MOSCOW – Vladimir Putin is putting his trust in an obscure technocrat with little political experience as his choice for prime minister to revive Russia’s flagging economy as he prepares the country for the most significant constitutional overhaul in a generation.
Mikhail Mishustin, head of the Federal Tax Service, last held a political post in the government as a deputy tax minister for five years to 2004. Still, his nomination won plaudits from economic reformers and business leaders, aware of his record of transforming tax collections through efficient use of modern technology and encouraged by expectations he’ll focus on boosting growth.
“Mishustin can relate to business like no one else,” said Alexei Kudrin, a former finance minister and now head of the Audit Chamber, a government watchdog. “He has a vision for the economy that I hope will lead to a modern and effective development program.”
While he’s not widely known outside of the tax authority, Mishustin developed a rapport with Putin as a member of the president’s Night Hockey League. A longtime hockey enthusiast, he sits on the supervisory board of Moscow’s CSKA club with Igor Sechin, a Putin confidant who runs Russia’s state-run oil giant Rosneft PJSC.
The incoming prime minister is also an amateur musician and has penned pop songs as a hobby.
Confirmation of his appointment by lawmakers in the lower house of parliament on Thursday is all but a formality after Mishustin earlier won the unanimous backing of the ruling party. He could begin forming the new government this week.
Mishustin, 53, led the tax service since 2010, creating a state-of-the-art system that involves real-time reporting to minimize avoidance. It helped tax payments grow far more quickly than Russia’s gross domestic product for the last five years.
“Before, you needed a bottle of vodka to figure out your declarations,” Yandex NV Deputy Chief Executive Officer Tigran Khudaverdyan said of Mishustin’s reforms. “But now it’s a brave new world where everything is simple.”