Putin's pick for new Russia PM: Mikhail Mishustin -- a man without any political profile
Mishustin, 53, ran Russia's tax service where he won praise for dramatically improving tax collection. A previously little-known tax technocrat is now set to head the Russian government.
As part of a sweeping shake-up of Russia’s political system announced by President Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Mishustin -- a man with almost no political profile -- has been nominated by Putin as the country’s new Prime Minister.
Russia's ruling party on Thursday unanimously backed Putin's surprise choice for the Prime Minister. The Wednesday’s shake-up led to the resignation of Dmitry Medvedev as Prime Minister along with his government.
The changes are widely seen as giving Putin, 67, scope to extend his grip on power once he leaves the presidency in 2024. He has dominated Russian politics, as President or as Prime Minister, for two decades.
Russia's State Duma, the lower house of parliament, is expected to vote on Mishustin's candidacy later on Thursday after he has addressed the chamber. United Russia -- the ruling party -- has a majority in the Duma, meaning Mishustin's confirmation, barring an unexpected upset, is assured.
Who is Mikhail Mishustin?
Mishustin, 53, ran the country's tax service where he won praise for dramatically improving tax collection. A previously little-known tax technocrat is now set to head the Russian government.
Born in Moscow in 1966, Mishustin is not considered a high profile politician in Russia and his career has been largely technocratic up until now. He has worked in tax collection since 1998 and has headed the Federal Tax Service since 2010.
In 2008, he also served as the head of Russian investment company UFG, which at the time worked with Germany's Deutsche Bank.
Despite his tax-focused career, Mishustin initially trained as an engineer, graduating from Moscow's STANKIN Machine-Instrument Institute (currently Moscow State Technological University STANKIN) in 1989. He has a PhD in economics, according to his official biography.
He also had a stint as an IT expert in the 1990s at the International Computer Club, which according to Russian news agency TASS, aimed to attract "advanced western information technologies to Russia".
Mishustin is similar to his predecessor Medvedev in embracing technology and has been widely credited with digitalizing the Russian tax system. This led to a drop in tax evasion as well as bringing many smaller businesses into the formal economy.
Like Putin, Mishustin is said to be a keen hockey enthusiast and has been seen at matches with security services officials. He is also a member of the board of Russia's Ice Hockey Federation. He is married with three sons.
Forbes Russia listed him as the 54th best-paid state official in 2015 with earnings of 183.31 million rubles (around $3 million).
Former opposition lawmaker Gennadiy Gudkov called Mishustin "a new faceless functionary without ambition" who embodies a system that is "detrimental for the economy."
Analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Putin adviser, told the Interfax news agency that Mishustin is "a splendid bureaucrat, in the best sense of the word".
Critics have long accused Putin, a former KGB officer, of plotting to stay on in some capacity after his term ends and continue to wield power over the world's largest nation, which is also one of its two leading nuclear powers.
Putin remains popular with many Russians who see him as a welcome source of stability, even as others complain that he has been in power for too long, that their pensions and standard of living are being steadily eroded, and that poverty is widespread and healthcare poor.
The constitutional reform proposals, which he set out on Wednesday and suggested should be put to a referendum, would give him the option of taking an enhanced role as Prime Minister after 2024 or a new role as head of the State Council, an official body he said he was keen to build up. Putin could even become speaker of a new, supercharged parliament.
Putin to rule Russia for life?
According to Opposition politician Leonid Volkov, it looked as though Putin was digging in.
"It's clear to everyone that everything is going exclusively towards setting Putin up to rule for life," he wrote on social media.
The Kommersant business daily on Thursday called Putin's shake-up "the January revolution". The proposals looked, Kommersant wrote, like the start of many more changes to come.
Under the current Constitution, which sets a maximum of two successive terms, Putin is barred from immediately running again for the presidency in 2024, but his supporters find it hard to imagine Russian political life without him.