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Sobyanin Touted as Kremlin Wild Card

President Vladimir Putin's new chief of staff, Sergei Sobyanin, was being touted on Tuesday as a wild card who could help reduce tensions between powerful clans in the Kremlin -- and potentially get stalled reforms moving again.

But where Sobyanin, the 47-year-old Tyumen governor, will likely stand in the rivalry between the siloviki and the liberals within the presidential administration will become clear only over time, analysts said.

"I think the president wants to defuse these kind of tensions. ... The striking thing about this appointment is that he is not from St. Petersburg or Moscow, but a regional politician. ... I think he is designed to preserve neutrality," said Christopher Granville, chief strategist at United Financial Group.

Sobyanin, a native of the Khanty-Mansiisk autonomous district who was elected Tyumen governor in 2001, is seen as a competent manager with rather reserved manners and is well liked in his region, said Alexei Titkov, an analyst at the Institute for Regional Studies.

Tyumen had been abuzz with speculation that Sobyanin was well suited for a senior post in Moscow, with some even tipping him as a potential prosecutor general, Titkov said.

"One can easily come across remarks along the lines of, 'Our guy is respected in the capital,'" Titkov said. "He is one of very few regional leaders who really fits the bill for a top job in the federal government in terms of education and experience."

"It's too early to say whether he's a liberal," said Peter Westin, chief economist at MDM Bank. "Looking at some of the speeches he made as Tyumen governor, he actually did promote liberal ideas, but the audiences he spoke to were mainly made up of people from the business community."

Sobyanin has promoted progressive goals such as the integration of Russia into the global economy, Westin said. "So at least he has a touch of liberalism in him," he said.

On the other hand, liberal parties in Tyumen have criticized Sobyanin over his tough stance toward NGOs and the media, Titkov said.

This, however, is something he is unlikely to be criticized for too much in the Kremlin.

Source: The Moscow Times

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