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Financial Times (UK)
June 17, 2003
Putin eases the way for pro-Kremlin candidate
By Andrew Jack

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, yesterday named one of his long-standing political rivals to a senior cabinet position, easing the way for a pro-Kremlin candidate to be elected as governor of St Petersburg.

Following a special meeting of parliamentarians in St Petersburg, Mr Putin said Vladimir Yakovlev, the city's current governor, would become one of the federal government's six deputy prime ministers, in charge of housing utilities, construction and architecture.

The appointment continues a pattern of high-profile nominations by Mr Putin during his period in office, where he has preferred to find face-saving new jobs for those he wants to remove. This reflects both the limits of his own power and the absence of alternative strong candidates.

It comes despite Mr Putin's open criticism of Mr Yakovlev, who beat the late Anatoly Sobchak, Mr Putin's political mentor, to the governorship in 1996. Mr Yakovlev won re-election, and continues to wield strong influence in the city.

In recent months Mr Putin appointed Yevgeny Nazdratenko, former governor of the Primorsk region in Russia's far east, first as head of the State Fisheries Committee and then as a deputy head of the State Security Council.

Boris Makarenko, deputy director of the Centre for Political Technologies, a Moscow consultancy, said: "It is not in Putin's style to send a man packing without a severance fee."

However, he stressed that utility reform would prove a difficult challenge for Mr Yakovlev, who may clash with Anatoly Chubais, the tough manager in charge of UES, the state electricity monopoly. Mr Chubais recently assumed the additional mandate of reforming much of the utilities sector.

Mr Makarenko added that Mr Yakovlev's own mandate could also be short, since it would be subject to confirmation by parliament next April.

In the meantime it opens the possibility of a more pro-Kremlin candidate to compete for the governorship of St Petersburg, Mr Putin's native city. He recently named Valentina Matvienko as his presidential representative for the region, and she is already being discused as a likely replacement.

Analysts argue that Mr Nazdratenko remains a powerful, popular and well-connected figure in the far east, who could risk running for governor against the Kremlin's wishes, and win.

He often played on nationalistic fears, whipping up sentiment against the fast-growing Chinese population just across the border. He also stood out against any plans to return the contested Kurile Islands to Japan.

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