Editor's Note: This article is the first in a two-part series on the power struggles among Russia's political clans.
As the transfer of power in the Kremlin looms and Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to step down from the presidency, the consolidation of power under Putin
has never been more evident. STRATFOR has followed Putin's internal consolidation since he came to power in 2000. We also have tracked the power struggle under him, which seems to be just as nasty as — if not worse than — the previous power struggle among the old Kremlin clans.
The Old Clans
The former factions that fought for control of the Kremlin were fairly straightforward; most were leftovers from either the Soviet days or the Boris Yeltsin era. The three major factions within the Kremlin for most of Putin's reign have been the siloviki, the Family (and its most prominent branch, the St. Petersburg brigade) and the oligarchs — though there were myriad smaller clans as well.
- The siloviki (a term used for men of power or strength) typically were former KGB and security service personnel mostly concerned with Russian nationalism and seeing the country return to its former glory days. The siloviki typically controlled the Foreign and Interior ministries and the KGB's successor, the Federal Security Service (FSB).
- Members of the Family were relatives of Yeltsin and their close associates. Under the Family was the St. Petersburg brigade, comprising mostly Western-leaning technocrats from Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg who kept foreign investment flowing into the country on Russia's terms. Typically, this faction controlled the Finance and Economic ministries.
- The oligarchs were the billionaires who led most of Russia's vital sectors, both private and state-controlled. Most of these individuals rose to power during the Yeltsin shock therapy that led to a scramble and confusion over who exactly owned what after the Soviet Union's fall.
A Shift of Clans
As part of his plan to consolidate Russia politically, economically and socially, Putin has shattered
most of the old clans, pulling those he trusts the most and those who are the most useful from each and placing them directly underneath him. There are a few remaining members of the former clans who are not under Putin, but most have fled or been jailed or disposed of. However, as Putin dismantled the old factions, a new clan structure developed among those under him competing for power. Putin probably engineered this in order to ensure that the groups would be too busy competing with each other to go for his throat. The two main clans under Putin are not of one ideology or social sphere but are instead organized under two competing power players — modern-day boyars of sorts: Vladislav Surkov and Igor Sechin.
The Two New Power Clans
Though each clan has been slow in coalescing, the decisive moment at which they began organizing against each other came in 2005, when the merger of Rosneft and Gazprom fell through and each firm's political backer blamed the other, creating a nasty rift in Putin's inner circle. The first clan is under Surkov, Putin's right-hand man and deputy chief of staff. Surkov is considered the mastermind behind quite a few crucial events in Russia, such as Putin's victory in the 2004 election, the downfall of the Yukos oil empire and the hard-won victory in Chechnya. He also is considered the architect of the new Russian mindset, which focuses on the country's resurgence onto the international stage. Surkov has proven his loyalty to Putin and is not seeking the top position himself, since his background — he is half Jewish and half Chechen — undoubtedly would prevent him from ever assuming that role. Instead, Surkov has enjoyed his spot as one of the top puppet masters under Putin. The second clan falls under Sechin, Putin's other deputy chief of staff, who is just as mysterious as his rival and achieved success by making Rosneft Russia's top oil firm. Moreover, Sechin — though he lacks a background in security — has been the main force keeping the FSB from splitting between its more Soviet-minded members and the new wave of cadets that joined after the fall of the Soviet Union. Surkov and Sechin's lists of loyalists are equally weighty, and each has tools with which to undercut and sabotage the other. But the one difference that could allow one to rise above the other is that Surkov has no interest in the presidency. Sechin, however, has not proven that he can withstand the temptation of vying for that role.
When Putin named his successor, he chose a member of Surkov's clan — Dmitri Medvedev
; however, this does not mean that Medvedev or Surkov will keep the position or power. One thing Putin has proven is that he is fully in control, and he can turn the tide of the internal clan wars whenever he chooses. But those wars have become deeply entrenched within the Kremlin and are proving very dangerous, not only for Putin but also for the entire government and the rest of the country.