Clans are marching

Russia’s ruling class is made up of a complex system of clans, constantly grouping and regrouping around their leader Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Pribylovsky explains who’s who in today's Russia. 

The beginnings of the clan structure of Russia’s ruling minority go back to the days of  ‘Tsar Boris’ Yeltsin, when the so-called Gazprom Group – led by the corporation’s founder, and Russia’s Prime Minister from 1992 to 1998, Viktor Chernomyrdin and its then chairman Rem Vyakhirev – became the dominant oligarchic grouping. While the Gazprom Group wielded the greatest political and economic influence, several other groupings operated in parallel, most notably Anatoly Chubais’s St. Petersburg Group (formed by the remnants of the liberal reformers of the 1991-1992 government); the so-called Mayoral group around Moscow’s mayor Yury Luzhkov; and the ‘Family’, an alliance between the oligarchs Berezovsky, Voloshin, Yumashev, Deripaska and Abramovich, which by the end of the 1990s had toppled the Gazprom group and seized the reins of power. 

In addition to these major groups there were numerous smaller clans and client networks of oligarchs active in politics and finance at a national level, while regional leaders (governors and national republic presidents) also had their own vassal networks, providing them with political support and finance in return for other benefits.  

The main difference between clans consisting of several, more or less equally powerful, individuals and clans based on the patron-client principle is the vertical structure of the latter, with a single patron at the top of a hierarchy of clients, servants, vassals and subordinates. Such patron-client networks may function within larger groupings or operate individually. For instance, Berezovsky’s client network formed part of Yeltsin’s own clan, known simply as ‘The Family’, while Yevgeny Primakov’s client network remained as a separate group even when in 1999 Primakov himself entered into a coalition with Luzhkov and a number of governors who had regional administrative and economic clans of their own.

'In Russia, official political parties play a subordinate role. It is the clans and patron-client networks, which lack any official or judicial status, that are the real players in the country’s political life.'

When Vladimir Putin took over from Yeltsin as Russia’s leader, first as Prime Minister and then as President, he owed his succession to the victory of the combined Berezovsky and Chubais groupings over the rival Luzhkov-Primakov faction. 

In Russia, official political parties (i.e. those registered with the Ministry of Justice) play a subordinate role to these administrative/economic groupings. It is the clans and patron-client networks, which lack any official or judicial status, that are the real players in the country’s political life. Admittedly, some small parties can effectively dovetail with major client networks: for example, the neo-imperialist /nationalist LDPR is, in fact, a client network of its leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, while the liberal-conservative Union of Right Forces was part of Anatoly Chubais’ client network.

The early Putin years

During his first three to five years in office Putin shared federal power with two key clans: the St. Petersburg siloviki, who had invaded Moscow along with the President, and the ‘Family’ he inherited from Boris Yeltsin.  The most influential figures in the St. Petersburg siloviki group initially included[1] Viktor Ivanov, Nikolai Patrushev and Igor Sechin, as well as Gennady Timchenko (Putin’s and Sechin’s ‘wallet’,) and former GDR Stasi officer Matthias Warnig. The siloviki were allied with various other clans hailing from St. Petersburg, such as the Lawyers group, which included Dmitry Kozak and Dmitry Medvedev, and several other groupings[2]. From 2003-2004 onwards, the expanding St. Petersburg group, particularly its siloviki faction, began to splinter into smaller factions, often at war with one another. The first to split off – or rather, to be split off – was Sergei Ivanov, whose pretentions to the position of ‘heir apparent’ alarmed Sechin. He was followed by Viktor Cherkesov, who also fell foul of Sechin and dropped out along with his client group. By 2005 several others, including Nikolai Patrushev[3], had fallen out with Sechin. His relations with Medvedev and Kozak also came under strain, with Sechin blocking the latter’s appointment as Prosecutor General, and appointing Vladimir Ustinov, whose son was married to Sechin’s daughter, instead. A group of siloviki close to the Russian Orthodox Church also split off, taking care to avoid open conflict with either Sechin or Patrushev.

