Autumn governor reshuffle: what regional dismissals and appointments is the Kremlin preparing for late October?
Who of the regional leaders with high anti-ratings will be sacrificed for the sake of successful election in 2020?
It was a year sharp since the dismissal of head of Bashkortostan Rustem Khamitov on 11 October — the Bashkir leader left his post on the Republic Day. At the same time it became known about the dismissal of Governor of the Trans-Baikal Territory Nataliya Zhdanova and Governor of Kursk Oblast Aleksandr Mikhailov. Today political experts and sources in the Kremlin are foretelling a new wave of dismissals of Russian governors — again in late October. Read about the new candidates for dismissal, reasons for the possible dismissals and expected consequences of the governor reshuffle 2019 in Realnoe Vremya’s report.
Rating falls from Kamchatka to Kostroma
A year ago, head of Bashkiria Rustem Khamitov sent the Russian president a message with a letter of resignation, which Putin approved. Consequently, Rady Khabirov occupied the chair of the leader.
It should be noted that information resources had been predicting Khamitov’s dismissal for months, which happened in the end. On the same day, it became known about the dismissal of Governor of the Trans-Baikal Territory Nataliya Zhdanova and Governor of Kursk Oblast Aleksandr Mikhailov.
Governors whose dismissal is announced to be the most probably today come from different regions, but it is anyway possible to unite the candidates for dismissal geographically.
First of all, it is the Far East and Siberia. The resignation of head of Kamchatka Krai, Communist Vladimir Ilyukhin, head of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast Aleksandr Levintal and Irkutsk Governor, Communist Sergey Levchenko is forecasted. Secondly, it is the North where Governor of Arkhangelsk Oblast Igor Orlov and head of KHMAO Nataliya Komarova are forecasted to be dismissed. And the centre and south of Russia — Governor of Leningrad Oblast Aleksandr Drozdenko, Bryansk Oblast Aleksandr Bogomaz, Kaluga Oblast Anatoly Artamonov, Rostov Oblast Vasily Golubev and heads of Chuvashia Mikhail Ignatyev and Krasnodar Krai Veniamin Kondratyev are predicted a dismissal.
Minchenko Consulting communications holding stressed in its recently published the fifth rating of governors State Council 2.0 that “the current regional leaders are more sustainable than those who had to be chosen in 2019”. And Governor of Irkutsk Oblast Sergey Levchenko and Head of Karachay-Cherkessia Rashid Temrezov were called the most unsustainable. They scored just 4 points with some Russian regional leaders’ highest rating of 19 points.
“Rashid Temrezov (Karachay-Cherkessia) looks the most probable candidate [for early dismissal], his sustainability significantly shook after the Arashukovs Case,” reads a comment in the rating by Minchenko Consulting.
Minchenko Consulting explains Levchenko’s sad prospects with a “long-term federal conflict”, “not the most successful measures taken to localise and manage consequences of floods”, “Alashgate” — a scandal caused by statements of head of the governor’s press service Irina Alashkevich about Tulun residents who became flood victims and the opposition between the governor and resource groups of local elites backed up by Irkutsk Mayor Dmitry Berdnikov and speaker of the regional parliament Sergey Sokol.
The holding also considers that heads of Chuvashia Mikhail Ignatyev, KHMAO Nataliya Komarova and Kamchatka Krai Vladimir Ilyukhin have low chances to remain in the chair before the election. The company explains it linking with conflicts with security officials as well as federal and regional elites.
Another two executives’ chairs began to shake too — Kostroma Governor Sergey Sitnikov and head of JAO Aleksandr Levintal. They “can’t boast about important social and economic projects during their rule without a clear position and political management”, the authors of the rating noted.
Fight of groups and risk reduction
“The upcoming governor reshuffle is linked with a fight of groups in power appointing their people in regions who consider themselves strategically important,” famous journalist and politician Maksim Shevchenko noted in an interview with Realnoe Vremya. “These groups are connected with industry, which receives subsidies from the public budget, the so-called state corporations or industry that exports feedstock and money. The second cause of the dismissals is a desire of administrations to avoid scandals in the upcoming election, which governors who are undesired by the groups won.”
