(by Sergei Blagov, CNSNews.com) Moscow – President Vladimir Putin has stunned Russia by naming a relatively unknown bureaucrat as his new prime minister, in a move likely to have implications for presidential elections due next March, when Putin is meant to stand down.
Putin named 66-year-old Viktor Zubkov as his candidate for the post after accepting the resignation of incumbent Mikhail Fradkov.
At a meeting with Putin on Sept. 12, Fradkov connected his decision to resign with the upcoming parliamentary and presidential polls. “I’d like you’d have full freedom to make any decisions, including those on personnel, he told the president in televised remarks. Legislative elections are scheduled for December.
In the immediate aftermath of Fradkov’s resignation, Russian analysts almost unanimously predicted that he would be succeeded by first deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who has been widely regarded here as Putin’s preferred successor and is, like the president, a former KGB operative.
But Putin, exercising the “full freedom” referred to by Fradkov, astounded many Russians, including analysts and politicians, by nominating Zubkov instead. Approval by the Kremlin-controlled parliament is considered certain.
Zubkov stepped out of the shadows Wednesday after a relatively low-profile career spanning four decades, during which he served as a low-level Soviet official, Putin’s deputy at the St. Petersburg municipal administration in the early 1990s, deputy head of the tax service, deputy finance minister, and currently as head of Russia’s federal financial watchdog, Rosfinmonitoring.
Born in the Urals, Zubkov is a virtual unknown in the nation’s political circles.
His nomination will go before the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, on Friday. The pro-Putin United Russia party holds a huge majority, and party leader Boris Gryzlov said Wednesday the legislature would support Zubkov.
Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin hailed nomination of Zubkov, his former deputy, and praised his contribution to the country’s efforts to crack down on money laundering. Kudrin also dismissed suggestions that Zubkov, who turns 66 this week, is too old to be named prime minister (Both Ivanov and Putin are 54).
The government reshuffle has renewed speculation about who will succeed Putin.
Nikita Belykh, head of the opposition SPS Party, predicted that the new prime minister would be the next president, saying that in the next three or four months Zubkov could well emerge from his current obscurity.
Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected analyst and head of the Moscow-based Institute of Political Studies, said the reshuffle was a step closer to Putin transferring power to one of his close associates, and he predicted that Russian policies would remain more or less the same.
Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika Foundation, Moscow-based think-tank, suggested that the nomination of the former head of the financial watchdog may indicate that the Kremlin wants to crack down further on widespread financial irregularities.
The chances of Zubkov emerging as Putin’s preferred successor and Russia’s next president will continue to stir debate here, with his nomination confirming the view that the upcoming presidential poll may well include some unexpected twists.
Presidential interference in succession has a precedent in post-Soviet Russia. When former President Boris Yeltsin was preparing the groundwork for his succession, he nominated Putin as prime minister in August 1999 and by the end of that same year, Putin was named acting president.
Putin won election in March 2000 and a second term four years later. Just two weeks before that 2004 re-election victory, Putin nominated Fradkov as his prime minister.
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1. Why was Russia stunned by President Vladimir Putin’s appointment of a new prime minister?
2. Why did current Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov resign?
3. Who had Russian analysts predicted would be the next prime minister? Why?
4. Why is Parliamentary approval for President Putin’s choice considered certain?
5. Mr. Zubkov has been a low-level Soviet official for 40 years. What positions has he held?
6. Term limits prohibit President Putin from running for a third four-year term in the next election, which will be held in March 2008. What do you think is President Putin’s motive for appointing an unknown as prime minister?
Consider the following about President Putin from the links below:
- Russia tested a huge non-nuclear bomb this week. Read the article here.
- And an article with the headline “Russia Returns to Cold War Bombast” here.
- President Putin posed shirtless for official government photographers while on vacation in August. Read the article speculating on his motive for doing so here.
NOTE: The Russian Kremlin is the equivilent of the White House – in this case:
- the Kremlin=Putin’s administration,
- the White House=Bush’s administration, in other words, the official government position
- In Russia, the President, elected by popular vote for a four-year term (and eligible for a second term) is the Chief of State
- the Prime Minister (also called the Premier), appointed by the president with the approval of the Duma, is the Head of Government
For a brief description of the Russian government, go to the CIA World FactBook at cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/rs.html and click on the “Government” category,
or go to the U.S. State Department website at state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3183.htm.
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