The Family also split according to its members’ loyalty to Putin (or lack of it): its informal leader Berezovsky’s unfortunate joke that ‘he could have a monkey elected president using one TV channel’ cost him not only his TV channels but his homeland, while his former vassals Aleksandr Voloshin and Mikhail Kasyanov swore allegiance to Putin and retained their jobs as head of the Presidential Administration and Prime Minister, respectively. Oleg Deripaska meanwhile retained and extended his hold on aluminium and Roman Abramovich held onto the oil industry, while banking magnates Mamut and Usmanov increased their influence within the Family and Fridman and Potanin also joined it. Fridman’s former client, and Voloshin’s servant, Vladislav Surkov gradually became a pillar of the regime and the architect of its ideology, developing a sizeable client network of his own – although, as it later turned out, one that was not particularly loyal.

'The ‘Family’ split according to its members’ loyalty to Putin (or lack of it): its informal leader Berezovsky’s unfortunate joke that ‘he could have a monkey elected president using one TV channel’ cost him not only his TV channels but his homeland.'

The Luzhkov group retained its hold on Moscow and extended its influence to several provinces, such as Nizhny Novgorod and Kaliningrad, where incoming governors shared Luzhkov’s administrative background and economic interests, while Vladimir Resin, the new number three in the clan (after Luzhkov himself and his businesswoman wife Yelena Baturina) poached some of Luzhkov’s people. At the same time the Mayoral clan was weakened economically by the loss of Khodorkovsky and it was not able to protect the MOST construction group, which was broken up by the siloviki and taken over by the new, state controlled Gazprom, headed by one of the siloviki, Aleksei Miller. 

Several regional clans, such as Rakhimov’s, managed to hold on to some of their power. The financial sector was concentrated in the hands of the so-called St. Petersburg Economists (no longer quite ‘Chubais’s group’ since Kudrin, Gref and Ignatyev had become much more influential than its founder), while Sechin took control of the ‘real economy’.

The Medvedev years

During Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency most of the clans and patron-client networks regrouped into two opposing coalitions, one loyal to Medvedev and the other to Sechin. The first was made up of the St. Petersburg Lawyers clan[4]; the Voloshin group with Arkady Dvorkovich and Igor Shuvalov, which succeeded the Family[5]; the St. Petersburg Economists [6]; and a few other client networks. The opposing coalition comprised the three main St. Petersburg siloviki clans, (those of Sechin and Ivanov, and Yakunin’s Russian Orthodox clan) as well as the St. Petersburg Ju-jitsu and Physicists clans. The main divide between these two coalitions was the issue of the presidency, with Sechin and his people supporting a third Putin term, and the other side, under Voloshin’s leadership, throwing their weight behind a second term for Medvedev. The groupings were also split on financial policy, e.g. taxation of oil extraction and oil exports, privatisation and state investment in the ‘real economy’.  Surkov and a few other influential administrative and economic oligarchs were open to any solution as long as it had the support of both Putin and Medvedev. 

Towards the end of Medvedev’s presidency the ‘Medvedev’ coalition had basically fallen to pieces. Kudrin made an open and vocal exit by criticizing Medvedev – in a move smacking of demagoguery – on issues (such as the military budget) that were, in fact, under Putin’s rather than Medvedev’s control. Kudrin was, indeed, equally unhappy about Medvedev’s voluntary agreement not to seek a second term, but he never spoke of this openly, to avoid further complicating his personal relations with Putin.

