Putin names new ministers

Russian president Vladimir Putin named a new economics and health minister and retained the current foreign and defence ministers today, ahead of crucial parliamentary and presidential elections.

The re-shuffle comes just over a week after Viktor Zubkov, an obscure cabinet official overseeing a money laundering investigation, became prime minister in a move that surprised most Kremlin experts and sparked speculation about Mr Putin’s intentions.

Mr Putin said in televised comments that economics minister German Gref - considered a progressive reformer for Russia’s economy – had been replaced with his first deputy, Elvira Nabiullina. Health minister Mikhail Zurabov was replaced by finance ministry official Tatiyana Golikova.

Both are unpopular among leftist politicians and large sections of Russian voters.

Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov retained his post and Mr Putin rejected the resignation of Anatoly Serdyukov, who Mr Zubkov announced last week would resign because he is married to Zubkov’s daughter. Putin also promoted finance minister Alexei Kudrin, giving him more responsibility as deputy prime minister.

The announcement ended a period of baited expectation. Most news media and Kremlin watchers – who were already caught off-guard by Mr Putin tapping Zubkov to be premier some 10 days ago – had expected an announcement about the new government on Friday, when Zubkov and Putin met at the president’s Black Sea resort home.

Today, many Russian media camped out at the government’s main building, known as the White House, for much of the day and most were relegated to speculating about the government’s new composition for hours.

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