Staunton, August 26 – Appointments and dismissals of key officials provide insights into how the Kremlin makes decisions more generally because in contrast to other sectors, hirings and firings are almost always carried out, Nikolay Petrov says, adding that the recent wave of changes at the top thus provides a large amount of data on these key aspects of the Putin system.
Two weeks ago, Petrov, the head of the Moscow Center for Political-Geographic Research, published an article in which he outlined what he sees as the emergence of a neo-nomenklatura system that is gradually moving from a Brezhnevite to a Stalainist model. (On this, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/08/putins-neo-nomenklatura-system-shifts.html.)
He has now followed this up with a discussion of how cadres decisions are now taken in the Kremlin and what that says about Vladimir Putin’s intentions and the future development of his system (vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2016/08/24/654236-novaya-nomenklatura-prinyatie-reshenii).
Both the most recent wave of personnel changes and “the large series of cadres decisions of the last two years look consistent and well thought out, a pattern that testifies at a minimum that they have been taken within the framework of a common logic and from a single center.” And while Putin has the last word, he does not make all these choices independently.
That task is simply too large: “the nomenklatura positions the president appoints have increased sharly” and the number of presidential representatives both formal and informal, including in essence the governors has grown as well.” But Putin sets the direction and the parameters within which all these choices are made.
“The personal participation of the president in the adoption of cadres decisions doesn’t mean one man rule and his absolute independence in taking them,” Petrov says. Various groups in the bureaucracy are involved, and Putin can’t ignore them. Many decisions are thus “the result of a struggle in the apparatus and competition of various groups within the elite.”
Putin is a past master at patience, Petetrov argues. He thinks about cadres appointments for a long time and “tests the reaction to possible appointments on various people from his entourage.” He could dispense with this perhaps, but he has to take various factors into consideration – image, balance, message, and so on – and testing names on others is helpful.
A particular reason he has to do that, the analyst suggests, is that cadres changes at the top involve cadres changes below. When one leader is replace by another, that has consequences for others who have been or will become their subordinates. It is best if this is considered in advance rather than after the fact.
The timing of appointments, Petrov says, can be triggered either by objective external circumstances or by “subjective factors,” including personal relationships. Often people are changed not because of themselves but because of a new direction in overall Kremlin policy in a particular area. “The real goals [involved] typically aren’t announced.”
The only cadres appointments where the process has been specified in law concerns the naming of governors. There the 2004 rules are generally followed but not always, especially if key groups lobby for or against a particular appointment or reappointment directly with the president. Then almost anything can happen.
According to Petrov, the most important change in the cadres process in recent times involves a shift from carrots to sticks. In the past, the Kremlin generally used a system of carrots, offering someone on the way out something else. Now, what has emerged is a system involving sticks “or their absence.”
That increases the likelihood that the system will move in one of two directions in the coming months: either in the direction of “authoritarianism for which a shift to mass repressions regarding cadres will be necessary or toward authoritarian modernization in which cadres will have to bend the knee and adapt.”
Which one will occur, Petrov says, is uncertain, but he suggests that “we should be able to see it already before the end of the year.”
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