President Vladimir Putin took Prime Minster Mikhail Kasyanov and others by surprise by suddenly dismissing the government. However, the ex-premier is believed to have been told about his dismissal several hours before the president made the announcement on television.
The move was, apparently, designed to secure voters' support for President Putin and, above all, for his new team and specific programme. Indeed, in voting for Mr Putin, the electorate will express their confidence in his new team. This will consolidate the new cabinet's position and the development strategy for President Putin's next term.
Viktor Khristenko was named acting prime minister yesterday. Mr Khristenko is a prominent political figure in Russia. In recent years, he has overseen such sensitive issues as federative relations, regional development, local self-government, control of natural monopolies, pricing policy, the reform of the energy system and energy efficiency, transport policy and railway structural reforms. However, he is seen as temporary replacement for Mr Kasyanov, while the post of premier will be given to someone from the president's entourage.
So, who will be appointed prime minister? Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov is being named as the most likely candidature as he is a long-time Putin supporter and, apparently, an absolute ally.
State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who has on many occasions displayed his loyalty to President Putin, is also seen as a candidate for the post. However, the president may not want to remove him from the position of Duma speaker, which he took after his party's landslide victory in the parliamentary elections two months ago.
Alexei Kudrin, the finance minister in the Kasyanov cabinet, is also a contender.
At any rate, the prime minister and other cabinet members will be named shortly. "I believe the members of the supreme body of executive power, which will assume its share of responsibility for the country's further development, should be named immediately, before the election campaign comes to an end," President Putin said in his televised address on Tuesday.
The Russian media has pointed out that all the government's members, with the exception of the premier himself, are continuing to perform their duties as acting ministers. This will not last long either. Mr Putin is unlikely to shuffle cards from the old deck and new figures may well appear in the government. Ministerial portfolios may be given to supporters of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, as well as members of the opposition parties that did not make it into the State Duma, Yabloko party members, for example. The president could, thereby, display his resolve to have different political forces, including those supported by the West, engaged in running the country. A new government may emerge as one of "national accord," to a certain degree.
One thing is clear. Vladimir Putin is resolved to pursue a tough policy of both economic and political reforms after the March 14 elections, which he is expected to win by a landslide. The Kasyanov-led government clearly did not fit this bill. Moreover, the ex-premier is linked to the turbulent Boris Yeltsin era and the serious problems of the past.