Press: Pick Lets Putin Tighten His Grip

President Vladimir Putin's surprise nomination of a low-profile bureaucrat as his new prime minister is intended to strengthen his already nearly absolute power, newspapers said Tuesday.

"The president's message is quite clear -- he is assuming even more powers and is going to decide things by himself," Vedomosti wrote about the nomination of former Tax Police chief Mikhail Fradkov.

"The first reaction to his name was shock. Many participants initially thought it was a joke," Izvestia said.

Fradkov, 53, a foreign trade expert who has served as a government minister twice, slipped out of the list of 100 most influential politicians two years ago when the Tax Police was disbanded. He was then sent to Brussels as Russia's envoy to the European Union.

"When people heard his name they started asking each other Mr. Who?" Izvestia said.

Most newspapers felt Fradkov was a bureaucrat with few ideas of his own -- an impression bolstered by the man himself, who said after his appointment that he would follow the president's lead.

"Fradkov is not a policymaker but rather a conduit of someone else's policy. And there is no need to guess who will set down that policy," wrote the official government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

Some newspapers said the previous Cabinet was the last semi-independent branch of power after Putin ousted influential regional bosses from the Federation Council and replaced them with loyal figures.

The Duma came fully under the control of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party in December elections.

"With the government, Putin applied the same techniques as he did in the Duma and the Senate," Izvestia said.

"The government will be a technical one. As one high-ranking bureaucrat remarked, 'If you supply the government with a clear task, it does not matter who heads it.'"

Putin has said his choice of a new prime minister would demonstrate to voters his plans for a second term, which he is expected to easily win March 14, and give Russia a team capable of reaching an economic breakthrough.

The popular tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets said the appointment of Fradkov pointed toward a major change in politics, with the government relegated to a secondary role.

"All this means Russia no longer needs a government. The president will guide the Cabinet personally," it wrote.

"It looks like he is the only member of the team gearing for a breakthrough," the paper said of Putin. "In fact we are witnessing a unique experiment -- whether one man with absolute power can manage a huge country like Russia on his own."