Kasyanov's career took another step forward during the premiership of Yevgeny Primakov. Since he was non-ideological and spent his whole career working in the central apparatus, the bureaucrat Kasyanov fit much better into the Primakov cabinet than such liberals as Kudrin and Vyugin.
It was no accident that then-First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov, the senior Communist Party member in Primakov's government, was the one who supported Kasyanov. At the same time Kasyanov's rise also suited the Yeltsin administration, which was already working on how to get rid of Primakov, and who to put in place of Primakov's cabinet.
It's difficult to say just who brought Kasyanov into the sphere of influence of the powerful group that came to be known as "The Family." Some experts point to The Family's banker, Alexander Mamut, who started his career at Vnesheconombank and who maintained a lively interest in debt issues. However there is no direct evidence of Mamut having a special role in Kasyanov's fate.
Kasyanov's value to the Kremlin really became apparent when Sergei Stepashin was named prime minister in May 1999. At the time the presidential administration pointedly demanded two figures be named to Stephashin's cabinet: the Deputy Prime Ministership must go to Nikolai Aksyonov and the Finance Minister post to Mikhail Kasyanov.
But Stepashin, who had caved in by appointing Aksyonov, balked at naming Kasyanov. Boris Yeltsin wavered at first, changed his mind more than once, but in the end, under pressure from his own staff, stuck with The Family's choice. Stepashin had to give in. And that's how Kasyanov came to be part of the government.
After Putin was named acting President in the beginning of 2000, Kasyanov, as First Deputy Prime Minister, essentially ran the cabinet. Most observers at the time figured that this move was part of an agreement between Putin and The Family. Since they lost their leader, they figured they'd put one of their own in a powerful post within the state apparatus. In the first months of his presidency, Putin's power to appoint his choices to major posts was limited. For example he tried and failed to name a fellow Petersburger, Dmitri Kozak, to the post of General Prosecutor.
But Putin might have had his own reasons for nominating Kasyanov to the post of Prime Minister in May 2000. Kasyanov knew the inner workings of the state apparatus, which gave him an advantage over any number of regional governors who were vying for the post. Moreover, he wasn't considered a political heavyweight and generally sided with Putin's policies -- so the new President didn't see him as a competitor. And Kasyanov would not be a controversial nominee. None of the big lobbyists opposed him.
There was one other reason. Kasyanov, in spite of his ties to The Family, nevertheless kept his distance from them. He considered The Family to be an important ally, but he wasn't "one of the boys." He didn't have a long-term friendship with the key figures of the group. Thus Kasyanov was able to swear an oath of allegiance to the group while isolating himself from the inner circle. Not long ago he demonstrated his unique position. In a debate over the rise in tariffs for foreign cars imported into Russia, the Prime Minister openly opposed The Family's representative, aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska. But on the really big issues, when it was absolutely necessary to mobilize all of the Family's resources, as in the Slavneft auction, Kasyanov demonstrated his Family loyalty.
The Prime Minister And His Team
Kasyanov's circle is made up of people from both the state and the business world. One quality unites them all: none are interested in advertising themselves. Few of them ever give interviews, and if a Kasyanovite does meet with a journalist, then it's only to discuss a very narrow topic.
Kasyanov's closest colleague is the head of his administration, 36-year-old Konstantin Merzlikin. In the mid-1980s he studied in the Economics Department at Moscow State University, gaining a master's degree. Merzlikin then went into business, where he eventually headed several commercial enterprises. In 1996 he accepted an offer from his former classmate Ashot Egiazaryan and took on the post of deputy chairman of the board at Unikombank. But the bank soon had serious financial problems, and in the fall of 1998 Merzlikin moved back into the government, becoming deputy administrator for then Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov.