The Anti-Clan Revolution

I’m not a big fan of analyzing Russian politics via “Kremlin clans”. Estimating their relative power seems to involve mostly tea leaf reading, and in any case the entire exercise is of dubious predictive value. Even the exact compositions and identities of the various clans differ from analyst to analyst! Besides, clans are hardly unique to Russia; every US President seems to bring over some of his friends and cronies, but do we spend much time going over their histories and connections? For the most part, no.

That said, the investigative magazine Russian Reporter (which, by and by, happened to be Assange’s Russian partner in Cablegate) has compiled what is easily the most impressive research – at least visually and methodologically – on the Kremlin clans. Their efforts are translated below.

The Anti-Clan Revolution

Viktar Dziatlikovich, Kristina Khutsishvili, Philip Chapkovsky

The new Cabinet has been rid of clannishness, but at the same time it no longer has competing centers of influence. These are the main conclusions that can be drawn after studying its composition using a special technique developed by “Russian Reporter”, which takes into account officials’ personal ties before their assumption of one or another post.

A detailed study of the Kremlin clans was published by “Russian Reporter” in Issue 35 of 2011. Back then the study of these “social connections” between Russian bureaucrats allowed us, essentially, to prove that Russia is governed by a more or less wide circle of centered around Vladimir Putin, the so-called St.-Petersburg clan – a close group of people, who have long been close friends with each other. Applying the same method to the Dmitry Medvedev government, we find striking differences. One can now say, that the principles by which the Cabinet is formed have changed cardinally.

The Clan is Compressed

The government of 2011 formed a maximally interconnected network. Generally speaking, even before their appointment, everyone was already linked to each other (studied or worked together, were friends, interacted with each other). On the one hand, this consolidation worked to strengthen the power structure; on the other hand, it blocked the process of elites renewal. An analogous network for the new government would be substantially thinner, in fact it would not be a network at all but its relics. Neutral figures, who were not tied to any of their current colleagues before their work in government, are now in the vast majority. The old schematics are compressed by new forces. There has been a renewal and a rejuvenation (the youngest Minister is 29 years old) of the elites, albeit a shell of the old network still remains. But the size of this shell no longer allowed us to talk of the clannish characteristic of government. Consequently, it is hard to criticize the new government: It is indeed relatively young, there was in fact a rotation of the elites, and that it has “many respectable people” say both politologists, and businessmen.

The Dissipation of Centers of Power

In the past year, in comparing the governments of the years 2011 and 2000, we noted that the Cabinet of the early Noughties had many more centers of power.

In the government of Vladimir Putin, which has now receded into history, there remained only two such centers of power: Putin’s own group, and the “reforming” group of Kudrin and Chubais. After Alexey Kudrin’s firing, there was no point in expecting the formation of an alternative center of power within the new Cabinet. And so it wasn’t.

Now there is only one center of influence – Dmitry Medvedev, and there can be no alternatives by definition. But on our graph Medvedev isn’t in the center. Why? According to our methodology, the person at the center of the graph, is the one with the maximum quantity of connections. And that person remains Putin. He still has more connections than Medvedev, even despite the fact that we didn’t include in our study those people who no longer nominally hold high positions either in government nor in the Presidential Administration, but who will clearly continue to exercise influence over Putin, and thus too over the policies of the Cabinet – e.g., Tatyana Golikova and Andrey Fursenko.

That is, the second center of influence is located outside the government. His strength doesn’t only accrue from those people we named, but also those who are not even formally connected with the Presidential Administration and government. So, Igor Sechin, stepping down as director of Rosneft, will almost certainly retain influence over policy making on the national energy industry.

It is in this kind of sense that the current power schematics make trigger a low-intensity conflict. It may be assumed that the “clan” will try to continue influencing decision making, and the main question consists of the extent to which Medvedev’s government will be able to establish itself as an independent center of decision making.


A few of my own observations and opinions.

(1) This network based approach to analyzing Kremlin clans is definitely a lot more “scientific” than the seemingly unsystematic, ad hoc approach favored by Pribylovsky and the others (eXile, Stratfor). Most importantly, it makes sense (face validity). In the early Noughties, there were many jostling clans; a carry-over from the 1990’s, redolent of Ukraine; patently clientelistic, and no doubt fostering a lot of corruption. 2011 then could be seen as the peak of the so-called Power Vertical, in which all the clans got centered around Putin. 2012 represents a cardinally new phase that is technocratic, an assessment a person with such polarly opposite views to mine such as Anders Aslund can agree with.

