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Russian President Names Ministers, Cuts Ministries

Prague, 9 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin today announced appointments and other changes to the new government led by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov.

Putin reappointed most of the key ministers from the previous government under Mikhail Kasyanov, whom he sacked last month.

But the Russian president surprised some by appointing a new foreign minister, United Nations envoy Sergei Lavrov, to replace Igor Ivanov, who had held the post since 1998. Ivanov, who had come under criticism for his strident anti-Westernism, was appointed head of the presidential Security Council.

Other major appointments included former lawmaker Aleksandr Zhukov as deputy prime minister. Dmitrii Kozak, the former first deputy chief of staff, was promoted to cabinet chief of staff.

The Russian leader said the new appointees will remain in their posts after the 14 March presidential elections, which Putin is widely expected to win. Russian law technically requires the president to dissolve his cabinet after elections. "According to the constitution, after 14 March, the cabinet will have to go through resignation procedures. However, for the cabinet now being presented, it will purely be a formality," Putin said. "I hope we will spare our country the long and harmful period of distributing bureaucratic seats and dividing ministerial portfolios, which might seem inevitable after the election of the head of state."

Putin also slashed the number of cabinet ministries from 30 to 17 and reduced to one the number of deputy prime ministers. The significant cutbacks are an apparent attempt to show his electorate he is determined to pare down an overweight and inefficient government.

"The ministries themselves are being notably enlarged and strengthened. But the main goal, of course, is not to merge the ministries artificially, but to eliminate duplication and to combine logically functions that were previously scattered and uncoordinated -- to make the new ministries more effective and influential," Putin said. He also vowed the newer, sleeker government will deliver new policies and implement reforms.

Not all observers were impressed by the changes. Russian political analyst Andrei Piontkovskii says the new government very much resembles the old one, and that radical policy shifts do not seem likely. "In regards to the economic bloc, all the key figures -- [Finance Minister Aleksei] Kudrin, [Economy and Trade Minister German] Gref, [Industry and Energy Minister Viktor] Khristenko -- remain in place," he said. "As for the so-called 'power' block [of the Defense, Interior and Foreign ministries as well as the security services], it has no real connection to the government. That's presidential turf. It is worthy of notice that the foreign minister has been replaced. But that has been expected for the past four years. In brief, the presentation of the new government today reinforced my belief that the whole act of [dismissing the government] on 24 February was aimed only at Kasyanov's removal."

Piontkovskii also says the new cabinet under Prime Minister Fradkov will play a purely transitional and technical role and help lay the ground for the ascent of a new Russian leader. "Putin has openly declared that he is going to groom a successor. It is clear that Fradkov is not a successor," he said. "This government will have to take up urgent and quite unpopular measures -- housing, pension and health care reforms. Then, closer to the next elections it will be replaced by a new government. And this [current] one will be blamed for all problems, and all of the population's dissatisfaction will be diverted to it."

Many observers speculated that Putin's dismissal of Kasyanov's government heralded a true house-cleaning -- and that a new cabinet would usher in strong strategic reforms. But Piontkovskii says this seems far from the truth. "The staff issue [in the government] is closed. All the seats have been distributed. Their number has been reduced from 30 to 17," he said. "But it is an eternal process, ever since Soviet times. The government is periodically reduced but then it inevitably expands."

Putin is running against five candidates in the 14 March vote. A sixth challenger, Ivan Rybkin, withdrew from the race a week before the ballot.

The new Russian government is as follows:

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov
Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov
Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin
Energy and Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev
Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref
Natural Resources Minister Yurii Trutnev
Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov
Culture and Information Minister Aleksandr Sokolov
Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko
Justice Minister Yurii Chaika
Transport and Communications Minister Igor Levitin
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Aleksei Gordeev
Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu
National Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov
Cabinet chief of staff Dmitrii Kozak