Russia’s newly appointed Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and re-appointed Finance Minister Anton Siluanov have moved to curb the powers of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s appointee First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov only days after taking up their new jobs.
Mishustin has spent the first week distributing responsibilities to his new team of eight deputy prime ministers who will oversee the line ministries.
However, Putin hand-picked many of the ministers and Belousov has been transferred directly from the presidential administration, where he served as Putin’s personal economic advisor, to become the first deputy Prime Minister, the second in command after Mishustin and the third most powerful man in the country.
As bne IntelliNews wrote in “Who's who in the new Russian government” most of the appointees, including Mishustin, are talented technocrats and good administrators who have been chosen to implement part of the 12 national projects programme. However, Belousov is clearly a political appointee of Putin, in the government to act as Putin’s proxy and oversee the work of the Duma.
He is also known to advocate boosting state spending to kick-start the economy, cutting interest rates and using the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as a vehicle to control economic growth and investment. Siluanov, on the other hand, is a liberal and has proved to be very cautious. Specifically, Siluanov opposes loosening the purse strings, which he fears will simply squander resources and stoke inflation.
Normally the First Deputy Prime Minister would oversee the work of the Finance Ministry and Siluanov would have to report to Belousov. But under the agreement reached on January 29 Mishustin has removed the roles of overseeing budgetary and tax policy. In an unusual break with etiquette, Siluanov will bypass Belousov and report directly to Mishustin – the only ministry that will not be overseen by a deputy prime minister.
As Mishustin is the former head of Russia’s tax service and used to report to Siluanov, the two men know each other well and have been working together on the revamp of the tax service spearheaded by Mishustin.
The decision of curb Putin’s proxy in the government stands in stark contrast to the outgoing Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was a weak leader and by this very weakness gave Putin direct control over the functioning of the Duma. The decision to curb Belousov’s powers in his first week on the job is maybe a sign that Mishustin intends to actually wield some of the considerable powers afforded him by the Russian constitution as the head of the government.
Belousov will nevertheless still retain significant powers, including increasing the effectiveness of budget expenditures, managing the national projects, countering sanctions and overseeing investment from the National Welfare Fund, reports BMB.
Separately BMB reports that sources from both the presidential administration and the Duma are saying that all Duma parties are preparing for early parliamentary elections in September 2020, rather than 2021. This could lead to another government reshuffle, and probably earlier presidential elections in 2022.
The complete list of Mishustin deputy prime ministers and their responsibilities was released the day before:
Chief of Staff, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Grigorenko loses control over the budget and tax but keeps control over the fulfilment of the national projects as well as trade policies and alcohol sales.
Deputy Prime Minister Viktoria Abramchenko is responsible for agriculture, fisheries, environment, land issues and real estate sales.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova will supervise the social policies, including demographics, migration, pensions and science.
Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk will supervise international relations and the integration within the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov will supervise the military, the defence industry, the state defence order and military co-operation, law enforcement, industry and the energy sector.
Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin will be responsible for housing policies, mortgage and public utilities, roads and the development of regions and cities, as well as Crimea and the Kaliningrad Region.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko will be responsible for the digital economy, innovations, media, culture, tourism and sports.