Dismissed Vice PM Klebanov: Neither All Nor Nothing

In the article 'Kasyanov Has Rid Himself of Klebanov' the Izvestiya newspaper referred to a highly placed unnamed official as saying, 'In the Soviet times, Western politicians knew everything about us. The only thing they could not figure out was the way top Communist officials were appointed. In this way, our time is no different'. Yet according to publications appearing in business-oriented mass media, the decision-making process at the highest level is rather easy to trace. The February 18 dismissal of Ilya Klebanov from the post of Vice-Prime Minister followed by his appointment the Minister of Industry, Science and Technologies is no exception from this. And still, is everything really so simple?

Now, as the Kommersant newspaper writes with reference to Alexei Gromov, the President's spokesman, the shift was made on the Prime Minister's initiative. And further, 'So the PM did away with two problems at once, cutting down on the number of his deputies and considerably weakening Mr. Klebanov, no great friend of his lately'.

Izvestiya quotes Mr. Gromov as saying, 'Now, Mr. Klebanov will have a chance to concentrate on the problems of defence industry while cooperating with the Ministry of Defence fulfilling defence-related orders'. Strana.ru deciphers this statement of the spokesman in the following way: 'This is exactly the area where there have been some shortcomings. It is hardly likely that anyone can figure out the situation better than Mr. Klebanov, the long time overseer of the industry, once he gets things like the raising of the Kursk sub or reforming railways out of the way. One can say he has been given a chance to put defence industry right. It is obvious that the following career of the minister rides on how he may act now'.

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper believes otherwise: Klebanov is being made a scapegoat of. The Ministry of Industry and Science is being prepared for reforms. What Putin drives at is handing the issues related to the management of scientific and technical affairs over to the Security Council, while the ex-PM will be made responsible for inevitable failures. Some believe Klebanov will retrace the steps of Nikolai Aksyonenko, the former Minister of Railways who was recently retired from every post he had held.

According to the Public.ru news website, the majority of Moscow and central newspapers say the Kremlin believes the development of science must be closely supervised by a 'faithful' minister. They also write about the long awaited 'tune-up' of the government. Yet as goes the observation made by the Izvestiya newspaper, in the Kremlin, the shifting of Klebanov was referred to, not without malice, as 'fine tuning'. In this connection, one may remember the 'tune-up' of the government that happened last October when Ilya Klebanov replaced Alexander Dundukov as the Minister of Industry and Science and some utterances that were made in reference to that. Izvestiya, for instance, wrote, 'Putin has remained faithful to himself, all his personnel shifts being high precision, political stability in the country inviolate', while Kommersant maintained that a certain group close to Prime Minister Kasyanov continued 'tuning-up' the government while redistributing cash flow according to its own needs.

So let us go back to the predictability of personnel shifts in the government. Business-oriented media believe this particular shift reflects the redistribution of influence in the market of armaments, that is, according to the Vedomosti and Kommersant newspapers, Kasyanov has added this financial sector to his domain. These newspapers emphasise there having been a conflict between Prime Minister Kasyanov and Ilya Klebanov, where the principal stumbling block is cooperation with foreigners in the sphere of military technologies.

The Kommersant newspaper wrote, 'In the military industrial complex, Ilya Klebanov created a system of management where the companies were divided between five defence agencies, each of these answering to Mr. Klebanov alone. After he had become a full-fledged Prime Minister in the summer of 2000, Mikhail Kasyanov did not quite like this system, so he made his first attempt to weaken his deputy. On Kasyanov's suggestion, Alexander Dundukov, the head of the Yakovlev design bureau, was appointed the Minister of Industry, Science and Technologies. The new minister began struggling for resubmitting the five agencies to him. However, he failed. Ilya Klebanov not only continued controlling defence industries but also was now in charge of everything that had to do with international cooperation in the sphere of military technologies. The defence agencies controlled by the Vice-Prime Minister handled the distribution of export contracts, Ilya Klebanov representing Russia in intergovernmental commissions on military technological cooperation with India and China, the principal buyers of Russia's arms'. At that time, the head of one of the military industrial companies predicted the Prime Minister would soon take defence industry over.

According to Kommersant, 'Ilya Klebanov never made any secret of that he wanted to bring non-budgetary funds into defence industry to obtain some financial leverage and reform the military industrial complex. Yet he failed to create an attractive environment for outside investors because he was a supporter of governmental control over defence. Instead, he instigated competition between companies engaged in arms exports. The scheme he developed was first tested last year when the Sukhoi aviation complex tried to obtain a $1.5 milliard contract to export Su-30MKK fighter planes to China.'

According to the Vedomosti newspaper, 'The Vice-Prime Minister was dismissed, then reappointed minister after his allegedly not too successful visit to India a couple of weeks ago. The government of Russia then failed to get the contract for the sale to India of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier signed'. Konstantin Makienko, an analyst from the Centre for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, says, 'Possibly, what we are looking at is an inadequate reaction on the part of Prime Minister Kasyanov to what was actually a favour the former Vice-Prime Minister did him at the Northern Wharf'.

There were also other disagreements between the Prime Minister and Vice-Prime Minister, unrelated to defence matters. Mentioned among these may be the proposed increase of import duties on used foreign cars. Although Kasyanov was against, Klebanov was for it and had his way. This is to say that, according to the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, Mr. Kasyanov had long disliked the growing influence of his 'defence Vice'. To some or other degree, such is the opinion shared by most mass media.

As the Kommersant newspaper wrote, 'Mr. Kasyanov hardly had any trouble substantiating to the Kremlin the necessity of cutting down on the number of his deputies. The President's administration had long insisted on reforming the government as a whole and reducing the number of Vice-Prime Ministers, while boosting up the roles of ministers. This is why Mikhail Kasyanov's suggestion that the job of Ilya Klebanov as a Vice-Prime Minister be yanked away was very logical'.

Yet mass media still refer to this shift as unexpected. Those in the know have long since called the President's personnel-related moves impossible to figure out. This in mind, some interesting observations can be made. St. Petersburg newspapers and news agencies, such as Vesti or Smena, linked Klebanov's dismissal with certain miscarriages during the raising of the Kursk sub, while all Moscow newspapers wrote that his position had improved after the submarine had been successfully raised. Some newspapers insist that Klebanov has now become 'just a minister' while others believe he may become the head of a super-ministry'.

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Author`s name Editorial Team