«The Duma Does Not Make the Man. Will Vyacheslav Volodin Be ‘Downgraded’ by New Post?» Slon 23 September 2016

When Dmitriy Medvedev in June made the strong-willed decision to propose making Vyacheslav Volodin head of the regional group on United Russia’s list, Volodin’s departure to the State Duma seemed unlikely. But the first deputy chief of Presidential Staff does indeed seem to be being consigned to the post of boss of the crazy printer [derogatory nickname for State Duma] , and this immediately after United Russia’s triumph in the elections (undoubtedly achieved thanks to Volodin). Things may not be so simple, however, and Volodin may be off to the Duma to do anything but follow in the footsteps of his predecessor in the post, Sergey Naryshkin.

Back in April Slon Magazine wrote on the topic of the «shrinking» of functions of the Presidential Staff’s Domestic Politics Administration. Real domestic politics is the «Bolotnaya case,» criminal cases against Navalnyy, films about the liberals on NTV (and the special services’ unconcealed involvement in them). Domestic politics is the Federal Security Service [FSB], the Russian Investigation Committee [SKR], and even the Federal Protection Service [FSO], which has acquired the additional role of court sociological center. Since then, much more has changed. Medvedev has begun to engage much more actively in domestic politics (it was he, for example, who pushed through the idea of creating a Strategic Development Council — a platform for preparing Putin’s election program for the coming presidential election); the National Guard, headed by Viktor Zolotov, has appeared; and the FSB continues to expand, swiftly devouring its rivals both internal (FSO, SKR) and external (Economic Security Service).

As for Volodin, blows have recently started to be struck against him. First, an article in Vedomosti claiming that Volodin was not coping, and that his work with the regions was ineffective, a series of blunders. And then another — about Volodin as a possible successor. Oleg Kashin even suspected that someone was trying to set up the first deputy chief of Putin’s staff.

Volodin probably was a «bane» first and foremost for Medvedev. The premier, having gotten involved in domestic politics and the party of power, most likely sincerely believes that United Russia’s constitutional majority is also thanks to him. And he may well have raised with Putin the question of rearranging the Domestic Politics Administration. In this way the party of power would have smoothly shifted to become the responsibility of the government head, and Volodin would have been left with the role of supraparty business manager.

This undoubtedly also affects the direct interests of Putin himself, who realizes very well that the personnel issue regarding Volodin could be tied to the resolution of an issue of far more importance to him — the preparation and conduct of the presidential campaign. Here everything revolves around the battle for the premiership, and this is where it is far more important for the president to keep everything under control. A concession to Medvedev could later become part of a package deal.

But now the main question for Volodin’s future will be who is going to eat whom: Will the post downgrade Volodin, or will Volodin make the speakership politically stronger? So far in recent Russian history no speaker of the lower chamber of parliament has been a genuinely influential figure. Ivan Rybkin (presidential candidate backed by Boris Berezovskiy in 2004) became famous for becoming part of a Berezovskiy scheme that failed spectacularly; Gennadiy Seleznev took the role of Communist Party of the Russian Federation dissenter; and Boris Gryzlov almost dissolved out of existence until he returned unexpectedly as a «fifth column» within United Russia, after which he was urgently neutralized by being granted the honor of serving as Ukrainian peacemaker. Finally, Naryshkin has been exiled to the Foreign Intelligence Service — the FSB can’t have everything. To all appearances, the speaker was in no hurry to go there and resisted to the last.

The history of previous speakers is clearly against Volodin, and the move to the State Duma seems to be not so much a demotion as a humiliation. But Putin’s style also teaches us not to rush to conclusions. When Sergey Shoygu was exiled to the post of Moscow Oblast governor, he too was written off, but now he is one of the main decisionmakers. Demoting people, waiting a bit, then hauling them up again — that, too, is a familiar pattern for Putin’s handling of personnel issues. But, as a rule, no cunning plans or desire to test and torment lie behind this. Rather, everything is much simpler: Convinced that he is the chosen one, Putin sincerely believes that a «man of state» should serve where the Motherland asks him to, and, if he is successful, he will receive his reward.

Perhaps Volodin will become the first speaker to combine the function of political manager and technical executor. However, in that case we should expect a narrowing of the functions of the Domestic Politics Administration and the arrival there of a nonpolitical «work horse» — a move that would also be fully in line with the new character of Putin’s personnel policy. Posts of regional head, for example, are now being taken by Putin’s adjutants (Volodin, by the way, had conflictual relations with the gubernatorial corps), political players are being replaced by servants, and ideologists by executors. And if things carry on like this, the Presidential Staff Domestic Politics Administration will turn into an administration without any politics, for which Volodin may have been too major a figure.


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