Russia's likely new PM familiar to many Finns
Viktor Zubkov visited Finland often during St. Petersburg years
Viktor Zubkov, who will most likely replace Mikhail Fradkov as Russia's Prime Minister, is not one of the best-known Russian politicians, although he has had a long career, and has held many important tasks as leader of the office investigating economic crime.
Zubkov has preferred to stay in the background, letting others bask in the light of publicity. This is why his candidacy as Prime Minister was seen as a surprise, especially outside Russia, and many wondered what he is really like.
Zubkov does not even have a KGB background, as most of the closest comrades of President Vladimir Putin do.
However, Viktor Alekseyevich Zubkov is familiar to many Finns.
Zubkov, who turns 66 on Saturday, was born in a small village in the Sverdlovsk region, but he laid the foundation of his present position in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).
After working for about 20 years in managerial positions at collective farms in the Leningrad area, he rose to the position of Deputy Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Leningrad Region.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Zubkov became deputy chairman of the committee of foreign relations of the City of St. Petersburg. His superior on the committee was Vladimir Putin. At that time trust was established between the two men, which brought Zubkov to Moscow in the wake of Putin at the turn of the century.
During Zubkov's St. Petersburg years Finland and the Finns became very familiar to many officials of the city administration. For instance, Putin visited Turku, the Finnish city that was twinned with St. Petersburg, a few times. Zubkov also visited Finland regularly, and also met with Finns in St. Petersburg.
Contacts continued after Zubkov rose to the position of St. Petersburg tax director in 1993.
"He was a very straightforward, businesslike, and upright person. It was easy to deal with him, and in St. Petersburg we had dealings", says Kaj Forssel, former CEO of Sinebrychoff Breweries.
Sinebrychoff invested in a brewery in St. Petersburg in the mid-1990s and Zubkov was intensely involved in the negotiations. Alongside the negotiations, there was time for common interests.
"We played basketball in St. Petersburg and Kerava", Forssell says.
"Having common interests makes interaction easier."
The teams comprised Sinebrychoff personnel and St. Petersburg municipal civil servants. Zubkov is said to have ben a very skilful player. However, he should not be confused with his namesake, who once played on the national basketball team of the Soviet Union.
During one of his visits to Finland Zubkov took part in a training programme of Eurofacts, a consultancy company known for its Russian contacts, run by Anders Blom. Taking part were the Ministry of Trade and Industry, as well as the cities of Helsinki, Tampere, and Turku.
Zubkov became acquainted with both Finnish business as well as municipal administration and public services. In addition to Zubkov, about 50 other St. Petersburg officials managed to take part in the programme over a period of a couple of years. Now most of them are in important positions in Russia.
One Finn who knows Zubkov describes him as a "well-mannered man of nature, who knows Finland and who thinks positively of Finland".
Forssell also describes Zubkov in similar terms.
"Let's hope that he will become Prime Minister. He knows Finnish conditions, and respects Finland".
Zubkov's contacts with Finland declined when he moved to Moscow, but he granted appointments for people that he knew.
Zubkov is also respected in the Kremlin. He has maintained his position in the financial administration, even though Putin has, over the years, altered his civil service with a heavy hand.
"Zubkov is very close to Putin. He is a member of the basic team", says one Finn who is familiar to Zubkov.
Another indication of the relations within the inner circle of Russia's present leadership is that Zubkov's daughter is married to Defence Minister Anatoli Serdyukov.