Vienna, June 30 – Moscow’s appointment of former Russian health minister Mikhail Zurabov in place of former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin as ambassador to Ukraine has called attention to the Kremlin’s increasing use of non-diplomats as its representatives abroad and raised questions in Moscow as to how adequate such people are in such roles.
In a lengthy article in the current issue of “Versiya,” Igor Dmitriyev that in this regard, Russia is behaving in a way that resembles the United States, although up to now Moscow has not often followed the American practice of appointing to ambassadorial posts those who have given to a presidential campaign (www.versia.ru/articles/2009/jun/29/naznachenie_zurabova).
One reason for that, Dmitriyev points out, is that the pay and benefits of Russian ambassadors are far from attractive, with the highest salaries being less than 3,000 US dollars a month -- most are lower -- and housing often anything but luxurious, again relative to what those who may have supported a Russian presidential campaign are used to.
Dmitriyev further notes that despite the prestige of the title, ambassadors are far less free agents than many Russians assume. Instead, they are strictly directed by Moscow which gives them their assignments and expects them to inform the Russian government about what is going on in the countries to which they are assigned.
Consequently, he suggests, the appointment of non-professionals to ambassadorial posts may not cause problems for Moscow, especially if the ambassador is supported by a professional staff, and may, depending on the individual involved, even work to Russia’s advantage by highlighting the “special” nature of relations in this or that case.
Dmitriyev then turns to the various kinds of “non-professionals” the Russian government has appointed as ambassadors. The most frequent are retired politicians, such as former atomic energy minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev, who has been Russia’s ambassador in Finland since 2006.
Other “non-professional” ambassadors consist of those who have fallen out of favor in Moscow. Thus, Boris Yeltsin exiled his press secretary Vyacheslav Kostikov as ambassador to the Vatican, but the latter stayed there only briefly because his memoirs enraged the Russian president and Kostikov had to return to journalism.
In addition, Dmitriyev says, there have been cases when Moscow has named someone ambassador as a holding “stage” before his return to power. For example, Nikolay Bordyuzha, who had served as secretary of Russia’s Security Council, was sent to Denmark, but he then returned to become secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization
Bordyuzha was replaced in Copenhagen by another “non-professional,” Dmitry Ryurikov a presidential assistant for foreign affairs. It is “curious,” Dmitriyev says, that Moscow used Denmark the same way in Soviet times, having sent Moscow CPSU Secretary Nikolay Yegorychev there in the 1970s and Komsomol head Boris Pastukhov there in the late 1980s.
Unlike some such “exiles,” Pastukhov was able to return thanks to power thanks to elections to the Duma where he headed the CIS Committee. Then he became minister for CIS affairs and now “occupies the honorable position of senior vice president of the Trade Industrial Chamber of Russia.”
Except for Mongolia to which Khrushchev famously exiled Vyacheslav Molotov and to which the Russian government has sent Irkutsk Governor Boris Govorin, in almost all African and Asian countries, the Russian ambassador is a professional diplomat. The major exception was Doku Zavgayev, former CPSU head in Checheno-Ingushetia, who was sent to Tanzania.
But his posting, an apparent punishment for failing to prevent the coming to power of Jokhar Dudayev, did not end his career but simply sent it off in a different direction: After serving in Dar es-Salaam, Zavgayev became deputy minister of foreign affairs and then general director of the foreign ministry.
An even more successful “return to the power structures” was made by Valentina Matvienko, the current governor of St. Petersburg. After serving as a Komsomol official, she was named ambassador to Malta in 1991. Six years later she was posted to Greece and then returned to be deputy prime minister.
Another “unusual case,” Dmitriyev says, is provided by Leonid Drachevsky. Having been first deputy chairman of the USSR Sports Committee, he was named Russian ambassador to Poland in 1996. Two years later, he became minister for CIS affairs and then the presidential plenipotentiary in the Siberian Federal District.
In such cases, the pattern with regard to Russian ambassadors since 1991 has been very different than that of Soviet ambassadors prior to that time. Very few of the latter ever returned from what most quite rightly assumed was diplomatic exile. But there is one way in which the Russian Federation has continued Soviet practice.
In Soviet times, most of Moscow’s ambassadors in bloc countries were party officials rather than diplomats. And now, in many cases, Dmitriyev notes, many Russian ambassadors to the 11 other former Soviet republics and three Baltic countries are former officials of one kind or another.
Dmitriyev concludes his survey by pointing to two other kinds of “unprofessional” Russian ambassadors: those who are taken from the political opposition like Rodina’s Dmitry Rogozin who now serves as Russia’s outspoken and controversial permanent representative to NATO, and those from the intelligence services.
The latter source is especially “untraditional,” Dmitriyev says, but Moscow has appointed SVR officials as its ambassadors to Lithuania, Moldova, and India. That represents a break not only with the Soviet past but also with the practice of most other countries because, as Dmitriyev himself notes, “as is well-known, there are no former intelligence officers.
By way of conclusion, Dmitriyev points out that there have been cases in recent years of something that was “unheard of in Soviet times:” professional diplomats making successful careers elsewhere. Among these are Sergey Yastrzhembsky who became presidential press secretary after serving as ambassador in Bratislava, and Aleksandr Avdeyev, the minister of culture, who earlier served as Russian ambassador to various European countries.