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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Return of Putin's Fix-It Man

In bringing Dmitry Kozak back to Moscow, President Vladimir Putin has found a new assignment for his favorite troubleshooter.

Putin not only named longtime confidant Kozak regional development minister but also expanded the ministry's functions and transferred a number of multibillion-ruble projects to its jurisdiction.

"This shows that Kozak is in for another challenging mission -- revamping federally subsidized regions, including reforming the utilities sector," said Alexei Makarkin, senior analyst at the Center for Political Technologies. "He's in for the long haul."

Speaking on Channel One television Tuesday, Kozak said the agency's new powers would help it "ensure the development of all of Russia's regions."

Although Kozak, who had been serving as Putin's envoy to the Southern Federal District, has been mentioned as a possible successor to Putin, Makarkin said he was an unlikely presidential candidate.

"Kozak is someone Putin can give a specific task and know he will do his best to accomplish it," Makarkin said. "But I would be very cautious in discussing the probability of him running."

Makarkin said reforms to the heavily subsidized utilities sector would mean price hikes that, while sorely needed, would be very difficult to implement and be very unpopular with the public -- not the best background for a candidate.

A federal government official close to Kozak said flatly that Kozak would not run. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said Kozak would concentrate on applying his experience in the Southern Federal District to making progress in "financial, technological and other spheres of regional policy."

One initiative Kozak proposed during his 2004 to 2007 tenure was the introduction of direct presidential rule in regions that are net recipients of federal funding.

The official said the media had exaggerated the severity of the measure and that Kozak "will continue to encourage regional financial self-sufficiency" in his new job.

Putin named Kozak to the Southern Federal District post in the wake of the 2004 Beslan hostage-taking crisis, and he played a leading role in defusing tensions in a region that is home to long-standing interethnic hostilities.

Part of the process involved replacing some of the most ineffective and geriatric regional leaders, with new figures put in place in North Ossetia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygeya. Most recently, in February, Ramzan Kadyrov was elevated from prime minister to the president's office in Chechnya.

Kozak also convinced Putin in September to give him oversight over the allocation of federal funding in the south, providing him with greater leverage when trying to get local administrations to introduce much-needed economic and social reforms.

Prior to his stint in the south, Kozak tackled a number of difficult projects at the federal level, with varying degrees of success.

He was the author first of judicial and then of administrative reforms, while working in the presidential administration and government from 1999 to 2004. The judicial reform went far in liberalizing criminal legislation and legal administration. The administrative reform ultimately floundered and has effectively been reversed.

Like many key figures in the federal establishment, Kozak worked with Putin in the St. Petersburg administration under Mayor Anatoly Sobchak in the 1990s. Like Putin, he is a graduate of the St. Petersburg State University law school.