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By John Helmer, Moscow

The State Duma voted on Tuesday to approve the nomination of Alexei Kudrin as Chairman of the Accounting Chamber, the state auditor and budget watchdog. The vote was 264 in favour; 86 opposed. No presidential nominee for the post has been elected over so much parliamentary opposition.

Forty-three deputies voted against Kudrin, all members of the Communist Party. Forty-three cast abstentions, including the 40 members of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party.  Despite Kremlin efforts to whip the 339-member United Russia block to vote in Kudrin’s favour, one in five refused to go along, and stayed out of the chamber at the roll-call*.  

Although Kudrin had President Vladimir Putin’s nomination and the endorsement of United Russia, the government’s party in the Duma, Kudrin gave a speech to the deputies ahead of the balloting in which he repudiated the pro-American, anti-military policies he has been advocating for years. Kudrin’s reversal reveals the degree to which the balance of power in Russian politics has changed decisively against the party of capitulation, and in favour of the Stavka, the combined forces of the Defence Ministry, General Staff, the intelligence services, and the military-industrial complex.

According to the press record of Kudrin’s speech, he had been personally, though secretly, in favour of the rearmament of the Russian military when he was finance minister. “On the personal instructions and under the control of the President, I was personally engaged in providing a number of types of troops with appropriate equipment and weapons. This was regulated by secret presidential decrees…There is my share of participation in the achievements which the President demonstrated during the address.”

Left: Alexei Kudrin in his State Duma speech on May 22; right: President Putin making the six-weapons speech of March 1.

Kudrin was referring to Putin’s speech to the Federal Assembly on March 1. Halfway through, Putin changed his tone and his policy.  “I will speak,” Putin said, “about the newest systems of Russian strategic weapons that we are creating in response to the unilateral withdrawal of the United States of America from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the practical deployment of their missile defence systems both in the US and beyond their national borders.”  He then announced, and by video clips illustrated,  six newly developed Russian weapons for which he said the US and the NATO allies have no counterpart or defence against. Read the story and watch the speech here.

Kudrin was dismissed from the Finance Ministry on September 26, 2011, six state defence and weapons procurement budgets ago.  In his speech to the Duma this week, Kudrin was  claiming credit for weapons systems whose costs for development and testing were charged after Kudrin had ceased to be in charge, accelerating after the start of the US war in 2014 — during the period Kudrin was actively speaking in public in favour of cutting the defence budget.

That Kudrin felt obliged to make this display of his support for the rearmament programme signalled to the deputies present, and to the Russian military leadership, that Kudrin and his allies in government have now been neutralized in their efforts to appease US sanctions strategy and Russian regime change.  That Kudrin made a lie of his own role has reinforced the distrust of his loyalties which has pitted him against the Stavka, and despatched him this week  to a post without policymaking power.

During his Duma speech Kudrin also tried to claim credit for purging the security establishment of corruption twenty years ago, during the Yeltsin presidency. “When I came from St. Petersburg in 1996 and became the head of the Control Department of the President, transparency was not very accepted in our country. [The security branch] was untouchable on the checks. Then we opened the opportunity for the first time, and conducted inspections of the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Defence.  Then the results of these inspections were classified and were a state secret on a number of issues. But now the time has passed and I can say that as a result of the inspection in the Interior Ministry forty generals were dismissed or demoted.”

 “Our duty obliges us,” Kudrin went on. “We must be quite strict in the implementation of its requirements.” If Kudrin was threatening the men who have defeated him politically, it was another display, Moscow sources believe, of Kudrin’s vanity.

Kudrin’s speech to the Duma is the death-knell for the London Financial Times in Moscow, the sources add.   It was that paper which Kudrin used in September 2011 to announce  he was after the prime ministry in place of Dmitry Medvedev. When Medvedev reacted by sacking him, the newspaper reported  “Kudrin’s resignation would be a disaster, at least for investor perception. There is no one who can replace him.”

At the start of this month, the Financial Times acted as Kudrin’s platform to announce his run at taking a newly created job in the government which would be more powerful than Prime Minister Medvedev. In Moscow officials nicknamed that a “vice presidency”. According to the London newspaper,  Kudrin was declaring through a spokesman: “If Kudrin joined the administration or government, it would indicate that they have agreed on a certain agenda of change, including in foreign policy, because without change in foreign policy, reforms are simply impossible in Russia. It would be a powerful message, because 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.”

That was an attack by Kudrin on Russian foreign and defence strategy; his bid to “reform” it in favour of the US has finished him. The role the London newspaper and its Moscow reporters have played to promote Kudrin’s polices of capitulation in strategy, and privatization for the benefit of the oligarchs, has  been finished off in parallel. A Russian official with ambition to rise, or anxiety to retain his power, the sources warn, will be risking Kudrin’s fate to speak with the Financial Times again. 

The Financial Times Moscow bureau reporters (left to right): Kathrin Hille, Max Seddon, Henry Foy.

The last Kremlin appointment of significance not yet decided by the President is the post of spokesman occupied by Dmitry Peskov. Following press reports that the chief of the Kremlin staff and the deputy chief, Anton Vaino and Sergei Kirienko, will be reconfirmed in their posts, Peskov told  reporters on Monday  that “ a certain assignment and reassignment is possible… they will follow in time.” With Kudrin’s kowtow to the new balance of power, Peskov’s chances of keeping his job are dwindling.

[*] Before the Kudrin confirmation vote, there were three earlier ones in the State Duma. The vote for Khachim Karmakov (1994-2000) was 290 for, 63 against, 8 abstentions. Sergei Stephashin (2000-2013) was confirmed by 309; 29 against; 10 abstentions. The vote for Tatiana Golikova (2013-2018) was 415 in favour; 5 against; 2 abstentions. Source: Tass.

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