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The technocrat at Putin's side TIME ONLINE


No one had any doubts as to how this vote would go about in the Russian parliament: just one day after the surprising announcement of constitutional reform and the resignation of the government, the new Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin was confirmed in office. No member of the Russian State Duma voted against it, only the faction of the Communist party abstained.

With the constitutional reform, Putin started a complicated game to secure power even after his term as president in 2024. In the plan, the new head of government envisages the role of the economist who should boost the weakening economy and thus counteract the growing discontent among the population. With Mishustin, Putin chose a technocrat who was hardly known to the general public. In expert circles, however, the former head of the tax authority had the reputation of someone who can work very efficiently in the bureaucratic system. He is trusted to put other areas of the Russian state administration in order. But what can he really do as head of government?

The 53-year-old Mischustin came to the state administration from the IT industry. In the nineties he worked for the International Computer Club, an organization that spread western computer technologies in Russia promoted. In 1998 he became the deputy head of the tax authority and worked on technically modernizing it. He later headed the Cadastral Office and the Office for the Administration of Special Economic Zones. In 2008, he switched to the private sector for two years – to OFG-Invest, which was founded by his former superior, ex-the head of the tax authority Boris Fyodorov. And since 2010 Mischustin himself has headed this authority. During this time, he focused on digitization, advanced the technical side of the authority and closed several tax loopholes.

The economy has never recovered from sanctions and falling oil prices

Alexei Kudrin, head of the Court of Auditors and former finance minister, even spoke of "hope for a series of reforms" after Mishustin's appointment. Kurdrin did not mean political liberalization, but rather economic changes. The new prime minister is someone who has a good feeling for the situation of the entrepreneurs, Kudrin praised him. He also has a "feel for digitalization and how important new technologies are for the entire economy".

In fact, Mishustin announced in his inaugural speech in Parliament that the digital economy would be his priority. So far, attempts by the Russian state to modernize this area have failed due to a lack of competence, inefficient administration or other priorities, for example in security matters. Last year was about a fifth of the total annual budget for the digitalization was planned to be spent within three days at the end of December – which looked like officials had to meet formal criteria at the last moment.

The economic tasks that Mischustin has to solve are even greater than digitalization. The Russian economy has been very weak in recent years. After the annexation to Crimea, the West imposed sanctions on the country, and the oil price has fallen sharply since 2014. The growth in Russia slumped. The country has still not recovered from this. Kudrin, head of the Russian Court of Auditors, assumes that the economy will not have grown by more than 1 percent in 2019 and will only grow by 1.5 percent this year as well.


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