MOSCOWÂ – The first big test of whether Russia’s president-elect, Dmitry Medvedev, is really in charge will come when he tries to appoint his own allies into key Kremlin jobs occupied by Vladimir Putin’s loyalists.
Medvedev’s mentor and the outgoing head of state, Putin will move into the job of prime minister when he vacates his Kremlin office in May after eight years and many observers believe he — not the new president — will be calling the shots.
A 42-year-old former lawyer, Medvedev has his own circle, most of them drawn from backgrounds in the law and business; a group with a different outlook to the security service veterans ex-KGB spy Putin has installed in key positions.
But some observers say it is unlikely, at least at the start of his presidency, that Medvedev will have the bureaucratic clout to ease out many Putin appointees and put in his own people.
“The main question at the moment is whether Dmitry Medvedev has any latitude for movement on personnel changes,” said Alexei Mukhin, director of the Centre for Political Information, a think-tank.
One possible Medvedev appointee is Alexander Voloshin, a former Kremlin chief of staff who was at Medvedev’s campaign headquarters on election night. His return to government would signal Medvedev is moving out of Putin’s shadow.
“Voloshin will have an influential role under Medvedev,” said an analyst who asked not be identified.
“They will find a way to put him into the system, whether he works as an official in the Kremlin administration … or in another role.”
Both Putin and Medvedev, who have worked side by side since their days in the St Petersburg city government in the early 1990s, say their partnership will be a harmonious one.
But Medvedev’s room for maneuver will be limited because Putin uses control over appointments as one of the main instruments of his power. Big personnel changes are controlled by Viktor Ivanov, an ex-KGB officer and Putin loyalist.
Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political analyst, said giving up control over appointments would mean Putin is ceding his role as supreme “national leader” to his protege — a step he shows few signs yet he is prepared to take.
“Personnel policy is one of the most important elements that Putin wants to retain control of himself,” said Oreshkin. “Any change in personnel policy would de facto mean a change of the national leader.”
Medvedev’s success or failure in bringing in his own team could also dictate the policies of his administration: many in his entourage are economic liberals who favor a smaller state role in business than the hawks surrounding Putin.
Medvedev’s circle is drawn from overlapping networks of lawyers, fellow alumni at his university law faculty, serving and former Kremlin officials and the advisory boards of non-governmental groups on which the president-elect sits.
Leading figures include Dmitry Kozak, who studied at the same university as Medvedev and is now minister for regional development and Anton Ivanov, a senior judge and the next Russian leader’s close personal friend.
Government insiders say Medvedev’s wife Svetlana, a home-maker who is often photographed at fashion shows and society parties, is also a major influence on him and was a driving force behind his successful Kremlin career.