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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zubkov Lays into Outgoing Cabinet

ReutersViktor Zubkov greeting Sergei Ivanov at his first Cabinet meeting Thursday.
Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov stamped a headmasterly authority on his first Cabinet meeting Thursday, harshly dressing down a minister for missing a Kremlin deadline and warning the others against slackness.

And in a departure from the more verbose style of his predecessor, Mikhail Fradkov, Zubkov -- a former Soviet collective farm boss -- sternly barked out instructions that one "comrade" official should be dispatched to the island of Sakhalin until earthquake victims got their compensation.

Proceedings took on an almost theatrical air at the meeting -- the only one before a widely anticipated Cabinet shake-up is announced by this weekend -- as Zubkov lashed out at two acting ministers over fishy business at the country's ports.

"Who dared to correct the president's instructions?" Zubkov demanded from acting Transportation Minister Igor Levitin. "What's the matter?"

Reacting to Levitin's proposals to develop the country's seaports, Zubkov said he had missed a deadline set by President Vladimir Putin for July 2006. Levitin disagreed from his podium.

Putin appointed Zubkov as prime minister last week in an effort to prevent the government from slowing down in the face of State Duma elections in December and presidential vote in March. Zubkov went out of his way to show on Thursday that he would not let the ministers spin their wheels.

His speech appeared as straightforward and commanding as Fradkov's had been long-winded and sometimes confusing.

"In some areas, we have managed to move ahead, while in others the work has slowed down or halted completely," Zubkov grimly told the acting ministers as he read out from prepared opening remarks. "I want to remind you about your personal responsibility."

He then lashed out at the government for dragging its feet over the disaster relief efforts on Sakhalin, which was hit by an earthquake Aug. 3. Six days later, the federal government allocated funds for the cleanup and construction of apartments for the 8,000 people left homeless, but the Finance Ministry only wired the first portion of the money Wednesday.

"What's the matter? Why hasn't the money arrived there yet?" Zubkov said, clearly irritated. "Who is in charge at the financial department?"

When the official, Anton Drozdov, stood up, Zubkov rejected his explanations and told acting Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin to send "comrade" Drozdov to the remote island Monday and "keep him there until people get their money."

"I want to warn everybody here to attend to their business more seriously," Zubkov said, concluding his outburst.

Levitin said at a news conference after the meeting that the Kremlin had agreed to move back the deadline for the port development measures. The delay was because the ministry needed to draw up a bill to implement them, and that bill is now going through the Duma, he said.

Before transferring money to Sakhalin, acting Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said at the same news conference, his ministry was expecting the Regional Development Ministry and the Emergency Situations Ministry to say how much construction needed to be done there and how many people would need subsidies to buy apartments elsewhere in the country.

Another issue that irked Zubkov at the Cabinet meeting was suspected shadowy operations at the country's seaports. Levitin said ports leased their piers to stevedore businesses for no longer than 11 months, while the standard practice internationally is for 20-year leases. Short-term leases breed "murky deals," Levitin said, without elaborating.

Zubkov, until last week the head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, a money-laundering watchdog, cut in. "This is not the only thing that's murky," he said. "There are a lot of murky things [about ports]."

"Is [German] Gref here? Oh, he's not," Zubkov said, referring to the acting Economic Development and Trade Minister, who was in Sochi to oversee final preparations for the investment forum there. Putin is due to address the forum Friday.

Zubkov then pointed out that fishing boats do not sell their catch in Russia but sail to foreign ports. Blame fell on acting Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev.

"That's a reprimand for you," Zubkov told Gordeyev. "You are responsible for fish."

Another official who came in for Zubkov's criticism was Federal Customs Service chief Andrei Belyaninov. Customs officers at ports, Zubkov said, should work around the clock -- like ports -- to speed up clearance of goods.

Zubkov held his fire when it was the turn of Kudrin, his former boss at the Finance Ministry, to report on an anti-money laundering bill.

"It's an OK bill," he said. "I propose that we approve it."

Despite the stern atmosphere around the table, there was a moment when Zubkov smiled. He and acting First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev were shown laughing heartily after Zubkov acknowledged that he had pronounced the word "stevedore" incorrectly.

Medvedev, apparently adopting a "the-boss-is-always-right" expression, said, "Actually, you can say it either way."

n United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov said Thursday that the party had asked Zubkov to fire acting Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, acting Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev and acting Culture Minister Alexander Sokolov.

He mentioned Gordeyev as one of four ministers that he saw as sure to retain their jobs.