Old Faces Follow Putin to New Jobs

APPutin meeting Medvedev in the Kremlin on Monday. Putin always sat on this side of the desk when he was president.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin unveiled his Cabinet lineup on Monday, reappointing most key ministers and taking several powerful Kremlin allies with him to the White House.

President Dmitry Medvedev, who took over from Putin last week, quickly approved the candidates during a carefully choreographed meeting in the Kremlin. He said he and Putin had worked on the makeup of the Cabinet for the past two months.

State television showed Putin proposing the names to Medvedev while conspicuously seated at the same spot at the Kremlin desk that he occupied as president. Putin also announced the reshuffle to reporters.

"I would like to underscore the fact that we acted from a need to reinforce the performance and efficiency of the government and the potential of its staff by changing and optimizing the executive power structures," Putin said at a government meeting.

Among the major changes are the promotion of Igor Shuvalov, Putin's key economic aide in the Kremlin and Russia's Group of Eight sherpa, as one of the two first deputy prime ministers. Putin appeared to counterbalance the liberal appointment with the promotion of Igor Sechin, his powerful hawkish deputy chief of staff at the Kremlin, to the post of deputy prime minister.

Shuvalov will promote economic freedoms and oversee foreign trade, WTO talks, small business, state property and anti-monopoly policy, while Sechin will be in charge of energy and industrial policy, excluding the defense portfolio, the use of natural resources and environmental, technological and nuclear oversight.

Sechin's appointment brings the man believed to be the behind-the-scenes master of a Kremlin siloviki clan into the public spotlight for the first time. Sechin has Putin's ear and is thought to wield enormous influence among other senior officials. While in the Kremlin, Sechin stalled Putin's decisions and convinced him to reconsider key appointments, Russian Newsweek reported Monday.

Former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, plucked from obscurity last September to ensure a smooth Cabinet handover for Putin, was appointed the other first deputy prime minister. Zubkov, a former collective farm boss, will be in charge of the agriculture, fishing and forestry industries.

Along with Sechin, four other men were appointed deputy prime ministers. Sergei Sobyanin, who headed Putin's administration in the Kremlin, was named government chief of staff with the rank of deputy prime minister, while Deputy Prime Ministers Alexander Zhukov and Alexei Kudrin retained their posts.

Sergei Ivanov — a former first deputy prime minister who at one time appeared set to become president — was demoted to deputy prime minister. In what might be seen as a further snub, Putin at the government meeting introduced each of his new deputies and their roles with the exception of Ivanov.

The appointments appear to be in line with Putin's long-standing practice of balancing various interest groups while staying above the fray. Top liberals Shuvalov and Kudrin could provide balance against Sechin and Ivanov.

Sobyanin will oversee the division of power among the federal, regional and municipal levels of government, as well as legislative initiatives, among other things, Putin said.

Zhukov will spearhead government attempts to improve health, education and housing — known as the national projects — and oversee art, culture, tourism and sports, including preparations for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

Kudrin, who also kept the post of finance minister, will be in charge of socio-economic and monetary policies, the state budget and financial markets. Observers have linked Kudrin's political longevity to Putin's appreciation for his help when the future president first moved to Moscow from St. Petersburg. Putin slept on a cot in Kudrin's kitchen in his early days in Moscow, Vladimir Solovyov, a television celebrity close to the Kremlin, wrote in his recent book "Putin: A Guide for Those Interested."

Other new faces in the Cabinet are Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov, the former presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District who replaces Vladimir Ustinov; and Communications and Press Minister Igor Shchyogolev, the former head of the Kremlin protocol department who heads a new ministry.

IT and Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, whose name has been tainted in corruption scandals, lost his job, and his ministry was disbanded.

The Culture and Press Ministry was renamed the Culture Ministry, and Alexander Avdeyev, previously Russia's ambassador to France, replaced Alexander Sokolov at the helm. Vitaly Mutko, head of the Russian Football Union, was named the head of the new Sports, Tourism and Youth Ministry. The State Committee of Youth Affairs, headed by former Nashi leader Vasily Yakemenko, was folded into the ministry.

In a sign that energy will continue to play a central role in the country's economy, the Energy Ministry was created from the Industry and Energy Ministry. Its minister is Sergei Shmatko, head of Atomstroiexport, the country's nuclear power equipment and service export monopoly. Former Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko was named head of the new Industry and Trade Ministry, which took over the trade portfolio from the Economic Development and Trade Ministry. That ministry, in turn, was renamed the Economic Development Ministry, and Elvira Nabiullina kept her job as its chief.

In other changes, a new federal agency in charge of ties with the Commonwealth of Independent States has been set up on the basis of a department of the Foreign Ministry that dealt with those countries. Under Putin, relations with most of the country's post-Soviet neighbors have soured.

Medvedev appointed former Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin as his chief of staff. Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Federal Security Service's economic security division, was named the head of the FSB. Former FSB director Nikolai Patrushev was made the head of the president's Security Council.

Putin's key economic adviser, Arkady Dvorkovich, who reportedly had coveted a ministerial post, did not make it into the new Cabinet. Medvedev promoted Kremlin deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov to first deputy chief of staff and Alexei Gromov, formerly Putin's influential spokesman, as deputy chief of staff.

In a separate shuffle, Viktor Cherkesov, chief of the Federal Drug Control Service, was moved to the federal agency that procures weapons and military hardware, replacing Alexander Denisov. Cherkesov is thought to lead a siloviki clan at loggerheads with Sechin's group. The war between the clans spilled into the open last fall when Cherkesov said in an open letter that infighting was threatening national security.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov retained their jobs. Yury Trutnev kept his post as natural resources minister, while receiving a new portfolio to oversee the environment. Other officials who kept their positions were Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev, Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak, Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko, Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova, and Transportation Minister Igor Levitin.