Putin’s pals eye election as springboard to power

The Bell

On the eve of the presidential election, a serious debate is ongoing about what changes Putin might make to his government after he inevitably secures a fifth term. The big story at the moment is where Boris Kovalchuk, the son of Putin’s old friend Yury, will end up. Kovalchuk recently left his position as head of state energy company Inter RAO, freeing him up for a potential new, much bigger, role. The rise of the heirs of Putin’s inner circle is becoming an ever more obvious trend.

  • After the president is officially inaugurated in May, the Russian government is legally obliged to resign and allow the winner (i.e. Putin) to announce a new one. In theory, Putin could reappoint every minister, but previous presidential elections have sparked post-vote reshuffles. Even in 2018, when Dmitry Medvedev stayed on as prime minister after the election, several long-serving heavyweight ministers left, including then-Deputy Prime Ministers Igor Shuvalov and Arkady Dvorkovich. At the same time, the first offspring of a Putin ally popped up in a government post when Dmitry Patrushev — the son of former FSB boss and current Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev — was appointed agriculture minister. Bloomberg reported Tuesday that Dmitry could be set for another promotion to deputy PM in the upcoming reshuffle.
  • The next “heir” in line for an official government post could be Boris Kovalchuk, the son of one of Putin’s closest friends, Yury. Kommersant reported last week that Boris left his role as the head of state energy company Inter RAO after 15 years. He is now in line for a big promotion, a source told the newspaper. Possible new jobs include taking charge of one of Russia’s most important energy majors, Gazprom or Rosneft, a role as deputy prime minister responsible for fuel and energy matters, or as governor of St. Petersburg. One source told Bloomberg that he might be appointed energy minister.
  • Despite his relatively high position, Boris Kovalchuk has always been one of the more anonymous members of his influential family. His father is a close friend of Putin and co-owner of the Rossiya Bank, which has become the cornerstone of an entire financial empire for Russia’s elite during the Putin era. Yury also indirectly controls Gazprombank, the bank which handles the finances for Russia’s energy exports. His brother, Mikhail, leads the Kurchatov Nuclear Institute and is responsible for science matters within Putin’s inner circle (we’ve written about him here, here and here). Mikhail’s son, Kirill, controls one of the two leading state TV holdings, National Media Group. And his grandson Stepan recently became CEO of Russia’s leading social network, VKontakte. The VK Group, which includes VKontakte as well as a number of other internet companies, is itself managed by yet another heir — Vladimir Kiriyenko, son of Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of the presidential administration.

Why the world should care

Installing more of the children of Putin’s inner circle into higher-ranking positions will inevitably lead to deeper corruption in the Russian system. Under Dmitry Patrushev, the agriculture ministry has gained a reputation as allegedly one of the most corrupt agencies in Russia, while Stepan Kovalchuk’s arrival at VK led to the enrichment of many of his close acquaintances. But Putin’s system is far from being locked into family ties. By no means is every heir of a friend or ally of the president in line for promotion. Igor Sechin’s son, who recently died, worked quietly for his father at Rosneft, never seeking a more influential role. From the next generation of Rotenbergs, only Roman became a public figure — and even that is in the sporting world, as head coach of the SKA St. Petersburg hockey team and the Russian national team, which is currently suspended from international play due to the war.


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