By Gleb Bryanski
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin sacked a member of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's cabinet on Wednesday after five months in office, asserting his authority over a government some analysts predict will be short-lived.
Putin signed a decree dismissing Regional Development Minister Oleg Govorun, one of two ministers he had publicly criticized last month, and replacing him with Igor Slyunyayev, a former governor of Kostroma region northeast of Moscow.
The Kremlin has dismissed suggestions that Putin was unhappy with the government, but his criticism of the two ministers added to speculation that he could dismiss Medvedev's cabinet, particularly if economic conditions worsen.
It was the first change in the cabinet Putin unveiled two weeks after his May 7 inauguration to a new presidential term after consultations with Medvedev, the protege who served as president during Putin's four-year stint as prime minister.
The decree gave no reason for the dismissal and Putin made no mention of Govorun in a meeting with Slyunyayev.
He told Slyunyayev he had been recommended by Medvedev, in line with protocol, but the move emphasized that Putin holds ultimate authority.
Russia's paramount leader since his initial 2000-2008 presidency, Putin has sometimes used sackings to keep subordinates in line and maintain balance between rival Kremlin factions.
Putin had singled out Govorun and the labor minister for criticism at a budget meeting a month ago. He suggested they had failed to implement decrees he issued upon taking office and urged Medvedev, who was not present, to reprimand them.
He also said the cabinet's draft three-year spending plan had failed to cover his commitments.
Analysts had said after the meeting that Putin was laying the groundwork for the potential dismissal of the government, especially if economic conditions worsened.
Putin told the new minister to pay particular attention to moving Russians out of the dangerously decrepit housing that is a common cause of complaint in far-flung regions, where Putin draws strong support as city-dwellers tire of his 12-year rule.
The Regional Development Ministry oversees housing and utility development programs in the regions, seen as crucial to securing popular loyalty in the course of Putin's six-year term.
"There are many tasks ahead of the ministry but one I would like you to pay a particular attention to: resettlement of people living in decrepit houses in hazardous condition," Putin told Slyunyayev at their meeting shown on state TV.
Locals in the regions say living standards are low and utility rates too high, complaints analysts say Putin, who took office following the largest opposition protests of his rule, may be forced to hear more of in the future.
Sources have also said Govorun, 42, had a difficult relationship with his deputy, St. Petersburg businessman Vladimir Kogan, Putin's friend from his time as deputy mayor of Russia's second-largest city and a member of his inner circle.
(Editing by Steve Gutterman and Diana Abdallah)