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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Cabinet Seen Bolstering Putin's Power

Far from being just a cosmetic makeover, President Vladimir Putin's government reshuffle has further cemented the Kremlin's power ahead of crucial elections by packing the Cabinet with loyalists, politicians and analysts said Tuesday.

The new government, announced late Monday, has just three new faces amid a minor reorganization of ministerial responsibilities.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that the president's political clout had risen with the new government, stressing that Putin's influence was strong but constitutional.

"The influence of the president on the Cabinet is at a very high level but always appropriate," Peskov said, adding that Putin would naturally expect "energetic work" from the government.

But the reshuffle boosts the number of Putin loyalists in the government, said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist with the Russian Academy of Sciences who tracks Russian elites.

"In authoritarian Russia, the transition of power is an inevitable crisis, and Putin needs a united and mobilized team in the Cabinet," Kryshtanovskaya said.

This explains the replacement of Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev with Dmitry Kozak, Kryshtanovskaya said. While Kozak is a longtime Putin ally, Yakovlev had been a bitter rival of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, Putin's patron in St. Petersburg City Hall in the 1990s.

Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, the third Cabinet member to lose his job, was a convenient scapegoat to boost Putin's image before upcoming State Duma and presidential elections, Duma deputies said.

Communist Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin said Zurabov had long been under fire for ongoing shortages of prescription drugs that hit the country's elderly and poor especially hard.

"The Communists had demanded Zurabov's removal for more than a year," Ilyukhin said. "The president could have done it long ago, but he waited for this opportunity."

Earlier this year, pro-Kremlin party United Russia joined the Communists in criticizing Zurabov, grilling the minister during a Duma session in May.

"It is very important that those who were unpopular and whose work was questioned by the parliamentary majority have been replaced by more professional and better-prepared people," Duma Deputy Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, of United Russia, said in a statement Tuesday.

Duma Deputy Alexander Lebedev of the pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party called Zurabov a "public irritant" who had to be removed before Duma elections in December.

Ousted Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref was another weak card for Putin, analysts said.

Gref had already attempted to resign this year, Kryshtanovskaya said. Lebedev said the minister had hinted that he wanted to give up politics for business.

"Gref also often acted as a market ideologist, but what Putin wants in his Cabinet members now are quiet executioners of his own strategies," said Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the Indem think tank.

This may explain why Putin chose women to replace Gref and Zurabov, Korgunyuk said.

Tatyana Golikova, wife of Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, replaced Zurabov, while Gref was replaced by his former deputy, Elvira Nabiullina.

"Women are traditionally more industrious and punctual, thus Putin is establishing a rather technical role for the heads of these important ministries," Korgunyuk said. "They are outstanding experts in their fields, especially Golikova, who insiders say knows thousands of figures from the Russian budget by heart."

St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko said the promotion of two women to Cabinet posts was very important. "Previously everybody said we did not have enough qualified women to work in the government. But they exist," Matviyenko said, Interfax reported.

Women are now showing that they can -- and should -- govern in various spheres, Matviyenko added.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov offered a less enthusiastic endorsement of the new female ministers.

"It is not bad that they are women," Zyuganov said in televised comments.

The only structural changes in the new government included the establishment of a fifth deputy prime minister post, assumed by Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, as well as the creation of the State Fisheries Committee and the State Committee for Youth Affairs.

n Oleg Markov, deputy head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, has been appointed to replace new Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov as head of the agency, Interfax reported Tuesday, citing a high-placed source.