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Russian Parliament Confirms Fradkov as Prime Minister - 2004-03-05

Russia's pro-Kremlin parliament has easily approved President Vladimir Putin's nominee for prime minister, Mikhail Fradkov, voting 352 - 58 in favor of his confirmation on Friday. The vote sets the stage for a new cabinet to take over just ahead of next weekend's presidential election.

Lawmakers in Russia's lower house of parliament, or Duma, debated for a little over an hour before confirming Mr. Fradkov as Russia's new prime minister.

Before the vote, Mr. Fradkov answered lawmakers' questions and briefly outlined his future plans, which he says include cutting the number of Russian ministries to eliminate overlap and streamline reform.

Mr. Fradkov said the new government must work hard to implement structural and economic reforms so that Russia, "can become more competitive." He also said he aimed to trim the government to enable officials to better carry out long-term planning.

He later told reporters that he only plans to have one deputy prime minister, rather than six, as former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov had. He was fired by President Putin last week, along with his entire government.

As prime minister, Mr. Fradkov will be responsible for shaping economic policy, but he has given little indication of his views, other than to echo President Putin's calls for broader economic reform.

Addressing lawmakers Friday, he spoke briefly of the need to reduce poverty and raise the standard of living for Russia's citizens. He also said his government would need to work to implement tax reforms and fight corruption.

The low-profile former tax police chief and one time trade minister is expected to name the members of his new government by early next week.

Mr. Fradkov has already gained praise from Western investors and some analysts for saying he hopes to name a leading economist, Alexander Zhukov, as his deputy.

That news has been widely seen by analysts as a sign that President Putin is committed to carrying out further economic reform, rather than retreating on reform as some had feared. Those fears are based in part on the government's crackdown on Russian oil company, Yukos, and its senior executives.

At the same time, other analysts say President Putin's selection of Mr. Fradkov indicates he intends to keep a firm hold on power if he is re-elected to a second term on March 14, as is widely expected.

Mr. Fradkov has described his new role as one of a technocrat. And analysts say he is likely to see his job as largely implementing President Putin's policies.