Regrouping

Following the victory of Sechin’s coalition on the key issue of the 2012 job swap between the Prime Minister and President, the war of the clans initially looked like a continuation of the situation of 2008-11, with Sechin’s people against Medvedev’s. In practice this translated as Sechin vs. Dvorkovich. The visible war between the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chair of the state-owned Rosneft corporation focused on the control of oil and gas, and Dvorkovich hadn’t a hope of winning it, since even during Medvedev’s nominal presidency it was Sechin rather than Medvedev who was the real No. 2 after Putin, and after Medvedev’s demotion Dvorkovich’s position became even more vulnerable. Another bone of contention was the prospect of a second wave of privatisation, championed by Dvorkovich and cautiously opposed by Sechin. The preliminary outcomes of this war were decided by Putin, who ruled in Sechin’s favour in the oil and gas dispute but on the issue of privatisation has made several pronouncements more in line with Dvorkovich’s views. 

Since then the contradictions between Sechin and Dvorkovich seem to have subsided somewhat, while other conflicts in the dog-eat-dog world of the clans have come to the fore. A number of factors that had begun to emerge in 2011 and had become clear towards the end of 2012 played a key role in this process.

Firstly, a new player appeared on the stage in the person of Dmitry Rogozin, the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the military-industrial complex. While he did not belong to any of the historical administrative/economic clans and groupings, a considerable part of the wider ruling elite began to see him as an acceptable figure, or indeed a potential authoritarian ‘saviour of the Fatherland’ should there be a popular revolution.

Sechin had always viewed Rogozin with fear and suspicion (in fact, Rogozin’s earlier overtures of friendship, based on their common hostility both to the westernisers Chubais and Kudrin and to Surkov, fell on stony ground). Nor did Rogozin manage to ingratiate himself with the siloviki faction around Putin, in spite of substantial ideological affinity and family connections (his wife’s father is a retired KGB general – but from Moscow, which almost certainly means that he supports Yevgeny Primakov). However, Rogozin’s appointment as deputy Prime Minister in 2011was welcomed by the defence industry lobby, army and police generals and many rank-and-file siloviki who, until then, had looked up to Sechin. Nobody knows whose idea it was to bring in the semi-opposition figure and national-patriot Rogozin, but it was certainly not Sechin (it might conceivably have been Sergei Ivanov).

The Serdyukov affair

Around the same time the position of Minister of Defence Anatoly Serdyukov started to become precarious. Serdyukov’s reform of the army, including his attempt to channel corruption in a single direction – his own, had the general support of the president. He also had a powerful patron in the shape of his father-in-law Viktor Zubkov (former Prime Minister, later Deputy Prime Minister, and since 2008 Chair of Gazprom’s Board of Directors), who orchestrated Serdyukov’s ministerial appointment and whose patronage ensured that Serdyukov was tolerated by other influential ‘friends of Putin’, including Sechin himself.

However, Serdyukov was careless enough to embark on a serious affair with a member of his staff, Yevgenia Vasilyeva, head of the Procurement Office at the Ministry of Defence and later head of its administration, and went so far as to practically move in with her.[7]  Naturally, the Minister’s official family was not best pleased. First, his adopted stepdaughter, Anastasia Pokhlebenina, decided to change her name, but instead of her stepfather’s name chose that of her grandfather (Zubkov). Then, without further ado, his wife Yulia Pokhlebenina sued for divorce.  His father-in-law then made it clear to his associates that he was withdrawing patronage from his ungrateful son-in-law.

Several powerful people, including Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin, Chair of the Investigative Committee Aleksander Bastrykin and Head of Presidential Administration Sergei Ivanov, closed ranks against the Minister.  A criminal investigation was launched into corruption at the Ministry of Defence, with Yevgenia Vasilyeva as key defendant, and this was followed by several other charges against subordinates of Serdyukov.

'In September 2012 Putin suffered a back injury during fitness training, and with his health seriously impaired was not up to suppressing corruption scandals and stirring up /damping down (depending on political expediency) internal conflicts among his retinue.'

Serdyukov had already been criticised by Prime Minister Medvedev in a government meeting in the summer of 2012 for delays in the implementation of his army reform, and had publicly offered his resignation, which was not accepted by Putin. This, however, was before Serdyukov’s final showdown with his wife and father-in-law in the autumn. In September 2012 the president suffered a back injury during fitness training, and with his health seriously impaired was not up to suppressing corruption scandals and stirring/damping down (depending on political expediency) internal conflicts among his retinue.

