Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Russia Lacks a Real Council of Ministers Because Country's Most Powerful People Aren’t In It, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – One of the most unfortunate anomalies in the Russian political system is that Russia does not have a real council of minister because “the most influential people [in the country] are not ministers” and the prime minister is being retained for another term because “he isn’t trying to govern,” according to Sergey Shelin.

            That means that this or that individual in the council may on occasion succeed in promoting a particular policy, the Rosbalt commentator says; but it also means that the government as a collective body does  not have a policy and often fails to pursue policies that are consistent across the board (

                Clearly, Shelin continues, Putin want the situation that exists or does not see a way of overcoming it without creating problems for himself and his powerful allies outside of the government itself.  But as long as this situation continues, Moscow’s policies are likely to proceed in fits and starts rather than along a united front.

            Dmitry Medvedev has been retained in his post for two “interconnected” qualities: “he does not try to give orders to his influential subordinates, and he in no way looks like a competitor of his boss.”  Occasionally, he assembles people and tries to take a common decision and give common directions; but he does not always succeed.

            The ministers have their own agendas and their own power bases, and they seldom depend on Medvedev. And that arrangement means that this somewhat chaotic arrangement forms “the top of the Russian power machine. But there is now no organ like the Soviet Politburo in which all the heavyweights are included and which has the last word on all questions.”

            This problem is broader than just the council of ministers, Shelin says. The Presidential Administration or the Security Council despite their undoubted power do not have all embracing authority. And consequently, there isn’t the consistency or the accountability that makes a government effective in the pursuit of its goals.

            It is of course welcome news that Putin is now “promising the people improvement and the renewal of living standards,” he continues. “This is better than promising a further tightening of belts.”  But the government has no means of ensuring that all its actions will be directed toward that end because there isn’t the single controlling structure to guarantee such an outcome.

            And that matters more than bringing in any number of new people or expelling any number of older ones, Shelin argues, because however effective the former are or however ineffective the latter have been, there is no surety that the new combination of personnel will move in a single direction for long.

            The rearranging of cadres and responsibilities, of course, is not yet finished; “but its outline is already clear. A polite person would call the conjunction of new and varied officials a new government command. And an optimist would say that even though there is no a single ruling command, changes do give a weak hope for some rationalization of policy.”

            That hope, unfortunately, “is really weak, but why dispel it before one has to?” Shelin asks in tones almost of despair. 

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