated relations with the West and growing likelihood of a mobilization scenario have reinforced the position of Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. According to experts, the Security Council's office becomes the fourth circuit of the big government along with the presidential administration, the government and key state corporations. Patrushev became the key negotiator with the United States since the “halo of toxicity” around any informal contacts with representatives of the American side enhances the diplomatic role of security services, according to Minchenko Consulting.

Kalachev says security forces form not only a global picture for the President, but also influence his attitude towards different persons.

In recent years, the founder of Volga Group, Gennadiy Timchenko, who was expelled from the President's entourage by political scientists in 2016 because of a “decline in activity,” has returned in it. The businessman's projects in the field of economics are flourishing, he starts to have more and more allies in the executive branch. Experts believe that the key project of Timchenko is the development of the infrastructure of the Northern Sea Route. The businessman's positions have strengthened through cooperation with the owner of NOVATEK Leonid Mikhelson and the Kovalchuk brothers.

The latter are responsible for the new energy sector, the Arctic, and scientific and educational policy. The influence of Kovalchuks has increased after the appointment of interim Head of St. Petersburg Alexander Beglov, political analysts say.

The position of Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin has also consolidated. He is considered an informal energy curator with influence on security officials. The experts note that in office conflicts, Sechin’s influence can only be curtailed if there is a coalition of several members or candidate members of Politburo 2.0.

After the construction of the Crimean Bridge was successfully completed, Arkady Rotenberg has significantly improved his position. He has become a preferred contractor for large infrastructure projects with influence on Russian Railways and the Ministry of Transport, experts remark.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Head of Rostekh Sergei Chemezov oversee the defense and military-industrial complex. Amidst the “degradation of diplomatic instruments,” the role of the army is also growing. Political scientists believe Shoigu is the informal curator of several regions and, according to opinion polls, one of the most popular politicians in the country.

Rostekh swallows up industrial assets (in particular, the United Aircraft Corporation), develops expansion into new sectors of the economy (garbage, retail, digital economy, etc.) and expands its influence on regional elites. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin is engaged in the development of the metropolitan agglomeration and oversees a pool of regions, experts say.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's position in Politburo 2.0 is unobvious. He personally supervises national projects, but at the same time his command and symbolic resource is lowering, and the business focused on his team is weakening (in particular, the arrest of the Magomedov brothers is mentioned).

The report notes that in the face of increasing influence of Politburo 2.0 on ministers, the role of a counterbalance is played by deputy prime ministers whom Putin trusts.

According to Minchenko Consulting, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has dropped out of the immediate circle of the President. He reduced his influence on political parties and All-Russia People's Front and suffered losses in his regional network. Experts remark that there are only figures in charge of important industries and projects that are still in the major league of the Russian elite.

Earlier, the authors of the report have published an assessment of the resources of Politburo 2.0 members, but this time it was not done, said Dmitriy Badovskiy, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Social-Economic and Political Studies. “It is difficult to assess the conclusions and dynamics of positions, because the authors for the first time have not disclosed the analytical tools for assessing resources. That said, the whole model of the “politburo” - if tackled as an analytical model, is based only on this,” said Badovskiy.

Members of the president’s inner circle are gaining influence through the redistribution of resources from regional elites and private companies. Government-related companies develop new economy sectors or form markets from scratch (for example, the recycling industry). The characters from Politbyuro 2.0 claim to be supervised by a large amount of resources in order to eliminate the possibility of painless disbanding of their structures or transferring them to other members of the elite. As a result, the share of state structures in the economy is growing against the background of reducing the influence of large business, whose representatives are now more often given the role of junior partners of state project operators. 

A similar approach is applied in politics. Instead of competing, they are betting on technocrats, Minchenko Consulting noted. Managers, who have no links with local elites, are delegated from the center to the regions. Technocrats are used to train federal managers, combat the "regional frontier," and reduce the separatist potential.

Political analysts believe the "anti-system" mood – which also affected Russia, leading to a series of defeats in regional elections and protests on the federal and regional agenda – to be a challenge for world elites. The society requires politicians of the new type. According to political analysts, the old ways of dealing with this wave – such as the anti-nomenclature rhetoric of the president and the governors appointed by him, high-profile resignations, and the anti-corruption campaign – are becoming ineffective. 

Another factor of change is the program of the president’s fourth term (May decree and national projects), which led to a new round of competition between groups of influence. The new cabinet has become a “government of unpopular reforms” due to an increase in the retirement age. This led to an active discussion of the models of transfer of power in 2021-2024 already at the beginning of Putin’s six-year presidential term. 

In addition, the conflicts around the perimeter of Russia – in Ukraine, in Armenia and Belarus (in this case, we are talking about the crisis of the union state project) – caused changes in the president’s inner circle. The report notes favorable trends in relations with the West, including the results of the investigation into interference with the presidential elections in the United States, the trade war between the United States and China, and the policies of the administration of President Donald Trump. At the same time, Russian business remains vulnerable to US sanctions. 

The gap between Russia's small contribution to world GDP and its claim to the role of one of the key world powers poses the task to seriously increase its resource potential in a short time before the Russian authorities, the report concludes.

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