Eventually the anti-Serdyukov campaign, involving smears in the media and, more importantly, criminal proceedings against Serdyukov’s female entourage, forced Putin to relieve his once beloved Defence Minister of his duties, in what may have been the first instance of Putin giving in to pressure and doing something he did not want to do - sacking a faithful, though errant, servant.  Admittedly, Putin prevented Serdyukov’s enemies from putting him behind bars and has still not let them do so (a crook he may have been, but he was a faithful servant).

Moreover, Serdyukov’s enemies did not manage to grab his job, even though several of them – Sergei Chemezov, Sergei Ivanov and Rogozin himself – had set their sights on it, either for themselves or on behalf of their vassals. Putin and Sechin preferred to give it to Sergei Shoiko, whom they consider less ambitious and dangerous.

A new coalition

In the meantime the opportunistic alliance between Rogozin and Sergei Ivanov, forged by their common hostility to Serdyukov, has blossomed into a steady coalition based on virtually open opposition to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his deputies Dvorkovich and Surkov. The conflict between Dvorkovich and Ivanov has come to a head over the plans to privatise the telecommunications giant Rostelekom in 2014. The main contenders for Rostelekom are, on the one hand, presidential adviser and former Communications Minister Igor Shchegolev and his ‘moneybags’ (and godfather to his children) Russian Orthodox entrepreneur Konstantin Malofeyev, Rostelekom’s largest minority shareholder (who got his shares on the cheap while Shchegolev was Minister), and Alisher Usmanov on the other. Shchegolev and Malofeyev have Ivanov’s support, while Dvorkovich and the current Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov are backing Usmanov. The potential privatisers’ starting positions are largely determined by the state company’s top management. Until recently Rostelekom’s president was Aleksandr Provotorov, Malofeyev’s friend and Shchegolev’s protégé. Last autumn Dvorkovich tried to remove Provotorov from Rostelekom and appoint Vadim Semyonov in his place. Semyonov is Director General of the state communications company Svyazinvest (which, in turn, owns a controlling package of Rostelekom shares) and, more importantly, Medvedev’s friend from university days, but the attempt was thwarted by strong opposition on the part of Sergei Ivanov. However, Provotorov happens to be the son-in-law of former Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov, who in the late 1990s belonged to Primakov’s clan and had his arm twisted to resign by the then FSB Director Putin on Yeltsin’s instructions (and Berezovsky’s behest). Although much water has flowed under the bridge since then, neither Putin himself nor Sechin trust Skuratov and his family, all the more so because Provotorov found a Rostelekom job for his friend and brother-in-law Dmitry Skuratov. The VTB Bank, whose president Andrei Kostin is a Sechin ally, made criminal fraud charges which led to searches at the houses of Malofeyev,  Provotorov and Skuratov Jr. In early spring Sechin forced Malofeyev to sell his package of Rostelekom shares to Arkady Rotenberg, although this deal was voided by the end of April. At this point Sergei Ivanov gave in and Dvorkovich’s next manoeuvre against Provotorov achieved its goal: Rostelekom’s new president is Sergei Kalugin, a man close to Usmanov. 

On the other hand, Sergei Ivanov managed to defeat Dvorkovich on another battlefield, the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics development: in February 2013 he succeeded in turning President Putin against senator Akhmed Bilalov, a cousin of the businessmen brothers Ziavudin and Magomed Magomedov, who are protégés of Dvorkovich. As a result Bilalov lost his posts of Olympic Committee Deputy President and Chair of the Board of Directors of the state-owned Northern Caucasus Resorts Ltd (KSK). The main person to benefit from this plot was, however, not a member of Ivanov’s team, but the Deputy Prime Minister responsible for the northern Caucasus Aleksandr Khloponin, whose protégés Maksim Bystrov and Sergei Vereshchagin were appointed respectively Chair of the Board of Directors and Director General of KSK, while Khloponin’s son-in-law, Nikita Shashkin, became First Deputy Director General.

