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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Medvedev Takes His Cabinet Seat

Itar-TassMedvedev entering the room for Thursday's Cabinet meeting ahead of Zhukov and Fradkov. Ivanov is already seated.
He may have been chosen to sit at the right hand of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, but during his first, four-hour Cabinet meeting on Thursday Dmitry Medvedev did not say a word.

In his new incarnation as first deputy prime minister, Medvedev -- who until Monday's government shake-up was President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff -- listened to routine discussions about health care and other matters, but refrained from commenting or asking questions.

The appointments of Medvedev and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was also made a deputy prime minister in the shake-up, are being seen as a sign that the two are possible candidates to succeed Putin in 2008.

Questions about the effect that Medvedev's switch to the Cabinet might have on government policy were left unanswered Thursday, but his appointment could lead to a reduction in Fradkov's powers, and a shift in decision-making from the presidential administration to the White House government headquarters.

Fradkov told the meeting that his new deputies would be focusing on coordinating ministers' work.

"We have come across a serious problem, which is that ministers cannot reach agreement among themselves," Fradkov said.

During the meeting, Medvedev could be seen studying the decor of the Cabinet room and occasionally whispering something into the ear of his colleague, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov, who had been bumped over one place at the table to make way for Medvedev.

The other effect of the game of Cabinet musical chairs was to make way for Ivanov, who sat on Fradkov's left to complete the troika at the top of the table.

By moving next to Fradkov, Ivanov appeared to have displaced Cabinet chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin, and possibly Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, who was absent Thursday because he was accompanying Putin on a visit to Turkey.

The center of gravity in the leadership could shift along with Medvedev, as neither his successor as Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Sobyanin, nor his former subordinates in the presidential administration would dare to boss Medvedev around, said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank.

"For some time, the decision-making center will shift from the presidential administration to the White House," Pribylovsky said, adding that this might last only until Sobyanin gained enough weight to influence the Cabinet.

Steven Dashevsky, head of research at Aton brokerage, said that Medvedev's management skills could help the government to improve work on key reforms.

"In his capacity as Gazprom chairman and as head of the presidential administration, Medvedev has proved himself a talented administrator with a good understanding of economics and the law. The financial community is hopeful that his arrival at the Cabinet will revive the reform process," Dashevsky said.

Putin said Monday that work on his recent initiative to inject an extra $4 billion into health care, housing, education and agriculture should be spearheaded by the government. Medvedev, as a senior Cabinet member and first deputy chairman of Putin's committee to oversee these projects, would be in charge of this work, Putin said.

Medvedev's other Cabinet responsibilities, however, have not yet been spelled out.

If Medvedev's focus is on these spending projects, his influence on the government's overall performance will not be that visible, said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies.

The projects account for only 3 percent to 5 percent of the Cabinet's spending, and Fradkov will continue to oversee the rest, Makarkin said. Fradkov's position could be slightly weakened, but he will not be sidelined completely, Makarkin said.

Working on Putin's spending projects, however, could help Medvedev to accumulate political capital. Until the shake-up, Medvedev was largely out of the public eye and unknown to the general public.

"If Medvedev handles this spending well, we might be able to speak about his influence expanding to other issues," Makarkin said, adding that if he were successful Medvedev could then replace Fradkov as prime minister.

Staff Writer Oksana Yablokova contributed to this report.