Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Prepares to Dismiss Four Prominent Regional Leaders

Paul Goble

Kuressaare, November 19 – Moscow is preparing to fire four prominent regional leaders who it believes are insufficiently deferential to the central government and too independent-minded in their approach, an action that Russian officials are already calling “Operation ‘Revenge,’” according to a prominent analyst from the Urals.
In an extensive article posted online yesterday, Vitaly Sotnik says that “Kremlin ideologists have found a way to liquidate the threat of the appearance of a new parade of sovereignties in Russia,” something that both the Kremlin and Staraya ploshchad’ fear could threaten their power (
According to Sotnik who cites both published sources and his own contacts in the Russian government, Moscow plans in the very near future to name Sergey Sobyanin, the head of the apparatus of the Russian government, in place of both Moscow city Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Moscow oblast governor Boris Gromov.
And after doing that, the analyst continues, the central government plans to move against two non-Russian leaders who were elected to their posts in Yeltsin’s time and who have become increasingly independent in their policies, Tatarstan’s Mintimir Shaimiyev and Bashkortostan’s Murtaza Rakhimov.
From the perspective of central government, Sotnik says, Sobyanin’s appointment will have three consequences: First, it will represent a form of “revenge” against what many in the Russian capital see as a dangerous tendency toward increasingly independent action and even separatism by regional leaders.
Second, the central government is convinced that his appointment will pave the way for the unification of the city and oblast, not only putting the capital city in its place and rescuing the oblast from its current financial difficulties but restarting Putin’s currently stalled effort at the amalgamation of regions.
And third, Moscow is convinced that Sobyanin will put this new expanded megalopolis under the complete control of the Kremlin and Staraya ploshchad’, a signal of what the central authorities plan or at least hope for not only there but throughout the regions and republics of the Russian Federation as a whole.
All of these moves have been rumored for some time, Sotnik points out, but there are new reasons for taking them seriously beyond the leaks of the Russian government’s plans to which he refers. First of all, Boris Gromov is approaching his 65th birthday and, despite his rank as a colonel general and hero of the USSR, could be ready for an honored retirement.
Then, this week, Luzhkov further offended both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin by “voluntarily” joining the ranks of “the separatists” by suggesting that the government should reverse its decision to end the election of federation subject heads, a view that Medvedev himself promptly denounced during his speech in Udmurtia.
And finally, there are the consequences of the financial crisis. Many regional leaders have seen their authority decline, Sotnik says, and they “have begun to criticize the center” for taking more resources away from the regions than it has given back. No regional leaders have been move outspoken in this regard than Rakhimov and Shaimiyev.
On the one hand, as Sotnik himself admits, rumors about exactly these sorts of changes have been swirling about Moscow and in the regions for some time, and the current upsurge in such reports may subside as earlier ones have without any action being taken. That is all the more so because each of those slated to be removed in this scenario has a genuine power base.
But on the other, the anger Medvedev displayed yesterday about the idea of electing governors and the details about the appointment of Sobyanin to an expanded Moscow region suggest that the center may in fact be preparing precisely “the revenge” that Sotnik points to in his commentary.
If that proves to be the case and the central government makes a move in Moscow, then it is virtually certain that Shaimiyev and Rakhimov will not sit idly by waiting for word of their dismissal to come. Instead, they are likely to mobilize their own supporters and thus present the center with a kind of “revenge” Moscow may decide poses a greater threat than the two do now.

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