MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin named a new Cabinet on Monday that retained some of the outgoing government's key figures but added a few fresh faces, cementing his grip on power as he begins his third presidential term.
Putin, who has ruled Russia for more 12 years, kept the foreign, defense and finance ministers, but replaced some of the most unpopular Cabinet members. The dismissals, however, do not necessarily mean that they have been completely purged from officialdom. Russian media are speculating that some could get other senior jobs.
Putin, who won a third term in March's election, said the new Cabinet led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev should continue the course set in previous years and he warned the ministers they would be working in a stormy global environment.
"The situation in the global economy is unclear; there are quite a lot of factors that make it opaque," Putin said in televised remarks to the new Cabinet. "You will have to fulfill a program of Russia's development in these conditions."
Medvedev stepped down as president to allow Putin to reclaim the top job. Putin spent four years in the premier's seat after serving two consecutive terms due to a constitutional term limit, but he remained the nation's No. 1 leader all along.
Many key members of the old Cabinet have retained their seats, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov. First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov has clung to his seat despite a controversy over his investments and wealth.
Opposition lawmaker Ilya Ponomarev said that Shuvalov's political survival shows that Putin is willing to stand by his loyalists no matter what the public has to say about it.
"It's a signal all the way down: We don't surrender our men," Ponomarev tweeted. He added that new figures in the Cabinet wouldn't be able to change anything.
"New faces, old policy," Ponomarev said.
Vladislav Surkov, the architect of Putin's domestic policies who was transferred to the Cabinet last fall, also has retained the position of a deputy prime minister.
Igor Sechin, Putin's longtime aide who oversaw the oil and gas sector as a deputy prime minister, has lost his seat but is widely expected to retain his influence and continue overseeing top energy projects from behind the scenes.
Some of the most unpopular ministers, including those who were in charge of health, education, and interior affairs, have left the Cabinet. Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, who has faced massive public criticism over widespread incidents of torture and other abuses by police, has been replaced by Moscow police chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev, who has won some praise for his willingness to listen to criticism.
Tatyana Golikova, who has been seen as a culprit for the worsening state of the nation's healthcare system amid a reform widely seen as badly planned and ill-guided, has been replaced by her deputy, Veronika Skvortsova. The highly unpopular former Education Minister Anatoly Fursenko was succeeded by Dmitry Livanov, the rector of the Moscow Steel University.
Putin, who has a record of keeping his lieutenants in government service despite public criticism, is widely expected to give the former ministers new senior positions in his administration.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who has studied the Russian elite, said on Ekho Moskvy radio that some of those ousted would likely get "new, interesting job proposals" from Putin.
Amid the new faces in the Cabinet were Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, who in the past were linked to tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team. Prokhorov came in third in Russia's presidential elections, winning liberal votes on the wave of massive protests against Putin's rule, but then left the political scene, apparently reluctant to challenge Putin.
Novak recently served as a deputy finance minister, while Golodets was deputy mayor of Moscow.
The new minister of culture, Vladimir Medinsky, who succeeded the soft-spoken former diplomat Alexander Avdeyev, is a member of the main Kremlin party, United Russia, and has become known for his patriotic books praising Russia's achievements.
"His appointment apparently means that the Ministry of Culture should become the Propaganda Ministry," Marat Guelman, a gallery owner and a popular blogger, said on Ekho Moskvy.
Some of Medvedev's key allies also have taken seats in the new Cabinet. His economic advisor, Arkady Dvorkovich, has been named a deputy prime minister and Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov has kept his seat. Mikhail Abyzov, who oversaw Medvedev's efforts to broaden his support base, has been named the minister in charge of relations with the so-called "Open Government," an effort by Medvedev to offer the public more input in discussions of state affairs.