Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zubkov Made Prime Minister

The State Duma on Friday overwhelmingly approved Viktor Zubkov as prime minister after he showered lawmakers with populist promises to fight corruption, increase pensions, rebuild the defense industry and boost the country's economy.

Duma deputies voted 381-47, with eight abstentions, to confirm Zubkov, who was plucked out of relative obscurity for the post by President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday after Mikhail Fradkov abruptly resigned.

"I am grateful to the president for his trust and will try to justify it," Zubkov said in his opening words to the Duma, some two hours before the vote.

Putin subsequently signed a decree Friday officially appointing Zubkov, the Kremlin said on its web site.

Zubkov worked with the president in St. Petersburg City Hall in the early 1990s and had headed the Federal Financial Monitoring Service for the past six years.

By law Zubkov now has a week to form his new government, which must then be approved by Putin.

Addressing the Duma on Friday, Zubkov promised a shakeup to address popular discontent with underperforming officials.

Zubkov did not name names. But when pressed by United Russia deputy Andrei Isayev, who expressed his dissatisfaction with Health and Social Development Minister Zurabov, among others, Zubkov said: "Staff changes are needed, and relevant measures will be taken."

But it appears Zubkov has no intention of steering the next government from the political course of the previous one. He said the previous government's course "was correct" but that "its execution was worthless."

"I believe our priorities should be the strategic targets and programs of concrete actions set out in the president's state-of-the-nation addresses in the past few years," Zubkov said.

A new government task force is needed to battle endemic corruption, Zubkov said, citing the financial monitoring agency he headed up as a model.

Other priorities will be to "boost the defense industry complex" and a "rational use of natural resources" using the "most advanced technologies in the world," Zubkov said.

"Russian oil and gas, forests, fish and other natural riches should bring more revenue," he said, though he did not elaborate.

Maintaining employment levels, increasing financial support for small towns and increasing pensions will be among the primary goals in the social sphere, as will tackling the country's demographic crisis, Zubkov said.

He wrapped up his speech to the Duma by outlining financial goals, including reducing inflation, preventing sharp fluctuation of the ruble and "finding ways to reduce taxes."

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov congratulated Zubkov after his confirmation, and Vladimir Pekhtin, a United Russia deputy, said in a statement that state budget spending would "undoubtedly" become more effective under the new prime minister.

The Communists were the only faction to vote against Zubkov's confirmation, while the Rodina-Patriots of Russia faction abstained.

"We will vote against your candidacy because you have agreed to toe the old [political] line, and there's no future for Russia under the old line," Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov told Zubkov and lawmakers before the vote.

Sergei Glotov, deputy head of the Rodina-Patriots of Russia faction, said his faction would abstain "because we want to know what the policy of your government will be in reality."

On Wednesday, Putin left it to Gryzlov to announce that Putin had nominated Zubkov.

The next day Putin offered a vague explanation of his surprise decision, saying there was a need to upgrade "the government system to avoid hitches related to big shakeups and to show that administrative and executive powers are being developed after the elections."

A government reshuffle ahead of State Duma elections in December and the March presidential election 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.

Zubkov's address to the Duma was an attempt to explain to the public why Putin chose him to replace Fradkov, said Sergei Mikheyev of the Center for Political Technologies.

"We are being told that we will have more a socially-oriented government, which may, in fact, be true," he said.

Zubkov's emphasis on fighting corruption is a signal to elites that he will not be a malleable technocrat under Putin and, perhaps, beyond, said Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

"The tons of damaging evidence collected by Zubkov in his years at the Federal Service for Financial Monitoring could turn into a strong platform should he run for president," Petrov said.