Mishustin: hockey-loving taxman picked by Putin as Russian PM

by Anna MALPAS
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Tax chief Mikhail Mishustin has been picked by President Putin to be Russia's next prime minister

Mikhail Mishustin, the man likely to be Russia's next prime minister after President Vladimir Putin proposed him on Wednesday, is a little-known figure to the wider public who has headed the country's tax service for a decade.

The 53-year-old Muscovite trained as an engineer and has a PhD in economics, according to his official biography.

He was appointed head of the tax service in 2010 after being proposed by then-finance minister Alexei Kudrin, known for his outspoken liberal stance.

He has been in the post ever since and is praised for streamlining the service formerly notorious for red tape, mountains of paperwork and long queues.

After Putin proposed Mishustin, Rossiya-24 state television reported that he "created the best tax collection system in the world."

He was picked as premier to create a "more competent leadership," Dmitri Trenin, head of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, wrote on Twitter.

Mishustin is a "neutral figure" and his candidacy cannot be linked to any "ideological platform," political analyst Ekaterina Schulmann told AFP, adding she doubted he is being groomed as a successor to President Vladimir Putin.

While Putin has criticised the internet and is rarely shown using technology, Mishustin has said Russia needs to adapt its economy, making him closer to predecessor Dmitry Medvedev, a keen user of Apple products.

Mishustin told the Kommersant newspaper last year that Russia needs to adapt to the era of digital technology and artificial intelligence or fall behind.

"We are entering a fourth industrial revolution, this is already a digital world," he said.

"If we don't understand how this world is developing and what its rules are, if we insist our country is part of the old order, this new world will make us its victim."

- 'Avid hockey player' -

Mishustin shares a sporting interest with Putin, as he "regularly plays ice hockey," said state news agency RIA Novosti.

He is a member of the supervisory council of CSKA hockey club, along with Rosneft chief Igor Sechin and other powerful figures.

The RBK business newspaper reported in 2010 that Mishustin has "good contacts in the law enforcement structures. He has often been seen at hockey matches with senior officials from the FSB (security service) and the interior ministry."

While much of his career has been at the tax service, he started out in the 1990s heading an organisation set up to promote international cooperation in computing.

He became deputy head of the tax service in 1998 and shortly afterwards was appointed deputy tax minister, a position he held until 2004. After that he headed federal agencies that worked on property and special economic zones.

From 2008 for two years he was president of UFG Asset Management, an international group that has been investing in Russia and other ex-Soviet states since 1996. Deutsche Bank set up a joint venture with the company in 2008.

He reportedly speaks several foreign languages.

Forbes Russia listed him as the 54th best-paid state official in 2015 with earnings of 183.31 million rubles (around $3 million at the current exchange rate).

Tax chief Mikhail Mishustin has been picked by President Putin to be Russia's next prime minister

Analysts say Mishustin, right, was unlikely to be groomed as a successor to Putin