The Moscow Times reports on nepotism in Putin's Kremlin (Radio Free Europe has a similar story, which begins "The prime minister is the defense minister's father-in-law. The energy minister is the health minister's husband. The justice minister's son is married to the deputy Kremlin chief of staff's daughter.") -- truly, echoes of La Cosa Nostra:
Boris Yeltsin had his Family, the tightly knit group of insiders who ran the country from behind the scenes in the 1990s. With the formation of the new Cabinet this week, Vladimir Putin now has a family of his own -- and it is on full display.
Although he is the leader of the largest country in the world, Putin did not look far to fill the Cabinet seats. He appointed Tatyana Golikova, the wife of Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, as the new health and social development minister. He also refused to accept the well-grounded resignation of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who had asked to step down because new Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov is his father-in-law.
Now there is nothing wrong with a president turning to old friends to get a job done. Leaders of Western democracies do it all the time, and some have even sought assistance from their immediate families. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's sons served in his government, and U.S. President John F. Kennedy appointed his brother as the U.S. attorney general, although this ultimately provided the impetus for an American law that now forbids such conflicts of interest on the presidential level.
In this context, Putin's family might not look so bad. But Putin does deserve a slap on the wrist at the very least for keeping Serdyukov after allowing both Zubkov and the Kremlin to make a fuss about his relationship.
Zubkov announced last week that Serdyukov was resigning because he was a close relative, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov explained at the time, "Serdyukov, as everyone knows, is the son-in-law of the prime minister, and according to the law, he had to resign for ethical reasons."
But it turned out that the law does not apply to Serdyukov because he reports directly to the president, not the prime minister. So Zubkov got to play the role of an honest man and score some easy points with the public.
Putin, in turn, not only kept Serdyukov but went a step further by adding Khristenko's wife to the Cabinet -- again abiding by the law because the husband and wife report to Zubkov, not each other.
Putin's family, however, is not only related by bloodlines. The president has filled the top Cabinet posts with his old buddies from the St. Petersburg city administration, including Zubkov and four of the five deputy prime ministers, Sergei Ivanov, Dmitry Medvedev, Alexei Kudrin and Sergei Naryshkin. If fact, a big slice of the 21-member Cabinet comes from St. Petersburg, including Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak, Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko and IT and Telecommunications Minister Leonid Reiman.
Putin clearly wants to have a family of loyalists that he can trust in the run-up to the presidential election. But as the father figure, he needs to take the high road by making every effort to avoid nepotism and conflicts of interest. Otherwise, he is in danger of looking like an authoritarian father -- and everyone knows what happens to a family once the authoritarian father loses power.