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Russia: Putin Reshuffles Government

  • Sophie Lambroschini

Moscow, 28 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin today made sweeping changes in his cabinet, saying his focus on the law-enforcement ministries was meant to advance plans for military reform. Putin said the changes were prompted by what he called a changing situation in Russia's North Caucasus region and a need to "demilitarize" Russian public life:

"As you see, in key positions in the military bodies, civilians are appearing. This has been done deliberately. It is a step toward the demilitarization of Russian society."

Among the changes was the shift of Sergei Ivanov from head of the Security Council to Defense Minister. Putin said today that Ivanov headed a special working group that has been studying military reform.

Ivanov, now technically a civilian, served 20 years as an officer in the security services, and worked for Putin when the latter was head of the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

Ivanov is considered one of Putin's closest allies in the government. Appointed to the Security Council at Putin's suggestion when Putin was himself prime minister, Ivanov came to play a much more public -- and apparently influential -- role than his council predecessors, even traveling alone in an official capacity to the United States and France earlier this month.

Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo was tapped to replace Ivanov as head of the Security Council. Putin said the council will be focusing increasingly on the North Caucasus.

Outgoing Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev has been moved to a position as Putin's adviser on strategic stability. Putin thanked Sergeyev for his work, particularly in fighting "Chechen separatism" and gave him a state award.

Speculation about Sergeyev's ouster has gone on for months, ever since he was perceived as losing a public row with General Staff head Anatoly Kvashnin over military reform. Sergeyev was a staunch opponent of cutting strategic armed forces for the benefit of conventional forces.

Deputy Finance Minister Lyubov Kudelina, a specialist on the financing of armed forces, was named Deputy Defense Minister -- the first woman to be named to such a senior defense post.

Boris Gryzlov, a leader in the pro-Kremlin Unity Party and a St. Petersburg native like Putin, was named Interior Minister. Apart from helping to build a solid support base for Putin in the lower house of parliament, Gryzlov's political biography is very short -- beginning only in 1999 with his election to the Duma.

Boris Nemtsov -- head of the Duma's Union of Right Forces, which has often been critical of Putin -- applauded Gryzlov's appointment as "the realization of plans to appoint a civilian as head of the Interior Ministry."

Nemtsov, however, points out that Gryzlov's position may be relatively weak because of his lack of experience with the ministry. Putin himself hinted at this, saying civilians like Gryzlov being promoted to ministerial posts would be accompanied by officials with more experience:

"Added to the fact that civilians have been appointed to lead these bodies, in each of these cases, professionals are coming with them."

Security Council official Vladimir Vasilyev, for example, was re-appointed to his former post as Deputy Interior Minister.

Debates over demilitarizing the Russian Defense Ministry have been going on for several years, pushed by liberal forces in Russia as a way of imposing civilian control over the army and Interior Ministry troops.

Other shakeups included Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov's resignation and replacement by Aleksandr Rumyantsev, the head of the Kurchatov military-industrial research institute. Adamov was the only official in the reshuffle to lose his post without being immediately re-appointed somewhere else.

Nemtsov said Adamov's resignation could be seen as an attempt to compromise the Atomic Energy Ministry after recent corruption allegations were leveled against him by the Duma.

Putin also named Mikhail Fradkov the new chief of the federal tax police, in addition to appointing new commanders of ground and space forces. The president said other personnel changes are forthcoming.

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