The ousting of finance minister Alexei Kudrin, a figure trusted by Western investors during over a decade in the job, is a huge blow to Russia's economy at a critical time, the press said Tuesday.
Kudrin was forced out late on Monday in a public confrontation with President Dmitry Medvedev after he became the highest-profile official to break ranks with the plan for Medvedev to swap jobs with current prime minister Vladimir Putin in 2012.
Newspapers said it was Kudrin who Putin had to thank for extinguishing the huge external debt that he inherited from the chaotic 1990s and saving the economy in the 2008 crisis with the help of reserve funds built up from oil revenues.
"The most professional minister in the Russian government, whose successes were acknowledged on an international level, has resigned," the daily Vedomosti said.
"Kudrin's resignation will be a big blow for the Russian economy -- experts are already forecasting a new wave of capital flight, a fall in the ruble rate and inflation growth.
"It is hard to imagine who else possesses such an array of qualities -- an understanding of the economic processes, loyalty to his principles and relations of confidence with Putin."
Leading journalist Konstantin Eggert said in a commentary on Kommersant FM that "rightly or wrongly, the now ex-finance minister Kudrin was perhaps the main guarantee for foreign companies that you can invest money in Russia."
"He was like a translator from the language of the Russian authorities to the universally-understood language of global capitalism."
The Moskovsky Komsomolets daily expressed astonishment at the "sensation" but said that there had already been "legends" circulating about Medvedev's increasingly abrasive behaviour.
"His management style is characterised by a tough approach to subordinates of any rank ... and he is always making clear that no-one has the right to argue with him."
Even mass-circulation daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, a loyal Kremlin follower, acknowledged the magnitude of the move. "The president made his 'irreplaceable' finance minister resign," it said.
A successor has yet to be named but Vedomosti said a possible figure is Health Minister Tatyana Golikova although there are also candidates from within the finance ministry.
Kudrin, who many believed wanted to be prime minister himself, had announced at the weekend he had no intention of serving in a government led by Medvedev due to major differences on economic policy.
But Russian newspapers said it was clear his ousting was agreed in advance with Putin. "For Putin, insubordination is a crime which outweighs all other merits," said Vedomosti.