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14 Sep, 2007 12:44

Viktor Zubkov approved as Prime Minister

Russian State Duma deputies have approved Viktor Zubkov as the country’s new Prime Minister. He replaces Mikhail Fradkov, who stepped down on Wednesday. Mr Zubkov enjoyed overwhelming support from the deputies, receiving 381 votes in favour of his appointment.

With 47 votes cast against him and 8 deputies abstaining from the vote, Zubkov received an expectedly firm 87% of the vote.

President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree confirming the appointment. He also says the newly appointed Prime Minister could run in the upcoming presidential election:

“Can Viktor Zubkov run in the upcoming presidential election? Yes, he can, as can any citizen of the Russian Federation. Of course, he’s not just an ordinary citizen, as of today he’s not only the head of the Financial Monitoring Agency, but the head of the government. He didn’t directly say that he would run, but he said he doesn’t exclude the possibility. If you noticed about a year ago many people said that the bench was empty, no one to choose from. Now we have a minimum of five candidates who could run for President and all of them could be elected. It’s good that now we’ll have another one so that Russians will have a long list to choose from. We’ll see what happens in March”.

As for Mr Fradkov's cabinet, Vladimir Putin said it had stopped working effectively.

“The decision to appoint a new Prime Minister was mostly technical. If you remember I did the same before the Presidential election in 2004. I'll tell you why I did it. My plan was to have the same government until the elections, but cabinet ministers slowed down the pace of their work, as they started to think more about their fate after the elections. I want the authorities to work like a Swiss watch – effectively and non-stop until March 2008 and immediately after,” he stated.

Viktor Zubkov's speech

Deputies’ questions

Faction leaders' opinion

Reaction to Zubkov's appointment

Viktor Zubkov's speech

Earlier Viktor Zubkov has outlined his plans in an address to the State Duma. He focused on the efficiency and dynamics of both governmental work and the country's economy.

He stressed that the current international situation demands that Russia be more competitive both now and in the future. He said that his cabinet will be more efficient in governing the country. He suggested that ministers should take more personal responsibility and also said he is going to take a tough stance on corruption.

I have been asked what I consider to be the main goals of the cabinet. The President and I have discussed it in detail. I see the strategic goals set in presidential addresses over the last few years as the main priorities. The most important thing is being able to ensure the stability of economic and social development and increasing the efficiency of the government’s work. This means creating a more effective structure and increasing the personal responsibility of its members.

Viktor Zubkov
Russian Prime Minister

Zubkov mentioned President Vladimir Putin’s state-of-the-nation addresses and his suggestion that better and more efficient ways of using Russia’s natural resources be found. Zubkov said his government will pay close attention to the modernisation of production technology in industries like oil and gas and forestry and fishing. He suggested that state corporations will play an important part in this process.

Another crucial task for the new cabinet will be making Russia more manufacturing-oriented. He mentioned the defence industry, shipbuilding and aviation as key directions on this front.

Viktor Zubkov said he wants to reform the Russian education system. He said that teaching young people and making them into trained specialists is crucial for preserving the country’s healthy economy. He also promised to continue tackling with the demographic issue, which has seen some improvements recently.

He also believes that a lot of things need to be done to develop Russia's rural areas. Developing the provinces and making them less dependent on the federal budget will be one of his government’s priorities.

To read extracts of Mr Zubkov’s statements please follow the link

Deputies’ questions

After Viktor Zubkov’s address, State Duma deputies asked him about some aspects of the future government’s work.

The first question of the United Russia party was asked by Vladimir Isaev. “There have been certain improvements in the social sphere, but there have also been mistakes. In April, the State Duma criticised the work of this Ministry (the Ministry of Health and Social Development) as being unsatisfactory and there has been no improvement since then. The Minister ignored all the proposals of the State Duma. In view of this criticism, do you envisage a reshuffle of personnel in the government?”
Responding to the question, Viktor Zubkov stressed that he agrees that the strategy was correctly chosen but the fulfillment of the strategy fell well short of what was needed. “There are many problems in the social sphere and people are dissatisfied. Naturally, we shall take all necessary measures,” he said. 
Answering another question from the United Russia party on his plans of the development of the agricultural sector, Viktor Zubkov said that one of the priorities of the government’s work should be given to agriculture. “People in our country should be supplied by our own products,” he stressed. “We have adopted the five-year plan for developing agriculture”. In any civilized country farm producers are respected people, and I believe that a lot needs to be done in this area," he added.

Deputies from the Communist Party asked Mr Zubkov how he is going to deal with the different parties in the tough pre-election period and whether he is going to join any party and how it might influence the results of the elections. They also asked the candidate about his attitude towards the broadcasting excessive violence on Russian TV.

Viktor Zubkov answered that he will concentrate his attention on those social and economic tasks that face the government today and, though he is ready to work in a constructive manner with all political parties, he's going to focus primarily on his job. Concerning violence on Russian TV, Mr Zubkov replied that he recognises the questioner's concern, but this does not necessarily mean imposing censorship on TV. In general, he proposed that the mass media should be controlled and monitored by those federal authorities already in existence.

