Who is Viktor Zubkov, and does it matter? (2)
Archived Articles 20 Sep 2007  EWR
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Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed last week that his hold on the country is stronger than ever, and that for a self-proclaimed democracy the country is in fact still run Soviet-style.

The resignation of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and his government before the upcoming December Duma elections came earlier than expected, but it can hardly have been a coincidence that it was timed with the anniversary of 9/11. Fradkov’s replacement was the big surprise – the new PM is Viktor Zubkov, an obscure official who had never been considered as a potential Russian leader.

Anne Applebaum wrote in the Washington Post on September 18 that no one really knows why Zubkov was appointed, except for Putin himself. Zubkov, formerly the Director of Russia’s Federal Financial Monitoring Service, was thus launched into the spotlight as also the next possible president – as Putin’s hand-picked successor. Applebaum warns that such speculation is irrelevant, as the mystery does not matter. The next president of Russia will “still be the product of a political system that remains mystifyingly opaque, and we shouldn’t forget it.”

That point was also emphasized by RFE/RL analyst Victor Yasmann, who wrote on September 17 that Zubkov’s appointment is a clear signal that the siloviki (rough translation: power elite) run the show. Yasmann writes:

“Virtually all key positions in Russian political life — in government and the economy — are controlled by the so-called „siloviki,“ a blanket term to describe the network of former and current state-security officers with personal ties to the Soviet-era KGB and its successor agencies.” Yasmann continues that the unexpected replacement of Fradkov by Zubkov “is the latest consolidation of this group’s grip on power in Russia.”

The core of the siloviki group, writes Yasmann, comprises of “about 6,000 security-service alumni who entered the corridors of power during Putin’s first term. Now, as Putin’s second term winds down, their clout is virtually unassailable.”

Yasmann lists a formidable slate of siloviki figures, whose “locus of power is in the presidential administration,” not to mention command of counterintelligence operations, the military-industrial sector, the oil and energy industry and the high-tech sector of the economy. Megacorporations led by siloviki are expected to “swallow up Russia’s defense, nuclear and automaking sectors in the near future.” Their cabal also dominates Russia’s relations with neighbouring countries. Yasmann notes that the “true extent of the siloviki community is difficult to know because many people cooperated with the KGB covertly during Soviet times and lustration in Russia has been staunchly resisted.”

The existing arrangement of political forces is thus being maintained with the change in PMs, and Applebaum’s point is well taken – be the president’s successor Zubkov, Fradkov or First Deputy PM Sergei Ivanov, long the heir-apparent, in Russia the siloviki, led by Vladimir Putin run the show.
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