Moscow, 1 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin today nominated Mikhail Fradkov as the country's new prime minister.
Putin made the announcement during a meeting in the Kremlin with parliamentary officials.
"We faced a difficult task," he said. "We had to propose to the country a candidate to head the government of the Russian Federation. This was supposed to be a man of high professionalism, a decent man who has good experience in the different areas of state activities. I'm pleased to announce that we have agreed on Mikhail Yefimovich Fradkov, the Russian Federation's representative at the European Commission, who carried the rank of minister."
Putin, who dismissed Mikhail Kasyanov from the prime ministerial post last week (24 February), praised Fradkov as having broad experience in economics, law enforcement and fighting corruption, as well as in management structure and administrative reform.
The Duma, or lower chamber of parliament, will begin discussions of the nomination on 5 March. It has a week to approve or reject the nomination.
Following Putin's announcement today, Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov said the pro-presidential United Russia party -- of which Gryzlov is a member -- will support Putin's nomination.
United Russia holds 68 percent of the seats in the Duma. Gryzlov said that Fradkov suits the requirements of the post and will be able to spearhead reforms: "Mikhail Yefimovich is an economist, a lawyer; he wrote a dissertation on economic matters. Today, I believe he has all the necessary abilities to head a government which will carry out strategic reforms in our country."
Fradkov, 53, has a long career with Soviet and Russian foreign-trade organizations.
A graduate of the Moscow Machine-Tool Building Institute and the Foreign Trade Academy, Fradkov speaks English and Spanish and has served in India, Geneva, and -- most recently -- Brussels.
In 1992 he was appointed deputy minister of foreign economic relations, and rose to head the ministry in 1997-98. He also headed the Trade Ministry in 1999-2000 in the governments of Sergei Stepashin and then Putin.
As Putin's special representative to the EU, Fradkov supervised relations with the bloc, which represents Russia's main trade partner.
European Commission spokesman Reijo Kemppinen said today in Brussels that Fradkov's appointment as Russian prime minister may help boost relations between Russia and the EU: "In our view, this is a positive signal of the importance that Russia attaches to her relations with the European Union. Mr. Fradkov has deep knowledge of the EU and his appointment will certainly facilitate contacts and understanding between us."
Kemppinen also said Fradkov enjoyed solid relations with EU representatives during his time in Brussels: "During the months when Mr. Fradkov was here as the ambassador from Russia, the relations between him, the [European] Commissioners, and also the President [Prodi], were truly excellent."
Other EU officials tell RFE/RL that Fradkov has a solid understanding of Europe and EU procedures, and can bring this understanding into the Russian government at a crucial time.
If the Duma approves Fradkov's nomination, relations between the EU and Russia are almost guaranteed to improve.
Among the most important aspects of the relationship is the EU's position on Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization -- an issue Fradkov has been involved with since 1991-92, when Fradkov was representing Russia at the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade talks.
Under Putin's presidency, Fradkov has moved from first deputy secretary of the country's Security Council to director of the Federal Tax Police Service before taking the Brussels post.
Putin dismissed Mikhail Kasyanov's cabinet less than three weeks ahead of presidential elections he is largely expected to win.
During a week of active speculation on the president's new choice for the head of the government, one Putin aide warned the press that the candidate would be a surprise for the experts as well as the public.
Former Russian Economic Minister Yevgenii Yasin, who heads the Liberal Initiative Foundation and the Moscow Institute of Experts, says Fradkov may have been nominated precisely in order to take everyone by surprise: "I know Mikhail Yefimovich. He is quite an intelligent, well-educated person, a qualified administrator, etc. But I personally have never seen him come up with ideas, generate initiatives, and so on and so forth. And evidently that is not required from him."
Putin has promised that, if reelected, the new government's aims will include a wide range of strategic reforms.
(RFE/RL's Russian Service and Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas contributed to this report.)