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Key posts unchanged in new Russia government

/ Source: The Associated Press

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reshuffled the Russian government Monday in his first major action since leaving the Kremlin, bringing in some high-profile figures from his presidency but leaving prominent ministries unchanged.

The hawkish Sergei Ivanov, once seen as a possible successor to Putin as president, was named deputy prime minister — a step down from his previous position as first deputy premier.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin retained their posts.

The ministry of energy and industry was split into two separate Cabinet positions, the most major structural change to the new government.

Oil, gas exports seen as key
The move reflects both the growing importance of oil and gas exports to Russia’s budget and concerns that the country’s industrial sector is underdeveloped, making Russia vulnerable to energy price fluctuations.

Putin last week said that his priority as prime minister would be to bolster the economy, continuing its remarkable turnaround of recent years. He relinquished the presidency on Wednesday after two terms as required by the Constitution.

His protege, Dmitry Medvedev, took over and within hours nominated Putin as prime minister.

Putin’s move from the Kremlin to Russia’s White House — the seat of the Russian Cabinet — allows him to remain politically influential, and observers have speculated he will end up overshadowing Medvedev.

Putin announced his appointments after meeting with Medvedev on Monday, a session that appeared to be more of a protocol meeting than a consultation.

“I have presented the government’s program of priorities, and the support I received from members of parliament last week allows us to move forward in tight contact with the parliament members,” Putin said, referring to the overwhelming approval vote he received to become prime minister.

Eight new appointments
In all, Putin announced 24 positions, eight of them new.

Among the new appointments were Igor Sechin and Igor Shuvalov. Sechin, formerly Putin’s powerful deputy chief of staff, will have oversight of industrial development programs as a deputy prime minister, and apparently will remain chairman of the state-controlled oil company Rosneft.

Shuvalov, meanwhile, will be one of two first deputy prime ministers. He was a top Putin policy aide who attained prominence when Russia hosted the Group of Eight summit in 2006.

Also Monday, Medvedev named Nikolai Patrushev, head of the KGB-successor Federal Security Service, as head of the Russian security council.

Alexander Bortnikov, formerly the head of the agency’s economic security division, becomes the new head of the service known by the initials FSB.

The corruption-tainted telecommunications minister, Leonid Reiman, was not reappointed. A Swiss arbitration tribunal ruled in 2006 that Reiman is the true owner of a Bermuda-based fund that once controlled much of Russia’s telephone industry.

Reiman, a longtime Putin associate, denied any ownership of the IPOC fund, but the revelations have been seen as evidence of high-level corruption in the Kremlin.