Russia's Putin hints oil tsar Sechin will keep influence
MOSCOW, March 7 |
MOSCOW, March 7 (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin hinted on Wednesday that Russian oil tsar Igor Sechin would remain a political heavyweight in any reshuffle of senior government and Kremlin posts following his victory in a presidential election.
The Deputy Prime Minister's political fortunes are being closely watched by foreign investors due to his supposedly powerful behind-the-scenes influence over Putin personally, and because of his current oversight of the oil, gas and power sectors.
Sechin's influence was eroded during the four-year term of Dmitry Medvedev, the outgoing president, who managed to move Sechin off the board of directors of state-controlled oil firm Rosneft.
Putin, who has said that Medvedev will become prime minister after he assumes the presidency in May, has not himself shown any signs of losing trust in Sechin, a longtime ally.
However in the closed-door world of Kremlin politics, politicians' careers can come to an abrupt end and public praise from Putin is seen as a key bellwether of their political health.
When asked at a meeting with journalists on Wednesday what he valued Sechin for, Putin said:
"For his professionalism and his grip, for getting the job done. If he starts something, one can be sure that the job will be done. It is very important in the executive branch of power."
In another possible sign that he remains in favour, Sechin, 52, was the first person to be summoned to Putin's country home on Monday morning after election night to report on corruption in state-controlled companies.
Clutching an iPad and a thick file of papers, a visibly nervous Sechin told Putin that his officials had informed him that some managers at state firms had not disclosed information about their ties to offshore firms.
Like Putin, Sechin is a former KGB agent. A rare photograph of him shows him in a military uniform posing with a Kalashnikov assault rifle during Angola's civil war. The two men worked together in the St. Petersburg mayor's office before both moved to Moscow.
Sechin is widely seen as a leader of the "Siloviki" faction of former intelligence agents in government and the Kremlin who advocate more state control in the economy and political life.
When Putin was elected president in 2000 he appointed Sechin as a deputy head of the Kremlin administration. He was the mastermind of the Kremlin's attack on the YUKOS oil company and its owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is now serving a prison sentence for crimes his supporters say were invented to punish him for his anti-Kremlin political activity.
Medvedev, seen as closer to more liberal figures in government, has said Khodorkovsky's case will be reviewed. Legal action launched by three Russian-born billionaires seen as close to Medvedev also derailed an $18 billion deal between oil major BP and Rosneft, that was orchestrated by Sechin and blessed by Putin.
Igor Yurgens, a prominent lobbyist who advises Medvedev, said the outgoing president should not take the prime minister's job if Sechin remains in the cabinet and retains his influence because any reforms he might undertake would be frustrated by Sechin.
Putin has said on several occasions that Medvedev is his choice for the job of the prime minister but has not named any candidates for other ministerial positions. Putin will assume the presidency after his inauguration on May 7.
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