'It is widely known that Putin orders regular printouts of Internet sleaze, and in particular material from Kompromat.ru, Russia’s prime site for exposés and defamations, and also that much of what appears on this site is intended not for ‘public opinion’ but for consumption by the imperial reader himself.'

Bilalov’s fall from grace was preceded – and possibly facilitated – by an online smear campaign suggesting possible ulterior motives behind the friendship between the Bilalov and Magomedov brothers and Dvorkovich  - and perhaps even Medvedev himself. It is widely known that President Putin orders regular printouts of Internet sleaze, and in particular material appearing on Kompromat.ru, Russia’s prime site for exposés and defamations, and also that much of what appears on this site is intended not for ‘public opinion’ but for consumption by the imperial reader himself.

Jobs for the boys

Meanwhile, a parallel war has broken out between clans and groupings focused on upcoming vacancies for the office of regional governor, as well as heads of federal agencies, deputy ministers and directors of key state enterprises.  Rogozin, for example, has managed to have one of his old allies, Ivan Kharchenko, appointed first Deputy Chair of the government’s Military-Industrial Commission, which he himself chairs; to promote his young vassal Andrei Zheregelya to deputy head of the Federal State Border Agency, and to install one of his sponsors, the Russian Orthodox banker Aleksei Ananiev, as Director General of Management Systems Ltd, a state corporation.  Vladimir Yakunin has pulled strings to appoint his protégé Vladimir Tokarev as head of the federal construction agency Gosstroy.  Volodin has been the most successful, installing several of his men as regional governors (including those of Dagestan, Karelia and Saratov) and as deputy ministers (for example, in the Ministry for Regional Development).

Sergei Ivanov has been less effective in placing his people. In particular, he failed to install his candidate Sergei Rybakov in the vacant post of governor of Vladimir Region (Putin instead chose Svetlana Orlova, a senator from the Kemerovo Region and vice-speaker of the Federation Council, possibly with Sechin’s backing).

Ivanov created his client network in the early 2000s, while he was Secretary of the Security Council and later Minister of Defence. It currently includes Vladimir Chernov, the Head of the Presidential Directorate for Inter-Regional and Cultural Relations with Other Countries, and two Deputy Ministers of Defence, Yuri Borisov and Nikolai Pankov, as well as several other members of the Presidential Administration.[8] Ivanov gave carte blanche for a number of further positions on this body to his first deputy, Vyacheslav Volodin, who has certainly made good use of the opportunity, appointing his parliamentary and United Russia ally Oleg Morozov as Head of Internal Policy Directorate; Timur Prokopenko, a former leader of United Russia’s Young Guard, as the Morozov’s deputy for youth affairs, and spin doctor Dmitry Badovsky as his second deputy. Badovsky, however, did not last long because he fell out with Volodin. 

Vyacheslav Volodin himself seems to have pledged his loyalty to his new boss. Volodin is the quintessential example of a ‘Companion of the Order of Multiple Loyalties’, starting his career as the protégé of Saratov Region Governor Dmitry Ayatskov, whom he ditched as soon as his patron fell from grace. Once in Moscow he affiliated himself with Yevgeny Primakov, only to abandon him for mayor Luzhkov, whom, in turn, he later betrayed for Surkov. Following his meteroric rise in 2010 and appointment (on Sechin’s recommendation and against Surkov’s advice) as a Deputy Prime Minister, Volodin  immediately dropped Surkov’s interests and temporarily moved under Sechin’s patronage, but once Sergei Ivanov appointed him his deputy in the Presidential Administration, Volodin switched patrons again, becoming his new boss’s lieutenant. Having inherited Surkov’s earlier role in the area of ideology and internal policy, Volodin purged the Administration of all Surkov protégés and continued scheming against Surkov himself, evidently with Sergei Ivanov’s backing.

