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Business as usual in the Kremlin

Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev boasted that he'd brought fresh faces into the new government in Moscow which, he also said, is about change and reform. But why then are old names in all the key positions?

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center rear, chairs a meeting with a new cabinet in the Kremlin in Moscow, Monday, May 21, 2012. Russian President Vladimir Putin named a new Cabinet Monday, warning its members that they will have to fulfill their duties in a difficult global economic climate. (Foto:RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Government Press Service/AP/dapd)

Russland neue Regierung in Moskau Kabinett Präsident Wladimir Putin

"This is no new start," commented Hans-Henning Schröder of Berlin's Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), after Medvedev presented his new cabinet to President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday.

Medvedev, who changed places with Putin just two weeks ago, would disagree with Schröder; at least three quarters of the new members in cabinet, Medvedev pointed out, hadn't been there before.

Fair enough - it's true that new names are to be seen among the Kremlin's new ministers. But the key positions - including the foreign, defense, justice and finance ministers - belong to those exact people who held the posts when Putin was president last time around.

Of the ministers who make up the Silovik (Russian for "structures of force"), the term for those ministers who control force, only the interior minister was replaced.

Lack of change

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (right)

Putin (center) and Medvedev (right) switched places in April

"The key positions in the new government are either filled by the same people as before or by those who are set to continue with the same politics," said former Russian government head and current opposition politician, Mikhail Kasyanov, in an interview with DW.

"Medvedev's opinion, as before, plays no great role when it comes to making decisions on important matters," Kasyanov went on, adding that Putin alone was in control in Russia.

Russia observer Eberhard Schneider, however, does see one positive surprise in the new cabinet: Medvedev has named Arkady Dvorkovich, a 40-year-old economic expert and official in the Russian Chess Federation, as his deputy. "Dvorkovich is an aspiring young politician, an outstanding economist and a liberal and progressive thinker," said Schneider.

No room for opposition

But what's missing completely in the new government are representatives of the opposition. There was speculation after the mass protests ahead of the March election that Putin might give in to demands to include members of the opposition in his government. Putin said himself that he would consider taking members from the Russian Democratic Party, Yabloko, or the liberal pro-business Right Cause.

"This just isn't right," said Moscow-based political scientist Stanislav Radkevich after Putin and Medvedev failed to include any members of the opposition in the Kremlin.

"This would have been even more important now in the face of a new economic crisis," Radkevich added. Putin himself recently alluded to the fact that his government would have to prepare for "turbulent economic times ahead."

A monument in Petersburg to Pushkin, one of the founders of modern Russian literature

Medvedev isn't exactly seen as the founder of modern Russia

Even before the naming of the new cabinet there was speculation in Moscow as to how long it would hold. And after Medvedev presented the new faces on Monday one could already hear reverberations of incredulity emanating from Russian media.

"This is a temporary cabinet," said Kremlin advisor Gleb Pavlovsky on the Russian broadcaster Interfax, adding that this was "no government of reforms, but rather one that would just allow business to continue as usual."

Eberhard Schneider of the EU-Russia Center in Brussels took a similar line:

"I have the suspicion that this Medvedev government won't last long and that Medvedev himself will be forced out soon, maybe as soon as early next year."

Authors: Roman Goncharenko, Nikita Jolkver / glb
Editor: Joanna Impey

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