September 26, 2007

Who's in, who's out in Moscow

In naming a new government, President Vladimir Putin appears to have opted for stability instead of a major shake-up. From RFE/RL.

By RFE/RL Staff (26/09/07)

In naming a new government, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have opted for stability instead of a major shake-up. With just a few exceptions, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov's government looks remarkably similar to the one that preceded it.

Putin named a new government on 24 September, ending days of speculation about the cabinet that will lead Russia into parliamentary and presidential elections. The reshuffle, which was largely cosmetic, came just over a week after Putin unexpectedly named Viktor Zubkov as prime minister on 12 September.

"It is my great hope that the Russian government, under the leadership of the new chairman, Viktor Zubkov, will strive in the most decisive way to achieve the objectives that we, together with members of parliament, have formulated as the strategic goals for the country's development," Putin said.

Presidential front-runners
Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev, two first deputy prime ministers many view as front-runners to succeed Putin as president, have retained their posts in Zubkov's cabinet.

Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin will also keep his job and has been promoted to deputy prime minister. Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Naryshkin and Aleksandr Zhukov also kept their jobs. Putin also refused to accept the resignation of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who offered to step down because his relationship with Zubkov, who is his father-in-law, might represent a conflict of interest.

Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky tells RFE/RL's Russian Service that the fact that most key ministers remained in their posts is a sign that Putin wants to preserve stability as Russia heads toward parliamentary elections in December 2007 and a presidential vote in March 2008.

"We see that the government has not undergone any major changes in terms of structure or composition," Belkovsky says. "This means that the logic of not making waves or causing tremors that could disturb Putin's trademark stability remain dominant."

Just three ministers lost their jobs in the shake-up - Trade and Economic Development Minister German Gref, Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, and Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev. All are widely unpopular among leftist lawmakers and large sections of Russians - Gref for his pro-Western, free-market economic reforms, Zurabov for changes in how social benefits were paid out, and Yakovlev for the poor state of housing services.

'Pre-election sacrifice'
In an interview with RFE/RL, Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin says the three dismissals are clearly related to the elections. "All of them were responsible for something close to the electorate," Oreshkin says. "Housing maintenance, health care and medicine, and the economy. It is hard to call this anything other than a pre-election sacrifice."

Gref was replaced at the Trade and Economic Development Ministry by his own deputy, Elvira Nabiulina. Tatyana Golikova, previously deputy finance minister, will take over the Health and Social Development Ministry. That appointment is viewed as increasing Finance Minister Kudrin's clout in the cabinet. Golikova is the wife of Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko.

Dmitry Kozak, Putin's envoy to the Southern Federal District and an influential official in the North Caucasus republics, will replace Yakovlev as regional development minister. A replacement for Kozak has yet to be named.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20036. Funded by the US Congress.

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