Vienna, February 24 – Russian diplomats have been leaving the foreign ministry in droves for higher paying jobs in the private sector, a problem that institution did not face in Soviet times but one that is both making it more difficult for the ministry to fulfill all its tasks and creating tensions among those who continue to work there.
In an interview featured in the current issue of Nezavisimaya gazeta – dipkur’yer, Andrei Denisov, Russia’s first deputy foreign minister, said that low government salaries and opportunities in the private sector have decimated the ranks of the foreign minister (http://www.ng.ru/courier/2008-02-18/13_prestige.html).
Indeed, he said, while there are staffing problems at the ministry itself, especially in the middle ranks, “there is not a single major Russian company in which there are not people who formerly served at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sometimes in the very highest posts.”
The situation, the deputy minister said, was especially bad in the 1990s when government salaries, benefits and status were all in decline and when businesses were seeking to hire people with solid foreign language skills and knowledge of the international environment.
More recently, he insisted, things have improved. “The prestige of diplomatic service” is on the rise. Government salaries and benefits are better. And many of the firms which needed to build capacity earlier by hiring those who were employed at the ministry are now recruiting from the graduates of the country’s better universities.
But that does not mean that the ministry’s problems are over either in recruitment or retention. On the one hand, he said, the ministry in 2007 had succeeded in hiring 130 recent graduates of 14 top universities in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, out of a pool of some 260 applicants.
Two-thirds of those hired, he said, were graduates of the elite Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). But their share and that of graduates of the Diplomatic Academy would have been even greater had ministry salaries not been so much lower than those in private business.
And on the other hand, because so many mid-level people left the diplomatic service earlier, those of this group who remain are envious and angry that some junior people are being promoted far more rapidly than they were to fill the posts vacated by those now working in the private sector.
Those problems have been compounded by three other developments, Denisov said. First, Russian diplomats today must devote far more attention to taking care of Russians travelling or living abroad, a task that few of them had to worry about in the Soviet past and one that some diplomats view as beneath their dignity.
Second, Moscow’s representatives have to devote more of their careers to promoting business and to working in countries where conditions are anything but good. Promoting business is something younger diplomats understand better than their elders, but living in hardship posts, even with pay differentials, is something neither likes.
And third, the Russian foreign ministry faces serious problems in recruiting and then retaining diplomats who have good skills in critical languages. Last year, Denisov said, the ministry hired 18 people who know Arabic, six with knowledge of Chinese and five who speak Turkish.
But even with this influx, Denisov said, the ministry faces serious problems. It needs “at a minimum” 1500 new officers, significantly higher salaries and benefits, and the adoption of a law governing the country’s diplomatic work, a measure President Vladimir Putin called for to years ago but one still under discussion in the government.
Help may be on the way, however, albeit from a most improbable source: The Chechen government of Ramzan Kadyrov has offered its services as Moscow’s representative to Muslim countries and encouraged other Muslim republics within the Russian Federation to do the same (http://www.kreml.org/opinions/174091514).