(2) Ironically, judging by RR’s model, President Putin in 2012 is nowhere near as clearly dominant as PM Putin in 2011. Is this part of the modernization agenda? A mistake? A compromise with Medvedev for his agreeing not to run for a second term? Or is this “over analysis”? Another interesting thing of note is that whereas Kudrin was second dog in 2011 (as opposed to Sechin, in Pribylovsky’s version) while Medvedev was nothing special, as of 2012 Medvedev is rather dominantly second. I wonder to what extent this could account for Kudrin’s scandalous spat with Medvedev once Putin endorse the latter for the Presidency. Also interesting to notice that very few of the people tied to Kudrin survived into the 2012 government relative to Putin’s and Medvedev’s.


  1. My own impression for what it is worth is that dividing up Russian government figures on clan lines may have made some sense in the 1990s but that this period ended in 2003 following Khodorkovsky’s arrest when it was made absolutely clear to anyone working for the government that they were expected to put loyalty to the government first above any loyalty to sectional interests or outside patrons. Individuals like Kasyanov, Chubais and Ilarionov who did have outside loyalties were from that moment gradually edged out and I don’t think any such figures exist today.

    As for the government we now have, it seems to me to be a typical Russian government. Russia has historically always given important ministerial posts to experienced and professional experts and that is what has happened. Most of the ministries have been given ministers with technocratic backgrounds though an attempt has been made to bring in some new blood. A small number of more political figures have however been appointed to supervisory posts mainly as deputy Prime Ministers whilst the grizzled veterans of the previous government have been kept on as Presidential advisers not so that they can second guess or meddle in the work of their successors as critical comment has suggested but so that their experience can be called upon when it is needed.

    Nearly all Russian governments extending right the way back to the late nineteenth century have been made up in this way. Late tsarist era governments were formed in this way with most ministers being chinovniki who had worked their way up through the bureaucracy and the Table of Ranks. The few exceptions tended to be outside technical experts who were also recruited because of their expertise. This pattern also held true for the Soviet period when ministerial posts were nearly always assigned to experienced professional technocrats whose work was however supervised and directed by more overtly political figures in the Politburo and the Secretariat of the Central Committee.

    Like all governments everywhere particular individuals have particular ideas and connections However it is going altogether too far in my opinion to see these connections as forming factions or clans. I ought to add that the same assumptions that Kremlin politics were clan or factional politics used to be made about the Soviet period by so called Kremlinologists in the west (Michel Tatu’s 1969 study “Power in the Kremlin” is the classic expression of this view). However information that has gradually come out of the Soviet archives showing how Soviet politics really worked does not seem to bear the assumptions that were made then out. I have to say that I am as skeptical about similar assumptions about the nature of Kremlin politics when they are made today as Kremlinologists perhaps ought to have been when they were made then.

    • I agree with your skepticism. A good test of this theory is to use the same method to analyze the US government. I expect similar correlations to hold. At the end of the day, correlation is not causation.

      • well off course !!! unfortunately its quite the same everywhere, good old imperialism + privileged clans hidden behind democracy system

    • Jennifer Hor says:

      Dear Alex,

      Your remark brings up an interesting question: What percentage of politicians in Russia / USSR’s governments are or have been scientists, engineers and other people with technical qualifications? How does the occupational make-up of politicians in a government influence its policy-making?

      You may have heard that China’s government is dominated by scientists and engineers. CPC General Secretary and President of the Chinese People’s Republic Hu Jintao got a degree in hydraulic engineering at Qinghua University in 1965 and Premier Wen Jiabao studied geomechanics in Beijing and worked as a geologist in Gansu in the 1960s/70s. The current Secretariat of the Communist Party of China Central Committee includes a chemical engineer (Xi Jinping) and mathematician / economist (Li Yuanchao). Past members include a geologist (Zhou Yongkang) and engineers (Zeng Qinghong, He Guoqiang, Luo Gan).

      Whereas in the US, the dominant profession among Senators and House of Representatives members is law. Most past POTUSes have been lawyers as far as I can tell though Herbert Hoover was a mining engineer. Here’s an article from on why it would a good idea to have more geologists in government:

      This would be a good topic for a future post: What impact do the occupational backgrounds of politicians have on government policy and decision-making?

