Graham Stack in Moscow -
Dmitry Medvedev, Russian President Vladimir Putin's endorsed successor, is likely to ask a slew of old university friends round to the Kremlin when he moves in later this year. Not to party, but to work. Much as Putin has relied on a string of friends from St Petersburg formerly with the KGB, the so-called siloviki, Medvedev has hauled up into high positions a network of friends and colleagues from the St Petersburg State University civil law department: the "civiliki," as it were.
"Relations between state and business are like a seesaw - they tip to one side and then to another. There was a time when the state had lost influence over business to the extent that it practically handed out indulgences for non-payment of taxes. Now we are in tougher times. Perhaps the seesaw has even tipped too far in the other direction, and it is time to re-determine the correct balance between business interests and state authority."
When the chairman of Russia's Supreme Arbitration Court, 42-year old Anton Ivanov, interviewed by business daily Vedomosti on December 25, came out with the above statement, Russian political observers took notice: only two weeks before, Ivanov's friend and colleague of 25 years standing, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, had been picked by Putin to succeed him as president. The presidential elections are due on March 2.
Medvedev and Ivanov studied together at what was then Leningrad University's faculty of law from 1982-1987. Following graduation, both went on write PhDs and teach at the faculty in the civil law department. Their PhD supervisor was none other than law professor Anatoly Sobchak, leader of St Petersburg's surging pro-democracy movement, elected mayor of Petersburg in 1990, and Putin's boss until 1996.
Medvedev and Ivanov's professional partnership extended to co-authoring, together with other faculty members, an acclaimed civil law textbook that's still widely used in Russia, and also jointly founding a legal consultancy in St Petersburg in the early 1990s.
At every stage of Medvedev's subsequent rise to the top since then, Ivanov has followed him at a short distance. And not only Ivanov. From Medvedev and Ivanov's class of '87, a cluster of names such as Konstantin Chuichenko, Valeriya Adamova, Vladimir Allisov, Ilya Eliseev, Mikhail Krotov and Nikolai Vinnichenko have accompanied Medvedev and Ivanov's dizzying rise.
Just as during Putin's presidency saw the previously obscure siloviki members such as aide Igor Sechin and state arms trader Sergei Chemezov rise to become national figures, in the same way some of the above names are likely to figure large in the still-nascent art of "Medvedevology."
First stop: Gazprom
Dmitry Medvedev was named head of the supervisory board of Gazprom in June 2000, immediately after Putin's inauguration as president. The civiliki were quick to follow him to Gazprom.
In July 2004, Anton Ivanov was appointed first deputy head of Gazprom Media, Gazprom's structure for managing its media assets which had been expropriated from exiled media oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky.
A number of his former classmates had already been installed at Gazprom.
Konstantin Chuichenko, class of '87, had in March 2001 become head of Gazprom's legal department, and in 2002, he became a member of the Gazprom management board and chairman of the supervisory board of Gazprom Media. As of 2004, Chuichenko has been a managing director of the controversial gas trader RosUkrEnergo, the murky intermediary for Russia's sales to Ukraine of Turkmen gas that was at the centre of the "gas wars" scandal in 2006. Valeriya Adamova, also class of '87, became vice-president of the legal department of the Gazprom chemicals affiliate Sibur in April 2003. Adamova played an active role in helping Gazprom to reclaim assets transferred to Sibur under the 1990's management. Vladimir Alisov, again class of '87, was head of the legal department of Gazprom's newly-created subsidiary, Gazpromregiongaz, which handles gas distribution in Russia.
One year after Ivanov's move to Gazprom, Ilya Eliseev, Medvedev and Ivanov's former classmate, faculty colleague and co-author, was appointed deputy chairman of the management board of Gazprombank, Russia's third largest. Finally in April 2005, Mikhail Krotov, class of '85 this time, former faculty colleague and co-author, succeeded Ivanov as deputy general director of Gazprom Media. Putin had chosen Ivanov to chair the Supreme Arbitration Court, Russia's highest commercial court.
Civiliki go to court
Ivanov became chairman of the Supreme Arbitration Court in 2005 despite his never having worked before as a judge. He was tasked with launching a systematic reform of the commercial court system - and quickly built up a public profile thanks to frequent media appearances.
Ivanov appointed as his deputy, Elena Valyavina, a university classmate and then faculty colleague, who in the 1990s worked under Ivanov in the St Petersburg city justice department. Adamova moved from her post at Sibur in 2005 to become deputy chairman of the very important Moscow Arbitration Court in 2005. Nikolai Vinnichenko, class of '87, a friend of Medvedev and Ivanov, had risen through the state prosecutor's office to become state prosecutor for Petersburg in 2003. In October 2004, he was appointed director of the Federal Service of Court Bailiffs. Vinnichenko's long-standing deputy in St Petersburg prosecutor's department, Aleksandr Konovalov, a 1992 graduate of the St Petersburg law faculty, and then faculty colleague of Medvedev and Ivanov, moved to become chief state prosecutor for Bashkiria in 2005, and in the same year was promoted to the post of presidential representative for the Volga region. Finally, in November 2005, Medvedev's faculty colleague and co-author Mikhail Krotov moved from Gazprom Media to become the presidential representative to the Constitutional Court.
Civiliki at the Kremlin gates?
How quickly Medvedev will promote his own people to important posts will only become clear if he wins the presidential election and after he is inaugurated as president in May.
It's also too early to say how the civiliki might impact on the country's politics. But it would be wrong to expect fundamental democratic impulses from them. Not only are legal scholars inclined to favour technocratic solutions over the cut and thrust of democratic politics, but more importantly at Gazprom Media the civiliki were implicated in the effective de-privatisation of formerly independent TV station NTV, and it was after Anton Ivanov's move to the Supreme Arbitration Court that the crippling tax claims against Mikhail Khodorkovsky's now-bankrupt oil company Yukos were enforced.
For the civiliki to tilt the seesaw back towards society, they will first have to discard a lot of ballast.
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