Alexey Mukhin: ‘All last names of famous Tatarstan managers are on everyone’s lips in Moscow’

Why ministers have suddenly changed and what tasks Marat Khusnullin with Irek Fayzullin will perform

Alexey Mukhin: ‘All last names of famous Tatarstan managers are on everyone’s lips in Moscow’
Photo: pnp.ru

The first changes in the composition took place in Russia’s government since Mikhail Mishustin’s appointment as premier. Transport Minister Dietrich, Construction Minister Yakushev, Environment Minister Kobylkin left their posts. Aleksandr Novak gave his chair of the energy minister of RusHydro’s ex-CEO Nikolay Shulginov and has become the tenth vice premier supervising the Fuel and Energy Complex. Some time later it became known about the resignation of head of the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service Igor Artemyev. New ministers were appointed instantaneously. Aeroflot’s former director Vitaly Savelyev chaired the Transport Ministry, Aleksandr Kozlov changed his seat from the minister of the Far East for the seat of the minister of natural resources and environment, while Director of the Foundation for Development of the Far East Aleksey Chekunkov now leads the Ministry of Development of the Far East. But Irek Fayzullin’s appointment has been discussed in Tatarstan more, of course — he became the new minister of construction and architecture of the Russian Federation. Political expert Alexey Mukhin, director general of the Centre for Political Information, comments on the appointments and dismissals of the week for Realnoe Vremya.

“If these folks are out of their depth anyway, as I understood, no top rulers will help them

Mr Mukhin, several ministers at once are rarely fired in the Russian practice — we see the whole government being fired more often. What happened this time?

Ministers had been fired previously too, both a couple of ministers or just one, and it isn’t a big case. But I agree with you — in the current case, we’re talking about the dismissal of a pack of important, federal ministers anyway, if not key.

These dismissals are linked with results of the inspection of federal agencies of executive power Premier Mikhail Mishustin appointed once — it evaluated the efficiency of the agencies in national projects and the compliance with measures fighting the COVID-19 threat. As a result of these inspections, the premier’s apparatus recommended Mishustin and the premier did President Putin to fire the ticked ministers.

Photo: government.ru
It was also a reshuffle of Medvedev’s staff and creation of a sustainable team of today’s Premier Mishustin who, of course, wished to see effective members of his team, not puppets of the groups of influence of the previous years

Apart from this, the ministers who worked under Medvedev turned out to be fired. In other words, it was also a reshuffle of Medvedev’s staff and creation of a sustainable team of today’s Premier Mishustin who, of course, wished to see effective members of his team, not puppets of the groups of influence of the previous years. You will probably wonder who has already become stronger as a result of this shuffle. Of course, Vice Premier Yury Trutnev has, Vice Premier Marat Khusnullin has become stronger. Igor Sechin’s influence is cited too — but in this case, we can be speaking about only conspiracy theories from some Telegram channels.

What’s the effect? It turns out that the Cabinet of Ministers accordingly the new amendments of the Constitution isn’t a “holy cow”, its members can be fired both individually and in groups depending on some high-ranking functionary’s efficiency. And such a delicate adjustment will continue to be intensive — ministers who demonstrate a low level of efficiency and don’t perform given tasks turn out in the risk group, and almost everybody is under the gun.

Can the possible substitution of the rest of the ministers (let’s say, because of misfortunes in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic) be expected during the remaining time to the elections to the State Duma, that’s to say, until September 2021?

No, I wouldn’t consider the elections to the State Duma and even the creation of the already elected team of deputies as watershed here. I think that periodical inspections, as I understood, Mikhail Mishustin intends to schedule once in three months to learn the expertise of the Cabinet of Ministers he was entrusted with can be considered as a watershed.

Couldn’t the Medvedev ministers be fired earlier when Mikhail Mishustin got the right to create a government?

No, there is a package of agreements and the agencies’ rhythm of work. It is very hard to up and fire everybody, and what for? Those people who are engaged in processes, important for the state’s operation remain on their posts unless they perform their duties. Other ministers have very influential protégés who ask to leave them on this post, and if these folks are out of their depth anyway, as I understood, no top rulers will help them.

