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Faces to follow as Putin begins fourth Kremlin term

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (L) / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTIEV

Vladimir Putin, predictably re-elected to a fourth term in the Kremlin, has kept the possible reshuffle of his inner circle a mystery.

From prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, long rumoured to be in the firing line, to veteran foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, here are the members of Putin’s inner circle to follow as the Russian leader begins his new term.

Dmitry Medvedev, the loyal prime minister

Chosen by Putin to lead Russia in 2008 when he was largely unknown to the public, Dmitry Medvedev never came out of the shadow of his “colleague and old friend”, as he called his superior.

After four years in office, he let Putin return to the Kremlin in a role swap that made him prime minister — a scenario prepared in advance.

Medvedev has taken a relatively marginal role in his post in recent years.

In 2017, opposition politician and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny exposed Medvedev’s wealth, unexpectedly leading to large scale opposition protests against the man who was once set to put Russia on a liberal track.

Medvedev is regularly reported to be on his way out by the Russian press.

He was absent during Putin’s low-key presidential campaign but has never been publicly disowned by his mentor, to whom he remains resolutely loyal.

Sergei Shoigu, Putin’s military man

Sergei Shoigu has become the face behind the modernisation of the Russian army — most recently associated with the “success” of the Russian war in Syria.

Defence minister since 2012, Shoigu is one of the rare members of Putin’s inner circle that does not belong to the “clan” that surrounded him when he was working in the Saint Petersburg city administration.

The 62 year-old hails from Siberia’s remote Tuva republic and proved himself a successful manager while heading the Ministry of Emergency Situations for almost 20 years, which he radically reformed.

Shoigu regularly appears next to Putin during state ceremonies, fishing trips on the Tuva river or while tracking tigers in the Russian Far East.

Sergei Lavrov, Moscow’s voice abroad

Internationally respected since his appointment as foreign minister in 2004, Sergei Lavrov has appeared tired in recent years that have been particularly turbulent for Russia’s ties with the West.

An inflexible negotiator, the 67 year-old continues to defend Moscow’s position around the world, expressing himself almost daily on the Ukrainian and Syrian crises.

Igor Sechin, the face of state capitalism

An old friend of Vladimir Putin, Igor Sechin heads the state-owned oil giant Rosneft which he has transformed into a global giant in the face of mounting personal criticism.

Often called Russia’s second most powerful man, Sechin seems untouchable. He even has the power to remove ministers, such as the former economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev who opposed Rosneft’s resale of oil company Bashneft.

Ulyukayev was arrested last year at Rosneft’s headquarters, caught accepting a bribe that he said was a set up.

Sechin did not turn up at the trial despite being called up by the judge several times before Ulyukayev was sentenced to eight years in prison for bribery in December last year.

– Elvira Nabiullina, the orthodox economist

Well-known economist Elvira Nabiullina was unexpectedly appointed head of Russia’s central bank in 2013. Her appointment initially raised fears over the institution’s independence due to her proximity to the Kremlin, but these have not been realised.

Financial circles welcomed Nabiullina’s management of the serious economic crisis that hit Russia in 2014.

Under Nabiullina, the central bank applied sometimes unpopular methods to help avoid economic collapse during the crisis.

Alexei Kudrin, the reformer

Finance minister from 2000 until Medvedev sacked him in 2011, Kudrin never stayed far from politics. A liberal appreciated abroad, Kudrin uses his independence to give regular interviews on economic issues.

Kudrin returned to the political fray as an advisor for Putin during the election campaign and recently gave an interview to Russian daily Vedomosti explaining what he would do as prime minister.

His return to government, though unlikely, would be a gift to those who hope for a normalisation of Russian relations with the West.


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