Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 7

Acting President Vladimir Putin moved yesterday to consolidate his position by shaking up his cabinet and getting rid of one of the more controversial figures connected to Boris Yeltsin’s administration. Nikolai Aksenenko was demoted from the post of first deputy prime minister but retains his post as railways minister. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko was also put down a level and will now serve as a deputy prime minister. At the same time, Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was promoted and made the cabinet’s only first deputy prime minister. Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s emergency situations minister, was elevated to the rank of deputy prime minister. Shoigu heads Unity, the pro-Kremlin political bloc formed last autumn which finished second in the December 19 State Duma elections. The promotion of Kasyanov, who has led negotiations with the London Club of creditors over restructuring Russia’s Soviet-era debt, was greeted enthusiastically by both the international financial community and Russia’s stock market, which rose sharply on news of the government changes. Putin said his goal in promoting Kasyanov to the rank of first deputy prime minister was aimed at changing him from the “shadow head” of the government into its “legal coordinator” (Russian agencies, January 10). This appointment makes Kasyanov a logical candidate for prime minister after the March 26 presidential election.

Putin’s demotion of Aksenenko, who is generally thought to be an ally of the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, was natural, given that Aksenenko last year replaced the head of the state oil pipeline company Transneft while Putin was out of the country–a move which was widely interpreted as a direct challenge to Putin’s authority (see the Monitor, September 21, 1999).