      (@ Anatoly: I hope I’m not burdening you with this idea.)

      • I’m aware of this, but I don’t have any plans to make a post on this because I don’t have anything particularly original to say about it.

        My opinion is that having an excess of “soft” people (e.g. lawyers) in government because it can lead to an aversion to serious, technocratic governance – something we are seeing in spades in Cameron’s Britain. On the other hand, having an excess of “hard” people is also dangerous because they also have foibles like poorer people skills (arguably), thinking in boxes and economism with an accompanying lack of inspirational vision.

        On that note, Russia actually appears to have struck a nice balance (as of 2011): 32% engineers; 19% lawyers; 25% economists; 9% humanities; 5% military; 4% medical; 4% math; 2% geologists.

      • yalensis says:

        Having a lot of engineers in government is a Communist thing, since engineers were always considered the elite of the industrial working class.

    • yalensis says:

      @alexander made an excellent point, and I agree too. I don’t know about every society, but In the Russian context, I am sure “clanology” is simply B.S., akin to the game “7 degrees of Kevin Bacon”. If you play that game, it turns out everybody is connected to everybody.

      • Thanks for the comments Yalensis,

        By the way Anatoly underestimates the lack of professional experience in the British government. Very few members of the British cabinet are lawyers and that are mainly occupy posts such as Minister of Justice or Attorney General for which legal qualifications are essential. If one takes the most senior officials of the British government, who form its inner core:

        1. Cameron studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics (“PPE”) at Oxford University a joint three year degree that is the traditional degree taken by people who wish to go into politics. He is not a trained economist. He briefly worked as a public relations officer for a television company (a post he supposedly obtained after a member of the Royal Family lobbied for him) before starting work as a research assistant for the Conservative party.

        2. George Osborne the Chancellor or Finance Minister studied Modern History at Oxford University before becoming a full time worker for the Conservative party. He got to know Cameron whilst both were students at Oxford (famously they went to the same drinking club) when the two became friends but he has no background in economics or finance or any qualification in either subject.

        3, Nick Clegg the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats studied Archaeology and Antropology at Cambridge University. He worked for a time in various minor political posts in Brussels before also becoming a full time politician.

        4. Danny Alexander the Chief Financial Secretary (ie the number two in the Finance Ministry) also studied PPE at Oxford University before becoming a full time politician in his case for the Liberal Democrats.

        Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and Alexander are generally acknowledged to be the most powerful members of the government. They meet informally every week to decide the direction of government policy in an arrangement that is called “the Quad”. Notice that all four have been to Oxbridge University, three (Cameron, Osborne and Clegg) are millionaires by inheritance, two (Cameron and Osborne) are aristocrats and personal friends of longstanding and one (Clegg) practically is (Clegg comes from an old banking family which is connected to both the British and Russian aristocracies).

        In addition to these four there are two other ministers who are also considered especially influential. These are

        1. William Hague the Foreign Minister who also studied PPE at Oxford University. He did do an MBA and worked for a short time as a consultant at McKinsey’s but was always focused on a political career, which he began shortly after. He was briefly a minister in the previous Conservative government (as Welsh Secretary) but has no background or expertise in foreign policy in which he had shown no interest until he was appointed Foreign Minister when the Conservatives won the election.

        2. Vince Cable the Business Secretary. He is the only senior British minister who is professionally qualified and has experience relevant to his job. He actually is a trained professional economist and has worked in the civil service and the oil industry. However at 69 he is much older than the others who treat him with some suspicion. His relations with Osborne are known to be particularly bad. He was recently called a “socialist” (horrors of horrors!) there being no greater criticism in British Conservative politics than that.

  2. AK: “Those who want to topple Assad are radical Islamists and liberal enemies of Christian civilization. @ioffeinmoscow @MarkAdomanis @mbk_center

    I wouldn’t quite go that far, but there’s a troubling line running between the liberast embrace of Pu$$^ Riot’s provocations against the Russian Orthodox Church and the indifference or even (should I say it?) loathing of Syrian Christians who presumably will deserve their fate when a Saudi or Qatari-backed Islamist regime seizes power in Damascus. And that connection is all the more troubling by the fact that many of the Syrian ‘rebels’ (or more likely, foreign Arab mercenaries who would’ve previously been fighting Americans in Iraq and hence, Al-Qaeda) have openly been training in Kosovo, where the Serbs were kicked out. Thus the whole anti-Orthodox Christian conspiracy thing.

