In a bold step that removed a last major holdover from the days of Boris Yeltsin, President Vladimir Putin dismissed his prime minister and all other Cabinet ministers Tuesday, saying he reshuffled the government in preparation for next month's presidential vote.
Putin said the ouster of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was designed to put his next government in place in advance of the March 14 balloting.
With virtually no political opposition, Putin was widely expected win a second term, and his comments Tuesday showed his confidence.
"This decision bears no relation to any assessment of the performance of the former composition of the government," Putin said. "It was dictated by my desire to once again delineate my position on the issue of what development course the country will take after March 14, 2004."
Unlike in a parliamentary democracy, the prime minister in Russia does not lead the country. He is responsible for shaping economic policy and for coordinating the work of other ministries, although the defense and interior ministers answer directly to the president.
Kasyanov had been prime minister since Putin was elected in 2000 and was the last major government holdover from Yeltsin's years as president.
Kasyanov had been well-regarded for his work on renegotiating and paying back Russia's enormous foreign debt. But some Russian media reported he had allegedly gotten kickbacks from such negotiations and referred to him as "Misha 2 Percent."
Speculation had percolated that Kasyanov was on the way out since late last year, when he criticized a government investigation into the Yukos oil giant, including the jailing of its head Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Kasyanov had said the investigation, believed to have been spearheaded by the Kremlin, set a bad precedent for the country's economy.
"Putin wants to go to the vote with a clear message, not just setting his tasks but saying whom he will have to carry it out," analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, who has c