#8 - JRL 7135
April 8, 2003
GREF WILL ANSWER FOR THAT CAMEL REMARK
Deputy minister's partial incompetence may lead to his dismissal
Author: Pyotr Orekhin
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
USING SUCH A POWERFUL POLITICAL RESOURCE AS THE PRIME MINISTER'S DISMISSAL WOULD BE THE HEIGHT OF STUPIDITY AT THIS POINT. THAT IS WHY SOMEONE ELSE MAY BE CHOSEN TO BECOME THE SACRIFICE. MIKHAIL DMITRIYEV IS A PERFECT CHOICE. THE QUESTION IS WHETHER HERMAN GREF WILL WANT TO GIVE HIM UP.
Conflict between Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov and Herman Gref, Economic Development and Trade Minister and a key Cabinet member, has deteriorated from verbal sparring to behind-the-scenes battles. Kasianov's attack took the form of declaring that Gref's deputy minister, Mikhail Dmitriyev, is "partially incompetent".
Dmitriyev's statements on the pension reforms provided a formal pretext for the attack. Last week, Dmitriyev was sharply critical of the Cabinet staff - and, essentially, of the prime minister himself - when he all but openly accused them of deliberately delaying the reforms.
The Cabinet staff reacted instantly. Yevgeny Gontmakher, head of the Social Development Department, announced that the reforms were proceeding on schedule and that all problems were due to the sloppy work of the Economic Development Ministry. Everything ended there - temporarily - with Dmitriyev being publicly described as incompetent.
Top officials of the Economic Development Ministry have not been available for comments - unlike Gontmakher. He apparently could not resist the temptation to "kick the enemy when he's down" - and announced that dismissal could be the next logical step following "partial incompetence".
It may be added here that this is not the first time Dmitriyev has found himself under fire. In the past, he has been in trouble over administrative reform proposals criticized by Kasianov and his staff. Reorganization of the health insurance system, another area supervised by Dmitriyev, is the only program that does not annoy the Cabinet.
Most analysts believe that Dmitriyev has become a casualty of the conflict between his superior, Herman Gref, and Kasianov. Kasianov regularly criticizes Gref and his subordinates for careless work with documents, failure to follow government orders, lack of a clear position on many matters, and delays with reforms.
Kasianov even sharply rebuked Gref at a ministry board meeting: "We haven't been able to get your proposals on tax reforms for six months! And where are the proposals for the administrative reforms?"
Gref replied by saying that numerous documents prepared by his ministry were rewritten by other departments and the Cabinet staff to such an extent that their initial points were entirely lost. "You know what a camel is? It's an Arab racehorse after going through the coordination and agreement process," he said.
The motives behind Kasianov's irritation and displeasure are fairly clear. The Cabinet does not have any achievements to boast of. It has spent these last few years propped up by oil revenues (they are bound to end soon, when the Americans take over Iraqi oil-fields - the price is already under $25 a barrel). The Cabinet has not implemented any reforms. Economic growth has remained around 3-5%.
"The president demanded faster economic growth and reforms, including administrative reforms. Neither mission has been accomplished. The question is who will be chosen as a scapegoat now?" says Sergei Markov, director of the Political Studies Institute.
Valery Fedorov, director of the Political Situation Center, predicts the problems Kasianov will encounter: "This is the most difficult year for the prime minister. There is no economic growth worth mentioning, and the reforms are stalled... Kasianov is the most obvious candidate for dismissal..."
Gref's situation is somewhat different. Unlike the "technical" Kasianov, Gref is a key figure for liberal economic ideology. According to Markov, Gref may be ousted only if and when the president decides to change economic policy - and that is highly unlikely.
It is clear, however, that using such a powerful political resource as the prime minister's dismissal would be the height of stupidity at this point. That is why someone else may be chosen to become the sacrifice. Dmitriyev is a perfect choice. The question is whether Gref will want to give him up.