- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin nominated a low-profile technocrat to the post of prime minister yesterday, signaling that he wants a politically unambitious head of government to push through sensitive economic reforms.

The choice of Mikhail Fradkov — who also could become a scapegoat if the reforms fail — was announced six days after Mr. Putin’s unexpected dismissal of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his Cabinet in advance of this month’s presidential election.

Analysts said the move likely reflected Mr. Putin’s desire to improve relations with Western Europe, given Mr. Fradkov’s most recent position as deputy secretary of the EU Security Council in Brussels.

Others saw Mr. Fradkov, 53, as a man who would do Mr. Putin’s bidding, including a push for unpopular but sorely needed reforms to reduce government subsidies in sectors such as housing, health care and education.

“It appears that Mister Fradkov has been singled out as a man who could be sacrificed after he implements unpopular policies,” said Yevgeny Volk of the Heritage Foundation.

Political analyst Constantine Remchakov said there is a critical difference between Mr. Fradkov and Mr. Kasyanov. The outgoing prime minister had a long association with former President Boris Yeltsin and the “Family,” a well-connected and much-resented group of friends and relatives of Mr. Yeltsin’s who once wielded major influence in the Kremlin. “This new man is not related to the Family at all,” Mr. Remchakov said.

He said that by firing Mr. Kasyanov, the president was ensuring that any problems after the March 14 presidential election, namely with the unpopular economic reforms, could not be exploited by the Family.

Mr. Putin nominated Mr. Fradkov during a meeting with leading lawmakers from the dominant pro-Kremlin party, United Russia.

The nominee had to be a “highly professional, orderly person with good experience in various branches of state activity,” Mr. Putin said.

Mr. Fradkov was a foreign-trade official during the Soviet era and served as Russia’s trade minister twice in the 1990s. He was appointed to head the tax police in March 2001, but the agency was disbanded last year.

His background makes him well-versed in economic issues, while a stint at the European Union gave him experience in security issues and his time as tax-police chief gave him “thorough experience in fighting corruption,” Mr. Putin said.

The nomination is subject to approval by the Duma, Russia’s lower house, but support is assured because the United Russia party controls the chamber.

One politician who disapproved of the choice was ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovfky, who called Mr. Fradkov a “technical” figure who was too much like the outgoing prime minister.

Staff writer David Sands contributed to this article from Lipetsk, Russia.

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