Putin is replacing his old guard with young and loyal bureaucratic figures, moving toward enforcing his personal leadership.
Unlike Ivanov, Anton Vaino is purely a bureaucrat, experts say. “He is totally neutral and polite, not ready to discuss anything or ask questions. It’s Putin’s personal choice,” a source close the Kremlin told The Moscow Times.
“He is perfect, by Putin’s standards: effective, but with no personal ties to him,” agreed political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky.
In addition, Putin has been dissatisfied with Ivanov for some time. New legislation on the National Guard was the last straw, the Moscow-based political commentator Konstantin Gaaze says: “The expertise and the workflow involved in drafting this legislation went wrong. As a result, the version of one of the amendments signed by Putin and officially published in the press is different from what the parliament voted for. And the Kremlin managers had to deal with the scandal.”
Within the elite, The Moscow Times’ sources say, Vaino is closer to the head of the Rostec state-owned arms manufacturer, Sergei Chemezov — but he also quite close to Putin.
He was never seen as a political player within Putin’s circle, but, rather, as Putin’s personal assistant — comparable to his press secretary Dmitry Peskov, insiders said.
New Phase of Leadership
Vladimir Putin is entering new phase of his leadership. As a source close to the Kremlin said, the president now thinks it’s easier to do everything himself. He doesn’t need comrades anymore, he doesn’t need creative input from within his team. He needs neutral executives.
From this angle, the appointment of Vaino follows the same logic as recent promotions of Putin’s personal bodyguards Alexei Dyumin and Yevgeny Zinichev as heads of the Tula and Kalinigrad regions. His former personal bodyguard Viktor Zolotov was also promoted earlier this year to become the head of a newly formed law enforcement division, the National Guard.
“People like Vaino are part of Putin’s most inner circle, they’re always with him, working as guards or at his chancery. Yet, for them he has always been this sacred figure — not an ally, not a comrade, but a boss,” said political analyst Alexei Makarkin.
“It’s the changing of guard. He is tired of the old-timers,” a source said. Ivanov’s dismissal and Vaino’s appointment are part of the trend that first became clear after the unexpected sacking of a Putin’s longtime friend and ally Vladimir Yakunin, head of Russian Railways, last year. His other long-time companions like the head of his personal security Yevgeny Murov and the head of Federal Drug Control Service Victor Ivanov also had to leave earlier this year. “Ivanov coalesced with others in the system, he became overgrown with interests and loyalties within the team. Putin does not need that anymore,” a source close to the Kremlin told The Moscow Times.
“Putin is replacing old friends with servants — people he trusts that are not burdened by personal friendships with him and don’t remember the times when he was not the leader of the country,” said Belkovsky.
Putin needs more room for quick and easy decision making, which has been getting more and more problematic within his circle and the elite, insiders said. That’s why he is removing old acquaintances.
As Ivanov was dismissed, speculation grew that Vladimir Putin might be preparing for an early presidential election, currently scheduled for March 2018.
This possibility has been floated for over two years due to the worsening economic situation. Last year, former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin publicly suggested moving the presidential election and starting a new program of reforms straight after them. Kudrin has a reputation of being close to Putin. Earlier this year Kudrin was appointed as deputy head of the presidential economic council in order to come up a program for restarting economy.
The reshuffling campaign may also be a sign of the Kremlin preparing for early presidential elections, Makarkin says. “It would make sense for them to move for early elections in the light of recent statements from the Finance Ministry, which essentially predicted running out of money by 2017,” he said. “In order for that not to happen, unpopular reforms are needed. It would make sense to carry out those reforms not before the elections, but after them.”
This theory is quite credible, adds political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky. “Now there is nothing really holding the authorities back, they can easily schedule presidential elections as early as tomorrow. And again, it would be part of the trend of inexplicable decisions — everyone will struggle to explain this move,” he says.
However, Russian law currently forbids a president who resigns before his term expires to run for early elections.
Moreover, it’s too early to talk about it yet, a source close to the government says: “What we are seeing now are attempts to improve the manageability of the system. A decision [regarding the possibility of early elections] is the next step for Putin.”