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Russian Finance Minister Fired Over Criticism of Putin, Medvedev Job Swap

September 26, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Longtime Russian Finance Minister Alexeli Kudrin was fired Monday after he criticized the announcement that President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin plan to swap roles in 2012. Margret Warner reports.
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MARGARET WARNER: Next tonight, in the chess game of Russian politics, the king comes back out on top.

Some 1,000 members of the ruling United Russia party rose to their feet after their annual congress Saturday when President Dmitry Medvedev delivered the news.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV, Russian president (through translator): I think it would be just for the congress to support the candidacy of its leader, Vladimir Putin, for the post of president of our country.

MARGARET WARNER: His announcement settled a matter of feverish speculation. Former Russian President Putin, currently prime minister, will return to his old job.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russian prime minister (through translator): The Russian presidential election will be in the spring of next year. I would like to express my gratitude for your positive reaction to the proposal of my candidacy to the post of president of the country. This is, for me, a great honor.

MARGARET WARNER: Medvedev is due to become prime minister. Putin said they had agreed on this plan several years ago.

But not everyone was in agreement. Long-time Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, well-regarded in international circles, today was fired by Medvedev in a televised confrontation, after criticizing the job swap publicly.

In Washington, State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said the Obama administration remains committed to the recent so-called reset of U.S.-Russia relations. They had deteriorated badly during Putin’s first two terms, when George W. Bush was president.

MARK TONER, State Department spokesman: We believe the reset has been in both of our nation’s and indeed the world’s best interests. And, you know, we’re going to continue to cooperate with Russia in areas where we can cooperate constructively.

MARGARET WARNER: Over the last two-and-a-half years, the Obama administration hammered out a U.S.-Russian arms reduction treaty and worked with Moscow on restricting Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs.

The weekend developments come more than a decade after Vladimir Putin first ascended to the presidency of Russia in 2000. He later won a second four-year term. The former KGB officer has publicly projected a strongman image and is popular with many of his countrymen for restoring a sense of order.

Putin also built a consumer economy, especially in Moscow, fueled by oil and gas revenues. But in 2008, facing a two-term limit, he stepped aside to become prime minister while Medvedev replaced him as president. Opposition figures in Russia, including Vladimir Ryzhkov of the People’s Freedom Party, said the Putin-dominated decade has not been good for Russia.

VLADIMIR RYZHKOV, People’s Freedom Party (through translator): The ruling elite has spent the past 10 years getting rich and channeling assets out of the country. That’s why the result we see is catastrophic, plane crashes, boat and train accidents, continuing terrorist attacks. This country is not developing and is suffering from corruption. This is the result of Putin’s rule.

MARGARET WARNER: Now the presidential term has been extended to six years. That means that, if Putin wins next March’s election, he has a shot at ruling Russia for 12 more years, longer than any leader since Joseph Stalin’s 30-year tenure as head of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, ending in 1953.