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Prominent Russians: Viktor Zubkov

Born September 15, 1941
AFP Photo / Alexander Drozdov AFP Photo / Alexander Drozdov

Viktor Zubkov is the current First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.

Viktor Zubkov was born in Arbat, a village in the Sverdlovsk Region. His parents had been evacuated here from the Murmansk Region during the Second World War. When the war was over, the family returned to Murmansk. Viktor’s parents originated from wealthy farming families who were dispossessed and forced to search for work in mining. His father was a drift miner while his mother stayed at home to look after their four children. Young Viktor worked at a mine and as a mechanic at a mechanical plant in the Murmansk Region. In 1965 he graduated from the Leningrad Agricultural Institute with a degree in economics. He completed his military service in 1967.

Viktor Zubkov’s life journey is full of turning points that helped him reach his current post of First Deputy Prime Minister. His career path has been gradual but steady, even though at first sight each separate phase of promotion may seem freestanding and unrelated.

One of these turning points was agriculture. From 1967 - 1985 Zubkov held leading posts on collective farms in the Leningrad Region. He began as the head of a department and became the general director of the state-run farming association in Pervomaiskoye, a small town in the Leningrad Region. His former colleagues remember him as a very organized and straightforward leader who spent most of his time at work, successfully resolving urgent questions and helping ordinary workers (providing housing, organizing their leisure activities). At the time Soviet agriculture was running at a loss and was largely subsidized by the State, which, in turn, was demanding increased productivity. Consequently, a leader who worked in these conditions had to be flexible and persistent at the same time.

1985 marked a new phase in Zubkov’s career. He began working his way up through the regional Communist Party, from First Secretary of the Communist Party Committee in Priozersk, in the Leningrad Region, to the First Deputy Chairman of the Leningrad Region Executive Committee of the Party (1989-1991).

His next significant step in politics was a post in the Saint Petersburg city administration. He first met Vladimir Putin in the early 1990s, shortly after the latter had resigned from his commission at the KGB and become head of the Committee for External Relations of the Saint Petersburg Mayor's Office in 1991. Putin named Viktor Zubkov his deputy (1991-1993).

From the end of 1993 until 1999 Zubkov worked in another sphere, namely taxes and fees. From 1993 to 1998 he was the Chief of the Saint Petersburg Department of the State Tax Inspection and a Deputy Chairman of the State Tax Inspection for Saint Petersburg. In 1999 Zubkov was appointed Deputy Tax Minister of Russia for the Northwestern Region, and also became Chief of the Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate of the Tax Ministry.

In 2001 President Vladimir Putin issued a decree to form the Financial Monitoring Committee, which was later re-named the Federal Financial Monitoring Service. The aim of this federal executive body was to combat the legalization (laundering) of proceeds from crime and the financing of terrorism, in coordination with other federal executive bodies in this sphere. It was led by Viktor Zubkov from the very beginning. In 2000-2002 Russia was on a “black list” of the FATF (The Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, an inter-governmental body founded in 1989 by the G7). By 2003 the situation changed, and Russia became a full member of this organization. Zubkov marked this event as his significant achievement.

AFP Photo / Alexander Natruskin AFP Photo / Alexander Natruskin

During his six years of work in the financial monitoring service Zubkov had, probably, only one scandalous situation, when in 2004, at a session of the FATF in Paris, he said that his service suspected about 10 Russian banks of laundering illegal money, and that these banks could lose their licenses. This statement sparked a banking crisis as panicked depositors rapidly withdrew their money from several private banks. After this occasion Zubkov was more careful with his announcements.

Despite all the important posts he has held, Viktor Zubkov was little known outside, or even inside Russia, before September 2007 when President Vladimir Putin dismissed Russia's government and then quickly nominated Zubkov to be the new prime minister. The State Duma (the lower house of the Russian legislature) backed the presidential nominee with 381 votes in his support (the candidate needed 200 votes to be elected to the post).

The president's decision to choose a relatively unknown person came as a surprise. Soon after his nomination, Zubkov announced his intention to run for the presidency in March 2008, when Putin's term was set to expire. Putin confirmed a possibility for the prime minister to stand as a candidate for president, but said there were at least four other strong contenders, and that the campaign would not be a foregone conclusion. In December 2007, during the presidential elections, Putin officially gave his support to Dmitry Medvedev.

In May 2008 Zubkov, along with Igor Shuvalov, became First Deputy Prime Minister under the new cabinet of Prime Minister Putin. Currently Viktor Zubkov coordinates work of the federal authorities in the following areas: realization of the national priority project on agriculture (The National Priority Projects of the Russian Federation is a program of the Russian government, started in 2005 and aimed at development of social welfare in Russia through additional state funding of four selected projects, focusing on public health, education, housing and agriculture); development and realization of state policy in the areas of fishery, forestry and agro-industrial complexes; and activity of the Commission of the Government of the Russian Federation on protective measures in external trade and in customs-tariff policy.

In June 2008 Zubkov was appointed Chairman of Board of Directors of Gazprom (the world’s largest gas company), in succession to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

Viktor Zubkov is married and has a daughter. She is married to Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

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