updated 3/9/2004 1:01:58 PM ET 2004-03-09T18:01:58

President Vladimir Putin completed a Cabinet shuffle Tuesday, naming U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov foreign minister and reappointing most of his key ministers.

Putin also slashed the number of ministries in the top-heavy government from 30 to 17. The changes, made just before presidential elections Sunday that Putin is almost certain to win, could be a bid to strengthen his popularity further by showing that he wants to reduce red tape.

Some news outlets and analysts had criticized Lavrov’s predecessor, Igor Ivanov, for taking a hawkish stance toward the West and giving too much support to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and other leaders who were considered international pariahs.

Ivanov, who had been foreign minister since President Boris Yeltsin appointed him in 1998, had long been rumored on the way out. He was named the secretary of presidential Security Council.

Lavrov, 53, is a career diplomat who had served as Russia’s U.N. ambassador since 1994. He is popular among his colleagues and the reporters, and he speaks English fluently.

The appointment was part of a Cabinet shuffle after last month’s dismissal of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who was replaced with Russia’s envoy to the European Union, Mikhail Fradkov.

Putin reappointed key members of the former Cabinet, including Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, Economics Minister German Gref and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu. Acting Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev was named to the post permanently.

While the old Cabinet had several deputy prime ministers, the new one only has one, former lawmaker Alexander Zhukov.

Viktor Khristenko, who had served as deputy prime minister in charge of the fuel and energy complex, was named fuel and energy minister, succeeding Igor Yusufov. Alexei Gordeyev retained the job of agriculture minister but lost the rank of deputy premier.

Putin also named his first deputy chief of staff, Dmitry Kozak, as the Cabinet’s chief of staff.

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