Who Will Lead the Russian Cabinet?

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs the State and Security Council at the Kremlin, Feb. 24, 2004, the same day he unexpectedly fired his prime minister and government (Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP-Getty Images).

A little more than two weeks before presidential elections, Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly fired his longstanding prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, 46, and the entire Cabinet of Ministers. He named Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, the same age, acting prime minister. The move prompted a flurry of speculation in Russia and the West about what this portended for Russia’s future and an all-but-certain second presidential term for Putin.

Below, Russian public figures offer their views to Russia’s biggest daily.

Sergei Markov, political scientist
[Russia’s new prime minister] will be an economic technocrat with liberal views and no political ambitions. There are four possibilities: [Finance Minister] Aleksei Kudrin, Viktor Khristenko, [Deputy Prime Minister] Boris Alyoshin, and [Deputy Chief of Staff] Igor Shuvalov. I am inclined toward Kudrin. [Defense Minister] Sergei Ivanov, given that he is a future successor of Putin, will be appointed prime minister in 2007. Until then he will deal with military reform.

Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the U.S.S.R.
I have an idea, but I’m not going to add to the chorus. I’ll say only one thing: Putin has taken a forceful step.

Vitaly Tretyakov, political scientist
I think the same logic applies here as did in Soviet times: The person who became the next general secretary was the one who headed the funeral commission for the predecessor. As Khristenko has been appointed acting prime minister and has been charged with securing political stability within the government and leading business groups during the transition period, he’s got a greater chance of heading the new government.

Pavel Krashennikov, chairman of the State Duma Legislation Committee
I can tell you who won’t become the next prime minister. It won’t be a representative of Yabloko, the Party of Rightist Forces, or the Communist Party or Motherland.

Vyacheslav Nikonov, political scientist
I honestly don’t know. I think the president has surprised everyone again. Yet again, no one has managed to predict a single personnel decision by Putin. In my opinion, he would make the best prime minister—according to the American model, where the president heads the government and takes full responsibility for the work of the executive branch.

Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council’s Foreign Relations Committee
I think that Putin will name as prime minister the person who will become his successor in the next presidential elections.

Dana Borisova, TV anchorwoman
Oh, call me in five minutes. I’ll consult with someone smart. I’ve spent the entire day being photographed for the cover of Caravan of History, and I don’t know what’s going on in the country. (Five minutes later:) I couldn’t obtain any reliable information.

Sergei Stepashin, former prime minister, chairman of the Audit Chamber
Only one person probably knows who the next prime minister will be: the president.