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02:38 GMT +3 hours29 December 2014
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Ex-minister Zurabov nominated as Russia's new Ukrainian envoy

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Russia's former health and welfare minister, Mikhail Zurabov, who gained notoriety at home for his controversial reforms of benefits for the elderly, has been nominated as ambassador to Ukraine.

MOSCOW, June 24 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's former health and welfare minister, Mikhail Zurabov, who gained notoriety at home for his controversial reforms of benefits for the elderly, has been nominated as ambassador to Ukraine.

Zurabov's candidacy has been proposed to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament for consideration, a senior lawmaker said on Wednesday. He said the house's CIS committee would make a decision before the end of the week.

Russia's previous envoy to Ukraine, the 70-year-old former premier Viktor Chernomyrdin, was dismissed earlier this month after eight years in the post, where he witnessed a dramatic deterioration in relations between the former Soviet allies.

Zurabov, health and social development minister in 2004-2007 and currently a presidential aide, is likely to be approved by the chamber dominated by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.

Zurabov, 56, came under fire in 2005 for reforms to state medical care and transportation benefits, which triggered nation-wide protests. Zurabov was dismissed in 2007.

The upper house is also expected to approve the ex-minister's appointment to the post.

"We have held preliminary talks with senators, I think no problems will emerge in approving Zurabov," Vadim Gusev, head of the Federation Council's CIS committee said.

Chernomyrdin was under threat of expulsion in February over what Ukrainian authorities said were "undiplomatic" statements critical of Kiev's policies.

Ties between Russia and Ukraine have been strained in recent years, as Ukraine's pro-Western leaders have sought to join NATO and the European Union out of Russia's sphere of influence. Moscow and Kiev were also embroiled in bitter disputes over natural gas supplies.

Media reports earlier touted St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin as potential candidates for the post.