Interros Sees Putin Ally as Norilsk Boss

Vladimir Potanin, Norilsk Nickel's largest shareholder, has offered an old ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin the post of CEO at the world's largest nickel miner, an official said Tuesday.

The appointment of Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former KGB official who heads the Federal Tourism Agency, would secure state support for Norilsk as it plans to create a global mining giant by merging with other metals producers.

"We believe projects of such magnitude cannot happen without state support," said a representative of Interros, Potanin's investment company, which owns around 30 percent of Norilsk.

Strzhalkovsky, 54, has headed the tourism agency since 2004. From 1980 to 1991, he worked for the KGB in the Leningrad region. Should he accept the offer, Strzhalkovsky's appointment could be expected at a board meeting Aug. 8.

"He has the full range of qualities necessary: experience in state service, government links. It's not right to call him a state official; he is a pioneer of Russian business," the Interros representative said.

He would replace Sergei Batekhin, who has been in the job for just over a week following the election of a new board. Batekhin is likely to remain as first deputy chief executive.

"Having Putin's friend in charge of the company makes it more likely nothing bad will happen, at least from the government side," said a market observer, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.