A new target

After the toppling of Serdyukov, the coalition that had formed against the former Minister of Defence set itself a new strategic goal, that of removing Dmitry Medvedev from the post of Prime Minister (and thus heir apparent), their interim aim being to get rid of Medvedev’s right-hand man, Dvorkovich. The torrent of anti-Serdyukov posts on sleaze sites run by spin doctor Aleksei Sitnikov soon took a distinctly anti-Medvedev direction as authors of defamatory material were instructed to associate the already discredited Serdyukov with Medvedev (regardless of the spuriousness of this linkage, given that it was Putin, not Medvedev, who had appointed Serdyukov as Minister). This went so far as trying to present Serdyukov’s corrupt lover Yevgenia Vasilyeva as a cousin of Medvedev’s wife (in fact initially Vasilyeva was declared to be actual sister of Svetlana Medvedeva-Linnik, but since her real sister’s name is Yekaterina, not Yevgenia, the sleazemongers had to change tack as they went along.) 

Dvorkovich is meanwhile being accused of mercenary links with the Dagestani billionaire Bilalov and Magomedov brothers, as well as lobbying for an ‘unpatriotic privatisation’. However, this attempt to pour petrol on the smouldering redistribution of spheres of influence in the oil industry, in order to rekindle the internecine war between Sechin and Dvorkovich, has failed. On the contrary, Sechin has suspended his dispute with Dvorkovich on the oil front and where he has interfered in other issues, he has not backed Sergei Ivanov and his vassals and allies (as he did, for example, in the Rostelekom case).

'Authors of defamatory material were instructed to associate the already discredited Serdyukov with Medvedev. This went so far as trying to present Serdyukov’s corrupt lover Yevgenia Vasilyeva as a cousin of Medvedev’s wife.'

Of course, Sechin has hardly become a bosom buddy of Medvedev’s, but he is currently not involved in the struggle to remove him from the Prime Minister’s office, apparently for fear that Medvedev might not be replaced by Shoygu, Zubkov or Sergei Sobyanin, who represent a more or less acceptable alternative from Sechin’s point of view, but by Ivanov (Sechin is wary of Ivanov’s power ambitions and cannot abide his ally Rogozin). 

It seems that Sechin is not too happy with the strengthened position of Bastrykin, another new ally of Ivanov’s, whose Investigative Committee has become the Kremlin’s chief tool of repression, having sidelined the FSB, headed by Sechin’s friend Aleksandr Bortnikov which has always been amenable to his requests.

Since the Skolkovo Foundation continues to be Dmitry Medvedev’s favourite project and object of pride, the PM’s opponents have made every effort to portray it as an economic failure, a breeding ground for corrupt relationships and even a hotbed of personal disloyalty to President Putin. Attempts have been made to denounce the Foundation’s president Viktor Vekselberg as a friend of evil America and even as a supporter of the opposition protest movement.

As part of this campaign, the media have highlighted the admittedly rather strange story of Russian MP Ilya Ponomarev, who was paid $750 million for some lectures and research work.  To protect himself, Vekselberg sacked his first Vice President Leonid Beltyukov, who was responsible for the Foundation’s fees policy. Giving evidence to the Investigative Committee, Beltyukov deflected attention onto Vladislav Surkov, a member of the Skolkovo Foundation’s board of trustees and the man responsible for government oversight of the Foundation and its finances.

This has all been grist to the mill for Ivanov, Bastrykin and especially Volodin, who has by now become a personal enemy of Surkov. The Foundation’s ill-wishers have managed to sow doubts in Putin – who is clearly not in the best physical and mental shape – making him wonder if Surkov has been playing a double game.

So far, matters haven’t got to the stage of a show trial, and Surkov has been spared accusations of working on behalf of Western intelligence services. He has even dared bare his teeth at the Investigative Committee for raiding the Foundation but he has had to leave the government none the less.

