Fri, Sep 14, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Zubkov holds talks ahead of vote



Members of the youth wing of the Yabloko political party theatrically burn themselves in protest at the recent Russian government reshuffle in Moscow on Wednesday. The sign reads: ''No successors, or burn in hell!''


Russian President Vladimir Putin's surprise choice as prime minister held talks with lawmakers yesterday before a parliamentary vote on his confirmation, which is virtually assured in Russia's tightly controlled political system.

Putin nominated Viktor Zubkov on Wednesday after dismissing Mikhail Fradkov, who had headed the Cabinet since 2004. The State Duma, the loyal lower parliament house that often acts as a rubber stamp for Kremlin policies, is expected to approve the choice today.

Zubkov, a member of Putin's inner circle who has spent the last six years overseeing investigations into suspicious financial transactions as the head of the agency charged with fighting money-laundering, was widely praised by members of the dominant pro-Kremlin party United Russia after his nomination was announced.

But while his confirmation is a foregone conclusion, Putin's nomination of a virtual unknown ahead of crucial elections muddied Russia's political waters, amplifying questions about the popular leader's plan for his country and himself.

Putin said on Wednesday that he needed to appoint a government better suited to the campaigns for December Duma elections and the March presidential vote, in which he is constitutionally barred from seeking a third straight term, and to "prepare the country" for life after the elections.

Just how, though, he left unclear -- likely deliberately, to demonstrate that he is in control and to leave him room for maneuver as he prepares to step down.

The nomination ignited speculation over Zubkov's role: whether he is Putin's favored successor or a caretaker prime minister, perhaps to be replaced closer to the presidential vote.

Some saw his appointment as signaling Putin's intention to retain control over the country even after he steps down.

Others have speculated that his caretaker role could extend into the presidency, which would allow Putin to return in 2012 or sooner.

Putin has strongly suggested that he plans to retain some measure of influence after he leaves office, and has not ruled out a presidential bid in 2012.

"Zubkov is 65. If he does become Putin's successor, it will likely be for only one term. Then Putin will say, `I am ready to return to the presidency,'" Communist lawmaker Viktor Ilyukhin said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Zubkov met separately with the top parties in parliament, behind closed doors and amid tight security.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said his faction, with more than 50 votes, would vote against Zubkov. But a simple majority of 226 votes in the 450-seat chamber is sufficient for approval, and United Russia has about 300 seats.

Flamboyant ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose party usually backs the Kremlin in parliamentary votes, has expressed support for Zubkov.

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