President Vladimir Putin named Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as deputy prime minister on Monday and allowed him to retain his defense post, saying the move was aimed at bolstering efforts to improve Russia's armed forces. Putin also named his chief of staff, Dmitry Medvedev, to become first deputy prime minister. Both Medvedev and Ivanov have been seen as potential candidates to run for president in 2008, when Putin is constitutionally prevented from seeking a third term, and speculation had been high that he would try to increase both men's visibility.
In remarks at a Cabinet meeting shown on Russian TV, Putin said Ivanov's appointment followed a meeting last week in which "the participants expressed anxiety about the problems the Defense Ministry had been having in realizing its plans for future development ... these problems are connected with non-agreement of the activities of various ministries and departments."
The post-Soviet Russian military is hobbled by cash shortages and has suffered a series of embarrassing accidents, including the 2000 sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk and last summer's trapping of a mini-submarine off the Pacific Coast, in which Russia had to call on Britain and the United States to send underwater vehicles to help in the rescue.
It was not immediately clear what job, if any, the previous deputy prime minister, Alexander Zhukov, would take.
In other changes, Putin named Sergei Sobyanin, governor of the oil-rich Tyumen region of Siberia, to become new chief of staff, the AP reports.
"The reshuffling was done in Putin's trademark secrecy, nothing foreshadowed it," said analyst Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
"One can suggest that this may be the pool of Putin's possible successors, both Medvedev and Ivanov have been named as possible successors," she said. "One can suggest that they may be tried out in these high posts, posts close to the prime minister's, which in the recent years has been the traditional way to presidency in Russia. One can suggest that they are being given a chance to prove themselves in these high jobs."
On photo: former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Deputy PM at present.
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On December 14, President Putin holds his annual Q&A session with Russian and foreign journalists. This conference is considered to be the beginning of his presidential campaign