Russia: Prime Minister Putin Names New Cabinet
By Chloe Arnold
MOSCOW -- There were few surprises as newly confirmed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced his cabinet line-up.
Most of the key ministers from his previous government remain in their posts, while powerful figures from his former presidential administration have been brought in to boost the new team.
Alexei Kudrin, regarded as a strong advocate of free market policies, retains his post as finance minister. Sergei Lavrov and Anatoly Serdyukov also keep their jobs at the foreign and defense ministries.
As Dmitry Medvedev, who was sworn in last week as president, hurried to approve the appointments formally, Putin took center stage in his new role to announce the new cabinet. He told the waiting cameras that he had made some technical changes to the number of deputy prime ministers and their roles.
"The number of deputy prime ministers has been increased," Putin said. "The prime minister will have two first deputy prime ministers, three deputy prime ministers, a deputy prime minister serving as the government's chief of staff, and a deputy prime minister who serves as finance minister."
Critics have accused Putin of bolstering the position of prime minister in Russia and weakening the presidency in recent months so that he can hold onto power. Forbidden by Russia's constitution from running for a third consecutive term as president, Putin last week stepped down after two terms as president, handing the top position to a loyal aide, Dmitry Medvedev.
Preservation Of Power
Yevgeny Volk, the Moscow director of the Washington-based Heritage Fund, said few people had expected any radical changes in the government from Putin’s former line-up, adding that Putin's choices show "the preservation of power." "Objectively, we can see that it isn’t just those appointed personally by Putin [in his former administration] who have managed to hang on to their jobs," Volk said. "He’s also added a powerful group of his supporters who worked with him in the Kremlin."
Sergei Sobyanin, who was in charge of the powerful presidential administration when Putin was president, moves to a new position as government chief of staff. At the same time, Igor Sechin, who was Putin’s deputy chief of staff at the Kremlin, is to become one of five men with the status of deputy prime minister.
Sergei Ivanov, a close Putin ally who at one point appeared to be heading for the presidency instead of Medvedev, has been appointed another deputy prime minister. A former KGB agent, Ivanov is regarded as one of Russia’s most powerful politicians, and is a staunch Putin ally.
Former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov and a former economic adviser to the Kremlin, Igor Shuvalov, become Putin’s two first deputy prime ministers. Most members of the new cabinet hail from St. Petersburg, Putin's hometown.
For Volk, the new-look government -- an amalgam of old faces from the previous cabinet and new ones brought in from the Kremlin administration -- shows Putin’s desire to consolidate power as prime minister.
"Without doubt, this demonstrates that the government will again become a commanding power center, while the Kremlin administration, little by little, is being weakened, since Putin is poaching key figures like Sobyanin and Sechin for the government," Volk said. "It’s clear that this reflects the redistribution of power toward the government, which began during the months after Medvedev was elected president and during the transition period that followed."
Other appointments include Sergei Naryshkin, another Putin ally, as head of the Kremlin administration. Nikolai Patrushev moves from his post as head of the FSB -- the successor to the Soviet-era KGB -- to run the country’s Security Council. He is replaced at the FSB by Alexander Bortnikov, who used to be the FSB’s deputy director.
Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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