Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#8 - JRL 7229
Argumenty i Fakty
June 18, 2003
Will Gref make a come-back as prime minister?
Author: Tatiana Netreba
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]


This week, the Duma's agenda includes a motion for a vote of no confidence in the government. Apparently, Herman Gref will also become the target of Duma criticism. This is quite explicable. Herman Gref is not just a minister; he is the flagship of reforms, an outpost of liberal economic opposition in the government. The voting in the Duma will most likely turn to be another letting off of steam. This is a ground to think it over though: who will steer the economy after the election? No doubt, one of the possible candidates is Herman Gref.

This is probably why the promising reformer has been criticized lately. To people who are not versed in politics, but involved in business activities, he is presented as a person who promises favorable reforms which turn to be cheating.

Herman Gref's disappearance from his post of economic development and trade minister in spring created a sensation among officials, that was not minor compared to Boris Yeltsin's illness in his time.

What kind of an ailment pulled the 39-year-old reformer from the labor rut - this remained a puzzle to many. Herman Gref's allies assure it is usual flu the minister caught as far back as in winter. They say he did not took the advice of approved doctors from the Central Clinical Hospital, but gave himself to some voodoos from a new-fashioned clinic. Those treated him half-dead. According to another, more widespread version, Herman Gref had a strongest nervous breakdown. There is a talk that a short while before that his reaction to what was going on around him was somewhat retarded; and he had not been asleep for nearly five days before he was put to hospital.

Be that as it may, but both versions agree in the following: it was Gref who drove himself to exhaustion. With his own hands, he built that Cheops Pyramid of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry (EDTM) with its more than 150 administrative functions. For that, he even got a scathing nickname from his enemies - "occupant." During three years of work in the government, he managed to do a bad turn to many well-known figures.

The situation in the Cabinet was lately of the kind that it was about time to build barricades. "Combats" between Mikhail Kasianov and EDTM employees went on almost along all lines.

Peace and quite have settled in the Cabinet presently. They say, on the threshold of the parliamentary and presidential elections, government war leaders have signed an armistice. "The discrepancies have not vanished somewhere, just left the public level" though, said a government administrative staff member.

The nation's chief reformer is a man of principle and even stubborn in some respect. He prefers direct attack to tactical maneuvers and alliances, and his colleagues say he is proud of that.

"He frankly believes in his role of Russian economy savior. And he thinks he is the only one who knows how to get skidding reforms moving. The messianic sense in him is extremely developed," a government official observed in a conversation. Some of economic practitioners suspect though that "the reform-maker" in reality had somewhat illusory picture of the real mechanisms rotating our economy.

For example, when disputed over the Gazprom reform were in full swing, Alexei Miller managed to convince the president that the EDTM concept would scare investors off the company. Moreover, it can harm national energy security. Eventually, the president though it necessary to put off the Gazprom reform until 2005.

Or take Gref's idee fixe - Volkswagen plants in Russia. On his instructions, sites were found in a number of Russian regions. However, after lengthy negotiations the Germans still decided it was more profitable to import cars made in other former socialist countries into Russia, rather than investing in new facilities.

He is sparkling with ideas. Yet practically no reforms - taxation, administrative, or proposals for breaking monopolies into smaller units - have been carried out in the form in which "the architect" designed them.

It is no secret that Vladimir Putin appreciates Gref. The president has always liked the honesty, principles, and ambition of "the reform architect." Besides, as one of the government observers remarked, the minister has "a simple and good quality - to explain complicated things in a simple language." It is interesting for the president to listen to him. Therefore, they often meet outside the office as well. For example, they have long talks over a kebab at the dacha in Novo-Ogariovo. But this does not at all mean that Vladimir Putin unconditionally supports him in everything.

Vladimir Putin and Herman Gref are linked not only by coming from the same city. Both can be figuratively named "godchildren" of Anatoly Sobchak. The former St. Petersburg mayor chose the future president as his associate. And he helped his talented graduate student embark on his career.

In 2000, Vladimir Putin was selecting his team, choosing people he knew well from their work in St. Petersburg. He entrusted Gref with probably the riskiest and most responsible field - the Strategic Development Center - headquarters for preparing the doctrine of national strategic development. Many logically assumed the president would also entrust Gref to carry out the program. However, apparently, Gref's time did not come. Mikhail Kasianov became prime minister. The EDTM was created to apply reform efforts, especially "for Gref,".

There was talk until recently that Gref had grown mature quite enough for the post of prime minister. Well, this is probably true. The post of prime minister requires being prepared to compromise and the ability to conduct subtle games in office. Gref is just passing all those tests - even at the cost of his health, as it turns out. In spring, Gref was rumored to have handed in his resignation to the president on more than one occasion. The president turned down the request. Firstly, it is not Putin's nature to deny support to anyone in difficulty. Secondly, this resignation would be a bad sign for the entire program of economic reforms. Meanwhile, special attention is paid to it on the threshold of the presidential election. They say the Strategic Developments Center will soon become headquarters of economic reforms once again. So Gref may get an even stronger hold on the steering wheel of new economic adjustments. Then a new age will dawn, not of Witte [a famous progressive reformer of the late 19th and early 20th century - trans.], but Gref. How good this is for Russia - that's up to the president and the people to decide.

(Translated by P. Pikhnovsky)

Top   Next