Few changes in reshuffled Putin cabinet

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MOSCOW, Sep 24 (Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin left his cabinet largely unchanged in a reshuffle today, with the biggest winner Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who was given the additional post of deputy prime minister.

The biggest casualty was Economy Minister German Gref, who was one of three ministers who lost their posts. The others were Health and Social Affairs Minister Mikhail Zurabov and Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev.

First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medevedev -- named by analysts as possible successors to Putin when he steps down in 2008 -- retained their posts, as did deputy prime ministers Sergei Naryshkin and Alexander Zhukov.

''The finance minister's status has been raised,'' Itar-Tass news agency quoted Putin as telling his new cabinet. ''He will simultaneously carry out the functions of deputy prime minister.'' The cabinet was reshuffled after Putin earlier this month sacked Mikhail Fradkov and named little-known financial regulator Zubkov as prime minister in his place.

In the reshuffle, Putin brought Dmitry Kozak, a close ally who had been working in the presidential administration, into the government as the new regional development minister.

Gref was replaced by his own deputy, 44-year-old Elvira Nabiulina. Tatyana Golikova, previously deputy finance minister, was given the health and social affairs portfolio.

Putin kept Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in his post, turning down the resignation he had earlier submitted. Serdyukov had asked to leave the government on the grounds that the fact he is Zubkov's son-in-law was a potential conflict of interest.

REUTERS GT RK2325

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