#1 - JRL 7226
June 17, 2003
Yakovlev Gets a Top Post in Moscow
By Vladimir Kovalev
ST. PETERSBURG -- President Vladimir Putin appointed St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev as a deputy prime minister Monday and put him in charge of reforming the country's housing and utilities sector.
Putin, who has wanted to move Yakovlev out of the governor's office since he became president in 2000, has given Yakovlev an enormous task that few expect him to be able to fulfill.
"This is an acute problem, and none of us would envy a person in charge of this job," Putin said as he announced the appointment at a meeting of the State Council, a forum for regional leaders, in the Hermitage Museum.
If there were any doubt about the significance of the appointment, it was put to rest by Putin's beaming expression and Yakovlev's grim face as he stared at the floor.
In addition to the housing and utilities sector, Yakovlev also was put in charge of transportation and the construction industry.
His new position contains a deep element of irony in light of the criticism he has taken from the Kremlin for his administration's failure to do anything about St. Petersburg's deteriorating apartment buildings or to fix its roads.
Yakovlev will be replaced in the governor's office by his first deputy, Alexander Beglov, until elections can be held, now planned for September.
Valentina Matviyenko, Putin's envoy in the Northwest Federal District, is expected to run with the Kremlin's blessing.
Following Monday's meeting of the State Council, Putin met separately with Yakovlev, Matviyenko and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. He underlined that the full burden of the sector was being placed squarely on Yakovlev's shoulders.
"Those who are dealing with your sector may now reasonably say that it's no longer their problem," Putin told Yakovlev, Itar-Tass reported.
There had been much speculation in recent weeks that Putin was preparing a move for Yakovlev, even considering naming him ambassador to China.
"To be honest, I didn't think about it," Yakovlev said in an interview with Interfax on Monday. "We had to finish the preparations to celebrate the 300th anniversary."
He denied there was any trading involved. "The president himself proposed to me to get busy with this sector," he was quoted as saying.
There has been no love lost between Putin and Yakovlev -- who both served under St. Petersburg's former mayor, Anatoly Sobchak -- since Yakovlev defeated Sobchak in the 1996 elections.
Mikhail Amosov, head of the communal services commission in the Legislative Assembly and leader of the Yabloko faction, said Yakovlev was not the right man for this job.
"It surprises me that Yakovlev is leaving to take a position in communal services because this area is not in the best of states in the city, and in the years of his activity nothing has been done to it," Amosov was quoted by his press service as saying Monday.
"It would not be efficient to bring the St. Petersburg experience to the national level. It would perhaps even be dangerous."
Anatoly Kravtsov, who was ousted from his post as speaker of the Legislative Assembly in 1998 after a dispute with Yakovlev, also questioned Putin's methods.
"It is for the better for St. Petersburg that he has left," Kravtsov said in a telephone interview Monday. "But it is for the worse for Russia's communal services. This is one of those decisions that undermines the authority of the government. They should have retired him."
Vladimir Yeryomenko, a member of the Legislative Assembly who used to belong to the pro-Yakovlev United City bloc, said it was clear that the governor was being pushed aside.
"If [in Soviet times] an official that had to be removed from politics was often appointed to oversee agricultural areas, now Yakovlev has been given such a hard position that it will obviously lead to his fall. I won't be surprised if in a year's time he is fired for not fulfilling his obligations."
Boris Nemtsov, the leader of the Union of Right Forces, agreed that Yakovlev may fail, but said he is only a "temporary figure" who is unlikely to survive in any case if a new government is formed after the State Duma elections in December, Interfax reported.
Putin has made a vague promise to base the next government on the parliamentary majority.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov praised Yakovlev as an "experienced manager who knows the problems [of the housing sector] well," but said he doubted he would be able to succeed in what his party sees as a poorly performing government.