Medvedev says ministers must leave boardrooms by July, 2011…

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said government ministers have until July 1 to give up their seats on boards of some of the country’s biggest state firms, the Kremlin said on Saturday.

The Kremlin insists the move is part of efforts to “improve Russia’s investment climate.”

But experts suggest Medvedev is trying to gain ground ahead of the 2012 presidential election by dismissing some of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s closest allies as oil and gas regulators and company directors. Putin has hinted he may try to elbow Medvedev aside at the polls.

In a speech carried by state news channel Rossiya 24 earlier this week, Medvedev said he wanted all ministers to vacate their seats, including Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin as chairman of state oil firm Rosneft and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin as chairman of Russia’s second largest VTB Bank and diamond miner Alrosa.

Transport Minister Igor Levitin will be replaced at Russia’s flagship airline Aeroflot and Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, while First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov should resign from the Russian Agricultural Bank.

The entire list of the officials to lose their seats was published on the Kremlin website.

The move has rekindled rumors of a growing rift between Medvedev and Putin, who have recently disagreed on a number of issues, most notably on the second conviction of former oligarch and Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky and on the UN-mandated air strikes on Libya.

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