Earlier this week, Pres. Medvedev and Justice Minister Konovalov implemented another change at the top of the Ministry of Justice. Head of the Federal Penitentiary Service (Федеральная Служба Исполнения Наказаний), Yury Kalinin was removed from his position and reinstalled as a Deputy Minister of Justice. Kalinin was replaced by Alexander Reimer, up until this point the head of the Internal Affairs Administration in Samara. Finally, Yury Lyubimov (a 32-year-old former student of Pres. Medvedev) was also named as a Deputy Minister along with Kalinin.
This article over at Politicom.ru does a good job of summarizing the changes that have occurred up until this point. For example, three of the new Deputy Ministers of Justice named over the past year – Aleksandr Fedorov, Dmitri Kostennikov, and Vladimir Zubrin – came from the Federal Narcotics Service, under the patronage of Viktor Cherkesov. Cherkesov, the famous letter-writer to Kommersant during the siloviki war in the fall of 2007, has now been moved to Rosoboronpostavka, though the article reports that “in reality his influence on the processes within the power structures has sharply decreased,” and that his comrade-in-arms Aleksandr Bulbov is currrently under investigation. The article goes on to point out the similarities between Cherkesov’s situation with Bulbov and Finance Minister Kudrin’s situation with his friend, Sergei Storchak.
Of the three Deputies mentioned, Zubrin is unique in that he worked in the Prosecutor’s office under Vladimir Ustinov until the latter was replaced by current Prosecutor General, Yury Chaika (Ustinov was then sent to the regions as a plenipotentiary and replaced by Konovalov).
The key point of the article, however, is that the naming of an individual as a Deputy Ministry “is a well-known method of ‘softly’ reducing the power of a bureaucrat with a key position.” Indeed, it seems that, with regards to Russia’s criminal justice system, the Ministry of Justice is often where bureaucrats go to die. Specifically, if you go from the Prosecutor’s Office or Investigative Committee to the Ministry of Justice, your days of influence are over (even worse when you’re sent out to pasture in the provintsii). Vladimir Ustinov is probably the best representation of this, as he’s held three positions in as many years, each one less influential than the previous.
These events will likely fuel the speculation as to whether or, in my opinion, when Konovalov will leave the Ministry of Justice to bigger and better things, possibly replacing Chaika as Prosecutor General of Russia. It is possible that Konovalov’s task at hand is to shepherd as many siloviki as possible into meaningless positions at Justice before he is allowed to take off. Furthermore, perhaps real change cannot take place until after Medvedev’s reelection, which was of course the case for many of Putin’s major personnel changes.