Andrei Turchak and Garry Minkh were the first two people on President Dmitry Medvedev's list of Russia's new nomenklatura to win high state posts.
And apparently many more will soon follow.
On February 17, the Kremlin published the first 100 names of the so-called "golden 1,000" officials who have been recruited to bring fresh blood into the political elite. Turchak, the coordinator of the ruling Unified Russia party's youth branch, the Young Guard, has been named governor of the Pskov Oblast. Minkh was named as the president's representative in the State Duma.
The daily "Vedomosti" reports, citing anonymous sources, that Medvedev plans to tap his list to overhaul much of the Russian elite. According to a story by Maksim Glikin and Maria Tsvetkova, the changes could come as soon as next month:
A close acquaintance of one person on the reserve list told us that the regional section of the list includes at least two future governors. According to this source, the business executives who made the list are likely to be appointed to the boards of state-controlled companies. One expert told us that the personnel reserve list will also be used in March, when some major changes in the government are planned.
This raises some interesting questions. Most obviously, where does Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia's de facto leader, stand on this? And, perhaps more importantly, what do the security service veterans, or "siloviki," who make up Putin's inner circle think?
Some media continue to stoke speculation that Medvedev and Putin are at odds.
This little nugget, for example, was buried in a report in today's issue of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," suggests that Putin was less than pleased with the appointment in December of former opposition leader Nikita Belykh as governor of the Kirov Oblast:
Sources in the Duma claim that Putin was dead set against making Nikita Belykh formerly of the Union of Right Forces the Kirov governor but Medvedev insisted and eventually had it his way. The same sources even suggested that the president wanted every parliamentary party to have a governor of his own, or perhaps two governors.
Likewise, Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin tells "Vremya novosteyi" that Medvedev plans go beyond personnel changes and overhaul much of Putin's system of governance:
Putin's vertical chain of command operated by means of buying corrupt loyalty: We will allow you to do whatever you want in your region and you must give us political loyalty in exchange. This model presupposes that governors will promote the policy line of the center. This is guaranteed by depriving them of any resources of their own, so they will be weaker and more dependent and will have to live on federal subsidies. The crisis is creating a situation in which the superiors also have no money, and Moscow cannot give everyone subsidies. In the interest of economic effectiveness, the center will have to delegate part of its powers to local officials. As a pragmatic economist, Medvedev apparently knows or senses that the regions have to be given more freedom.
Oreshkin's analysis is consistent with a recent commentary published in "The Moscow Times" by Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center that we blogged here.
For the time being, however, I find it hard to believe that Medvedev would try to pull off such a massive project without Putin's consent.
And even with Putin's approval, it seems unlikely that powerful security service veterans like First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev will be happy with such a move.
In a recent interview, Oreshkin told me that the siloviki "count very much on the vertical as a result of their psychology and training. They think the problem is that there is not enough discipline and that the screws need to be tightened."
Either Medvedev and Putin are pulling off one amazing bait and switch routine, or the Russian elite is heading for a decisive showdown.