#11 - JRL 7241
June 23, 2003
Yakovlev's promotion to federal minister may be a sign of Putin's weakness
Author: Vladimir Rudakov
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
PRESIDENT PUTIN HAS APPOINTED HIS OLD ENEMY VLADIMIR YAKOVLEV A DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, AND NO ONE REALLY KNOWS WHY. THE MOVE MAKES PUTIN APPEAR WEAK, AND OTHER STATE OFFICIALS WHOSE PERFORMANCE IS GENERALLY CONSIDERED UNSATISFACTORY OR EVEN HARMFUL CAN NOW RELAX.
In appointing his old enemy Vladimir Yakovlev a deputy prime minister, Vladimir Putin appeared so Christian that his halo was almost visible. Other state officials whose performance is generally considered unsatisfactory or even harmful can now relax.
Ever since Putin took office as president, there has been speculations that Yakovlev's time in St. Petersburg was running out. Now it's happened. Actually, it's not precisely true to say that Yakovlev has been sacked at last. The price of his resignation was a deputy prime ministership and a Service to the Fatherland award, fourth class, as well as the president's warm words about "how much Yakovlev has done for St. Petersburg."
It's an old trick to dismiss an inconvenient official by appointing him to a more prestigious field where he would inevitably fail. Following the Soviet tradition (in the Soviet Union, disgraced party functionaries were usually placed in charge of agriculture), Yakovlev's new portfolio includes housing and utilities, transport, and construction. At least the first of these is a sphere where he is doomed to fail. Observers immediately decided that Yakovlev's time is running out all over again, now in the federal government.
However, one political consultant says: "Who says that removing Yakovlev from this post will be easy? His enemies wanted to jail him two years ago, screaming corruption at every corner. A year ago he was described as an absolute failure as an administrator. Plans changed, however, and now he is a deputy prime minister. Who knows - give him another year and he may become prime minister."
The skeptic is correct. This whole incident generates questions much faster than it offers answers.
No one can understand why the president has done it. Thanks to the Kremlin and its efforts, Yakovlev had been a lame duck in St. Petersburg for a long time. The St. Petersburg municipal legislature did not permit him to run for another term in office. His potential replacement, Valentina Matvienko, has all but become the new mistress of St. Petersburg already. When the Political Techniques Center did an opinion poll in May to gauge the popularity of regional leaders, Yakovlev ranked sixty-third on a list of eighty-nine leaders.
It would have been so easy to wait for the gubernatorial election, ensure that Matvienko won it, and forget about Yakovlev. Send him to some godforsaken African country as an ambassador, or hand him over to the Prosecutor General's Office.
Putin decided otherwise. According to Oleg Matveichev from the Moscow office of Bakster consulting, the decision "leads to the assumption that Putin is simply weak" - particularly against the backdrop of the Kremlin's three years of efforts to oust "inconvenient" regional leaders. Suffice it to recall Alexander Kotenkov, presidential representative to the Duma, who told lawmakers in 2000 that once the Federation Council was reorganized, "at least 16 regional leaders, stripped of their parliamentary immunity, will be jailed immediately - and many others at a later date."
Matvienko's situation is somewhat embarrassing too. She stepped down as a deputy prime minister in order to help the president deal with Yakovlev in St. Petersburg - and now Yakovlev himself has become a deputy prime minister.
The president must have had some fairly weighty reasons to do what he has done.
It seems that Putin did not see any political gain in firing Yakovlev amidst a scandal. The "presidential benevolence" shown to the rest of the regional leaders may persuade them that an honorable resignation is the worst that can happen to them, if push came to shove.
Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the Mercator Group at the Geography Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences: "Dismissing Yakovlev 'the hard way' would have been a bad signal to send to the bureaucrats, both elected and appointed alike. State officials keep an attentive eye on how others of their kind are treated, and the outcome of the future elections largely depends on state officials."
According to Oreshkin, the Yakovlev situation merely confirms the assumption that Russia has a collective cover-up law operating in the upper echelons of power, and no one - not even the president - can go against it. Oreshkin said: "This kind of conduct by the president merely confirms the bureaucracy's belief that he is a stable man who can soberly assess a situation and take care of the interests of the upper layers of the political establishment."
The rest of the general public doesn't appear to care in the least. It isn't hard to see that Yakovlev's promotion will not have any significant impact on Putin's popularity rating.
In dealing with the elites, Putin endeavors not to spoil mutual relations, and to play by the rules. Specialists do not rule out the possibility that Putin might have decided to be content with two terms in office, as prescribed by the Constitution. It is no coincidence that we are no longer hearing the speculations, once so popular, about the need to permit a third term in office or to extend the terms from four to five or even seven years.
To quote a prominent political scientist: "Putin may already be thinking about his own future after 2008. He may have decided to prepare everything necessary to have his performance praised, in order not to be ostracized by officials afterwards."
DMITRY ORESHKIN, HEAD OF THE MERCATOR GROUP AT THE GEOGRAPHY INSTITUTE OF THE RUSSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES: THIS IS YAKOVLEV'S WATERING HOLE
Oreshkin: It is clear that restoring order in a sphere like housing and utilities will take at least four to five years. Improving the situation faster is impossible. However, no one has any reason to believe that Yakovlev will last that long. He will last until the presidential election, at best. It follows that in the forthcoming year, or six months, he will only be settling in. He is being given this time for some other purposes, not in order that he can do something about housing and utilities.
As in the Yevgeny Nazdratenko incident, this is just an appointment that will compensate Yakovlev and his team for the positions they lost. In other words, they are being given this sinecure in return for what they lost in St. Petersburg. They will resign after that, quitely and without a scandal.
ANDREI PIONTKOVSKY, DIRECTOR OF THE STRATEGIC SURVEYS INSTITUTE: YAKOVLEV MIGHT HAVE GONE PUBLIC WITH SOME DAMAGING INFORMATION
Piontkovsky: Promoting a state official with Yakovlev's reputation to the post of minister or even deputy prime minister discredits the administration. It discredits the president himself, in this particular case. Everyone is aware that Putin dislikes Yakovlev. That is why I cannot offer a logical explanation for why the man Putin once described as Judas has been promoted to such a position.
Hence the assumption that otherwise Yakovlev might have gone public with some information that would have discredited Putin. Some information, perhaps, about their shared past in St. Petersburg. Under the circumstances, what happened can only be described as the result of a bargain between Putin and Yakovlev, two men who have a lot of compromising information about each other.
In my view, this theory in itself (sound as it appears) discredits Putin much more than any other dirt Yakovlev might have come up with.
ANDREI RYABOV, OF THE MOSCOW CARNEGIE CENTER: YAKOVLEV HAD TO FIGHT TO CONTINUE HIS POLITICAL CAREER
Ryabov: Yakovlev's promotion shows that one has to fight to the end in order to have one's political career continue. No discord or personal dislikes are insurmountable barriers when one is fighting to the end.
A sudden compromise was found, despite the powerful attacks against the governor. This solution may be viewed by the political establishment as proof of the president's limited capacities. As far as these people are concerned, they can now act more independently and have no fear for their future. If the whole elite stops fearing the president and decides that no substantial changes lie in store for it during Putin's second term in office, the nation could find itself wasting time instead of implementing the reforms.