Ustinov's Ouster May Be a Loss For Siloviki

As part of Monday's government shakeup, President Dmitry Medvedev named Alexander Konovalov, the presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District, to replace Vladimir Ustinov as justice minister, in a move that appeared to further undercut the influence of the so-called siloviki.

Medvedev announced Konovalov's appointment at the same Monday meeting of the Security Council where he replaced Federal Security Service head Nikolai Patrushev with Alexander Bortnikov. While Patrushev was appointed secretary of the council, Ustinov, who had served as prosecutor general and justice minister for some eight years, received no new position.

Both Ustinov and Patrushev have been key members of the siloviki, a group within the government comprising former and current top security and law enforcement officials. The group is headed by Igor Sechin, who had been deputy head of the Kremlin administration before his appointment as deputy prime minister Monday.

Konovalov, a 39-year-old native of St. Petersburg, takes over the running of a ministry that coordinates the activities of the Federal Registration Service, Federal Court Marshals Service, Federal Agency for Registering Real Estate and the Federal Prison Service.

Like both Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Konovalov hails from St. Petersburg and graduate of the St. Petersburg State law department. He and Medvedev later taught at the school at the same time.

"The president pays serious attention to law and to the fact that the Justice Ministry is to provide the legal basis of state administration," Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov told Interfax. "Therefore, the ministry has now been assigned to a graduate of the St. Petersburg State University who is well known to Dmitry Medvedev."

Prior to his assignment to the Volga Federal District in 2005, Konovalov worked as a prosecutor. He served as St. Petersburg deputy prosecutor for less than two months before being named chief prosecutor of the republic of Bashkortostan in February 2005. In contrast to Ustinov, Konovalov managed to maintain a relatively low profile in office. Ustinov, for example, proposed allowing the authorities to detain relatives of terrorists as a "counter-hostage-taking measure" and that prayer rooms should be opened at every Prosecutor's Office.

The Justice Ministry and those agencies under its purview supervise prisons, exercise oversight over notary and lawyers' services and ensure the enforcement of court decisions. It is also responsible for the registration of property transactions and nongovernmental organizations.