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Many Analysts Surprised at Disbanding of Russia's Government - 2004-02-25


President Putin says his dismissal of the Russian government Tuesday was a long planned move to speed up the formation of a new Cabinet before the March 14 presidential election. But political analysts in Moscow have different views.

Political analysts in Moscow say they saw the sacking of the government coming, but many say they were surprised Mr. Putin made the move so close to the presidential election.

Under the Russian Constitution, the government would ordinarily be disbanded after the elections, with a new prime minister then named. Doing so before the ballot, some analysts speculate, the president was aiming to breathe new life into an otherwise dull election campaign.

They say voter turnout, not the opposition, is the only problem for Mr. Putin. He is expected to be re-elected easily, but to ensure legitimacy of the election, at least 50 percent of eligible voters must turn out to vote. By stirring things up, the analysts say, Mr. Putin is hoping to revive interest within the apathetic public.

But, one analyst, Sergei Markov, says the dismissal of the government had a different purpose. He says, it was an act of Mr. Putin's revenge on former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, on whom he could no longer rely.

Mr. Markov says President Putin didn't need to take any surprise actions in order to secure the vote. It is obvious he is the winner, he says.

Other analysts, like Igor Bunin, of the Center for Political Technologies research institute, characterized the president's move as an aggressive show of his political power. He says President Putin wants to show everyone he is the master of his own house, meaning the Kremlin. In doing so, he says, Mr. Putin shows he rules everything, makes all the decisions, and that no one can challenge him.

Alexander Shokhin of Moscow University has an interpretation of his own. He said Mr. Putin, in dismissing Mr. Kasyanov, was looking for a prime minister of his own choosing, rather than a hold-over from the era of former President Boris Yeltsin.

Mr. Shokhin says the Russian president obviously did not consider Mr. Kasyanov to be someone on whom he could rely to carry out his policies of radical economic reform over the next four years.

President Putin now has two weeks in which to nominate a new prime minister to the State Duma, which will then have one week to act. Few expect acting prime minister Viktor Khristanko to get the job.

More likely choices, according to analysts, are Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, a close friend and confidante of President Putin, or Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin.

James Fenkner of Moscow's Troika Dialogue brokerage says financial markets will hope for a reformist prime minister.

"I think that anyone could really be chosen for this position - the market would reward that choice, if that choice pushes reforms, and that would be reforms of Gazprom, or reforms in banking, education, the military - these types of things. So, I think its becoming less an issue of personalities and more of policy," he said.

Mr. Fenkner said the president's choice, no matter who it may be, is unlikely to meet much resistance in the Duma, which is controlled by Mr. Putin's allies.

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