Moscow police chief promoted to Russian cabinet following protest response


Russian riot policemen detain opposition supporters during a rally in central Moscow on May 16, 2012. (ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
May 21, 2012

Having proved himself with his response to political protests that erupted here in December, Moscow’s police chief, Vladimir Kolokoltsev, was named minister of the interior in the new Russian cabinet announced Monday.

Under his leadership, police have alternated between the heavy hand and the light touch. Thousands of protesters have been detained, most of them released after a few hours. Opposition attempts to keep a site permanently occupied have been thwarted over the past few days, as police have asserted ever-tighter control.

As he takes charge of Russia’s vast police apparatus, Kolokoltsev joins a cabinet that in composition suggests little change in direction. A few unpopular ministers from the previous government were tossed aside, including Kolokoltsev’s predecessor, but an ideological shift is not apparent. Nor, analysts said, does this look like a cabinet that intends to pursue a serious reform program.

In a move that some opposition bloggers interpret as a deliberate poke in the eye, President Vladimir Putin appointed a politician and author of best-selling popular histories, Vladimir Medinsky, as culture minister.

Medinsky, who has been accused of plagiarism, sees a world that is intent on demonizing Russia — which puts him at odds with those who think that the country’s problems begin at home. A wide assortment of notable writers and singers have supported the protests against falsified elections and dishonest government.

Technically, the cabinet will report to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, but the decisions about its membership were clearly Putin’s.

The economy will be handled, as before, by liberals — though critics prefer to think of them as the “managers” for Putin and the other security service veterans around him who hold most of the power.

Igor Shuvalov — who, as Barron’s reported, made $119 million in a steel company acquisition deal five years ago when he was a key financial official in the government — remains as first deputy prime minister.

A former furniture salesman returns as minister of defense. Anatoly Serdyukov is deeply disliked by senior military officers for the reforms he has been pursuing, but he has connections to Putin from their days in St. Petersburg. (A poll by the Levada Center here found that Russians who view him negatively outnumber those with a positive impression by 2 to 1.) Putin has promised a huge increase in defense spending, much of which will be under Serdyukov’s control.

Also returning are Sergei Lavrov as foreign minister and Dmitry Rogozin, the fiery former ambassador to NATO, who stays as deputy prime minister in charge of armaments.

One appointment has the blogosphere especially wary. Putin named Nikolai Nikiforov, a 29-year-old tech-savvy public relations official from Kazan, as minister of communications. That suggests the Kremlin has finally decided to focus on the Internet, which it has essentially ignored until now, a move that might not be favorable for those who rely on social media to organize against the party in power.

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