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New Russian Prime Minister Confirmed In Office

Zubkov addressing parliament today (ITAR-TASS) September 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Russian State Duma today overwhelmingly confirmed Viktor Zubkov as prime minister.

The lower house, dominated by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party and other allies of President Vladimir Putin, voted 381-47, with eight abstentions, to endorse Zubkov.

In remarks to lawmakers prior to his confirmation, Zubkov -- who had served as the head of a government body tasked with fighting money laundering -- urged the Duma to pass new legislation to battle graft and vowed to set up an anticorruption task force.

"Corruption permeates our society, so, of course, measures should be taken as soon as possible," he said. "First of all, we need to adopt a law on corruption because, while we talk a lot about corruption, there is no clear definition of what corruption is and how to fight it."

Zubkov also said that "it is time for personnel changes" in the government and singled out the so-called "social bloc," which is headed by acting Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, for criticism.

"Of course, there are many problems now in the social sector," he said. "People are unhappy. And, of course, we will take measures and make personnel changes. It is necessary, and we will take such measures."

Zubkov also said he plans to personally oversee key economic ministries, including the Finance Ministry and the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, although he did not directly criticize Trade Minister German Gref or Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin.

Zubkov also pledged to continue Putin's economic policies and strengthen Russia's defense industry.

"Another strategic goal is the development of our military-industrial complex," he said. "There are budget resources allocated for that purpose. What is important now is to use them efficiently and competently, and to ensure control over spending."

Zubkov's approval comes two days after the previous prime minister, Mikhail Fradkov, resigned on September 12.

Putin was widely expected to nominate First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who is seen as a front-runner to succeed Putin as president. But the president shocked Russia's political elite by proposing the little-known Zubkov, a longtime St. Petersburg ally who had served as the head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service.

The change comes in the run-up to Russia's election season. The country is due to hold parliamentary elections in December and a presidential vote in March 2008. Much of Russia's political elite is expecting Putin, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in office, to name his preferred successor prior to the presidential election.

Zubkov has not ruled out running for president in March 2008.

Speaking at a roundtable discussion in Sochi today, Putin called Zubkov's comment about running for president "reasonable."

"[Zubkov] didn't say he was going to run [for president]. He said he didn't rule out that possibility. And I think this is a reasonable and calm response," Putin said. "It's difficult to talk about it now, it's true, there's work to be done, particularly now, in the rather difficult period before and during the Duma elections. And after that, it will become clear."

By law, Zubkov has seven days to name a government.

What The Experts Say

What The Experts Say

"I think what [Putin's] doing is he's clearing out the government of all potentially independent minded ministers and putting in place a guy who's extremely loyal to him and who also has a lot of dirt on everyone else." -- Michael McFaul of Washington's Carnegie Endowment and Stanford's Hoover Institution.

"It is completely possible that this is a signal that all that we thought was completely certain in terms of how things will develop is mistaken. It is a signal that there is no certainty about how things will develop in Russia." -- Maria Matskevich of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Sociology.

"We are probably looking at a government that will be transitional and which will be handed over to a successor who will be named later." -- Andrei Ryabov, a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center.

"The fact that Putin comes up with something unexpected is not necessarily a sign of great cunning and political acumen. It could well be a sign that the man is as anxious and indecisive and perhaps even panicky as some analysts -- myself included -- would suspect." -- Paul Quinn-Judge, a Russia analyst and former Moscow correspondent for "Time" magazine.

"Who will be his successor? That's for Putin to decide. It could be [First Deputy Prime Minister] Sergei Ivanov, it could be [First Deputy Prime Minister] Dmitry Medvedev, it could even be the head of Russia's railways [Vladimir] Yakunin. But I think that whoever it is, this is a signal that the president is making his choice." -- Yevgeny Volk, the director of the Heritage Foundation.

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