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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russia Update: September 23, 2016

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Putin Proposes Volodin to Duma, Appoints Naryshkin to Foreign Intelligence to Prepare for 2018 Presidential Run
President Vladimir Putin has made two major personnel shuffles and urged the "optimization" of the number of parties in Russia, indicating further consolidation over an already-docile parliament and intelligence service and preparation for his installation as president in 2018.

Sergei Naryshkin, former speaker of parliament and a long-time associate of Putin, has now been appointed head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SKR), although he has no intelligence background. Possibly this seeming political favor could be made viable because, as Kommersant has reported, the intelligence services may be amalgamated and the SKR is going to be folded into a larger Ministry of State Security -- meaning the position awarded Naryshkin may disappear, or he may be made a deputy or department head instead of an agency head.

On the other hand, as Paul Goble has pointed out, the merging of the intelligence agencies has been discussed for more than a decade and never came about. Kommersant reported the story based on inside sources but there have been no official announcements. Kommersant and others have characterized the new super-ministry as the return of the KGB, which ran both domestic and foreign intelligence in one organization. The last time Russia had a body named "Ministry of State Security" was in the early Brezhnev period associated with less repression than the Stalin era but more than the current Putin era -- although this is debatable.

Putin's other important move is to propose Vyacheslav Volodin, deputy chief of staff to replace Naryshkin as speaker of parliament. This appointment was anticipated for months in the Russia media and Volodin even went on leave from the government while he campaigned to get into the parliament -- not a difficult job when the ruling party put him at the top of the list and took 76% of seats. 

Back in June, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev formally proposed returning Volodin, former Secretary General of United Russia, to the Duma June, tapping him for his leadership skills and experience.

Not surprisingly, when Putin met with the parliamentary parties today, all four expressed support for Putin's choice of Volodin as speaker.

As long-time Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovsky explained in August, in the September 18 elections, Volodin was not so much running for speaker as running for the job of campaign manager for Putin's presidential elections in 2018.

In that regard, the Duma is seen not so much as a legislature, given that many important laws are drafted in the Kremlin and passed to the Duma for a rubber stamp anyway. Rather it is a group of loyal and privileged supporters of Putin who can motivate their own constituents in the provinces to back Putin.

In December 2011, Volodin replaced Vladislav Surkov, often described as the Kremlin's "gray cardinal," when Putin returned to the presidency; one theory is that Putin believed Surkov had failed to control youth and nationalist movements which took to the streets to protest against the fraudulent elections. But Surkov remained in the Kremlin and handled important portfolios such as the Russia-backed separatists in the Donbass and the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abakhazia, increasingly brought into Russia's orbit. 

Surkov has not been so visible lately, but it's possible that Putin may put him back in his old job or at least not remove him from his current position heading a department.

What's more likely, however, is that a new or relatively unknown underling will be given the position, given Putin's trend of replacing old cronies with younger, docile associates such as Anton Vaino, who replaced former KGB officer and long-time Putin crony Sergei Ivanov in the job of chief of staff last month.

But it is still an open question as to who will replace Volodin, one of whose important jobs was interfacing with Russia's sometimes corrupt, restive and even rebellious governors, such as Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Chechnya, who unsurprisingly kept his seat.

Putin -- not the parliament itself -- has already urged the State Duma to meet soon and has proposed the opening date of October 5 which was approved by the parties.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 


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