Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Situation in Oil and Gas Region Threatens to Go ‘Out of Control’ in Response to Medvedev Appointment

Paul Goble

Key West, February 10 – The social-political situation in the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District, whose oil and gas supplies make it “the most important region” in Russia, now “threatens to go out of control of the powers that be” as a result of President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to replace the current governor, according to a regional news agency. reports today that Medvedev’s decision to have Natalya Komarova, a Duma deputy from Yamal, replace Aleksandr Filipenko as governor not only has led to public demonstrations but also prompted the editor of the largest Yugra newspaper to publish an open letter of protest (
That local officials and many in the population were unhappy with Medvedev’s action three days ago was already in evidence before today. Two regional television networks did not report the Russian president’s choice, a clear act of protest of its own, and Filipenko flew off to Moscow to try to meet with the Kremlin leader.
But today, that anger was manifested in two ways. On the one hand, the news agency reports, people from across the region are planning to assemble in the center of Khanty-Mansiisk to show their support for Filipenko and their opposition to the imposition of anyone else from the outside.
And at the same time, says, Sergey Kozlov, the chief editor of “Novosti Yugra,” published an open letter protesting Medvedev’s decision and laying out his concerns about what the Kremlin leader has done and about the problems that the replacement of Filipenko at this time is likely to cause.
Kozlov told the regional news agency that he had agonized over taking this step for two days but decided he had no choice but to inform Moscow in this way that the stability in Khanty-Mansiisk at the present time was “to a large extent” the work of Filipenko and that changing him could change that.
It may be, Kozlov said, that “bureaucrats in the Kremlin don’t like [Filipenko]. Party leaders may not like him either, but the enormous mass of the people trust him.” Moscow should remember that and should remember that he like the others “are not against Komarova but rather for Filipenko.”
Kozlov said that he supports plans to hold public protests against the Kremlin’s action. “I consider that people have the right to express their opinion. The only thing which I would advise the city’s residents and the population of the region not to do is to engage in acts of civil disobedience.”
The editor added that he very much fears his open letter may have harmed Filipenko who has loyally supported Moscow, but Kozlov said he went ahead because the president should know the opinion of the population of Yugra” given that there have been “precedents” when regional assemblies have not supported the president’s candidates.
Medvedev, Kozlov continued, “is an open politician and is prepared to listen to another opinion. On the whole, I allow for the possibility of the renewal of the command [in Khanty-Mansiisk] but not by the replacement of someone in whom everyone believes and on whom everything depends.” appends Kozlov’s letter, which also was disseminated on local Internet sites. Among its arguments in support of Filipenko are the following. First of all, Kozlov says, when Medvedev said that there would be exceptions to the rule of allowing governors to serve more than three terms, “three-quarters” of people in Yugra though he was talking about Filipenko.
“You ask where this figure of three-quarters comes from,” Kozlov continues. “I answer that the real number may be more; one need only conduct a plebiscite and listen to the people.” In the last month, for example, Kozlov says his paper was flooded with letters of support for Filipenko but Filipenko “asked that they not be published while he awaited Your decision.”
“The powers that may not be ideal; these are your words,” President Medvedev. “But a definite harmony of interrelationships with the people and with social institutions and organizations can be achieved. In Yugra, this harmony already exists. And it was achieved thanks to the work of Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Filipenko.”
Kozlov continues with the observation that “sometimes one hears in other republics: you in Yugra have a cult of personality. And then I respond as Sholokhov responded regarding Stalin: there is a personality! Thank God, there are personalities in Russia. And the role of personality in history is not an empty thing. The people make history, but personalities lead it.”
And in conclusion, Kozlov makes this appeal to Medvedev: “If you change your decision, hardly anyone will say that the president ‘showed weakness.’ Instead, in Yugra, such a decision will be greeted with understanding. If there is any doubt of that, conduct the necessary surveys” and you, Mr. President, will hear “the opinion of the people.”

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