Mikhail Mishustin, Russia’s New Prime Minister

After the surprising resignation of Russia’s government, the Duma has confirmed Mikhail Mishustin as the country’s new prime minister and successor of Dmitry Medvedev. It was a formality, in which the parliament voted for Mishustin with an overwhelming majority. Putin’s handpicked choice obtained 383 votes in favor, 41 abstentions and zero opposing votes. After the vote, President Putin signed a decree, which made the election official. As a result, Russia has its new prime minister within a day of the former government’s resignation.

In his first remarks in the Duma, Mishustin said that the country must preserve macroeconomic stability, maintain inflation around 4%, and accelerate work on President Putin’s signature programs.

Speculations about a potential successor for Medvedev had been circulating for years as Putin’s former castling partner and Russia’s president between 2008 and 2012 had been notoriously unpopular in the country since he became the prime minister in 2012. A circumstance that had been detrimental to the government’s party United Russia, whose chair Medvedev also occupies.

Nonetheless, the timing of the resignation as well of the choice of the successor has surprised even close observers. In a vital democracy, one would have expected an experienced, idiosyncratic politician, someone who could be the government’s face in and outside the Duma. However, in Putin’s Russia, these individuals are not in high demand. What was needed was an unencumbered personality who is willing to implement the president’s agenda.

Mikhail Mishustin appears to satisfy these requirements. The economist, who holds two PhDs, is considered a loyal technocrat who maintains a closeness to the liberals included in the Putin system, but without their attachment.

In the 1990s, he headed the International Computer Club, an organization that promoted digital technologies in Russia. During his career, he has worked in the Russian civil service for more than 20 years and also worked for the tax authorities, the land registry, and until 2008 he chaired Russia’s agency for special economic zones.

Between 2008 and 2012, Mishustin worked in the private sector as president of an investment company before returning to the tax authorities ten years ago, only this time as its chair. As a loyal civil servant, Mishustin made a name for himself by implementing a fundamental reform of tax administration that consistently relied on digitalization.

The authority is now considered one of the most technologically innovative government agencies in Russia and is also recognized internationally as progressive. Not only companies are the beneficiaries, but ordinary citizens who now have been able to pay their taxes online for years, while tax evasion under his leadership had become increasingly cumbersome, both for companies and private individuals.

Mishustin is not the first non-politician to become prime minister under Putin. Mikhail Fradkov and Viktor Zubkov also held the office previously. Both were considered highly competent business people, but without any political ambition to pursue their agenda. Here, one would assume, lies the blueprint for Mishustin and thus one of the primary reasons why he is Putin’s choice: Mishustin does not appear to have any higher political ambitions or hidden agendas either. Moreover, he is inclined to act neutral towards parliament, while also not being a liability during next year’s parliamentary election.

It is thus unlikely that Mishustin is the long-term solution as Russia’s prime minister, but rather a placeholder, who will not stand in Putin’s way. The latter, given yesterday’s developments, is crucial, as the envisioned constitutional changes and the strengthening of the Duma require the new prime minister to cooperate with the Kremlin.

While these developments have not yet indicated in what capacity Putin will reign from 2024 moving forward, it has nonetheless signaled that he will continue to lead the way in Russia – in one capacity or the other.