Roll over siloviki, the civiliki are on their way.
Dmitry Medvedev, United Russia and Vladimir Putin’s presidential candidate, is not a member of the dreaded siloviki network. Instead, he is the leading member of the “civiliki,” a network of St. Petersburg civil law scholars whom he has pulled up into high positions in Gazprom and the Russian court system.
One of Sovietologists’ most treasured analytical tools was to spot networks between officials – usually regional networks – and trace their progress across the Soviet political firmament. In post-Soviet Russia, “networkism” is an equally fruitful political resource and analytical tool. London sociologist Alena Ledeneva has described contemporary Russia as a “network society:” Networkism, a more inclusive, sometimes more productive, form of nepotism, determines both individual opportunities and identities.
The classic example of networkism is, of course, the siloviki network attributed to Vladimir Putin, comprising former KGB operatives from St. Petersburg. Sociologist Olga Khryshtanovskaya has described prolifically how the siloviki have been taking over at the top, occupying post after post in the economy and government.
So there was considerable surprise last week when Putin threw his support behind First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev who does not belong to the siloviki. The West sighed with relief, or even disappointment, as Medvedev, whose small stature and large brown eyes give him more of a resemblance to a teddy bear than a Russian bear.
So if Medvedev is not a silovik, who is he? What network does he belong to?
Dmitry Medvedev is a textbook civilian, a civil law scholar who co-authored an award-winning textbook on the Russian civil code that was first published in 1991. His co-authors included Ilya Yeliseyev, Anton Ivanov and Mikhail Krotov, a few threads in the network that has risen in Moscow alongside Medvedev. The anointed successor, Yeliseyev, Ivanov and another friend, Vladimir Alisov, were classmates from 1982 to1987 at the Leningrad State University law department. They formed a band of four, according to fellow students and staff, spending both their study time and free time together. Medvedev, Ivanov and Yeliseyev then continued on to postgraduate study and eventually taught in the department. Krotov, who also lectured in the department, graduated two years earlier.
Another classmate from 1987 was Konstantin Chuichenko, but, instead of going into academia, he chose the more adventurous path of joining the KGB.
Dmitry Medvedev was named head of the supervisory board of Gazprom in June 2000, immediately after Vladimir Putin’s inauguration as president.
Not surprisingly, considering the number of ex-KGB men moving into leadership roles, the first of Medvedev’s classmates to take a high position at Gazprom was Chuichenko. In March 2001, Chuichenko was appointed head of Gazprom’s legal department, and in April 2002, he became a member of the Gazprom management board. From January 2002 to June 2004, he was chairman of the supervisory board of Gazprom Media, the holding company created to handle assets expropriated from media oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky.
In July 2004, Chuichenko became one of three managing directors of the controversial gas trader RosUkrEnergo, the intermediary for Russia’s sales of Turkmen gas to Ukraine and the center of the “gas wars” scandal in 2006. In March 2005, Chuichenko also was elected to the supervisory board of Sibneft, after Roman Abramovich bought it from Gazprom.
Other Medvedev classmates were quick to follow Chuichenko, taking up positions at Gazprom affiliates. In April 2003, Valeria Adamova, class of ’87, was named vice-president of the legal department of Gazprom’s chemicals affiliate Sibur. Gazprom was busy reclaiming assets transferred to Sibur under the 1990s-era management, and Adamova played an active role in court cases.
In July 2004, Anton Ivanov, Medvedev’s co-author and close friend was appointed first deputy head of Gazprom Media, a member of the management board, and a member of the board of directors of television stations TNT and NTV.
In 2004, Alisov, the fourth in the group of Medvedev’s friends and classmates, became head of the legal department of Gazprom’s newly-created subsidiary, Gazpromregiongaz, which handles gas distribution in Russia.
In 2005, Yeliseyev was appointed deputy chairman of the management board of Gazprombank, Russia’s third largest bank.
Finally in April 2005, Krotov, an acclaimed legal scholar with a number of state awards for jurisprudential excellence, was appointed deputy general director of Gazprom Media, succeeding Ivanov, who had moved on to chair the Supreme Arbitration Court in January.
The civiliki go to court
At the time of his appointment to Russia’s highest commercial court and in light of his judicial experience, he was charged with launching a systematic reform of the commercial court system, and quickly developed a public profile in this capacity through frequent media appearances.
