May 11, 2022
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“Gubernatopad” in Russia: Planned rotation or administrative “special operation”?

"Gubernatopad" in Russia: Planned rotation or administrative "special operation"?

Photo: Artem Geodakyan/TASS

President of Russia Vladimir Putin signed decrees on the appointment of interim heads of the Republic of Mari El, Kirov, Ryazan, Saratov and Tomsk regions. In each of these regions, the head of state accepted the resignation of the leader with the wording “of his own free will.”

On May 10, five heads of regions immediately announced their early resignation, among them the governor of the Kirov region Igor Vasilievhead of Mari El Alexander Evstifeevas well as the heads of the Tomsk, Saratov and Ryazan regions Sergey Zhvachkin, Valery Radaev I Nikolay Lyubimov.

Did they have any noticeable conflicts with the federal center, as well as obvious global problems in the regions they lead? Then what was it: duty rotation on the eve of the elections, promotion or preparation for serious changes in the political system and the landscape of the political field in Russia?

According to Leading Analyst of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications Mikhail Neizhmakov“Batch” resignations of several governors at once is a common practice.

— In previous years, they usually took place with a long period of time before the Single Election Day. But, by the way, the resignations of May 10 are also not the latest in recent years – for example, in 2018, several interim governors were appointed in the last days of May.

SP: What do you think these five people have in common? Who else can add to the list?

– First of all, there were reshuffles in regions with a high protest potential. As you know, in Mari El, the list of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation during the Duma elections-2021 received a higher result than United Russia (36.3% versus 33.4%, respectively), in the Kirov region, United Russia then took first place, but with a result of 29.5% of the vote, this is lower than in most neighboring regions, including the protest Kostroma, Arkhangelsk regions and the same Mari El. Rumors about the resignation of Nikolai Lyubimov in the Ryazan region have been circulating for a long time, including against the backdrop of negative publications in the federal media. 65-year-old Sergei Zhvachkin really remained one of the oldest governors, the protest potential of the Tomsk region he heads should also not be discounted.

“SP”: – Is there a feeling that the governor’s corps is being globally changed? What for? On whom?

“Nothing out of the ordinary is happening. For example, contrary to popular forecasts, there was no mass transfer of high-ranking figures from law enforcement agencies to the governor’s corps. At the initial stages of his biography, the acting head of Mari El had a certain attitude to law enforcement agencies Yuri Zaitsevbut his career, as far as is known, was associated primarily with managerial work in the economic sphere.

In fact, there is no special need for a “mass conscription” of people with a “powerful background” for governors, even against the backdrop of a special operation in Ukraine – key issues related to ensuring the security of regions (including border regions), in any case, will focus on current heads of territorial divisions of law enforcement agencies. The transition of high-ranking security officials to the governor’s corps itself is not necessary for this.

At the same time, a little later, in 2023-2024, it is quite likely that certain high-ranking figures from law enforcement agencies who took part in a military special operation in Ukraine will be transferred to the governor’s corps. As an analogy, one can recall how, after the operations of the late 1990s and early 2000s in the North Caucasus, Vladimir Shamanov in the Ulyanovsk region and Georgy Shpak in Ryazan, and about two years after the annexation of Crimea to Russia, the Tula region was headed Alexey Dyumin (as interim governor having received this appointment in February 2016).

“SP”: – In September last year, a draft law on regional power was submitted to the State Duma, among other things, allowing governors to be elected for more than two consecutive terms. Will it eventually be accepted? How will this affect the picture of the Russian political field? How many will “zero out”, and how many will not use it?

— Actually, the Federal Law “On the General Principles of Organization of Public Power in the Subjects of the Russian Federation”, which allows such a thing, was signed by the President on December 21, 2021. This was followed by changes in the regional legislation. But under the current conditions, the governors-“old-timers” most likely will not become a mass phenomenon. In practice, in the coming years, this norm, under certain conditions, can be used by individual leaders of particularly economically significant or very specific regions. As we can see, far from everyone manages to finish even before the end of the first gubernatorial term (three of the five retirees who left their posts on May 10 did not complete it just before the end of the first term). Governors-“old-timers” as a mass phenomenon would be characteristic of a system where the influence of the center on the regions is noticeably weakened.

“SP”: – At the end of April, the media reported that the election of governors in Russia could be postponed or even canceled. And if it comes to this, will the composition of the governor’s corps change somehow? Will there be those who do not want to stay in these conditions?

—Traditionally, rumors about the prospects for elections (their cancellation, postponement, or, conversely, early elections) do not even need to be specially promoted — the media and expert community easily picks them up and begins to actively discuss, since this topic is closely related to the own interests of representatives of this environment. If we draw an analogy between rumors about the cancellation of elections and the preparation of early elections, the March 2020 scenario is still being repeated. Then, as everyone remembers, even the declared Alexander Karelin an amendment to the Constitution, which would allow elections to the State Duma in connection with the empowerment of the Parliament with new powers when the fundamental law is changed. But Vladimir Putin said that he “does not see the need for early elections.” Now, some of the president’s remarks at the Council of Legislators, if not completely dispelled, then to a large extent reduced interest in rumors about the possibility of canceling direct gubernatorial elections in the regions where they were planned, or even refusing to hold any election campaigns this year. Recent reshuffles in the governor’s corps further reduced the credibility of such rumors.

– The date of the “governor’s fall” was chosen with intent: on May 9, the old political season ended, and fresh politicians are needed in the new season, – I’m sure political scientist Andrei Milyuk.

– But the governors would “leave” at the end of February, and already on Maslenitsa joyful voters would burn stuffed animals of the “former” at the festivities. That’s the kind of symbolism that’s wasted.

Traditionally, such resignations are “black marks” for unsuccessful managers. And the opportunity for the president to appoint temporary executives, who will then become people’s choices – having managed to promise a lot for the elections, but not having had time to get bored.

In September, gubernatorial elections will be held in 15 regions. Three regions have already been appointed interim, five regions have just changed their heads. Apparently, there are no complaints about the other seven in the Presidential Administration. There really remained less problematic regions, such as the Novgorod, Sverdlovsk and Kaliningrad regions. And compare with those who lost their governors today: the Kirov region, Mari El, the Ryazan region are not the most successful regions.

And such a touch to the personnel policy of the Kremlin: the head of Rosstat was appointed to the Ryazan region as acting governor Malkovin which the population census was just recently failed. As if Ryazan did not have to hold early elections in a couple of years.

And the elections will remain, no one will cancel them. The Kremlin has been diligently clearing out organized political forces in recent years. Parallel to this process, disorganized political forces raised their heads – they are also the “deep people”. Practice has shown that the authorities simply stopped paying attention to the political opposition, but listens to the voice of the people, tries not to anger ordinary people where this is not necessary.

Therefore, the symbolic ritual of approval of the head of the region will remain. Rather, the Kremlin will take care to make this ritual more spectacular: the turnout has only been falling in recent years.

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