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#2 - JRL 7226
Moscow Times
June 17, 2003
Yakovlev's 'Promotion' Taints Putin

"Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer" could be the rationale behind President Vladimir Putin's decision to give his arch-foe Vladimir Yakovlev a seat in the federal government immediately upon his resignation from the post of St. Petersburg governor.

Rather than become Russia's next ambassador to China as previously expected, Yakovlev will now steer the reforms of Russia's bloated and ineffective housing-service sector from a downtown Moscow office with the rank of deputy prime minister. He didn't exactly display transformational management skills during his eight years as governor, and one may doubt whether he is qualified to reshape this Soviet-era colossus with feet of clay into something both effective and affordable for the average Russian.

In fact, Putin may have planned this all as a kamikaze mission for the man who edged Anatoly Sobchak and his then deputy Putin out of the St. Petersburg governor's office in 1996; the man whom Putin famously branded a Judas for (as he saw it) stabbing his boss in the back by running against him.

Come the December State Duma elections, Putin can remember the vague promise he made in his state of the nation address to form a Cabinet based on the parliamentary majority, and fire both Yakovlev and others from a government still run by a holdover from Boris Yeltsin's era in one stroke. And by the time the results of these elections are known, Putin's hometown will also probably have elected a new governor, perhaps the president's handpicked envoy to the Northwest Federal District, Valentina Matviyenko.

However, even if Putin succeeds in this ploy, the question will still linger as to why someone as ineffective and as entangled in accusations of financial abuses as Yakovlev has been entrusted with the reform of a sector that affects the lives of every person in this country of 145 million, including more than 37 million who live below the poverty line. Yakovlev's appointment makes even less sense when you consider that his time in office was running out anyway: He was deemed ineligible to run for a third term in this year's election.

Putin should show some political will and stop anchoring those who have proved to be far from effective public servants with posts in the executive branch, whether in the Cabinet or the Security Council (as with Yevgeny Nazdratenko, the disgraced former Primorye governor and former head of the State Fisheries Committee).

The message it sends to the rest of the elite is that incompetence, mismanagement and worse will be rewarded with promotion and prestige rather than punished by unemployment, ignominy and even a prison term.

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