Medvedev's Kremlin chiefs are Putin men

MOSCOW (Reuters) - How Russia’s “tandem” government will work has become clear after a raft of top appointments: President Dmitry Medvedev sits in the front but Prime Minister Vladimir Putin controls the speed, direction and brakes.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (R) followed by new Secretary of the State Security Council Nikolai Patrushev enters the hall to start the council session at Moscow's Kremlin, May 13, 2008. REUTERS/Ria Novosti/Kremlin/Mikhail Klimentyev/Pool

The puzzle of which man would really run Russia’s $1.3 trillion economy and control its vast natural resources has intrigued Kremlin-watchers since Putin said he would become premier after leaving the presidency and work under Medvedev.

Monday’s appointments to the top Kremlin and government posts amounted to a clean sweep for Putin loyalists, many of them with KGB pasts. They will not only fill all the key cabinet posts but the main presidential jobs as well.

“A transplant of the organs of power”, headlined Russia’s Kommersant newspaper in an ironic comment on how control of the country has shifted from the Kremlin down the Moscow river to the prime minister’s office.

Underlining his grip on power, Putin took the same seat he used as president when he met Medvedev in his old Kremlin office to propose the appointments. Medvedev sat in the guest’s chair.

Medvedev’s new Kremlin chief of staff, Sergei Naryshkin, is a quietly spoken Putin loyalist from St Petersburg. Russian media and foreign analysts say he served in the Soviet KGB, although he has never confirmed this.

The two deputy Kremlin chiefs -- critical posts in a country where power is heavily concentrated in the centre -- are Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s top political strategist, and Alexei Gromov, a former Soviet diplomat who was Putin’s press chief.

Georgy Bovt, a political commentator for a local radio station, said the Kremlin appointments bore Putin’s stamp.

“I don’t see what Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev is actually in charge of as president,” he said. “Perhaps it will appear later but at the moment it is completely unclear.”


The Kremlin chief of staff and his deputies wield enormous influence in Russia over foreign, domestic and economic policy and with Putin loyalists in all three posts, Medvedev will find it very hard to build his own power base.

Pavel Salin, an analyst from Russia’s Centre for Current Politics, said that if Medvedev “intends to play his own game, will have great trouble doing it with Naryshkin as head of the Kremlin administration.”

Like Putin, Naryshkin started his political career in the St Petersburg mayor’s office and, like Putin, is close to the security services. He is two years younger than his mentor.

Russian media and foreign analysts have reported that Naryshkin studied at the same KGB foreign intelligence training centre as Putin though this has never been officially confirmed.

Naryshkin, 53, served as government chief of staff for the second half of Putin’s eight-year presidency but has shunned press interviews and kept a low profile in public while slowly building a power base from the centre of government.

His posts included chairman of Russia’s First Channel state television -- a key instrument of Kremlin media power -- and deputy chairman of state-controlled oil giant Rosneft.

Born in Putin’s home town of Leningrad, now St Petersburg, Naryshkin studied engineering, before taking a foreign posting as economic adviser to the Soviet Embassy in Belgium.

Such posts were often used as cover for agents and a gap in Naryshkin’s official biography in the 1980s, as well as his swift promotion under Putin, provoked reports in the Russian media that he has links with the spy services.

After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Alexei Kudrin, now finance minister, helped Naryshkin get a job in the St Petersburg mayor’s office, where Putin began his political career as head of the external relations committee.

Kremlin-watchers said Naryshkin is known for his unswerving loyalty to Putin and for his ability to slowly and discreetly build power in Russia’s Byzantine bureaucracy, two qualities that will serve him well in the Kremlin.

Together with Surkov and Gromov, the Putin trio led by Naryshkin will ensure that the Kremlin stays firmly under the control of the former president.

“Judging by the distribution of forces in the new government one can say that Medvedev’s first term in the Kremlin could turn out to be Vladimir Putin’s third term” the business daily Vedemosti commented.

Editing by Jon Boyle