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Europe

Russian boardroom shake-ups could signal power struggle

The Kremlin has plans to replace top officials in major Russian companies, boardroom shake-ups that may be the opening salvo in a power struggle between President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin as elections approach.

President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin

Medvedev and Putin say they won't run against each other

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev plans to purge several of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's allies from the corporate boards of industry titans, according to a report published Tuesday by the business daily Kommersant.

In the report, Kommersant said Medvedev has selected candidates to replace the deputy prime ministers and ministers of Russia's top 19 companies. Those companies constituted around 15 percent of the country's gross domestic product in 2009.

Over the weekend, the Kremlin called on state officials to resign from the boards of 17 companies by July 1. The Kremlin added that state officials should leave the boards of all companies in Russia by October 1.

Igor Sechin of oil giant Rosneft is among the officials targeted by the Kremlin's boardroom shake-up. As board chief of Rosneft, Sechin has sweeping control over Russian energy policy. He is also a close ally of Putin.

"Medvedev should beware of alienating powerful officials who benefit from these board seats," said Ariel Cohen, senior research analyst at the Heritage Foundation. "So far he has not been successful in changing the problematic status quo."

Power struggle

The impending personnel shake-up in boardrooms across Russia has sparked concern of a brewing power struggle between Medvedev and Putin in the run-up to the 2012 presidential elections.

Rosneft sign reflecting Moscow skyline

Rosneft is Russia's largest oil company and critical to the country's extraction economy

Putin stepped down as president in 2008 due to term limits, taking the post of prime minister. Medvedev, at the time Putin's close ally and protégé, then assumed the presidency. The two have ruled Russia in tandem for the past three years.

However, Medvedev has struck a more independent course during his presidential term. He has billed himself as a modernizer, seeking to streamline Russia's economy by reaching out to the West for help in jump-starting innovation and competitiveness.

Putin, on the other hand, has taken a more confrontational approach to the European Union and United States. He is also more closely associated with Soviet-style state control of the economy.

Third candidate

Both men have hinted they will be running in the election. However, they claim they will not run against one another.

Meanwhile, public approval of Medvedev and Putin has fallen to its lowest levels in years, according to the pro-government think tank Center for Strategic Research.

The think tank released a study last month stating that Russians are increasingly amenable to the idea of a third candidate.

"The most important change in the political consciousness of Russians over the last eight months consists not just of a fall of trust in the tandem and its participants but also a growth in demand for a third person," the study said.

Author: Spencer Kimball (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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