Putin names tax chief as PM

Published March 2, 2004

MOSCOW, March 1: Russian President Vladimir Putin named an unknown former tax collector as prime minister on Monday just weeks before elections in a move analysts said showed indecision about the government's new course.

Mr Putin stunned observers yet again by appointing former tax chief and current European Union representative Mikhail Fradkov, 53, as prime minister. His nomination is expected to be approved by the pro-Kremlin parliament within days.

Analysts said the decision still left open the playing field for who might succeed Mr Putin after his second term runs out in 2008. His reelection is assured on March 14 and the prime minister's post was seen as the launching pad for the presidential successor.

But Mr Putin admitted that he faced "a difficult task" in naming a replacement for the deposed Mikhail Kasyanov - the last link to the government of former president Boris Yeltsin - and analysts said Mr Fradkov was likely to be a stand-in prime minister.

"We faced a difficult task - to present a new government," Mr Putin said during a televised meeting with his supporters from the State Duma lower house of parliament. "This had to be a person of very high qualification, one who is decent, who has solid experience in various government structures," Mr Putin said.

"The man is Fradkov, Mikhail Yefimovich, a minister who represents Russia at the European Union," Mr Putin said.

Putin fired his government on Feb 24 in an unexpected move that analysts saw as an election ploy to boost voter turnout during the presidential vote that has seen little public interest so far.

"No one could have predicted such a strange move from the president," said independent political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky. "As odd as it may seem, Fradkov is associated closely with the people who served in the Yeltsin era, so this is a very strange move by Putin," Piontkovsky said. "This is not Putin's man - this is not going to last long."

Television newscasters also appeared flabbergasted by the news. NTV television broke the news in its noon broadcast as a puzzled anchor said only that "Fradkov has been named."

The newscaster appeared stunned and said only: "This is all that we know at this time."-AFP

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