updated 3/1/2004 12:43:20 PM ET 2004-03-01T17:43:20

President Vladimir Putin on Monday nominated Mikhail Fradkov, a former tax police chief who is Russia's representative to the European Union, to the post of prime minister.

Putin named Fradkov -- who had not been among those considered likely candidates -- during a meeting with leading lawmakers from the dominant pro-Kremlin party.

The president said in televised comments that the choice was "not a simple task" and that the nominee had to be a "highly professional, orderly person with good experience in various branches of state activity."

The nomination came six days after Putin surprised the nation by dismissing longtime Cabinet chief Mikhail Kasyanov less than a month before Russia's presidential election, which the incumbent is expected to win easily.

Putin's nominee is subject to approval by the Duma, but the legislature's support is not in doubt because the pro-Kremlin United Russia party holds more than 300 seats in the 450-member chamber. Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov said lawmakers would consider the nomination Wednesday.

Putin had been expected to fire Kasyanov after the March 14 presidential election. Some analysts said the ouster was timed to increase public interest and voter turnout.

At least 50 percent of eligible voters must cast ballots for the election to be valid, and the lack of a realistic challenger has turned the vote into a referendum on Putin's rule. While Putin is by far Russia's most popular politician, a low turnout would be an embarrassment and could throw his mandate into doubt.

Putin said Wednesday that his decision to dismiss the Cabinet before the election was motivated by a desire not to waste time wrangling over a new government after the vote and to expedite administrative reforms.

Kasyanov was named finance minister in 1999 and became prime minister after Putin was elected president in March 2000. He was seen as the last major holdover from the era of Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

Putin named Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko as interim premier, and the ministers dismissed last week -- aside from Kasyanov -- are to remain in their posts until a new Cabinet is formed.

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