Ahead of presidential elections next March, a wave of governor dismissals has swept Russia.
Since the start of the year, President Vladimir Putin has shown the door to 15 regional heads, with an estimated 10 more expected to be axed. Meanwhile, Russian media are trying to keep track of who is coming and who is on their way out.
September alone saw new appointments in Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Oryol, Krasnoyarsk, Primorye and Dagestan, while the governors of Omsk and Ivanovo are expected to be replaced shortly, according to media reports.
Interim governors face elections next year to keep their posts and in Primorye in Russia’s Far East and Dagestan in the North Caucasus, local parliaments will have to confirm the posts.
Independent journalist Kirill Martynov of Novaya Gazeta says the governor purge is linked to presidential elections next March. The Kremlin wants to set up new bastions of influence in the provinces, he says, not only to ensure Putin’s re-election but to exert control over some of Russia’s more volatile regions.
The latest wave of resignations began early this year, when seven heads of Russian regions and republics — Perm, Buryatia, Novgorod and Ryazan and Mari-El, Udmurt and Karelia — left their posts.
The reshuffle is part of “a new tradition, that started about one year ago,” political analyst Yekaterina Schulmann told The Moscow Times.
“It looks good in the news,” she says. “It gives the impression that meaningful political action is being taken and it stimulates the elite, not giving them time to relax.”
When Putin came to power in 2000, he forced through a draft law to remove governors from their seats in the Federation Council, the upper chamber of parliament. In 2004, he announced the end of direct elections of governors.
Following mass opposition protests in late 2011 and 2012, the elections were brought back by then-President Dmitry Medvedev, although some regions like north Caucasus republics opted to have their leadership elected by the local parliament, under the tight grip of the United Russia party.
Technocrats or fixers?
Social media users in Russia have been quick to point out the uncanny similarities between some of the new appointees, describing them as obedient technocrats — a characterization Schulmann disputes.
“It doesn’t matter whether they are young or old, whether they wear glasses or come from the regions,” she says. “There is no prototype of the perfect governor.”
“There are regions with certain problems and the Kremlin wants a governor there to fix them,” she explains.