Mikhail Mishustin, a little-known tax chief, was nominated by the president as the new prime minister after Vladimir Putin's announcement of a sweeping constitutional shake-up fuelled speculation about his future plans.

Mikhail Mishustin, head of the Russian Federal Tax Service, speaks during a session of the Russian State Duma, whose lawmakers approved President Vladimir Putin's proposal for Mishustin to become prime minister.
Mikhail Mishustin, head of the Russian Federal Tax Service, speaks during a session of the Russian State Duma, whose lawmakers approved President Vladimir Putin's proposal for Mishustin to become prime minister. (DPA)

Russian President Vladimir Putin's new prime minister promised "real changes" on Thursday as he was approved by lawmakers after the Kremlin announced sweeping reform plans.

The lower house State Duma voted overwhelmingly to approve Mikhail Mishustin as premier, less than 24 hours after Russia's political order was shaken by Putin's announcement of constitutional reforms and the resignation of the government.

No MPs voted against his candidacy, although Communist lawmakers abstained.

Speaking before his approval, Mishustin called on parliament to work with him to urgently enact Putin's programme.

"People should already now be feeling real changes for the better," Mishustin said.

The naming of a new premier was one in a series of bombshell announcements that rocked Russia on Wednesday, when Putin said constitutional reform would change the country's balance of power and his longtime prime minister Dmitry Medvedev resigned along with the cabinet.

The announcements made during and after Putin's state of the nation speech triggered speculation about his role past 2024, when his current presidential term expires.

Some suggested 67-year-old Putin, who is currently two years into his fourth presidential term and has steered the country since 1999, could be laying the groundwork to assume a new post or remain in a powerful behind-the-scenes role.

It is also unclear whether Mishustin, a relatively obscure technocrat disengaged from political debate whose recent career revolved around Russia's tax service, is a temporary figure or could be groomed as Putin's successor.

Mishustin said his priority would be to "increase citizens' real incomes" but also said the government must "restore trust" with the business community and drive innovation, echoing the state-of-the-nation speech on Wednesday when Putin announced the reforms.

Mishustin assured lawmakers that Russia can afford salary hikes and social payouts announced by Putin, estimating they will cost $65 billion (about four trillion rubles) over the next four years.

'Staying number one'? 

In his state of the nation speech, Putin said he wanted more authority transferred to parliament from the president, including the power to choose the prime minister and senior cabinet members.

Outlining the proposals, which would be the first significant changes to the country's constitution since it was adopted in 1993, Putin noted the "demand for change" among Russians.

Frustration has been building in Russia where ordinary people have seen their incomes stagnate or decrease for five years, while a key reform hiking the pension age has led to anger and a fall in Putin's ratings.

Dmitry Medvedev, prime minister since 2012, announced the resignation of his government soon after Putin's speech on Wednesday saying the constitutional proposals would make significant changes to the country's balance of power.

He remains acting prime minister until a new head of government takes the reins.

Independent political analyst Maria Lipman said all of the announced changes indicate that Putin wants to "stay on as number one in the country, without any competitors".

She said he could be deliberately weakening the presidency before relinquishing the role.

Russia's opposition also said the proposals indicate Putin's desire to stay in power.

"To remain the sole leader for life, who took over the whole country as his property... is the only goal for Putin," tweeted opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Engineer, economist, tax man

If 53-year-old Mishustin is appointed he would have a week to propose a new government and ministers.

The former head of an investment group trained as an engineer, has a PhD in economics and has led Russia's Federal Tax Service since 2010.

He also shares Putin's love for hockey and has been seen at matches with security services officials, according to reports.

Former opposition lawmaker Gennadiy Gudkov called Mishustin "a new faceless functionary without ambition" who embodies a system that is "detrimental for the economy".

Medvedev –– who also served as Russian president for four years from 2008 –– is expected to stay close to the Russian leader, transitioning to a role as deputy head of the country's Security Council, which Putin chairs.

"He remains what he's always been: (Putin's) alter ego," tweeted head of Carnegie Moscow Centre Dmitry Trenin, suggesting Medvedev could be being groomed as the next president.

Source: AFP