Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted his command of Russia on Monday with a new Cabinet in which trusted allies will oversee finance while tested veterans keep tight reins on foreign affairs and defense.
However, a top liberal aide of Putin’s predecessor, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, also claimed a key industry post after a reportedly bruising battle with some of the more hawkish members of the administration.
The moves mean that Putin will have a closely faithful government run by his understudy Medvedev that can pursue cautious reforms, but may ultimately have to leave most of the big decisions to the president’s team in the Kremlin.
Putin gathered his 29 ministers and deputy premiers around an oval table and somberly informed them about the mission they faced in restoring the record growth rates of his first two terms as president in 2000 to 2008.
“The situation the world economy finds itself in today is uncertain. There are a lot of uncertainty factors,” Putin said in televised remarks.
The ex-KGB spy and Medvedev completed a controversial job swap that will stretch Putin’s domination until at least 2018 and was one of the primary triggers for recent street protests in Moscow.
Many of the faces in Russia’s new Cabinet featured in the outgoing one in some capacity, while seven former Cabinet ministers were given top posts in Putin’s Kremlin administration.
Putin made trusted ally Igor Shuvalov the sole first deputy prime minister in the Cabinet, while Medvedev’s former adviser Arkady Dvorkovich was promoted to deputy prime minister.
The RIA Novosti news agency said that Shuvalov would be in charge of macroeconomic issues, while Dvorkovich would have responsibility for the industrial and manufacturing sector, including most notably Russia’s crucial energy industry.
“This is a technical Cabinet. It is not a government of breakthroughs,” former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin said.
The finance ministry brief went to its current holder Anton Siluanov while Putin’s seasoned policy aide Andrei Belousov was named the new economic development minister.
Putin also reappointed the long-serving Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov while replacing his scandal-tainted interior minister, Rushid Nurgaliyev, with Moscow police chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev.
Russia’s current energy czar Igor Sechin — viewed as one of Putin’s most powerful and trusted colleagues — left Medvedev’s Cabinet, but is still expected to keep broad influence over industry and future oil and gas deals.
Sechin and Dvorkovich have clashed previously over the pace at which Kremlin-controlled banks and industries should be sold off to private investors in a bid to stimulate Russia’s stalling growth.
Dvorkovich will be filling Sechin’s shoes in the government, but may end up having his control over the sector limited by a lack of direct access to Putin.
“For now, all of our decisions are made by just one man,” former economy minister Yevgeny Yasin said in reference to Putin.
The new Cabinet features just two women — one in charge of social affairs and the other health — in what Putin called a disappointment.
“Unfortunately, there are not too many women, but they are there,” he said.
The government’s makeup had been kept under wraps for two weeks in an unusual departure from the earlier practice of instant appointments.
The delay has provided Putin with an excuse for skipping a G8 summit hosted by US President Barack Obama last week — a move the Kremlin insisted was not a slight for Washington’s criticism of Russia’s record on rights issues.