Putin nominates unknown as new PM

MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin has stuck to his habit of choosing virtually unknown technocrats as prime minister by nominating Viktor Zubkov.

With his choice of the 65-year-old, who is head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, Putin confounded expectations the job would go to a heavyweight candidate who would use it as a stepping stone to becoming president in 2008.

Instead, Putin kept everyone guessing about whom he wanted to be his successor by giving the job to a man regarded by most analysts as a transitional figure.

In common with many politicians who have risen to the top of Russian officialdom under Putin, Zubkov worked alongside the future president in St Petersburg's City Hall in the 1990s.

"He was a pretty colourless, grey person," said a former colleague of Zubkov's when he was head of the tax inspectorate of Russia's second city.

"He was tongue-tied and was terribly frightened of public speaking," said the former colleague, who did not want to be identified.

"He did not generate ideas. He was someone who carried out instructions." Zubkov was nominated to replace Mikhail Fradkov, who stepped down after more than three years as prime minister on Wednesday.

As head of the Financial Monitoring Service from 2001, Zubkov played a major role in combating money-laundering - a priority for Putin who waged a campaign against "oligarchs" who made fortunes while flouting the law.

The service was instrumental in getting Russia removed from the blacklist drawn up by the Financial Action Task Force, an international body that combats money-laundering.

When Fradkov was nominated, he too was almost unknown and working as Russia's envoy to the European Union in Brussels. Markets were reassured Zubkov has some financial background.

"We see him (Zubkov) as a prime minister who will guarantee succession but not as a future president. In terms of macro-economics, Zubkov is no worse than Fradkov," said Yevgeny Nadorshin, analyst at Moscow's Trust Bank.

Zubkov's daughter lives with Anatoly Serdyukov, another St Petersburg native whom Putin earlier this year appointed as defence minister, his former colleague said.

Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst, told Ekho Moskvy radio that "Zubkov has always had significant informal influence on a number of issues and the brightest idea to date adopted (by Putin) on his suggestion was the appointment of his son-in-law Serdyukov as Russia's Defence Minister this spring".

Zubkov was born on Sept 15, 1941, in the village of Arbat in the Urals mountains. His first job was as a fitter in a factory.

He went on to qualify as an economist specialising in agriculture and worked on state farms in the Leningrad region surrounding St Petersburg for 18 years.

He joined the city administration in 1985, serving for a time in the foreign economic department where Putin worked. From 1993 until 2001 he was a senior official in the tax service, leaving to head the financial monitoring service in 2001.

- REUTERS

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