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Economic bloc reshuffle: rotation of associates

June 25, 2013, 11:37 UTC+3

The new minister actually has to restore the Ministry of Economic Development and its position in the government

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On Monday, several presidential decrees were published to reshuffle the economic segment of the government. First Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank Alexei Ulyukayev was appointed minister of economic development. He replaced Andrei Belousov, who will be economic advisor to the president on economic issues instead of Elvira Nabiullina. The latter was given the post of Central Bank governor.

At the meeting with the new economic minister on Monday, President Vladimir Putin drew attention to the fact - as did Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev after him -- that the new appointments were "a rotation of associates," the Kommersant writes.

Andrei Belousov, who has substantial disagreements over the economic course with the larger part of government bodies and the Central Bank, did not comment his plans or priorities on Monday, the newspaper underlined.

Vesting actual authority and influence in a presidential advisor on economic issues largely depends on personal activity of the official who is replacing him. Given Vladimir Putin's preference to resolve many economic policy issues at conferences with Cabinet members and his announced intention in May 2013 to increase his influence on the government, Andrei Belousov does not have as many opportunities to bring forward new initiatives as it might seem.

Ulyukayev seems to be facing a far more complex task. Firstly, the new minister actually has to restore the Ministry of Economic Development and its position in the government. After Elvira Nabiullina became Putin's top economic advisor in May 2012, the ministry led by Andrei Belousov began to transform from the "ministry of economic regulation" to "the ministry of economic planning and prognosis" and handed over many of its functions to new bodies.

The minister of economic development will have to cope with the task in the conditions of de-factor stagnation of industrial growth, low market prices, cuts in government spending, scrapped plans for quick privatization, and active lobby of raw-materials exporters which prefers Andrei Belousov's program to de-regulation and tough monetary policy.

"No Russian economic minister since the early 1990s has entered the executive branch with so many associates and such a big knot of initial problems and restrictions," the Kommersant says.

Experts believe the reshuffle in the economic bloc will result in a change in the country's economic policy which hitherto had been aimed at higher government spending, the Novye Izvestia writes.

Initially, the promoter of such policy was Andrei Belousov, but it did not meet the expectations as Russia's GDP growth rate continued to decrease.

"Belousov is clearly a loser here; it's an obvious demotion, and his resignation indicates that the authorities have doubts regarding the policy of continuous increase in spending while trying to resolve domestic problems," leading expert of the Gaidar economic policy institute Sergei Zhavoronkov said, "when Belousov was minister, budget expenditure increased two-fold, while the GDP growth rate steadily decreased and is practically at zero now. Putin began to talk about the necessity to restrict the tariffs of natural monopolies because they had been growing faster than the inflation rate. In this sense, the appointment of Ulyukayev gives reasons to believe that he will not approve any increase in government spending before taking a close look at it."

Meanwhile, the experts polled by the Nezavisimaya Gazeta are not sure that the replacement of the economics minister will introduce major changes in real policy. "The economic policy is determined by a small group of persons and departments. Both these groups remain unchanged. Some adjustments or insignificant changes of accents are possible though," director of the FBK institute for strategic analysis Igor Nikolayev said, "for example, Andrei Belousov talked about possible easing of the monetary policy to which Ulyukayev objected."But the real situation has practically remained unchanged despite this, taking neither this nor that side. It is possible that after some time, Ulyukayev will talk along the same lines as Belousov."


Mass media discuss a possible new criminal case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky ahead of his jubilee


Mikhail Khodorkovsky turns 50 on Wednesday, June 26. Ahead of his jubilee, NTV Channel ran the film "Murder for a Gift", obviously prepared for Mikhail Khodhorkovsy's jubilee, the Novye Izvestia writes. By the time the issue was signed into print, the film had not been aired, but the teaser said it was about a conflict between Nefteyugansk mayor Vladimir Petukhov with the YUKOS company and subsequent murder of the mayor on June 26, 1998, which was Khodorkovsky's birthdate.

Former YUKOS co-owner Leonid Nevzlin - who is hiding in Israel now - has been found guilty of masterminding this crime. Former head of the oil company's security service Alexei Pichugin, who is serving a life sentence, was involved in the crime. The announcement of the film caused a public stir and questions whether the film was the first step towards the third criminal case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Leader of the union of solidarity with political prisoners, lawyer Sergei Davidis told the Novye Izvestia that a new case, not necessarily economic, could not be ruled out.

"Our leaders' world outlook apparently does not envision the situation where Khodorkovsky is released from prison in a year," the lawyer said.

The authorities intend to link Mikhail Khodorkovsky's 50th birthdate with the 15th anniversary of the death of Nefteyugansk mayor Vladimir Petukhov, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta concludes after seeing the film "Murder for a Gift." Reporters of the television channel hinted at alleged involvement in the murder of the Yukos leadership, which the mayor had accused of tax evasion.

The murder coincided with Mikhail Khodorkovsky's birthdate, which provided a pretext to the ill-wishes to link these two occasions, given the conflict between the mayor and YUKOS executives. The newspaper reminds that in 1998, the investigators found no evidence of involvement of the oil company's leadership in the mayor's murder. However, after the conflict between the oligarch and President Vladimir Putin in 2003, the case was reinvestigated.

The commemorative events on the occasion of the anniversary of Vladimir Petukhov’s death is assuming a political tinge. High-placed federal officials are expected to attend.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky's supporters will mark his birthdate with a rally, due to begin in Tverskoi Bulwar /Parkway/ in Moscow on Wednesday evening, and end in an informal march along Stary Arbat Street. The organizers intend to fill the whole street with pickets, spaced at 50 meters from each other in accordance with the law.

On Wednesday, the Khodorkovsky hearing will be held in New York where his elder son Pavel and his family live.

NTV Channel does not link the film release with Khodorkovsky's upcoming jubilee and a new turn in the Yukos case, the Kommersant writes.

The NTV press service said the film would be released because of "an information occasion," namely the 15th anniversary of mayor Petukhov's death.

Director of the center for political analysis Pavel Danilin, who was one of the commentators of the film, believes that a new turn in the YUKOS case was likely.

"Why shouldn't Khodorkovsky answer for the crimes committed with his knowledge," Danilin told the Kommersant, adding that Pichugin and Nevzlin had been found guilty and convicted.

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