Is Aleksei Kudrin’s Political Star On The Rise?

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin.

Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin has long been one of Russia’s quietly influential figures.

This is partially due to positioning. He is personally close to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, yet ideologically more in line with the technocratic elite and “civiliki” associated with President Dmitry Medvedev.

The influential siliviki clan of security service veterans close to Putin are largely hostile to Kudrin, to be sure. This is most notable in the case of Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin. But Kudrin’s closeness to Putin has largely inoculated him from past attempts by the siloviki to have him removed.

Another source of Kudrin’s influence has been his economic expertise and his insistence on some semblance of sound fiscal management.

But over his two decades as a public servant– first in the St. Petersburg local administration and later in the national government — Kudrin has largely shied away from public politics.

This, however, appears to be changing of late.

Speaking at the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum in February, Kudrin made the case for more open and inclusive elections, arguing that in order to make difficult and painful economic choices, the government will need a “mandate of trust” from the Russian people. The comments did not sit well with some in the ruling United Russia party, which has made a habit of holding on to power in elections that are anything but free and fair.

And now, Kudrin is at it again.

Addressing the forum “Russia and The World: Looking for an Investment Strategy” on Wednesday, Kudrin said the following:

Elections in Russia will be successful only when people know for a fact that no redistribution is going to follow elections and that private property is safe. The stability and un-changeability [of rules set by the state] are a must for businesses and for economy in general….

This country needs an institution that will make sure that we participate in formulation of these rules and their application. Matter of fact, we already have such an institution, and by that I mean elections.

Kudrin’s point is simple — business needs predictable and stable rules of the game to thrive and those rules must be made transparently by representatives who have won the trust of the electorate.

Simple, perhaps. But in a country where ruthless property redistribution is always a risk — and often the norm — when power changes hands (see Khodorkovsky, Mikhail), his point is also radical.

Fears of property redistribution is one of the driving forces behind the Russian elite’s allergy to change at the top (better the devil you know). And this, in turn, is why political authority in Russia tends to ossify and ultimately stagnate (see Brezhnev, Leonid).

It is perhaps for this reason that Igor Yurgens, chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Development, argued that should he secure a second term, Medvedev would pursue his modernization plans for the Russian economy — albeit without upsetting the apple cart:

A close Medvedev ally, Yurgens appears to be arguing for a continuation of the tandem in something approximating its current form. But I digress.

Kudrin’s recent outspokenness on political matters has attracted the attention of the opposition, but more-or-less Kremlin friendly, Right Cause party.

Here’s an excerpt from a report in the daily “Vedomosti“:

“Vedomosti” reported that Dvorkovich said he has not been approached, but would be open to the idea. Shuvalov was evasive.

“As for Kudrin, he admitted that he has been receiving such signals for years, but added that he did not think that it was something he could comment on,” “Vedomosti” wrote.

This could be a trial balloon. It could be a smokescreen. But if it is real, it could be very interesting indeed.

— Brian Whitmore

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