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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cabinet Hopefuls Waiting on Putin

Ministers rushed between their usual meetings Monday as they waited for word about whether they would keep their jobs in the next Cabinet.

If they were anxious, they didn't show it. Some of their aides said it wasn't worth speculating on what changes might be in store under new Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov.

"[Only] one person in the country knows," said one ministry official, referring to President Vladimir Putin.

It has proved impossible to predict appointments during Putin's seven years in office, and this time is no exception, the official said.

Putin, who surprised investors and pundits with his appointment of Zubkov last week, made no public comment about the Cabinet on Monday. He is scheduled to stay at his residence in Sochi until the end of the month.

The president said Friday that ministers who would like to work elsewhere should think about leaving now because those who made it to the new Cabinet would probably stay on after State Duma elections in December and the presidential vote in March.

Zubkov, who reportedly spent the weekend with Putin, made no public appearances Monday. He was confirmed as prime minister last week after heading a financial crimes watchdog for six years, and he has until Friday to announce the Cabinet lineup.

Political commentators said acting First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev were likely to continue with their work. Medvedev is in charge of the four national projects aimed at improving housing, agriculture, education and health care, while Ivanov oversees industry and technological innovation.

"We have a directive to continue our work," an aide to Ivanov said. He and several other officials interviewed for this report spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear for their jobs.

On Monday, Ivanov met with young scientists and cosmonauts to discuss the space industry. Putin and Ivanov are scheduled to attend an economic forum in Sochi on Friday, said the aide and a Kremlin spokeswoman.

Vedomosti, citing sources in the government, State Duma and business community, reported Monday that Medvedev could lose his ministerial post and replace Alexei Miller as CEO of Gazprom.

An aide to Medvedev refused to comment on the report. "I think we will wait for the situation to develop and see everything for ourselves," she said.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov also declined to comment.

Medvedev chairs Gazprom's board, and speculation has swirled that Miller wants to step down after being hospitalized with a kidney ailment last summer.

A senior official in the Economic Development and Trade Ministry said he was sure Minister German Gref would stay on. "This is related to the fact that the ministry has a lot of tasks that only Gref could tackle," he said.

He said the atmosphere at the ministry was "extremely businesslike." Only Vitaly Savelyev, one of Gref's five deputy ministers, was out of the office, on a previously scheduled vacation, he said.

Gref has not discussed his plans with the ministry's staff, said his spokeswoman Galina Bronnikova. On Tuesday, he is to meet with Opora, a lobby group of small and medium-size businesses, she said.

In early October, Gref is scheduled to visit the United States for talks with Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, another ministry spokeswoman said. "So far, those meetings have not been canceled," she said.

But Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst, said he expected Gref to be replaced by Putin's top economic adviser, Arkady Dvorkovich. "Gref has wanted to go for a long time," Markov said.

Dvorkovich, a young, Western-educated economist, has riled some Kremlin officials for speaking out against the legal onslaught on Yukos and its former chief, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

"Dvorkovich has minuses -- he answers to both Putin and the international economic consensus. When he has to chose, he chooses the latter," Markov said.

Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev on Monday met with Miller to discuss long-term Gazprom projects, including the Sakhalin-2 offshore oil project and planned involvement in shelf oil exploration, Gazprom said in a statement. Miller promised to submit a plan to develop the Kovykta gas field by the end of this year.

At the Industry and Energy Ministry, a spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Minster Viktor Khristenko would survive the reshuffle. Khristenko has been rumored as a possible replacement for former Transneft CEO Semyon Vainshtok, who stepped down last week. Vedomosti reported Monday that Khristenko could be tapped instead to lead state-run Rosneft.

News reports have said current Rosneft CEO Sergei Bogdanchikov may run for a Duma seat, representing Sakhalin.

Vedomosti said the Industry and Energy Ministry might be split into two, with the resulting energy ministry led by Denis Manturov, the former head of Oboronprom who was promoted to deputy industry and energy minister last week.

Nikolai Petrov, an analyst at Carnegie Moscow Center, said a second possible change was the addition of a new ministry devoted to foreign trade. That portfolio currently belongs to Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin.

Petrov said he did not expect many changes. "A radical reshuffle is pretty risky at a time when the government needs to keep control over the country," he said.

Investors said lingering uncertainty about the Cabinet could hit Russian markets. "Politically, it might not be bad to prolong the process, but for the markets, uncertainty is precisely what they don't want."

The RTS and MICEX stock markets have moved little in the four workdays since Mikhail Fradkov resigned as prime minister.

A Western banker, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak with the media, said he viewed most ministers as "replaceable."

Markov, the Kremlin-connected analyst, said Putin was in favor of replacing the liberals and siloviki with ministers with a more technocratic approach. He said Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov and Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev would be dismissed. Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who was appointed in February to replace Ivanov, could also be out, he said, adding, "He hasn't been received very well." Serdyukov, Zubkov's son-in-law, has cleansed the ministry of most of the senior officials who served under Ivanov.