Russian President Vladmir Putin has named some of his closest allies to senior positions in the Kremlin.
Commentators are suggesting he is manoeuvring potential successors into position ahead of the 2008 presidential election. Putin cannot serve a third term.
He has appointed two deputy prime ministers. That has prompted speculation he wants to give himself the option to choose between them as the poll draws nearer.
The move is seen as weakening the hand of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov.Putin’s close confidant Sergei Ivanov takes one of the posts. He stays on as defence minister. It is expected that the appointment will strengthen his role in reforming the military and coordinating the work of special forces and law-enforcement agencies.
The other job is taken by Dimitri Medvedev, the Kremlin chief of staff and chairman of gas monopoly Gazprom. Analysts say the discreet former law professor will now be in an ideal position to convince people that he is made of presidential material.
Sergei Sobyanin, the governor of a major oil-producing region, takes over from Medvedev as chief of staff.