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.

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