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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Prepares Cabinet Revamp

With a reshuffle of the "power" ministers behind him, President Vladimir Putin is planning a major reform of the rest of the Cabinet this spring, according to reports citing government and Kremlin sources.

The reform, judging by press reports, would reduce the number of ministries and the number of deputy prime ministers, and could change the very way the government functions.

Last Wednesday, Putin replaced the defense and interior ministers with his loyalists. He also named a new Security Council secretary, Tax Police chief and nuclear power minister.

Attention now has turned to the fate of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and the ministers in the so-called economic bloc.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who also is a deputy prime minister, said Friday that any changes would be part of the overall restructuring of the government, Interfax reported.

The Vedomosti newspaper, citing an unnamed government official, gave specific figures for Putin's planned reform, saying the president intended to cut the number of deputy prime ministers from five to two, and the number of ministries and federal agencies from 58 to 40.

But more important than the cuts would be changes in the way the government functions that would give more authority to the ministers. Interfax cited a highly placed Kremlin official as saying they would become "independent and responsible" political figures, as opposed to their current role as bureaucrats who have to get approval for every project from the deputy prime minister overseeing their ministry.

The ministers' independence would be limited only by the "general political line established by the president and the government," the Kremlin official was quoted as saying.

In the current government, ministers are "technical executives," working under the political guidance of deputy prime ministers, who in turn consult the prime minister, said Mikhail Krasnov, an analyst with INDEM, the Center for Applied Political Studies.

Krasnov took part in a Kremlin-sponsored team that last year developed a strategy for reforming the executive branch of power, and said he sees many elements of their work in the reported reform plans.

"It's essential to give the ministers the conditions to make independent decisions and take political and personal responsibility for the outcome," he said Friday by telephone. "They shouldn't be consulting the prime minister or his deputies on every step."

The Kremlin-connected Strana.ru web site said the reforms may be officially announced at the end of the month, with any real changes starting in May. The president was planning to introduce the subject of Cabinet reform in his state-of-the-nation speech on Tuesday, but changed his mind and "took a time-out," the web site said.

Vedomosti said the delay was caused by a conflict within the executive branch, with the prime minister, some of the ministers and the presidential administration disagreeing on how the general reform should be implemented.

The Segodnya newspaper, however, speculated Saturday that Putin may announce changes in the Cabinet's economic team within a day or two after Tuesday's speech

Strana.ru said the aim of Putin's planned reform is to merge ministries and at the same time divide the Cabinet into three main groups consisting of the economic, social and power agencies.

According to Vedomosti's sources, the president is likely to keep the power agencies under his personal supervision, leaving the others to the prime minister. The prime minister, in turn, is likely to give control over the social agencies to one of his deputies, keeping the economic agencies under his personal control.

This economic bloc might contain quite a few "super ministries" built by merging existing ones, the newspaper said.

Obvious candidates for mergers, according to Vedomosti, are the Energy Ministry and Nuclear Power Ministry, and the Transport Ministry and Railroad Ministry, now headed by Nikolai Aksyonenko, who was close to former President Boris Yeltsin's inner circle known as the Family.

Vedomosti speculated that four of the six existing state committees might be abolished, including the Fisheries Committee headed by former Primorye region Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko, who has been dogged by allegations of corruption.

The two exceptions, the paper said, might be the state quality certification agency Gosstandart and the State Customs Committee, which might see their status upgraded to federal "services."

With the future shape of the government still up in the air, there has been relatively little speculation on possible personnel changes.

Andrei Ryabov, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, however, said the president has a whole range of potential prime ministers to choose from, depending on the economic strategy he decides to pursue.

If Putin decides on a radical liberal course, he will need a "kamikaze" like Anatoly Chubais, Ryabov said in an opinion piece published Friday in Segodnya.

If Putin decides on a more moderate course, "then he couldn't find a better candidate than Sergei Stepashin," a former prime minister who now heads the Audit Chamber.

Another analyst, Dmitry Orlov, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies, assessed Kasyanov's chances of keeping his post at "fifty-fifty."

Kasyanov is considered close to the Family, which was weakened in last week's Cabinet reshuffle.

Kasyanov also is seen as the one who misjudged Russia's foreign debt situation earlier this year, forcing the State Duma to reconsider the 2001 budget in order to be able to pay its debts to the Paris Club.

"Still, it would be difficult for Putin to find a replacement," Orlov said. "For him it's simpler to keep Kasyanov for the time being, and besides, it's more in his style."