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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Uncertainty Over Gref's Position

Itar-TassGerman Gref and St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko on Saturday.
Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref could be on his way out, media speculated Friday, in the wake of hints by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov that the ministry could lose its trade portfolio.

Gref's press service refused to comment on the reports Friday, news agencies reported.

Kremlin officials are discussing a possible split of the ministry into two, one responsible for economic policy and the other for trade, but President Vladimir Putin has yet to make a final decision, Vedomosti reported Friday.

During Thursday's Cabinet meeting Fradkov commented vaguely about the possibility of creating a separate trade ministry. The remarks came after speculation that Gref had offered to resign last month, following Putin's decision to make the Federal Customs Service directly responsible to Fradkov rather than to Gref's ministry.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said he was not aware that Gref had offered to resign, Interfax reported Friday.

Fradkov and Gref do not appear to get along particularly well, at least in public. Fradkov has repeatedly blamed the liberal minister for failing to fulfill Putin's goal to double gross domestic product by 2010, while Gref has snapped back at Fradkov over economic policy. Gref has long been seen as a token liberal within the Cabinet as the government seeks to show the West that it is pursuing economic reforms.

"Gref isn't keeping up with his work responsibilities," Vedomosti quoted an unnamed Kremlin official as saying Friday.

It was unclear, however, whether any changes would take place in Gref's ministry ahead of the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg in July.

The trade portfolio was added to Gref's ministry in 2000 in a move that effectively left Fradkov, then trade minister, without a job.

At a time when Russia is pushing hard to join the World Trade Organization, a former senior ministry official said that trade issues were not receiving enough attention.