‘Just when we thought things settled down’. Kremlin insiders on how Putin might overhaul Russia’s government after his upcoming inauguration

Posted: Thu, 11 Apr 2024 20:10:53 UTC+3

After Vladimir Putin is inaugurated for his fifth term as president, Russian law dictates that he disband the current government and establish a new one. However, the extent of this reshuffle remains uncertain, and it’s still unclear whether Putin will choose to leave things largely as they are or use the opportunity to reorganize the government and his administration completely. This potential shakeup has fueled speculation over who might be replaced, promoted, or left unaffected by the changes. Meduza special correspondent Andrey Pertsev spoke with Kremlin and government insiders to find out what they expect.

Vladimir Putin’s next presidential inauguration is set for May 7, 2024. After he’s sworn in, according to Russian law, he’s required to dissolve the government and form a new one. However, sources close to both the Kremlin and Russia’s Cabinet of Ministers told Meduza that they’re confident most influential officials will retain their positions.

“We expected a major reshuffle after the elections, but so far it’s looking like the decisions will be more targeted,” said one insider familiar with Putin’s administration. In his assessment, the country’s top leadership is hesitant to make any “major overhauls” at the moment, given that it’s still unclear what exactly the Russian army will be able to achieve at the front.

The Russian authorities are also reportedly waiting to see what happens in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to end the war in Ukraine “in 24 hours” if elected president. (He has also stated that Ukraine would need to relinquish all or part of its occupied territories as part of his plan.)

Toward the end of 2023, there were serious discussions among “Russian elites” about the possibility of Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin stepping down, sources said. As Meduza has previously reported, rumors of Mishustin’s impending resignation surface regularly without leading anywhere. This time will likely be no different. A source close to Russia’s government said the prevailing consensus is that “Mishustin will stay.” However, he noted that the prime minister’s fate rests solely with Putin, who “often makes unexpected decisions.”

Putin’s reign continues

“The prime minister isn’t in laying low; he’s traveling around the country. His trips are lively and well-organized,” said the government insider. He believes members of Mishustin’s team will likely retain their positions as well. As an example, he mentioned Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Grigorenko, Leonid Levin, and Alexander Gribov, who, among other things, handle Mishustin’s PR and his interactions with other government branches.

Denis Manturov, Russia’s industry and trade minister, and Marat Khusnullin, the deputy prime minister in charge of federal construction projects, are also expected to keep their positions. Meduza’s sources say both officials are “in good standing” with Putin, and Khusnullin is especially “well-regarded” for his work overseeing the “reconstruction” of annexed Ukrainian territories. However, according to the sources, neither of them is currently looking at a promotion.

At the same time, two sources close to the president’s administration didn’t rule out that First Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov, who is responsible for economics and finances, might be replaced. Belousov is a staunch conservative and a longtime advocate of incorporating elements of the Soviet planned economy into modern Russia’s economy. Kremlin insiders said Putin has often taken Belousov’s advice on various matters. “It’s not a question of disgrace. It’s just that this field is for younger people, and Belousov is of an older generation,” explained a source close to Putin’s administration.

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Maxim Oreshkin, a 41-year-old aid to Putin and former Russian economic development minister, is currently considered the “frontrunner” to succeed Belousov. Oreshkin has started appearing at events alongside Putin and accompanying him on trips. One Kremlin insider is confident this isn’t just a coincidence, calling Oreshkin one of the primary figures making “optimistic predictions about the future of the Russian economy in the face of sanctions, which are currently proving largely accurate.” However, the source didn’t rule out the possibility that Finance Minister Anton Siluanov might replace Belousov, with Oreshkin then taking Siluanov’s place.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who heads the administration’s social bloc, is reportedly also at risk. Sources told Meduza the reason for this is her “very long tenure in the power vertical”: Golikova has held high positions in Russia’s government since 1999, and she’s been deputy prime minister since 2018.

There might soon be other vacancies in the government as well. According to a recent report from Vedomosti, the Russian authorities are considering establishing a new ministry to oversee “youth policy and patriotic education,” while the country’s two existing education ministries might be merged back into a single entity, as they were prior to 2018.

Meduza’s sources deemed this one of the most likely scenarios for “reconfiguring” the government’s educational structures. Natalia Agre, who heads the Institute for the Study of Childhood, Family, and Education, and Deputy Education Minister Alexander Bugaev are among the potential candidates for the ministerial position. Bugaev is one of the key figures in Russia’s “assimilation system” for Ukrainian children deported from annexed territories.

eye-popping results

According to sources close to the Kremlin and the Russian government, both First Deputy Chief of Staff Sergey Kiriyenko and the Kovalchuk brothers (who are very close to Putin) are vying for unofficial “control” over the new ministry. However, the sources didn’t rule out the possibility of Kiriyenko assuming an entirely new role. He could potentially head the president’s administration, take up a government post (such as deputy prime minister for “new territories,” if such a position is created), or lead a state corporation. Kremlin insiders are confident that Kiriyenko stands a good chance of getting whatever he asks for, especially given Putin’s satisfaction with the election results, where he officially got more than 87 percent of the vote.

Sources suggested that Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev could step into Kiriyenko’s role if he were to vacate it. “He’s a suitable candidate,” one source remarked. “He has the experience and team.” Another source close to Putin’s administration pointed out that Trutnev organized a political bloc for regional politics in the Far East that operates almost independently from the Kremlin.

A government insider noted that there’s also a cohort of government officials and politicians “who are very eager to retire.” “They’re not looking to retire completely but rather to transition to quieter positions more suitable for their age or health.” He mentioned Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, who’s currently 75, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who’s 74, as two examples.

Still, there’s no certainty that they’ll be given new positions. As one source close to Putin’s administration put it: “We’re surrounded by constant rumors. Just when we thought things settled down regarding the premiership, there was a wave [of rumors] that [Moscow Mayor Sergey] Sobyanin would replace Mishustin, and so on. May can’t come soon enough.”

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Reporting by Andrey Pertsev

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