Answering the question of the Lib-Dem deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky on his attitude to October 1917 and August-December 1991 developments in Russia, Zubkov pointed out that the events of 1917 rocked not only Russia, but the whole world and that the country was split and millions perished. Zubkov believes that we have to remember the mistakes of history and to respect history.

Zubkov also called for ruling out violence of any kind as a means of solving political problems and supported the use of democratic procedures.

Another question from the Lib-Dems concerned Zubkov's solutions to the hitherto largely neglected problems of veterans. In reply, Zubkov stressed that the veterans' problems should be addressed on a daily basis, and agreed with the idea of creating a special agency within the government.

A deputy from Fair Russia asked about fighting corruption in Russia. Zubkov agreed that this is a really serious and potentially destructive social phenomenon. He called for the adoption of a special law on corruption, one that clearly defines what it actually is. There is already a certain draft of such a law he said, adding that there needs to be a special state structure dedicated to the fight against corruption along the lines of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee.

However, Zubkov stressed that laws alone would not solve the problem. Society as a whole must engage in the fight against corruption. There should be no room for corruption anywhere, he stressed.

Fair Russia also asked the prospective Prime Minister about his vision for regional policy.

Zubkov agreed with the importance of the problem and indicated that currently such problems are addressed very poorly. Federal ministries must work closely with regional authorities. There should be special bodies responsible for building roads, railroads and ports. He believes, however, that Russian regions should also be actively engaged.

When asked by the Motherland faction Zubkov gave his view of how the new government would deal with the social protection of the Russian military. It's a burning issue in modern Russia, since both commissioned officers and drafted men have seen a sharp decrease in social benefits. Making military service more prestigious and attractive to people is part of a large-scale reform of Russian armed forces.

In Zubkov’s opinion, increasing salaries and providing state-sponsored housing for servicemen as has already been done is not enough. He stressed that housing problems have still not been solved for those officers whose units are located in remote areas.

Faction leaders' opinion

Before the vote, parliamentary faction leaders had their chance to present their opinion of Viktor Zubkov’s candidacy and to announce their view on how the new government should act.

Oleg Morozov from the United Russia faction said that his party has every reason to back Viktor Zubkov: “I can’t recall any case in the past 15 years when a candidate was offered to us with such an impressive CV”. He added that he considers Zubkov one of the most successful and experienced managers in modern Russia. He also noted that the nominee for the position has an enviable reputation.

Liberal Democratic Party leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, used the opportunity to criticise his political opponents, the Communists: “We are approving possibly the best cabinet of the last 30 years. The Communist Party blames all of Russia's previous governments for what the Communists themselves were doing. The new generation wants a new country so no one can blame us for the past,” he said.

A representative of the Fair Russia party, Aleksandr Babakov, warned that rumbles in parliament do not help the development of Russia in any way. He named the lack of professionalism at all levels of authority as the most burning issue. In his view, the government should be more technocratic, more professional and less involved in politics.

He also mentioned the crucial role of long-term economic planning, the mobilization of social policy, the implementation of pension reform, fighting corruption and the development of the real section of the economy, which would ensure social guarantees for the people.

The Communist Party was alone in voting against Viktor Zubkov in the State Duma. Its leader Gennady Zyuganov does not believe the new PM is capable of solving key problems Russia is facing.

“The State Duma has approved the new Premier for you.  But from what he says, I don't feel he'll deliver a new deal. I believe he lacks the strength to fight bureaucracy, oligarchs, and criminals. Let's wait and see what kind of government he puts forward. If financial, economic and social ministers keep their seats, we will not see sufficient changes,” he said.

Reaction to Zubkov's appointment

Viktor Linnik, political analyst and Editor-in-Chief of the Slovo weekly newspaper told Russia Today that “even the vote in the Duma tells us that Russians, by and large, are more pleased with this PM than with the previous one, because Mikhail Fradkov (former PM) in his nomination garnered 352 votes while Mr Zubkov got 381. That tells you a little about the mood in the country, definitely. And certainly what people like about him is that he is a guy that comes from the grass roots, so to speak.”

“Deputies are very sophisticated in political life in our country and they can tell the difference between an order and a proposal. And in this case we received an order, definitely, because we have no choice. We didn't have any others, there was no discussion on this. The President said that at this moment we need this person. So we said ”Yes!“ because in general the course of President Putin is supported by most of the population of Russia. And so we have no hesitation about this,” Vladimir Semago, deputy of the Russian State Duma from the United Russia Party, commented.

Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs committee, says he expects no drastic changes in the government's policy before the parliamentary or presidential elections.
“There won’t be any sufficient changes right now. As far as I understand, the major task for Mr Zubkov is to guarantee continuity in the activities of the government. Some structural changes are to take place but I do believe that they will take place after the parliamentary and presidential elections. Mr Zubkov has always been in very close contact with members of the State Duma on different issues, so for us he is not an unknown person coming from nowhere, and we understand perfectly well that he is a person of great competence and he is a person of very strong character. He knows what he wants to achieve. He's a man with good principles. He tries to understand what is going on and then to take proper decisions, and as he has the President’s confidence, this will make him a very strong PM of Russia, to my mind,”
he explained.