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Russia approves Putin's choice for PM
Updated: 2004-03-06 09:27

Russia's parliament overwhelmingly approved Vladimir Putin's surprise choice for prime minister Mikhail Fradkov after he vowed to streamline the government ahead of the president's certain re-election next week.

Russia's parliament overwhelmingly approved Vladimir Putin's surprise choice for prime minister Mikhail Fradkov after he vowed to streamline the government ahead of the president's certain re-election next week. [Agencies]
The State Duma lower house of parliament on Friday approved the former tax police chief in a 352-58 vote that once again demonstrated the Kremlin's dominance over the once-recalcitrant chamber. There were 24 abstentions.

He officially assumed his duties and began to draft a slimmed-down government after meeting with Putin after the vote.

Fradkov is widely seen as a technocrat without serious political ambitions who will take orders directly from the Kremlin and make sure the government does not try to alter or fight the president's policies.

Putin stunned Russia on Monday by nominating him after abruptly firing the government of Mikhail Kasyanov in a move that was widely predicted -- but expected to come only after the president wins reelection to a second term on March 14.

Kasyanov was a powerful figure who had headed the cabinet since 2000. He was one of the few politicians who dared to openly challenge Putin and stand up for the interests of big business that the Kremlin has recently been trying to curb.

Putin's new choice raised eyebrows and the Russian market took a momentary dive before recovering and setting new highs.

The pudgy and balding 53-year-old who made his career by quietly climbing the Soviet political ladder and most recently served as Russia's representative in Europe said Friday he planned to slim down government in a bid to cut back bureaucracy.

"We are not inventing anything new here, we just have to work harder on restructuring the economy," he told the chamber minutes before his confirmation.

"We will not have many ministries. Everybody will have to be more active at work."

But Fradkov offered no clear policies. He said he wanted economic growth to speed up and for the government to be accountable before the people.

Lawmakers said that Fradkov's main duty would be to introduce "administrative reform" by imposing a new chain of command on the Russian leadership.

Some media suggested that he will create two super new "super ministries" -- one to be in charge of the economy and industry and the other to oversee transportation and other communication issues.

"We are taking our first steps toward administrative reform, which we have been debating for the past five years," said top pro-government deputy Vladimir Pekhtin.

Western investors were cheered by Fradkov's announcement that he would select Alexander Zhukov -- a widely respected economic expert who has briefly studied at Harvard University Business School -- as his only deputy.

Zhukov is a known figure who has served in parliament for 10 years, spending half the time pushing through reforms while heading the Duma's budget committee.

But economists stressed that cutting down on the number of ministries alone would not improve the investment climate.

"A more serious point is that any reorganization of the government structure, however apparently radical, would achieve little if not accompanied by the underlining reform of reducing bureaucratic powers and overhauling the civil service," the United Financial Group investment house said in a research note.

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