Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kremlin Reshuffle: Same Faces, Different Chairs ; Acting President's Jan. 10 Cabinet Changes Point to Continued Influence

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kremlin Reshuffle: Same Faces, Different Chairs ; Acting President's Jan. 10 Cabinet Changes Point to Continued Influence

Article excerpt

With an eye toward Western creditors and the March 26 presidential vote, Acting President Vladimir Putin reshuffled his Cabinet this week.

Analysts say Mr. Putin is putting a fresh face on a stale situation and trying to distance himself from his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, who resigned unexpectedly on New Year's Eve. Others say Putin is shoring up his already near guaranteed election. Some domestic media have begun to report embarrassing setbacks in the Russian military campaign in breakaway Chechnya, a major source of Putin's popularity.

"His only aim is to do something to win the presidential elections," says Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "After that we will see his true colors."

But Kremlin watchers say the Jan. 10 shakeup is largely window dressing and should not alter policy much. The sidelining of former senior Kremlin official Pavel Borodin - under investigation in Russia and Switzerland for alleged bribery - gives the appearance of a cleaner slate for voters tired of widespread corruption. And by promoting Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov - an English-speaking technocrat who has led Russia's debt negotiations with Western creditors - to first deputy prime minister, Putin seems to be indicating that tackling Russia's economic morass is a top priority.

For the most part, however, the same faces remain. And as Putin himself has said, the new lineup is only temporary - until the vote. "There is not a single new name added. I'm sure there will not be any serious changes in the government's work," said Boris Nemtsov, a former Kremlin insider who is a leader of the Union of Right-Wing Forces, a party sympathetic to Putin. He was quoted in Moscow's Sevodnya newspaper.

Various analysts believe Putin, a former KGB spy with no experience in government before Mr. Yeltsin appointed him prime minister in August, wants to present himself as a legitimate leader who could bring stability and restore prestige to Russia. He is heavily favored to win the ballot - but in Russia's mercurial politics, nothing is certain.

Political analyst Petrov predicts the continued influence of the Yeltsin clan, despite the ousting of Mr. …

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