Medvedev Takes His Cabinet Seat
He may have been chosen to sit at the right
hand of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, but during his first,
four-hour Cabinet meeting on Thursday Dmitry Medvedev did not
say a word.
In his new incarnation as first deputy prime
minister, Medvedev -- who until Monday's government shake-up
was President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff -- listened to
routine discussions about health care and other matters, but
refrained from commenting or asking questions.
The appointments of Medvedev and Defense Minister
Sergei Ivanov, who was also made a deputy prime minister in
the shake-up, are being seen as a sign that the two are possible
candidates to succeed Putin in 2008.
Questions about the effect that Medvedev's
switch to the Cabinet might have on government policy were left
unanswered Thursday, but his appointment could lead to a reduction
in Fradkov's powers, and a shift in decision-making from the
presidential administration to the White House government headquarters.
During the meeting, Medvedev could be seen
studying the decor of the Cabinet room and occasionally whispering
something into the ear of his colleague, Deputy Prime Minister
Alexander Zhukov, who had been bumped over one place at the
table to make way for Medvedev.
The other effect of the game of Cabinet musical
chairs was to make way for Ivanov, who sat on Fradkov's left
to complete the troika at the top of the table.
By moving next to Fradkov, Ivanov appeared
to have displaced Cabinet chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin, and
possibly Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, who
was absent Thursday because he was accompanying Putin on a visit
The center of gravity in the leadership could
shift along with Medvedev, as neither his successor as Putin's
chief of staff, Sergei Sobyanin, nor his former subordinates
in the presidential administration would dare to boss Medvedev
around, said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think
"For some time, the decision-making center
will shift from the presidential administration to the White
House," Pribylovsky said, adding that this might last only
until Sobyanin gained enough weight to influence the Cabinet.
Steven Dashevsky, head of research at Aton
brokerage, said that Medvedev's management skills could help
the government to improve work on key reforms.
"In his capacity as Gazprom chairman and
as head of the presidential administration, Medvedev has proved
himself a talented administrator with a good understanding of
economics and the law. The financial community is hopeful that
his arrival at the Cabinet will revive the reform process,"
Putin said Monday that work on his recent initiative
to inject an extra $4 billion into health care, housing, education
and agriculture should be spearheaded by the government. Medvedev,
as a senior Cabinet member and first deputy chairman of Putin's
committee to oversee these projects, would be in charge of this
work, Putin said.