MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir V. Putin dismissed his prime minister Tuesday in a move widely seen as aimed at boosting turnout in an election Putin is almost certain to win.
Analysts had expected Prime Minister Mikhail M. Kasyanov to be fired after the March 14 presidential election. Kasyanov, like Putin, served in the government of former President Boris N. Yeltsin. He was seen as having relatively close ties to big business and tycoons known as oligarchs.
In a live broadcast to the nation, Putin said he had decided to act now so voters would know who will run the government if he wins reelection.
"This decision is not linked to the achievements of the previous government, which I consider on the whole to be satisfactory," Putin said, speaking solemnly into the camera. "It is dictated by my wish to once more set out my position on what the country's course of development will be.... The undelayed formation of a government will make it possible to avoid uncertainty."
Putin named Viktor B. Khristenko, a deputy prime minister in the outgoing government, as acting prime minister. It was unclear whether Khristenko would keep the post permanently.
Yulia Latynina, a political analyst with Echo of Moscow radio, described Putin's firing of the prime minister as a "major PR gimmick."
"Now Russian voters are expected to see that the corrupt gang of the old Yeltsin 'family' led by Kasyanov is finally and irreversibly sacked, meaning that President Putin got rid of all those who were responsible for various flops, mistakes and corruption," Latynina said. "So now the people of Russia can with no pangs of conscience vote for Mr. Putin, the savior of Russia."
With public support for him at more than 70%, Putin is considered a shoo-in next month. But 50% voter turnout is needed for the election to be valid, and some observers have speculated that the target might not be reached. Earlier Tuesday, four other presidential candidates, none with more than a few percentage points of support in the polls, said they might drop out of the race, which could further discourage voting.
"Putin decided to go to such lengths to prevent the looming tragedy of a low turnout at the presidential poll," said Andrei Piontkovsky, head of the Center for Strategic Studies, a Moscow think tank. "In the next two weeks we are to see Putin actively campaigning for himself.... The message is that oligarchs are out to sabotage the elections but Putin will meet them with a sword at the ready. The sacking of Kasyanov fits this heroic image perfectly."
Khristenko, 46, who has presided over Russia's booming energy sector, is "a moderately liberal technocrat," said Lilia Shevtsova, an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center.
Khristenko worked in Yeltsin's government as a deputy prime minister. He later became Russia's emissary to the International Monetary Fund, returning to Moscow in 1999 to be deputy prime minister.
Other possible candidates for the premiership are Finance Minister Alexei L. Kudrin and Defense Minister Sergei B. Ivanov. The former is a free-market economist who would be welcomed by Western business interests, but the appointment of Ivanov would raise concerns in the West because, like Putin, he has a KGB background.
Since Putin's rise to the presidency four years ago, he has elevated many of his former colleagues in the intelligence service to positions in the Kremlin and elsewhere. At least a quarter of the elite in the Russian government is believed to come from military, intelligence or security backgrounds. These siloviki, or "powerful ones," hold up to 2,000 influential government and industry positions, according to a Russian Academy of Sciences study last year.
If Putin wanted to target the oligarchs, he could appoint Ivanov prime minister, thereby enlisting "an iron KGB hand to eradicate them for good," Piontkovsky said. "But that will be too straightforward even for Putin. So another possibility remains that he will appoint economist Kudrin as a gesture to the West."
Some say Putin's intent was to make the election seem more interesting.
"For the last several months, politics in Russia began to be reminiscent of politics in the former Soviet Union, which was even more predictable than weather forecasts," said Mikhail G. Delyagin, head of the Institute for Globalization Problems, a Moscow think tank. "Now for a while, at least, voters are expected to think that politics is really interesting, and, 'Why not take part in it if it seems like I can influence it to some extent too?' "
Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko contributed to this report.