. Speaking to the country in an end-of-year radio address, the mercurial president seemed to have lost confidence in his government. "All we have done," he said, is swap [Communist] Party slogans for macroeconomic ones" with the risk of "turning the market into our new idol." What to do? For this least programmatic of presidents, the answer was simple: it’s time, he said, for "serious conversations" with ministers, who should come up with "new ideas."

Reading the leaves in the Russian tea room, many analysts saw an impending government shuffle, with the two First Deputy Prime Ministers, 42-year-old