Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, November 16, 2015

Leadership recruitment in Russia

Editors of The Economist don't think one of Vladimir Putin's KGB buddies from St. Petersburg is likely to succeed him. The editors are betting on the current Minister of Defense, who has served in every government since 1990. What does that say about recruitment in Russia?

Russia’s Sergei Shoigu: Master of emergencies
Sergei Shoigu
Since Mr Shoigu took over the defence ministry in late 2012, his partnership with Mr Putin has flourished… The Russian armed forces have emerged as the primary instrument of Mr Putin’s foreign policy… Under Mr Shoigu, Russia’s armed forces have “demonstrated a capability and organisation and logistics skill-set that we have not seen before,” says Evelyn Farkas, who was until recently the Pentagon’s top official on Russian affairs.

But Mr Shoigu is much more than Russia’s latest defence minister… he is the longest-serving member of the Russian government; his tenure stretches back to 1990… He made his name at the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS)…

Russia is a land of emergencies, from droughts and forest fires to sinking submarines, apartment-block bombings and school hostage dramas. The most recent addition is the crash of a charter plane over the Sinai peninsula… So it is hardly surprising that the minister of emergency situations should become one of the best-known figures in Russian politics…

In the chaos of the 1990s, Mr Shoigu became a reassuring presence. Besides handling fires and natural disasters, he served as a mediator in conflicts… In 1999, as Mr Yeltsin prepared to hand the reins to Mr Putin, his team tapped Mr Shoigu to lead a new political party called Unity, which later morphed into United Russia…

In 2000 he gave Mr Putin a black labrador, Koni, who became the president’s favourite dog. He accompanied Mr Putin on his macho, shirtless adventure trips. He patriotically took holidays in Russian forests rather than on French beaches. The men shared an interest in history…

The question of what comes after Mr Putin haunts Russia’s political system. The president’s grip on power is based in part on the idea of bezalternativnost, the lack of alternatives…

But if a shortlist exists, Mr Shoigu is probably on it. He remains Russia’s most trusted and popular politician not named Putin. He has avoided scandals and is perceived as relatively clean... Mr Shoigu has long denied having political ambitions. Yet that may work in his favour. “He’s not obviously desperate to climb the greasy pole,” argues Mark Galeotti, a Russia scholar at New York University, “which might mean that he’s precisely the one who ends up on top of it.” When the ultimate emergency strikes, Russians may well turn to their first rescuer-in-chief.

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