Rumors of an impending shake-up in the upper reaches of the Russian government are becoming increasingly persistent. Nezavisimaya gazeta reported yesterday that President Vladimir Putin was planning to replace most of the top officials in both the presidential administration and the government, beginning at the end of March and going through the beginning of May. The paper, citing anonymous sources, said that Putin would use sweeping reforms of the government’s structure–which would, among other things, either eliminate the post of deputy prime minister altogether or maintain just one, and merge the Finance Ministry with the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade–as a pretext to get rid of most of the cabinet’s members, including its head, Prime Minister Kasyanov, who might be made head of Russia’s Central Bank. According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, the other officials slated for replacement include Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Tax Minister Gennady Bukaev, Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko and Central Bank chief Viktor Gerashchenko, along with Andrei Belyaninov, who only last November was put in charge of the new state arms export agency Rosoboroneksport, and Anatoly Chubais, head of United Energy Systems (UES), Russia’s electrical power grid. The paper said that among the candidates to replace Kasyanov as prime minister are Sergei Ivanov, secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council, German Gref, economic development and trade minister, and Sergei Kirienko, the former prime minister who is currently Putin’s authorized representative in the Volga federal district.
Nezavisimaya gazeta said that two other presidential representatives–Georgy Poltavchenko, Putin’s representative in the Central federal district, and Viktor Cherkesov, presidential representative in the Northwestern federal district–were possible candidates to replace Aleksandr Voloshin as Kremlin chief of staff. The paper said, however, that the frontrunner for that post is Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service, Putin’s alma mater (Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 30).
The scenarios laid out suggest that Putin is poised to get rid of the main holdouts from the Boris Yeltsin administration. Earlier this week, the newspaper Novaya gazeta, citing its own anonymous sources, predicted that Security Council Secretary Ivanov would be named to the resurrected post of vice president, the functions of which would be combined with those of the prime minister, while Kasyanov would be made a first deputy prime minister in charge of coordinating the cabinet’s activities. The paper reported that Dmitry Medvedev, a deputy Kremlin chief of staff, and Mikhail Krasnov, a former presidential legal adviser, had prepared constitutional amendments which would resurrect the vice presidential post and increase the presidential term from four to five years, among other things (see the Monitor, January 30). According to rumors which have appeared in the press, Putin, as a condition of his elevation as head of state, gave a guarantee that he would not remove key members of the Yeltsin-era “Family” during his first year in office.
An anonymous high-level Kremlin official sought to cool down the speculative frenzy yesterday in comments to the official RIA news agency, categorically denying that the post of vice president would be resurrected and casting doubt on the report that Putin would name Patrushev head of the presidential administration. The official added, however, that the idea of getting rid of all deputy prime ministers except one was being actively discussed and that certain ministries and agencies would be merged (Russian agencies, January 31). It should also be noted that the reports predicting that Putin is preparing to remove Voloshin as Kremlin administration chief would seem to be contradicted by the presidential decree issued this week effectively subordinating the seven presidential representatives in the federal districts to the Kremlin chief of staff–that is, Voloshin (Segodnya, Moscow Times, January 31). On the other hand, it is possible that Putin expanded the powers of his chief of staff with a successor to Voloshin in mind.
Amid all the speculation, there were more concrete signs yesterday that Putin will remove certain officials in the near future. During a meeting in the Kremlin with Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin charged that neither UES, the Energy Ministry nor the Primorsky Krai regional administration had reacted properly to the ongoing energy crisis in that region of Russia’s Far East, where thousands of local residents remain without electricity and heating in sub-zero temperatures. The main target of Putin’s demarche would appear to be Primorsky Krai Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko, who was taken to the hospital yesterday with heart problems. The Gazeta.ru website, however, took Putin’s comment to mean that not only Nazdratenko, but also Energy Minister Aleksandr Gavrin and UES chief Anatoly Chubais would be fired in the near future (Gazeta.ru, January 31).
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