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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zubkov Shows Who's the Boss

With his brusque style and tough demeanor, Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov appears to have won few friends a month after taking the top seat at the White House.

He has become known for lashing out at his ministers at a moment's notice, raising questions about whether his behavior points to grandstanding or a desire to get things done.

At a weekly Cabinet meeting Thursday, Zubkov harshly confronted new Economic Development and Trade Minister Elvira Nabiullina after a lengthy and detailed presentation on management of the country's federal investments.

"You talked about control measures, but where and when will they be implemented? This must be done already, before the projects are developed," Zubkov shouted. "There must be documents! Don't just declare it to us, we must see documents."

Zubkov was plucked from relative obscurity a month ago to replace Mikhail Fradkov, who resigned in a government shake-up ahead of State Duma elections in December and the presidential vote in March.

"Unlike every other former prime minister, Zubkov came straight from the Soviet past, with a provincial bureaucratic style," said Nikolai Petrov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Zubkov headed a collective farm in Soviet times and started his political career by joining Putin's circle in St. Petersburg in the mid-1990s, eventually becoming head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service.

Battling corruption has become his cause celebre. Continuing his criticism of Nabiullina on Thursday, he slowed into a mumble to say, "Money, money, money must always be regulated."

Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, a Communist who sits on the Duma's Security Committee, said Zubkov had sought to score points by scolding rank-and-file officials and making headline-making but largely useless trips to the regions over the past month.

Ahead of a recent trip to Penza, local authorities forced markets to drastically lower prices, prompting widespread unhappiness among vendors, said Ilyukhin, who represents Penza in the Duma. He voiced doubt whether a half-day trip could bring tangible results. "His stint has been all about PR," he said.

This week, the Russian edition of Newsweek cited a Kremlin source as saying Zubkov's aggressive style was ruffling some feathers -- which might explain why the enormous press coverage Zubkov received after his surprise appointment has drastically subsided.

Yet Zubkov is still getting more airtime than his two first deputy prime ministers, Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev, who are believed to be in the running to succeed Putin in March.

From Aug. 1 to Oct. 10, Zubkov received 914 mentions on national television, which is state-controlled, compared with 551 for Ivanov and 379 for Medvedev, according to Medialogia, a media monitoring company. Zubkov also leads in print coverage, getting 1,448 mentions to Ivanov's 1,170 and Medvedev's 937 over the same period.

An aide to one of Zubkov's deputies defended the prime minister, saying some officials did not realize the vast amount of autonomy and responsibility that ministers enjoyed under Fradkov. "The role of the prime minister was that of a mediator," the aide said. Zubkov, on the other hand, is shifting gears and accumulating more power, he said. "I don't see anything bad about that, sometimes it could be helpful," he said. "It's just a different style of management."

Zubkov presided over Thursday's Cabinet meeting with steely eyes and a frown, breaking into a quick smile when it appeared no more ministers would approach Nabiullina with a question. That smile quickly faded when Medvedev broke in with a comment. Zubkov quickly cut him off. "Let's finish this up quickly," he said. "Time is flying away."

The Cabinet on Thursday approved investing 640 billion rubles ($25.7 billion) in state funds and firms this year, taking the sums from the federal budget and the oil-rich stabilization fund.

Nabiullina said 90 billion rubles would go toward infrastructure projects, including 15 billion for a fund to encourage high-tech venture capital projects. The Cabinet confirmed 130 billion rubles would go to set up the state nanotechnology firm, while 180 billion rubles was earmarked for Vneshekonombank.

Zubkov found one last thing to criticize, accusing the Cabinet of stalling on the construction of a St. Petersburg highway. "What is it taking so long? Is everything ready? No, it's not. The city is working, but the government isn't."