The quick rise to power of Anton Vaino, who will replace Sergei Ivanov as President Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff, has some speculating about a new role for the Presidential Administration.

Newly-appointed Chief of Staff of Russia's Presidential Office Anton Vaino during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Photo: RIA Novosti

Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed a new Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration, Anton Vaino, who will also become a permanent member of Russia’s Security Council. The former head of the Presidential Administration, Sergei Ivanov, will now focus on questions of environmental protection, ecology and transport as a special presidential envoy.

This replacement takes place in line with other important decisions made by Putin recently. The news of Ivanov’s resignation comes following a major political shakeup that started in late July. At that time, a significant reshuffling of key officials happened in the regional and federal administrations as well as in the Federal Customs Service.

Who is Anton Vaino?

Until recently Vaino worked as a deputy head of the Kremlin’s Presidential Administration. The new Chief of Staff is 44 years old and is originally from Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. A graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), Vaino is fluent in English and Japanese. After graduation, he worked in the Russian embassy in Japan and, later, served in the Asia department of the Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

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Vaino’s colleagues argue that he is a competent and reserved person. “Such traits as composure, friendliness, and discretion will merge well with his managerial style. He is hardworking and energetic. He is capable of setting goals of different scope and scale as well as controlling them. Vaino is a classic manager,” Dmitry Orlov, general director at the Agency of Political and Economic Communications, told Russia Direct

The new Chief of Staff has acquired his popularity quite quickly, the expert points out. “In terms of ratings, Vaino moved up quickly from the top 90 to the top 20, even though transitions in Russian politics are usually quite conservative,” he explains. “This is a sign that he has a serious position in the power structure and the president has a high assessment of his work.”

According to Orlov, the growth of Vaino’s influence has not surprised the expert community. His appointment, though, did.

Meanwhile, Pavel Salin, director of the Center for Political Studies at the Financial University under the Russian Government, argues that Ivanov, as a trusted member of the president’s inner circle, was a very strong political figure and had power to influence the decision-making process. In contrast, Vaino is just a technocrat, notwithstanding his knowledge of the Kremlin’s inner workings.

“It might be said that he is Putin’s former aide-de-camp. He was the head of protocol carrying out all technical functions and had access to the physical presence of the president 24/7,” the political analyst says. “Notwithstanding his invisibility, he is well aware of all intricacies of the Presidential Administration.”

Salin also argues that a further reshuffling of the administration – at the level of deputy heads – is possible. For now, though, one might compare Vaino with Sergei Sobyanin, who has served at this position prior to becoming mayor of Moscow. He also was not an outstanding figure.

Orlov is confident that a key factor guiding the Russian president’s decisions in reshuffling his apparatus was the level of effectiveness. “One might see other motives, such as the strengthening of the siloviki [Russia’s law enforcement entities], but I think effectiveness is more important.”

“For instance, the newly appointed governors and Vaino are state officials of different origins, but they represent the same generation. This generation came later, after Ivanov,” the expert explains. “The President literally has raised Vaino. The current Minister of Finance, Anton Siluanov, had a similar situation.”

The view from atop the Kremlin power structure

The position of Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration is one of the most influential ones in Russian politics. According to Orlov, this position is in the top five judging by overall importance. Officially, the head of this structure is the third most important person in the country.

“The head of the Presidential Administration is an important position – the third most significant role in Russia,” the political analyst says.

Salin agrees with this view but he adds that this position depends a lot on personality.

“The role of Chief of Staff as well as the role of any presidential body, is highly dependent on the loyalty of its leader. Another factor is the president’s vision for the given institution: whether he wants to see it strong or weak, independent or simply technical,” he said.

“This is a feature that makes the Presidential Administration and Russia’s Security Council quite similar. Everything depends on the personality of the Security Council’s secretary and the trust placed in him by the president. Today, when the former head of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev, serves in this position, the role of secretary has significantly increased. When the secretary was the former head of Ministry of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov (from 2004 to 2007), this role was only technical.”

Salin believes that after Vaino’s appointment the significance of the Presidential Administration will change.

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“In any case, the role of the administration will decrease, as was the case in Sobyanin’s time,” he points out. “Simultaneously, the role of Security Council and law enforcement agencies in general will increase. Previously politics was an area of the presidential administration’s focus, today political questions are under control of Patrushev’s structures.”

Orlov does not share this view. As he sees it, the new head, on the contrary, will push the body to work better and more productively.

“This is a good appointment. The work of the administration will be organized in an effective and adequate way. Vaino has good relations with representatives of the government apparatus, hence, no problems should emerge,” he explains. “I’m sure that Vaino will not be a political head of administration like Ivanov. He is a classic bureaucrat in the good sense of the word. And this might make the administration more effective and functional.”

Vaino himself has already stated that the key objective for him will be the complete execution of decrees and orders of the president. And this, according to Orlov, is the main factor that will increase the quality of the body’s work.

“Even though Vaino does not have a specific political face, it does not mean that he lacks a managerial style. This will be a positive factor,” he concludes.