Moreover, Surkov has been replaced as Government Chief of Staff (albeit not as Deputy Prime Minister) by Sergei Prikhodko, who is close to Sergei Ivanov, while the President’s adviser Andrei Fursenko, a member of the Kovalchuk Group and an old friend of the President from the Ozero Cooperative days, is considered the most likely candidate to take on oversight of the Skolkovo Foundation.

Although Surkov is by no means an unconditional friend and supporter of Medvedev’s, having always directly served the top man, Putin, he has been Medvedev’s ally during the recent scheming and opposed the change of status quo in Ivanov’s favour. In trying to clear Skolkovo of the Investigative Committee accusations, primarily in the eyes of the President, Surkov has sought to defend not just himself but also Medvedev and Vekselberg. That is why Surkov’s removal from government has damaged the position of Medvedev, who has yet again proved himself incapable of protecting his allies and supporters.

Future manoeuvres

The new anti-Medvedev coalition of Ivanov, Volodin, Bastrykin and Rogozin now has the following targets in its sights: Vekselberg, Dvorkovich and possibly also Shuvalov (rumours have started to fly of Shuvalov’s sexual orientation, something Putin dislikes) and even Aleksandr Voloshin. Although Voloshin holds the seemingly inconspicuous position of Chair of the Working Group for establishing an international financial centre in Russia within the Presidential Council for Developing Financial Markets, his influence extends over two clans – the Medvedev-Dvorkovich-Timakova alliance and the Deripaska-Usmanov-Abramovich group – as well as, to some extent, over Putin himself. Some believe that Voloshin’s influence is largely based on the fact that he remains a sort of informal guarantor of the 1999 agreement whereby Yeltsin ceded power to Putin, being in possession of the actual text of the conditions Putin agreed to in writing on being handed the reins of power by Berezovsky, Yumashev, Yeltsin’s daughter Tatiana Dyachenko and Voloshin himself. Voloshin’s ill-wishers, hoping to set Putin against him, have denounced him as Washington’s stooge in Moscow, a man who can change Russian presidents and prime ministers at will. 

By and large, the principal political struggle in Russia is now the one being waged by the pro-Medvedev clan, led by Voloshin, Dvorkovich and Timakova, against the new anti-Medvedev coalition led by Ivanov, Rogozin and Bastrykin. As for Sechin’s old anti-Medvedev coalition, its composition has remained basically unchanged, although its members, following their leader, do not see Medvedev as their main enemy.

They oppose any departure from the principles of state capitalism to which they have become accustomed, and are against Kudrin- and/or Dvorkovich-style reforms, or any creeping liberalization of the regime. However, they are just as opposed, if not more so, to any changes in the regime’s top leadership, which will be inevitable if Sergei Ivanov seizes power. This coalition has its own share of internal conflicts and rivalries. For example, there are tensions between the two key St. Petersburg siloviki groups, Sechin’s own clan[9] and the Ivanov-Patrushev clan[10]. In particular, the Sechin group got rid of the former State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov, a protege of V. Ivanov and Patrushev, and FSB Deputy Director Sergei Smirnov, a survivor of Patrushev’s old FSB team is also concerned, with good reason, that sooner or later he, too, might get ‘exterminated’ by Sechin’s new team.

In terms of foreign policy Sechin’s people are betting on an alliance with China against the West.  Yakunin’s Russian Orthodox siloviki, while also against the west, don’t see China as the best friend of an anti-western Russia and prefer the Arab-Muslim world, something they have in common with Dmitry Rogozin. On the other hand, the St. Petersburg Physicists, who tend to play for Sechin’s team in spite of their historic links to Yakunin, do not care much for the Orthodox Church, are not particularly sympathetic towards the Arab world, and are not as hostile towards the west (in this respect they are closer to Medvedev’s and Kudrin’s clans). However, as long as Sechin retains his influence over Putin, these clans have no wish to split up and abandon good old Sechin.  

