Putin Announces New Russian Government, Main Posts Remain Unchanged

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wasted no time in naming his new Cabinet on Monday, bringing in loyalists from the Kremlin in what was seen as an effort to shift the center of power to his new place of work.

He also left several prominent ministers untouched, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin.

Putin announced the 24 positions, eight of them new, at a Cabinet meeting in the government headquarters, the ministers already seated according to their new appointments.

President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's hand-picked successor who was inaugurated last week, quickly approved the appointments, which included the demotion of a former rival. Putin named the hawkish Sergei Ivanov, once seen as a top candidate to succeed him as president, as one of his deputy prime ministers, a step down from his previous position as first deputy premier.

The new prime minister increased the number of deputies to seven, compared to the five that served his predecessor, Viktor Zubkov.

Zubkov, who headed the government for eight months and was widely seen as a transitional figure, was named a first deputy prime minister. He was put in charge of agriculture, forestry and the fishing industry, in addition to customs and tariffs.

The other first deputy premier is Igor Shuvalov, a top policy aide in Putin's Kremlin who attained prominence as an important figure when Russia hosted the Group of Eight summit in 2006. Shuvalov will oversee foreign economic policy and negotiate Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization.

Igor Sechin, the powerful former deputy chief of presidential staff, will oversee industrial development programs. Sechin, who is widely seen as a leader of a powerful Kremlin clan of "siloviki," or veterans of Russian security services, will apparently remain chairman of the state-controlled oil company Rosneft.

Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin said most of the promotions were given to colorless officials who are little known by the general public. "There was no populism in the new appointments," he said. "The role of public opinion is so low that whomever is appointed will be accepted."

The most striking change was the dismissal of Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), who was given a new post as head of the presidential Security Council. He was replaced by one of his former deputies, Alexander Bortnikov, who had headed the KGB successor agency's economic security division.

Mikhail Grishankov, a former FSB officer who is now a lawmaker, predicted that Patrushev's appointment will make the Security Council more influential. "Patrushev's appointment will increase this organ's role," Grishankov said, according to RIA Novosti news agency.

But political analyst Andrei Soldatov said Bortnikov's appointment is a Kremlin effort to rein in the security agency, which under Putin had regained much of its former clout.

"Bortnikov is Medvedev's man, and his appointment seems to be an attempt to put the security structures under the thumb of Kremlin insiders with strictly economic interests," Soldatov said.

The corruption-tainted telecommunications minister, Leonid Reiman, was not reappointed.

A Swiss arbitration tribunal ruled in 2006 that Reiman is the true owner of a Bermuda-based fund that at one time controlled much of Russia's telephone industry. Reiman, a longtime associate of Putin, has denied any ownership of the IPOC fund, but the revelations have been seen as evidence of high-level corruption in the Kremlin.

Putin's major structural change was to split the ministry of energy and industry into two separate Cabinet positions. The move appears to reflect both the growing importance of oil and gas exports to Russia's budget and concerns that the country's industrial sector is underdeveloped, making Russia highly vulnerable to fluctuations in global energy prices.

Bolstering the economy and continuing its remarkable turnaround of recent years was one of the priorities listed by Putin when he presented himself as prime minister-designate to the parliament last week.

His move from the Kremlin to the Cabinet residence up the Moscow River allows him to remain a hugely influential figure in the country's politics and many observers have speculated he will end up overshadowing Medvedev.

"Medvedev has a very narrow set of choices and opportunities," said Oreshkin, the analyst. "He will accept the conditions Putin imposes on him and will not take steps that would spoil his image as (Putin's) successor."

Viewers who watched Monday's news on state-controlled television stations could get an impression that Putin was still at the helm.

He looked and sounded presidential when he discussed the Cabinet reshuffle with Medvedev in televised remarks.

"It was enough to see how Putin talked to Medvedev to understand who is the boss," commentator Anton Orekh said on Ekho Moskvy radio. "Putin was the main hero Monday."

Putin then was shown describing the structure of the new Cabinet in another lengthy footage which dominated news broadcasts throughout the day.

During the Cabinet session, he angrily scoffed at reporters who were dictating details of the reshuffle to their offices: "If you continue chatting so loud, we won't invite you any more."

Later in the evening, more Putin footage came from St. Petersburg, where he opened an exhibit of the art collection of the late cellist Mstislav Rostropovich in the Konstantin Palace.

Medvedev received significantly less air time Monday.