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Analysis & Opinion
01.08.08 Russia Runs Out Of Human Resources
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has acknowledged that the country has a pressing problem with selecting candidates for high government positions. “Every time, we have to scratch our heads over where to find people for placement in high official positions in the regions,” Medvedev said.

Medvedev proposes to set up a special human resource reserve and to bring businessmen to the sphere of state administration where needed. “The most promising specialists must be entered in the so-called presidential quota,” he said. According to Medvedev, “We must establish a full-fledged managerial cadre reserve system on a nationwide scale - we need to find specialists and to prepare a database.”

He emphasized that this “also applies to a reserve of future replacements for regional leaders - since we have no ‘reserve bench’ for this purpose, and we rack our brains every time there is a need to find suitable cadres for senior offices in the regions."

Medvedev also said: “The Russian state is a democracy, not a state of medieval despotism, so we must break free of this vicious circle by recruiting the very best and most highly-trained specialists and providing incentives for them. Decisions on placing people to official positions are sometimes taken through the buddy system – according to the principle of personal loyalty or, what's more disgusting, for money, when positions are kind of sold," he added, stating that he will assess the professional qualifications of the candidates himself. “Transfers of talented officials from the regions to the center and vice versa occur very seldom, although we really need this kind of mobility,” he indicated.

Vedomosti reported that the Kremlin has already developed some new recruitment criteria for regional leader candidates. According to the new rules, candidates should have experience managing large numbers of employees and budgets of several billion rubles, as well as be aged under 55. A background in the security and law enforcement agencies is not desirable, but extra credit is given for experience in state service or in the private sector.

Vedomosti also reported that the Kremlin’s plans include a sweeping rotation for regional leaders: it wants to replace 16 of them by the end of this year, and another ten next year. First in line may be those whose terms expire in 2008-09, along with regional leader veterans such as Yuri Luzhkov, Murtaza Rakhimov, and Mintimer Shaimiyev.

Russian analysts interpreted Medvedev’s move as a strong indication that the principle of selecting senior state officials who mostly reside in St. Petersburg or who are personal acquaintances of the president may have been discarded by the new Russian leader. Some view this as a real claim on the part of Medvedev that he’ll assemble his own team.

What is at stake here? Why has Medvedev raised the personnel issue in public and implicitly criticized Vladimir Putin’s policy of awarding loyalty over professionalism and experience? Is the solution he has outlined – creating a database of presidential personnel reserve to be reviewed by Medvedev himself – likely to succeed? Or does the task of bringing new talented people into the Russian government service require more sweeping political reforms, like reintroduction of popular elections for regional governors and members of the Federation Council? Is Medvedev likely to succeed or fail in reforming Russia’s bureaucracy?


Eugene Ivanov, Innovation Program Manager at InnoCentive, Boston:

Not all Russian problems are born equal. Reports that Russia is over-dependent on exports of hydrocarbons make me upset. Stories about the country’s rampant corruption make my blood boil.

Yet, when I hear that president Medvedev is running out of qualified candidates for top government positions, I’m not going to lose any sleep, and I apologize to Dmitry Anatolievich for my lack of compassion.

Only a few years ago, the problem didn’t even exist. Since then, thousands of young Russian professionals have stormed through the most prestigious North American and Western European business and law schools. Even more have gotten diplomas in Russia, where programs in management and political sciences are blossoming.

Where do all of these people go? Into business, of course, where the pay is higher and job security is largely independent of the four-year cycle of presidential elections.

If the shortage of suitable candidates for the top brass of Russian government is real, it means only one thing: eight years of Putin’s presidency have resulted in the creation of a vibrant private sector which now outruns government service in its appeal to Russia’s best and brightest. In this respect, Russia is no different than any other developed country, and by showing its vulnerability to the “cadre shortage disease,” Russia only proves once again that it’s becoming a “normal” country.

President Medvedev should address the problem, first of all, by normalizing (I’d even say, harmonizing) relations between the state and the business community. These relations must stop being confrontational and instead turn into those of genuine partnership, allowing a steady and smooth bidirectional flow of personnel. Inviting wealthy businessmen into the government should become the norm, not the exception. In addition to bringing much needed experience, this practice may become an effective tool in fighting corruption – if my assumption that well-off people steal less is correct.

Medvedev’s acknowledgment of the “cadre hunger” has coincided with the United Russia party’s attempts to address intraparty personnel issues, too. Sharp and conscious as ever of the direction of the Kremlin’s winds, the “edinorosses” have set out to create a “talent database” of their own. There is no doubt that this “database,” composed mainly of United Russia’s apparatchiks, will be presented to Medvedev as a “free” gift.