In addition there is also the old administrative/economic Shoygu clan[11]. During the ‘reckless 1990s’ this clan was allied with Yeltsin’s Family but is now betting on a friendship with Sechin and a business partnership with Gennady Timchenko.

On top of all this, a new clan has begun to form in Moscow around the capital’s mayor Sobyanin: it includes[12] a number of officials from the Mayoral office and has links with officials in the Urals and Tyumen. Its leader has been at pains to avoid arguments with both Sechin and Ivanov as well as with Medvedev, and for two consecutive years has made a show of standing beside Putin holding a candle at the Easter service in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Sobyanin is hoping to win the next mayoral election, but would not turn down the post of Prime Minister, should Putin offer it to him.

Illustrations by Hennie Haworth


[1] The St. Petersburg clan further comprised Viktor Cherkesov, Sergei Ivanov, Aleksandr Grigoriev, Georgi Poltavchenko, Aleksandr Gromov, Sergei Smirnov, Rashid Nurgaliev, Sergei Naryshkin, Boris Gryzlov, Valery Golubev, Vladimir Yakunin, Viktor Zolotov, Yevgeni Murov, Sergei Chemezov and Nikolai Tokarev.

[2] The St. Petersburg Lawyers group:  Dmitry Kozak, Dmitry Medvedev, Anton Ivanov, Yury Volkov, Vladimir Pligin; the IT group: Leonid Reyman, Sergei Soldatenkov; the Ozero cooperative Physicists group: Yuri Kovalchuk, Viktor Myachin, the brothers Andrei and Sergei Fursenko; the Ju-jitsu group: the Rotenberg brothers and Vasily Shestakov.

[3] Patrushev, Viktor Ivanov and Boris Gryzlov fell out with Sechin by 2005

[4] The new St. Petersburg lawyers group in 2008: Dmitry Kozak, Konstantin Chuyenko, Anton Ivanov, Nikolai Vinnichenko, Aleksandr Konovalov.

[5] The Voloshin clan: Arkady Dvorkovich, Natalia Timakova, Igor Shuvalov,Yury Chayka, Oleg Deripaska, Alisher Usmanov

[6] St. Petersburg economists: Kudrin, Chubais, Ignatiev

[7] Around that time a joke was making the rounds: [Head of the Investigative Committee] Bastrykin complains: his cops come to search [Russia’s It Girl turned opposition activist] Ksenia Sobchak’s home and find Ilya Yashin [her opposition leader boyfriend] in her kitchen wearing almost nothing. Then they go to Yevgenia Vasilieva’s house where they find the Minister of Defence cavorting in his underpants. In this situation, how can we go and search the place of Alina Kabayeva [former Olympic gymnast turned Duma deputy, rumoured to be Vladimir Putin’s mistress]?

[8] Andrei Khobotov (a Presidential Administration adviser and member of several governmental committees); Vladimir Kikot’ (Head of the Presidential Civil Service Directorate ); Pavel Zenkovich (Head of the Presidential Public Projects Directorate) as well as Sergei Rybakov (Chief Federal Inspector for Vladimir Region).

[9] Sechin's current clan comprises Bortnikov, Fradkov, Naryshkin, Zubkov

[10] The Ivanov-Patrushev clan consists of Viktor Ivanov, Patrushev and Sergei Smirnov

[11] Shoygu’s clan includes the Vorobyovs, father and son and their business partners, the Ossetian Tsalikov tribe.

[12] Sobyanin's new clan includes Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff Anastasia Rakova, Deputy Mayor responsible for development Marat Husnullin, Deputy Mayor responsible for trasnport Maksim Liskutov in the Mayor's office and the plenipotentiary for the Urals region Yevgeny Kuyvashev and Tyumen region governor Vladimir Yakushev 

About the author

Vladimir Pribylovsky is the president of the Moscow-based Panorama Information and Research Center and co-author of 'The Age of Assassins: The Rise and Rise of Vladimir Putin'