Ivanov appointed Yelena Valyavina, Leningrad law department class of ’88, as his deputy on the court. She had been his first deputy in the St. Petersburg city justice department in the 1990s. Valyavina, like Ivanov, had no experience in court work, and Dmitry Fursov, a Moscow Region court judge with far better qualifications, unsuccessfully protested her appointment in court.
Ivanov then started to bring the next generation of St. Petersburg legal scholars to work for him. Igor Drosdov, class of ’99, moved from his job as assistant to Minister of Economic Development and Trade German Gref (who is also a graduate of the Leningrad law department) to head the administration of the Supreme Arbitration Court. Dmitry Pleschkov, another of Ivanov’s Ph.D. students, became head of the court registry.
Nikolai Vinichenko, class of ’87, had risen through the state prosecutor’s office to become state prosecutor for St. Petersburg in 2003. In October 2004, he was appointed director of the Federal Service of Court Bailiffs.
Finally, in November 2005, Krotov moved from Gazprom-Media to become the president’s representative to the Constitutional Court.
True to their roots
The civiliki are as proud of their faculty ties as the siloviki are of their ties to the “corporation.” Asked in 2006 how close he was to his “former colleague” Anton Ivanov, Mihail Krotov replied, “Why former? We both continue to teach. Anton Alexandrovich lectures and I still work with Ph.D. students and post-docs.”
After their move to Moscow, the St. Petersburg civiliki set up shop in the faculty of civil law at the esteemed Higher School of Economics. Ivanov is head of faculty; Drosdov is deputy head. Other faculty members include Yeliseyev, Krotov, and Pleschkov.
Medvedev, receiving an honorary degree from St. Petersburg State University in 2006, promised to return to give a lecture in the same year: “But not about the National Projects or strengthening the Russian state. I’ll lecture to you about Roman law, because Roman law is the foundation of everything else,” he said.
Friends in high places
The civiliki have a number of associate members who have made their way independently to top positions.
Alexander Konovalov, presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District, graduated from the law department of St. Petersburg State University in 1992 and went on to lecture in civil law alongside Ivanov, Krotov and Medvedev while working in the municipal state prosecutor’s department.
From 1997 to 1998, he served as a deputy to Nikolai Vinichenko as a district prosecutor in St. Petersburg, and between 2001 and 2005, he worked as deputy state prosecutor for St. Petersburg.
In 2005, he became the state prosecutor for Bashkortostan, where he investigated the Blagoveschensk police brutality scandal, and won some acclaim from human rights activists. He also investigated the privatization of the region’s oil companies by structures close to the political leadership. In November 2005, he replaced former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko as presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District.
Minister of Regional Development Dmitry Kozak was a classmate of Mikhail Krotov, graduating from the Leningrad law department in 1985. He worked in the St. Petersburg prosecutor’s office and was the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg between 1996 and 1999. He is considered a political heavyweight and reformer, someone whom Putin has used to handle emergency situations.
Lovers of law, distrustful of democracy
It is too early to say what impact Medvedev’s civiliki will have on Russian politics. It was only towards the end of Vladimir Putin’s first term that the influence of the siloviki became decisive in Kremlin policies, and it also took Medvedev time before he started to actively promote his own people to Moscow posts.
The first round of reshuffling following the presidential elections in March will show how intent Medvedev is on appointing his classmates to top government positions. The most likely for promotion to the government or Kremlin administration, is Anton Ivanov, who has achieved some public prominence, including TV appearances alongside Vladimir Putin.
It would be wrong to expect fundamental democratic impulses from the civiliki. Legal scholars are inevitably distrustful of the cut and thrust of democratic politics, as it threatens to impair the “perfection” of draft laws. Noticeably, none of the civiliki, for all their legal expertise, has chosen to engage in legislative politics on either the regional or national level.
Now, with Medvedev assured of complete control of the Duma after United Russia’s landslide victory, the civiliki will have carte blanche to draft legislation according to all the textbook procedures. But can scholarly erudition compensate for a complete absence of political competition in making good laws?
This article originally appeared in Russia Profile magazine on December 19, 2007. It is, in our opinion, one of the first English-language articles to seriously consider what political credentials and connections that Dmitri Medvedev offers as a presidential candidate. Medvedev is supported in his candidacy by current president Vladimir Putin, which practically guarantees him a win in coming elections.