Russia's parliament was set to vote on President Vladimir Putin's nominee for prime minister Friday, with confirmation assured in the Kremlin-controlled chamber.
The scheduled vote comes just two days after Putin stunned the nation by choosing the little-known Viktor Zubkov, a longtime associate who has headed Russia's anti-money laundering agency, as prime minister.
When Putin dismissed longtime premier Mikhail Fradkov on Wednesday, Russians had widely expected him to replace him with former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in a signal that Ivanov would run as his chosen successor the March presidential vote. The popular Putin is constitutionally barred from seeking a third straight term.
Zubkov, 65, added to the intrigue on Thursday by saying he would not rule out a presidential bid, a remark he would have been unlikely to have made without Putin's approval. It served as a further indication that Putin's choice was meant to show the country - and particularly to Kremlin factions jockeying for position ahead of the election - that he is no lame duck and will continue calling the shots.
"Putin had two realistic options: He could make his ultimate choice of successor clear by appointing him prime minister ...
Putin has said that he plans to retain influence over the nation's political scene after he steps down, and has not ruled out a presidential bid in 2012.
Zubkov is much older than both Ivanov and another official seen as a front-runner, Dmitry Medvedev, and could make a more convenient interim figure if Putin were planning a comeback in 2012 or even sooner. He is also seen as loyal and trusted by Putin, who was his boss in the early 1990s in the St. Petersburg mayor's office.
As the longtime head of the Federal Financial Monitor Service, known as Russia's financial intelligence agency, analysts say, Zubkov's experience tracking money could help Putin keep control of financial flows to parties and interest groups amid the campaigns for December elections to the State Duma - the lower parliament house - and the presidential vote.
Zubkov, who met with leading factions in the Duma on Thursday, was slated to address the chamber and answer questions from lawmakers before the vote.
He was expected to easily win the majority he needs for approval in the Duma, where the main Kremlin-allied party, United Russia, controls about 300 votes. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said Thursday that his faction, with more than 50 votes, would vote against Zubkov, but flamboyant ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky said his party would vote to confirm - in line with its previous support for Putin's initiatives.