Putin has named his new cabinet. Despite heated speculation in the media, the changes are fairly small. Almost all the ministers kept their jobs. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin kept his post, but has also been elevated to deputy prime minister. Minister of Economic Development and Trade Germain Gref is out, replaced by his former deputy Elvira Nabiullina. Gref’s departure was widely expected, so no big surprises there. Dmitri Kozak, former envoy to the South Federal District (southern Russia and the Caucasus), has been appointed minister of regional development. Lastly, Deputy Finance Minister Tatyana Golikova takes over as minister of health and social development. Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov retains his position, as Putin refused to accept the resignation he tendered last week (due to his familial relationship with incoming Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov).

Both Kozak and Kudrin are old Putin colleagues from his St. Petersburg days, and are thus identified more with the “liberals” than with the “siloviki” (the men of power). Elvira Nabiullina is also generally viewed as part of the liberal faction. Their new positions could suggest that the star of the liberals–and thus, potentially, Dmitri Medvedev–is on the rise. At the very least, it helps to keep things balanced–and everyone guessing, two primary goals for Putin these days, it seems.

It is also worthwhile to note that Putin’s new cabinet includes two women. Despite Soviet-era official protestations of gender equality, Russian politics have remained a resolutely male preserve.

Kommersant, however, draws our attention to the growing importance of familial ties within the government: nepotism is alive and well in contemporary Russia. Not only is Defense Minister Serdyukov the son-in-law of Prime Minister Zubkov, but Tatyana Golikova is married to Minister of Industry and Energy Viktor Khristenko. Kommersant’s quick investigation shows multiple instances of familial relationships that might violate Russian laws against supervisory relationships between close relatives within Russian government entities.

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