Alexei Kudrin is maintaining a relatively high profile of late. His name has been mentioned as a potential leader of a liberal party in Russia. Perhaps most interestingly, Putin has dropped hints that Kudrin, who was unceremoniously dumped by Medvedev when he spoke out against profligate government spending, could have a high level post in a Putin presidency. I interpret this as Putin’s attempt to discredit Kudrin in the eyes of those opposed to Putin. In the murky world of Russian politics, who knows? But Putin made these remarks after Kudrin offered some outspoken comments on the Russian political system, so the possibilities are (a) Kudrin is really independent, and Putin is trying to undercut him by raising doubts about that independence, and (b) Kudrin is really just playing a role as a faux oppositionist crafted for him by Putin’s political technologists in order to divide and channel the opposition. But if it were (b), why would Putin insinuate that Kudrin was still inside the Putin tent? So I’m going with (a).
Kudrin’s criticism of government policy is not limited to politics. It also focuses on economic policy. He gave an interview for RiaNovosti which is quite interesting. The most interesting bit:
You said in a recent interview that the second wave of the crisis is already here. What will Russia be like once it’s over?- Russia is entering this crisis in a more weakened state. Though more experienced in dealing with crises, Russia’s international reserves have shrunk since last time, while its dependence on oil exports has grown. This could make things more difficult for Russia when the downturn unfolds. But I hope that the plunge will not be as deep this time. I am certain that Russian will be able to address most of the problems successfully. I would only suggest a proactive effort to reduce our oil dependency, although this will require a revision of defense spending along with some other decisions, such as raising the retirement age. This will give Russia more confidence in the face of an uncertain future. All countries are doing this now and Russia is no exception. The high oil prices and the small reserves, which can only last us a year maybe, are a thin cushion for a slump like the one in 2008. We also need to think about the future, the post-crisis years. It isn’t good to cut costs during a downturn because this always makes the decline steeper. If Russia becomes better prepared, cost cutting will not be necessary, which will certainly benefit the general business situation. The government should never cut costs in times of crisis because this policy aggravates problems and makes them snowball. The government increased spending during the last crisis. At the moment, it appears that we have increased spending in the lead up to a new crisis, and we will probably be unable to keep them at the same level during a new crisis. This is where the problem is rooted. If we do not take proactive measures, Russia will be hit harder and will emerge from the new crisis weaker than last time.
Sounds about right to me. But note that it also goes directly counter to Putin’s populist election campaign. It will be fascinating to keep an eye on Kudrin, and the Putin-Kudrin dynamic over the next 3 months leading up to the presidential vote, and the months after that.