KIEV, Sept. 12 – President Viktor Yushchenko’s office cautiously reacted to a surprise reshuffle of the Russian government that some view as the start of the transfer of power from Vladimir Putin to a successor.
Putin on Wednesday nominated Viktor Zubkov, a little-known ally from St. Petersburg, as the prime minister of Russia hours after accepting the resignation of Mikhail Fradkov from the post.
The sudden reshuffle comes amid speculation that Putin has been preparing to start the transfer of power to a successor six months ahead of presidential election in Russia.
Oleksandr Chaliy, the top foreign policy advisor to Yushchenko, said the reshuffle in the Russian government, was “an internal matter of the Russian Federation.”
“We respect it,” Chaliy said at a press conference when asked to comment on the development in Russia.
Russia is the main supplier of natural gas to Ukraine and the countries have yet to agree on the prices to be charged in 2008. The extent of the price hike may have a major impact on the Ukrainian economy next year, analysts said.
Ukraine originally planned to complete the natural gas talks by the middle of August in order to be able to incorporate the prices in the 2008 budget. But Fradkov has said in July that the talks may only be completed in October of November.
This led speculations that Russia will probably decide on the price hike after Sept. 30 snap election in Ukraine after seeing whether pro-Russian or pro-Western parties form the government.
“Both, Russia and Ukraine have entered an electoral cycle, which in itself may cause a number of domestic and inter-state challenges,” Vadym Karasiov, a Kiev-based political analyst, said. “The new candidate [in Russia] to some extent may shift accents during this period.”
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who leads the pro-Russian government coalition, said Wednesday he did not think that the reshuffle in Russia would affect the Russian-Ukrainian relations.
Zubkov, 65, has headed Russia’s anti-money landering authority, the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, since 2004. He is expected to be approved as the prime minister by the State Duma, the lower house of Russian Pariament, on Friday.
Zubkov’s nomination was a surprise as it had appeared to keep Russian analysts guessing over who Putin would back as his preferred successor as president.
Many had expected one of the two leading potential presidential candidates - Putin’s hawkish first deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov - or his close rival and fellow first deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev - to be nominated for the position as a test run ahead of presidential elections in March 2008.
Most of Russian political observers expect any presidential candidate with Putin’s support to easily sweep the March vote due to the president’s popularity and his monopoly on all levers of power. (tl/ez)