Meanwhile, political expert, President of Petersburg Politics fund Mikhail Vinogradov notes that the term of the majority of governors names as potential people dismissed early is coming to an end:
“It is necessary to make political decisions, to take them to the election (and if so, how to avoid the risks of last year’s campaigns of Zimin, Orlova, Shport). This is why one should consider all governors (Editor’s Note: as candidates for dismissal) whose term is coming to an and, including Kondratyev (Krasnodar Krai), Sitnikov (Kostroma) as well as Komarova (KHMAO). We can claim that they all will change and certainly in autumn, but all these people are now considered, and there is a fight between possible interested sides.”
“If we allow candidates with high anti-ratings to go to the election, it will provoke a protest voting, which is fraught with defeats,” political manager Abbas Gallyamov says. “The Kremlin made sure of it having lost four campaigns last year. This year all unpopular old-timers will be substituted for new acting executives, and there will be no fiasco. It is obvious that choosing between the experience last year and this year, the authorities will prefer the latter.”
Recipe for protest voting
Graschenkov divided the changes that can happen in 2020 into three key types:
“Firstly, those leaders who are old and have been on the post for too long. Secondly, it is obvious that those governors whose rating has seriously shaken over the last year will be substituted. Thirdly, it is a substitution because of a better post or desire of the federal centre to change a territory’s development vector. Also, some effective governors have worked for long, it is head of Kaluga Oblast Artamonov and Governor of Kamchatka Krai Ilyukhin. Nobody will probably change these governors all of a sudden, as they have a high power rating, and the population aren’t asking for the administration to be changed in general. Though there is such a demand in Chuvashia where both the population and local elites want the governor to change.”
The situation in Rostov Oblast is analogous where Golubev himself can be promoted, while the elites want to get a new head very much — someone from their circle. Belozyortsev [governor of Penza Oblast] and Komarova [KHMAO] also have low ratings, the people wants an update, and big financial and industrial groups, especially oil-rich KHMAO, is fighting for the regions. The situation is worse in the JAO and Arkhangelsk Oblast — demand for a substitution of the head has suddenly gone up, and the authorities’ rating (and that of United Russia) is catastrophically low.
“A recognition that the governor can’t win
“There is a serious talk about Levchenko. And, in my opinion, it is more serious because he was the first and now the only person among the governors who managed to win the election against the administration and current governors’ will. He was considered as a key figure for some time proving that one could rule the region independently with one’s own line, including a social and economic line which was even tried to be presented in Irkutsk as an alternative to all Russia. This is why there is a constant war on him, and the flow of opposition research has increased so much in recent time. In addition, Irkutsk Oblasts had floods and fires, which is against the governor in the Russian context. On the other hand, the region has good indicators, and the change of leadership might bring to destabilisation. So it is a question if somebody will now change the governor, and, first of all, it is a political issue.
Kagarlitsky marked the importance of consideration of all details of the imbalance in the regions for federal authorities:
“For instance, as for Penza, Belozyorov will go to the election next September anyway. And he is fired now, it is a recognition that the administration itself thinks the governor can’t win the election. On the other hand, it isn’t the best decision to appoint a new governor one year to go to the election. How well will the new character handle the situation? And won’t he worsen it? There is a lot of protest in Arkhangelsk Oblast, the current governor won’t be reelected there anyway. Like in Penza, the election is coming, and it is quite a debatable decision to change the governor on the eve of the election amid great discontent. On the one hand, a character irritating the population is eliminated. On the other hand, the mechanism of links, work of the PR team arranged by the previous governor is destroyed. And if you substitute it, it might turn out that while a new person is introducing himself or herself to society, the moods might become more negative.”
As it turned out, Boris Kagarlitsky considers Rady Khabirov “who was welcomed by a considerable part of the population and political circles” is an example of successful governor substitution. He also noted a new tendency when protests of the population against ruling circles stop being directly linked with economic aspects:
“Kamchatka has quite good economic results. But, as we saw Shport in Khabarovsk, the indicators one can report to the Kremlin and experts on not always meet the support of the population. In the Far East, we see quite a strange combination of relatively good indicators and a high protest level, which seems to prove that the protest in the Far East is caused by not only economic reasons. Though it is a separate issue of how the quite good dynamics influence the citizens’ wallet. And this issue is, by the way, important for Irkutsk Oblast as well.
In conclusion, he gave to understand that the year before the election might shuffle all the political cards:
“All the North and Far East at the moment are the most protesting regions, but the situation can change by the end of summer. Protests in the Volga region are augmenting. Authorities react to points of attention post factum, while they arise again. Moreover, they create them themselves: if they appoint a bad character, they will dismiss a person who could be tolerated, so they will create a new hotbed of tension.”