Photo: government.ru
Kozlov is a member of Yury Trutnev’s not a very bad team who is famous for quite wide lobbyist possibilities, and I think that Kozlov was invited to this post precisely as a representative of Trutnev’s team

Kobylkin and Dietrich didn’t manage to establish relations with their colleagues, while Kozlov got promoted

Let’s talk about the fired ministers. A lot of experts say that ex-head of the Ministry of Environment Kobylkin didn’t succeed because of the stalled waste reform and a weak response to manmade catastrophes, for instance, the same oil spill near Norilsk this spring. Is this true?

Dmitry Kobylkin very intensively responded to these catastrophes, tried to neutralise a PR effect from them, tried to arrange work to get rid of the environmental damage and so on — the ex-minister worked well. But Kobylkin’s problem is that he didn’t manage to speak the same language either with the new team of the Cabinet of Ministers or regional leaders who also supervised the same environmental projects. He simply didn’t manage to set up organisational work, as a result, he has bad indicators, a low level of efficiency and dismissal.

We saw the Far East minister change again. What’s the fault of Aleksandr Kozlov?

Kozlov in general was a candidate for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and this is a promotion in fact! (Laughing). The federal experts, of course, had questions about the activity of the Ministry of the Far East, but I will note to be fair that it developed a good Arctic development strategy and performed its functions in general. Kozlov is a member of Yury Trutnev’s not a very bad team who is famous for quite wide lobbyist possibilities, and I think that Kozlov was invited to this post precisely as a representative of Trutnev’s team and a series of powerful regional leaders, same Primorye Governor Oleg Kozhemyako to try to get back on track, which Kobylkin didn’t manage to do.

What didn’t Yevgeny Dietrich manage to do as transport minister?

As far as I am concerned, neither did Dietrich manage to establish relations with key actors of his sector, with the management of the government, particularly with Mishustin (of course, this wasn’t public). As a result, he lost his post.

“The activity of the “Tatar lobby” caused somebody’s irritation”

Talking about the new figures in the government, readers from Tatarstan want to know your opinion about the appointment of Irek Fayzullin as Minister of Housing Utilities and Construction, once he supervised this sphere in Tatarstan.

Here everything is simple — it is a vice premier supervising the sphere of construction. Marat Khusnullin pushed his man who was Minister Yakushev’s first deputy into the post of minister. As I understood, he needed this very much, and the vice premier managed to explain this proposal to President Putin. Marat Khusnullin anyway created a contoured team for his expertise, hence the post for Irek Fayzullin. Here everything is very simple — it is a purely lobbyist decision, and I hope it will work.

Photo: duma.gov.ru
It goes without saying that Fayzullin can seriously take on the modernisation of the system of housing utilities too — now it is already a matter of state safety

Can we say that after the appointment of Irek Fayzullin Tatarstan’s “shares” have gone up these days or will it be a pompous claim?

Of course, the famous “Tatar lobby” is discussed at federal level, and as I know from unofficial sources, the activity of the “Tatar lobby” caused somebody’s irritation in Moscow. But I wouldn’t emphasise the national grounds when creating such teams. Yes, we can see both “Armenian lobby” and “Azerbaijani lobby”, but it is always fair to judge by some people’s results of work.

Can we say now about the possible appearance of other famous Tatarstan managers — mayors, ministers, deputies, CEOs of big enterprises — in the country’s top management?

Sure, we can. A community in a good sense is a very good thing for activating social ladders. I can say that all last names of famous Tatarstan managers are on everyone’s lips in Moscow, this is why nothing can be excluded here.

Irek Fayzullin said in his speech in the Duma that his key task as a minister will be building housing for 5 million citizens who need it. What else can be expected from the person from Tatarstan?

Not that the work on the renovation project has been suspended now. Both Khusnullin and Fayzullin will have to finish it off, so to speak. The project is very good, vivid, required a lot of funding, a lot of effort, balanced work. I think it will be one of the key areas of work for Khusnullin’s team and the construction ministry. It goes without saying that Fayzullin can seriously take on the modernisation of the system of housing utilities too — now it is already a matter of state safety.

Photo: duma.gov.ru
The situation became clearer with time, degrees of responsibilities were determined, and Novak got the opportunity of switching to the position of vice premier

“Name a minister who doesn’t consider himself Vladimir Putin’s man!”

Why was now ex-Energy Minister Novak appointed as vice premier?

The story about Novak is much simpler than that of Irek Fayzullin. The case is that his position as vice premier was envisaged when Medvedev’s team was reset and Mishustin’s Cabinet of Ministers was created. But an anti-corruption group was working in Novak’s circle, and his promotion would be recognised unfeasible then. The situation became clearer with time, degrees of responsibilities were determined, and Novak got the opportunity of switching to the position of vice premier.

