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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fradkov Quits, Replacement a Surprise

Itar-TassPrime Minister Mikhail Fradkov visiting the offices of the Federal Tax Service on Wednesday. He later handed President Vladimir Putin his resignation.
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov abruptly resigned Wednesday and President Vladimir Putin nominated a relatively unknown technocrat to replace him.

Putin's nomination of Viktor Zubkov, head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, further muddies the waters about who will succeed him as president. Putin had been widely expected to fill the post of prime minister with his preferred successor.

Fradkov announced his resignation during an afternoon meeting with Putin, explaining that his decision was connected to "important upcoming events in the country," referring to State Duma elections in December and the March presidential vote.

Putin immediately accepted the resignation.

"You are right, we must all think together to build a power structure that better corresponds to the pre-election period and prepares the country for the periods after the parliamentary elections and after presidential elections," Putin told Fradkov in televised comments.

Fradkov, 57, was shown on NTV television visiting a city tax inspectorate Wednesday morning, ahead of his meeting with Putin. The news anchors said Fradkov looked distracted during his visit to the inspectorate.

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov announced the president's choice of Zubkov, 65, hours after Fradkov's resignation

Zubkov was to meet with Duma deputies Wednesday, and the lower chamber is to vote to approve him for the post Friday, Gryzlov told reporters.

A government reshuffle ahead of the elections had long been expected, though politicians and analysts had predicted Fradkov's successor would be someone along the lines of Sergei Ivanov or Dmitry Medvedev -- both first deputy prime ministers and seen as the top candidates to succeed Putin.

Dmitry Astakhov / Itar-Tass
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov offering his resignation to President Putin in the Kremlin on Wednesday afternoon.

Putin himself was appointed prime minister in 1999 by President Boris Yeltsin and became acting president 4 1/2 months later.

Zubkov's nomination is consistent with Putin's policy of elevating old friends and colleagues to senior posts: He served as Putin's subordinate at St. Petersburg City Hall in the early 1990s.

But it adds no clarity into the intense speculations over who will be the next Russian leader, analysts said.

"I don't see any logic in this reshuffle so far, because the issue of a successor remains as cloudy as it was before," said Sergei Mikheyev, of the Center for Political Technologies.

Putin's behavior confuses voters who want to know for certain the president's preferred successor, best demonstrated by appointing him prime minister, Mikheyev added.

Opinion polls consistently show voters are prepared to support Putin's handpicked successor, regardless of who it is.

"The only explanation that comes to my mind is that Putin is just postponing the time when he becomes a lame duck and may be watching closely and taking notes of how possible candidates react to his seemingly senseless decisions," said Yury Korgunyuk, of the Indem think tank.

Putin said on his visit to the United Arab Emirates this week that he would keep up vigorous work until the very end of his term, just like a professional hockey player. "We know how real professionals play to the last second," Putin said, Interfax reported. "I will work like that myself and will do my best to make sure that all ministers, the government and the administration work the same way."

Viktor Zubkov
Zubkov's nomination could be meant to send a signal to elites that the Kremlin is increasing its control over their financial activities ahead of the elections, political analyst Dmitry Orlov said.

Zubkov has a reputation as an apt financial controller, having participated in Putin's crusade against some of the country's richest businessmen in the first few years of his presidency.

Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov addressed this aspect of Zubkov's nomination, telling reporters that he possesses "the deepest knowledge of the financial condition of any Russian company, any organization and any bank."

"It is a very important toolkit, very important knowledge that will help solve tasks posed by the president," he said.

Zubkov, who will turn 66 on Sunday, will likely be a temporary figure, analysts said. After turning 66, senior state servants must receive special approval from the president to remain at their posts.

A spokeswoman for Zubkov, Alina Burkina, declined to comment Wednesday evening, saying her superiors had ordered her "not to comment on anything."

Little could be gleaned from other stakeholders in the shake-up.

"Fradkov has made a decision, the president has made a decision -- comments are not appropriate here," Pavel Zenkovich, a spokesman for Ivanov, said by telephone shortly after Fradkov's resignation was announced.

Later, Ivanov said in televised comments that he knows Zubkov well as a professional and described him as an "perfectly competent" man who has worked his entire life "without making any noise and kicking up dust."

Neither Medvedev nor his spokespeople, who were traveling in Cheboksary, could be reached for comment.

The third deputy prime minister, Sergei Naryshkin -- seen by some political analysts as a second-tier candidate to succeed Putin -- told journalists Wednesday that he would continue his duties and was not considering any employment outside the Cabinet, Interfax reported.

Ivanov predicted that the Duma would approve Zubkov for the post, and Gryzlov and Liberal Democratic Party head Vladimir Zhirinovsky both said he would receive support from an overwhelming majority of deputies, Interfax reported.

With Fradkov's resignation, the entire Cabinet is formally made up of acting ministers, and there has been speculation that certain ministries -- including the Health and Social Development Ministry -- could be axed when the new Cabinet is formed.

Staff Writer Natalya Krainova contributed to this report.