Some pretty major news coming out of Russia today. Nezavisimaya Gazeta is reporting that Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov will soon replace Sergei Naryshkin as Head of the Presidential Administration. I mentioned in my post a few days ago that Vedomosti had quoted an unnamed source within the Kremlin who said that Naryshkin would soon be out. Also, regular readers of this blog know I’ve been saying that Konovalov is a rising star in the Medvedev-era power structure. Also important is Konovalov’s replacement – current Deputy Minister of Justice Yury Lyubimov. In August, I wrote that Lyubimov’s appointment as a Dep. Minister was significant, particularly because he is one of Medvedev’s former law students. Still, I wouldn’t even have gone so far as to predict that this 32-year-old would become Justice Minister after two months on the job.
NG explains in its article that “Medvedev is not quite satisfied with Naryshkin’s performance on issues like the war on corruption and personnel. The efforts taken by the government over the past year in the war on corruption have yet to yield tangible results.” The article goes on to discuss problems with implement personnel reforms and also in the drafting of federal laws.
Early reactions to these reports confirm their significance. In an interview over at Polit.ru, Vladimir Probylskiy said that the change would be the “first serious appointment” by Medvedev. He went on to say, “Up until this point I held the view that Putin is still ruling the country. But if Naryshkin is replaced by Konovalov, then it’s possible to say that Medvedev still has power.” The move would be significant because Naryshkin is clearly “Putin’s man,” while Konovalov is “Medvedev’s man.”
It will be interesting to see how this actually pans out, and will be a real test of NG‘s sources (though Probylskiy noted that the paper correctly predicted an earlier change). There is always the possibility that these reports are a head fake, and that Konovalov will actually be promoted to a different position (Prosecutor General, Head of Investigative Committee?). Alternatively, Konovalov might stay put at the Ministry of Justice, while a different Medvedevite is promoted, perhaps Konstantin Chuichenko (a more logical choice) or Nikolai Vinnichenko (Konovalov’s “protoge”). In any case, it is clear that a movement is afoot to build and consolidate Medvedev’s power base, at the expense of the siloviki.
Update: Ivan Nemolyai over at Kasparov.ru provided his analysis of the reports today. In short, he thinks this is/could be all Putin’s machinations, citing as an example the 2007 rumors that Ivan Ivanov would be promoted to PM, when it turned out to be Viktor Zubkov (remember when he was anointed successor in the Western press?). While I think this is a plausible theory – Putin lives for this sort of intrigue – it still does not clarify the purpose.
If, for example, Putin wanted to reaffirm that he has control, then the rumor must be false, and no changes are imminent. Thus, the purpose in this scenario is to create the illusion of Medvedev striving to make significant personnel changes, and Putin vetoing his decision. On the other hand, the rumors could be a way of testing reactions, regardless of who started them. NG‘s source claimed that the changes ‘could’ occur over the next 2-3 months. Finally, this is much different than 2007, when Ivanov’s promotion was reported literally hours before the announcement of Zubkov. There, Ivanov’s stillborn promotion was an obvious message about his presidential prospects. Here, Konovalov is a relatively unknown minister, whose failure to be promoted over the next few months would likely go unnoticed.
Update-2: The drama continues. Today, Medvedev’s Press Secretary Natalya Timakova denied the rumors about Naryshkin’s impending resignation/firing. As evidence of this, she cited Medvedev’s naming of Naryshkin as head of the Commission for the Improvement of the State Exam, which is scheduled to complete its work by December 15. Still not convinced that nothing’s up…
(Image: Konovalov playing b-ball in his younger days. Credit: Itar-Tass, via Nezavisimaya Gazeta)