Why did this happen? Once industries wondered why Vice Premier Yury Borisov got both the industry and the Fuel and Energy Complex in his expertise — such a workload for the vice premier was too big even for such an experienced statesman as Borisov. And now everything is starting to teeter and find its place. Novak will supervise the Fuel and Energy Complex: he is anyway an experienced international player. I am familiar with him: we got acquainted when he was just beginning his ministerial work, he was quite a modest player then, but 8 years later he notably grew into an important person. The new vice premier also has such an important thing as amazing relationships with Putin under his belt, which means he will feel great.

What do you think about the opinion that technocrats used to chair ministries and then professional came?

I understand that there are so comfortable journalist clichés as “technocrats”, “professionals”, “who all these people are”. But let’s see, Alexey Ulyukayev was a professional too, but did this help him? No, it didn’t. This is why I don’t support such “segregation”.

Experts say that such-and-such minister is Sobyanin’s man or Sechin’s man or anybody’s man, but it is strange not to see opinions saying that this minister is Putin’s man.

Name a minister who doesn’t consider himself Vladimir Putin’s man! (Laughing).

Photo: fas.gov.ru
As far as I am concerned, the president has never had complaints about Igor Artemyev, there are no complaints in general. And if this is a resignation, it will be the resignation of a person who decided to change his activity

There is none, of course. But I want to understand if there are still “Putin’s vice premiers” or “Putin’s ministers” (apart from security officials).

I wouldn’t like to single out some of the members of the governments — I have already leaked the information about Aleksandr Novak to you because the president’s affection for him is noticeable when we see photos of their communication. But I wouldn’t like to do some of the members of the Cabinet of Ministers a disservice — don’t take advantage of my weakness (Laughing).

Which new appointee do you think can show off in the short run?

Aleksandr Kozlov is exceptionally ambitious anyway, he is probably kind of new star in the bureaucratic sky. But let’s wait and see, he is young enough anyway, and his chances of being a start are fifty-fifty, so to speak. While the other players are quite familiar in their sectors, and we know what to expect from them.

How will you comment on the dismissal of head of the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service Igor Artemyev?

Igor Artemyev was on his post for quite a long time. Rumour often had it that he wanted to leave this post and even tabled this issue for Putin, but it was a rumour. As far as I am concerned, the president has never had complaints about Igor Artemyev, there are no complaints in general. And if this is a resignation, it will be a resignation of a person who decided to change his activity and will likely be promoted in some public holding or a good plum job.

It surprised me that the mass media didn’t forecast the possible appointment of Artemyev as Petersburg’s governor. It was written about this two years ago, and now, when the number of coronavirus cases is growing the northern capital, can’t we assume Beglov is fired and Artemyev is appointed?

It is one of the options. And the fact that you haven’t found such an option in public space means that it is probable.

Photo: krskstate.ru
As a rule, governors learn about “COVID-19 dismissals” from the mass media. There is a risk group, I think, first of all, Governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai Uss is in

Can governors be fired because of COVID-19? Because we hear about some imperfections in regions regarding the treatment of people for COVID-19 almost every week. We know the case in Omsk when patients were brought to the building of the Ministry of Health Care because there was no room for them in hospitals, the situation in Kurgan Oblast where there was a big rise in the number of patients, Khakassia...

As a rule, governors learn about “COVID-19 dismissals” from the mass media. There is a risk group, I think, first of all, Governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai Uss is in. Some governors didn’t cope with the work on financing their health care — I don’t want to name them now, but they have been in the presidential administration’s ratings for a long time, and precisely these governors can be fired because of COVID-19. A substitute for them is certainly actively looked for, and it is a normal process. Are the dismissals possible this year? They are. Governors’ dismissals aren’t linked with some political season. How many will there be? I know that from 5 to 10 folders on governors are lying now in the Kremlin to replace them.

When can we start to judge the efficiency of the new ministers and new members of the government who were appointed as early as in January? In two or three years?

When Putin appointed Medvedev’s young government and complaints about this government began to shower, the president said: “Let people work for at least a year, and it will be clear if it is effective or not”. So a year is the term. And note that the first dismissals in Mishustin’s government were fast.

Interviewed by Sergey Kochnev