Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed his long-serving prime minister on Wednesday and nominated Cabinet official Victor Zubkov to replace him in a surprise move that could put Zubkov in the running to replace Putin next year.
The nomination of Zubkov, who currently oversees the government's fight against money laundering, appeared to have caught much of the Russian political elite off-guard.
Putin had been expected to announce in December whom he would back to run for president next year - and Russia's two first deputy prime ministers - former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and gas giant Gazprom board chairman Dmitry Medvedev - are widely considered to be the leading contenders.
After dismissing Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov - triggering the government's automatic dissolution - Putin explained the shakeup was required to "prepare the country" for forthcoming elections. Legislative elections are to be held on December 2, and presidential elections are expected three months later.