Medvedev would be wise to politely decline it. He should make it clear that membership in United Russia – like a background in security services – should not be a prerequisite for appointment to a top-level position. Medvedev should also establish a healthy habit of discussing top government appointments with leaders of all four political parties represented in the Duma.

I find it somewhat superficial to link the infusion of fresh blood into the Russian government with the reintroduction of popular elections of regional governors. Popular elections of governors will not solve this problem; they will simply push the problem down the ladder, to the regions. Yet, the very fact that the discussion on the subject has resurfaced is very intriguing. The issue of governors’ electability may well become a point of Medvedev’s departure from the policies of his predecessor.

I’m not a great fan of popular governor elections all across the country. Of the 83 of Russia's regions, no more than 20-25 are financially self-sufficient (“donors”). The rest (the "recipients") are balancing their budgets with infusions of federal funds.

It would make perfect sense to me that the person presiding over the distribution of federal money stays under federal control. It would, however, make even more sense if governors of financially self-sufficient regions were allowed to extend their tenures in office as a result of the popular vote.

With added political clout, these “elected” governors could form president Medvedev’s political base, something he desperately needs. Some of them -- the Krasnoyarsk governor, Alexander Khloponin, comes to mind first – may become “presidential material” in 2016.


Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, & Scholar-in-Residence, School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C. :

In recent years, Russia’s policy in all facets of life has been largely determined in Moscow. Former President (and current Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin believed that a great many of the country's administrative and economic problems were closely connected with the decentralization of the state -- hence his efforts to undo the late President Boris Yeltsin's effort to develop a range of power-sharing arrangements.

Putin believed that failure to create a limited number of federal districts, the heads of which would report to him personally would offset the centripetal forces, which he feared might ultimately lead to the country's break-up. In addition, Putin believed (and apparently still does) that the heads of the country's political sub-divisions should be selected in Moscow, otherwise they would evolve into competitors for power and thus make the country ungovernable.

The Russian Federation is a huge, diverse country. Its political sub-divisions are not uniform in terms of economic needs, ethnic composition, social needs, etc. The knowledge required to deal with these types of issues is either regional or local in nature. Consequently, it is only reasonable that economic and political activity be organized at three levels: (i) federal, (ii) regional, and (iii) local. Of course, many issues transcend political or institutional boundaries and can only be resolved if a number of political or functional units cooperate to find a workable solution to a myriad of problems.

In the 1990s, the country was experiencing severe problems in adjusting to the post-Soviet environment. It seemed that the further one went from Moscow, the less likely the federal laws or regulations were to be observed. Many political subdivisions enacted legislation that was inconsistent with the country's constitution, laws, and other normative acts. It is not entirely clear that with the passage of time, the severity of these types of issues has been reduced. While some of this situation could rightly be attributed to a desire by the heads of the political subdivisions to assert their power and influence, a large portion of the problem was due to inexperience in the effective management of a federal state.

Frequently, Russia's high level of corruption and poor economic performance was blamed on the local authorities. Centralizing political authority in Moscow seemingly had a rationale and to some extent, was a continuation of a legacy from the Soviet period. At the same time, it reflected a lack of trust it had in the citizenry to resolve their own problems. Some have cynically suggested that centralization assured that almost all economic and political power remained in the hands of people living in Moscow.

The reality is that greater centralization does not mean greater efficiency, nor does it ensure a lower level of corruption. Ideally, Russia should hold a constitutional convention to debate these issues. The Russian Constitution is not precise in delineating what activities should be controlled from Moscow, what should be within the jurisdiction of the subjects of the Russian Federation, and which should remain in the hands of political units having local autonomy.

The concept of the central government entering into special arrangements with many, but not all of the country's political subdivisions has not been uniformly successful. The more accurately the country's "foundation documents" reflect political reality, the easier it will be for the country's governments to function, and for the citizens to improve the operation of their communities.

Of course, this will require a willingness on behalf of Moscow to yield considerable power and influence to the regions. In a country composed of nine time zones, I do not see any other alternative. It is difficult enough for a centralized and relatively small advanced country like France to meet the needs of its citizenry. Russia's improvements in governance will not occur without experimentation. So long as most career, economic, educational and political opportunities exist in Moscow, St. Petersburg and several other cities, it will be difficult (or impossible) for there to be some level of uniform development in the country. Young educated people move to where the opportunities are the greatest. Unless life outside the country's major cities becomes more attractive, the Russian Federation will not be viable.
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