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By John Helmer, Moscow

Once again, Alexei Kudrin (lead image), candidate for the second most powerful post in the Russian government after President Vladimir Putin, has had his ambition circumcised. The state news agency Tass reported Kudrin as confirming yesterday that he has accepted nomination as the new head of the Accounting Chamber, Russia’s state auditor and budget watchdog. Kudrin replaces a junior and protégée when he was finance minister, Tatiana Golikova; she has been promoted by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to become his deputy prime minister for social welfare policy.

In the week since Putin’s inauguration,  Medvedev has banished two men capable of rivalling him for the succession to Putin’s presidency – Dmitry Rogozin, representing the military-industrial and state sector of the economy, and Kudrin, representing the oligarch sector and the United States campaign for regime change.    

Between 2013 and this year, the Accounting Chamber was a sanitorium for Golikova, a budget finance  specialist, to recover reputation after allegations of corruption forced her removal from the post of Health Minister. Between 2000 and 2013 the chamber was the burial ground for the ambitions of Sergei Stepashin. He had been prime minister under Boris Yeltsin in the spring of 1999, replacing Yevgeny Primakov, a strong political threat to Yeltsin at the time, only to be replaced himself after less than 90 days by the political novice Putin.
Left, Tatiana Golikova; right, Sergei Stepashin.

The Chamber has had no influence on state policymaking. No matter what defalcations in state spending the Chamber’s auditors uncover, they have never effected a significant prosecution. They do not have authority to audit the Central Bank and other state banks, and cannot challenge state business bailouts. They issue no policymaking reports of the quality of the US Congressional Reserve Service; they lack the power of the US General Accounting Office to rectify state accounts.  

Kudrin, who was dismissed  by Medvedev for threatening to best him in Putin’s favour in September 2011,  tried resisting the repeat defeat last week, after  Medvedev’s supporters published the rumour that Kudrin would fill Golikova’s shoes.  He was “still thinking over the offer,” Kudrin’s spokesman told Tass on Friday.  

Medvedev’s put-down followed Kudrin’s attempt  to promote himself in the Financial Times, telling a reporter he was Putin’s pick for “lead role in easing tension and restoring growth…the president’s representative for international economic co-operation…Kudrin is the only one in the top echelons with whom they will talk in the west and towards whom there is a certain trust.”   Kudrin had once again issued  his death warrant;   Medvedev signed; Putin passed the blotter. In his new post, Kudrin will have less direct access to Putin than he has had for the past two years running a state-funded think-tank called the Center for Strategic Research.

Kudrin has described the comedown as his mission to save the country. “The question is not just about whether money has been spent in accordance with procedures”, he claimed in Monday’s announcement, “but about whether the expenditure brings us closer to our national goals and leads to significant changes in the lives of the country’s citizens.” For twenty years in government under the reform slogan, Kudrin has promoted oligarch-led privatization of state assets and state-financed bailout of oligarch debts. Now at the Chamber, he announced yesterday, “the fight against corruption should be focused not only on catching criminals red-handed but most of all in creating the mechanisms to prevent corruption, to reduce the opportunities for it to a minimum.”

The future of Sergei Shoigu, Defence Minister and representative of Russia’s defence against the US,   has yet to be announced.

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