Russian minister ousted after Putin plan rebellion
Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin was ousted on Monday after rebelling against a plan to install President Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister when Vladimir Putin returns to the Kremlin in 2012.
Kudrin fell on his sword following an unprecedented televised clash with Medvedev where the president angrily accused him of making "unseemly" comments and said his only option was to resign.
The respected minister is the first top official to be forced out in connection with the scheme announced at the weekend for Putin, currently prime minister, and Medvedev to swap jobs after March 2012 presidential elections.
The resignation brought a dramatic end to Kudrin's career as finance minister, which started in 2000 and saw him become the longest serving finance minister of any world power.
"The president of the Russian Federation signed the decree on the resignation of Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin," the Kremlin said in a statement on its website.
In an extraordinary public dressing-down of the kind not seen in Russia for years, Medvedev told Kudrin that his comments were unacceptable and he had until the end of the day to decide whether to resign.
"Alexei Leonidovich -- if you do not agree with the policy of the president, which is executed by the government, then you have one option and you know what it is -- to resign," Medvedev told Kudrin in comments broadcast on the main evening news.
Appearing to tackle head-on the idea that he was a lame duck after the weekend's drama, Medvedev added: "No one cancelled discipline and subordination in the government ... Any irresponsible chatterbox will have to cross me."
Barely flinching, Kudrin told Medvedev that "I do indeed have differences with you."
The minister had at the weekend told reporters in the United States he could not imagine serving in a government led by Medvedev, with whom he had "differences" over the management of the economy.
He accused the president of seeking to ramp up spending -- in particular on the military -- to the detriment of Russia's budgetary position.
"The finance minister's resignation will undoubtedly make it harder for the central bank and the government to react adequately and quickly to the challenges that appear every week," Mikhail Zadornov, the head of state retail bank VTB 24, told Moscow Echo radio.
Yury Korgunyuk of the Indem fund told AFP that Medvedev's sudden show of political machismo came too late, given that at the weekend he had meekly abdicated the presidency to Putin.
"He agreed himself that he was a nobody and now he is taking it out on Kudrin," he said.
Russia's new power scheme -- dubbed a "castling" after the move in chess when the king changes places with the rook -- has yet to provoke any mass protests beyond a small rally in Moscow on Sunday.
But there have been murmurings of discontent and the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had earlier said Russia was at an "impasse" and doubted whether Putin -- who served two terms as president to 2008 -- was the man to implement change.
"We can assume that there will be no movement forward if there are not serious changes along the lines of a replacement of the entire system," he wrote in the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper which he part owns.
"Without this we could lose six years. I think that the future president needs to think about this very seriously."
With the presidential mandate now expanded to six years from four, Putin could in theory serve two more terms to 2024, by which time he would be 72 and the longest serving Moscow leader since Joseph Stalin.
Boldly, the Novaya Gazeta printed on its front page caricature sketches of Putin, Medvedev and other members of the elite as they would look as old men in 2024, in the medal-festooned uniform of Soviet nomenklatura officials.
But the US State Department said it looked forward "to working with whoever is the next Russian president because we believe clearly that this is in the mutual interest of the United States and Russia and the world."
Russia's stock markets traded flat most of the day, showing no sign of panic at the thought of another term of strongman rule by Putin despite concerns among some analysts over the likely exit of the highly respected Kudrin.
"We believe Medvedev and Putin, as prime minister and president, could work very well together, providing much-needed stability and continuing the reform agenda championed by Medvedev for improving the Russian investment climate," said Ovanes Oganisian of Renaissance Capital in a note to clients.
© 2011 AFP