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14 Sep, 2007 13:44

Kremlin reshuffle dominates Valdai club talks in Sochi

The recent political changes in the Kremlin came under the spotlight at the fourth annual meeting of the Valdai Club in the southern city of Sochi. The group is made up of international experts in various fields, who meet anually to discuss issues concer

It started with the question everyone, everywhere has been asking: 

“Why now and why Viktor Zubkov?”

The reasons, it seems, were simple.

“Unfortunately members of the Government have started thinking about their futures after the Presidential election and it was affecting their work. But I want the Federal Government and local authorities to work like a Swiss clock before and after the Presidential election,” Vladimir Putin explained.

And the newly appointed Prime Minister is, according to the President, just the man for the job: “Zubkov has great life experience. We can say that he is a real professional. He is a brilliant executive. He is a man of character. At the same time he has great operational experience.”

Commenting after these remarks, the Head of the Centre for European Reform, Charles Grant, said Putin obviously had no intention of withdrawing from politics after the election. Grant said Putin told them he “will play a major role in Russian politics after the presidential election”, and that “the future president of Russia will have to take account of the fact that Putin will have influence”.

The Valdai Club was organized in 2004 by Russian Information Agency RIA Novosti.

Each year, participants pick a global theme and find a region to focus on, giving them a chance to see Russia’s domestic policies and developments.

This year’s theme is religious diversity. Club members traveled to the Russian republic of Tatarstan, where they met with the republic’s president, as well as different religious leaders.

Commenting on the peaceful co-existence of Islam and Christianity in the region, Michael Binyon from The Times newspaper of London said “people would like to make this a model of how the two religions should co-exist throughout Russia and indeed throughout the world”.

The participants of the Valdai Club consider their annual gatherings as ‘invaluable’.

They discuss a wide range of issues affecting Russia, from democracy and the economy to religion and questions of national identity.  It's believed the talks give the international community a greater understanding of Russia’s domestic developments.