Russia's Kudrin quits Putin tour as media abuzz
( Reuters ) - Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, widely respected by foreign investors for his prudent stewardship of Russia's huge oil wealth, could be dropped in a reshuffle, expected on Monday, media speculated.
The speculation about Kudrin heightened when journalists saw him walk out of an investment exhibition in the Black Sea resort of Sochi that President Vladimir Putin was attending.
Putin has ordered his new prime minister, Viktor Zubkov, to produce a new line-up to lead Russia through parliamentary and presidential elections over the next six months. A government source told Reuters that Monday was the likely day for an announcement.
Investor interest has centered on the fate of Kudrin and the cabinet's other leading liberal, Economy Minister German Gref. Both men were in Sochi for a government-sponsored investment conference on Friday.
Newspapers have been predicting for days that both men will be casualties of the cabinet shake-up and reporters watched their behavior closely for clues.
Correspondents said Kudrin, architect of carefully-framed macroeconomic policies, suddenly leave a tour of an investment exhibition, headed by Putin, on Friday and go to a restaurant for lunch with an aide.
Putin continued touring the exhibition with other key cabinet colleagues and then went to a meeting with investors.
Guards later barred Kudrin and his aides from entering the cordoned-off area where Putin was meeting the businessmen. After verbal exchanges, Kudrin went in on his own.