    One of the liberasts I used to waste time arguing with on Twitter before quitting that disgusting pit, @ReginaldQuill (who has characteristics of a real Pentagon-paid outsourced Cointelpro contractor) linked to a book on Bildeberg that traces it and other transnationalist groups back to the 18th century Freemasons. That is, this ‘mainstream’ book quotes a ‘mainstream’ professor from the Netherlands who’s studied the Bildebergers going back to their founding in Holland, and calls the Freemasons the first trans-nationalists. But model democrats, most of the Masons were not — and the Bildebergers are definitely not democratic. When I suggested that given his and a certain professor’s visceral identification of the Russian Orthodox Church with the state, despite decades of Bolshevik/Soviet persecution of the same, might be motivated by that Lodge anti-clerical Thomas Paine mentality, he just joked about ‘see you at the Lodge’. Yet I did hear from very reliable sources that former Mayor Luzhkov was quite the high-degreed Mason. Whether that contributed to his eventual ouster I doubt, but interesting nonetheless.

    Thus, the ‘Jedi mind trick’ is — we’ll discuss conspiracy theories, but only in terms of why you’re crazy for believing in them while we’re normal when we discuss them. And Bildeberg has gone from being a thing that didn’t exist to being a ‘force for good’ that only Kremlin payroll (cuz he’s appeared on RT now and then) nutjobs don’t like. Nonetheless, some of the trolling is starting to look quite pathetic, example here (from a Tucker Carlson hack):
    when crazy Brother Bullhorn Alex is a bigger story than a conclave of some of the most elite business and political figures in the world, you know it’s pretty lame. And they can’t do a damn thing about Drudge linking to him or the bemused Guardian reporter on the scene except bitch about it.

    The only thing I can think of that would be even more embarassing to these people would be Israel bombing Iran using Azeri air space with the Russians leaking that they told the Gabala crews to stand down. But hardcore Russophobes are so impervious to reality undermining their narratives that they’ve even got their talking points ready (so it seems) for THAT eventuality! In that case, suddenly Iran goes from being Russia’s eternal ally against the West to being a victim of Kremlin plotting to drive up oil prices and keep a competitor down. Hell, maybe they’ll even say Bibi is a SVR asset, since they already say that about Lieberman. See how easy Russophobic double plus good doublethink is?

    These people are nothing if not predictable.

  3. One more oddball coincidence and grist for the conspiracy mill — the liberast Tweeters linked to a Daily Telegraph “story” (really a Henry Jackson Society op-ed) which claims the Russian-flagged ship which docked in Tartus carrying weapons was owned by none other than a conglomerate led up by Vladimir Lisin.

    Now Lisin topped the Forbes Russia list of the top billionaires after he purchased a complex of Siberian steel mills from…wait for it!…one George Soros, sometime in the last three years. How in the hell foreigner and someone with his history of cooperation with Washington agencies held on to such a juicy asset through the vicious ‘metal wars’ of the 1990s that felled many a would-be oligarch, I do not know. But there’s something odd about the juxtaposition, considering the accusations that Soros has been used as a CIA asset in the past for the Rose and Orange Revolutions. As if the whole Syria game were more complicated than just Russia versus the West. Like I said, without transnationalism and transnational interests getting involved, it is very difficult to make much sense of how guys like Soros (or for that matter, Deripaska whom the Telegraph published as meeting one Rothschild) could get involved in the anti-Kremlin politics they’ve spent millions on and yet own/hang on to so many juicy Russian assets.

  4. And mainstream, mainline, respectable D.C. think tank (Hudson Institute, in this case, a spin off of Rand nuclear scientist Herman Kahn’s RAND Corporation work) essays on transnationalism versus liberal democracy here:

    So again, there is acceptable criticism of transnationalism (intl criminal court BAD, UN in most circumstances bad) on the Right, and then there is unacceptable ‘fringe’ criticism (NATO subverting national sovereignty too, Panetta pledged allegiance to the same before Congress — if you say that, you are a Kremlin stooge/useful idiot blah blah). But again, most of the folks on the respectable D.C. Right like Fonte or the late Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington only start openly discussing transnationalism aka Davos Man as a serious ideological threat like socialism or Communism once were once they get too old to care much about their careers.