“All resignations of governors in 2020 were not related to coronavirus”

Ilya Grashenkov — about the effectiveness of Russian governors in the fight against COVID-19

Vladimir Putin advised governors to be careful when making decisions to combat the pandemic in their territories at a meeting with regional leaders on the situation with COVID-19. Political expert Ilya Grashenkov discusses what this advice might mean, how governors should actually act in the second wave of coronavirus, and whether there will be resignations of regional leaders due to the pandemic in the interview with Realnoe Vremya.

“The governor is a hostage of statistics”

Ilya, can we call the governors one of the defining forces in the fight against the pandemic?

I think that the head of the region, by and large, cannot influence the fight against coronavirus for two simple reasons. The first reason is that the governor is a hostage to statistics. When we see statistics about an increase or decrease in the incidence, it is important to understand who is counted and how. That is, whether all people with COVID-19 really fall into this number or not. But the governor always follows in the wake of the figures that are given from the top — if they increase, it means that he needs to create an additional bed capacity in hospitals, and so on.

The second reason is that if the governor himself starts to take the initiative, he can easily be reprimanded for it.

We saw this at the beginning of the fight against the pandemic: Putin announced that the head of the region can make an independent decision in this situation, but those governors who imposed strict quarantine were criticised and then returned to the general trend.

But what about Sobyanin? Or are his initiatives, for which he wasn't reprimanded, an exception because he is the mayor of the capital with a population of 14 million?

Sergey Sobyanin is not exactly a fighter against coronavirus. From the very beginning, he controlled a very densely populated territory. Besides, it was believed that by Moscow the regions would see how the virus would be spreading. In the spring, on Sobyanin in the first place it depended which path would be chosen to fight the pandemic. And the other leaders of regions already looked at his actions.

Photo: kremlin.ru
It was believed that by Moscow the regions would see how the virus would be spreading. On Sobyanin in the first place it depended which path would be chosen to fight the pandemic. And the other leaders of regions already looked at his actions

Besides, it was simply advantageous for Sobyanin to create a system of strict restrictions. First, he could demonstrate to the Kremlin and Putin personally how manageable Moscow is. Second, he had the opportunity to test the “digitalisation” of the city: if not the pandemic, it is unlikely that someone would have introduced QR codes in Moscow, the installation of cameras in many places. Therefore, Sobyanin simply strengthened his personal position.

And the fact that the rest of Russia adopted his methods only suggested that the same new technocrat governors were not able to produce their behaviour during the pandemic. They followed only in a certain fairway: they saw Sobyanin being praised, and they began to close, ban, and repurpose shopping centres as hospitals for patients with coronavirus.

“Minnikhanov managed to take into account both the interests of the population and the interests of the centre”

But in Russia, not all governors are young technocrats who copied Sobyanin's methods to fight Covid-19. Can you identify adequate, sound approaches and actions of regional leaders in this difficult year in the fight against the pandemic?

I would highlight, for example, Tver Oblast — public catering worked there, and there was no surge in the incidence of diseases in the region. But at the same time, there were no management strategies. In the United States, for example, the governor must develop a regional work plan — let's say we apply certain measures, achieve certain indicators, and decide what to do next — strengthen the measures or, conversely, mitigate them. But in most regions, they all copied the “Sobyanin laws”. Although many of them contradicted federal laws, and the governors practically did not exercise their powers.

Why?

Most didn't see the need in them. Besides, we have few governors who are truly masters of their territories. The exception is the president of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov, who was able to come up with the same alternative plan of action in the pandemic. Minnikhanov managed to take into account both the interests of the population and the interests of the centre — this is exactly what a governor-politician should do, because all mistakes will affect his rating, and victories, on the contrary, will strengthen his position.

Tatarstan's approach, which quickly introduced tough measures and quickly removed the main ones, was one of the right steps, examples of the adequacy of decisions and their presentation.

But if you get a picture from Sobyanin, when they see in people some brainless kids, brainless small entrepreneurs, and at the same time, they see the government as a formidable father who should punish them, then about what own initiatives are we talking about?

Photo: Maksim Platonov
Minnikhanov managed to take into account both the interests of the population and the interests of the centre — this is exactly what a governor-politician should do, because all mistakes will affect his rating, and victories, on the contrary, will strengthen his position

Governors were hit hard for their severity — for example, for fines of those who didn't wear masks and quarantine violators. Are these people's claims against the governors, not the centre, fair?

Now the basics of regional policy have been reduced to that the issue of federalisation has become a kind of criminogenic, bordering on separatism. Everyone is used to that we have a vertical of power, but in fact, it is not a vertical but a cascade of powers delegated down. And this cascade of powers concerning fines no longer grew out of Sobyanin's ideas, but out of government recommendations.

The thing is that the government needed to compensate the shortfall in budget revenues due to pandemiс, and for a reason the regions are reporting on millions and billions of rubles collected through fines and that the money are being spent on combating coronavirus. Of course, it is wrong to think that all this money will be used to fight the pandemic — the government will spend as much as they plan on this issue.

But a quite logical question arises — are the governors doing the right thing in trying to drive people into this framework? I think that it is wrong — people are offended, many of them began to treat the authorities badly for such attempts to force them to put on masks. No one from the authorities talks to people about the same masks — and they think that they are treated like in a concentration camp. You were told “Put it on!” — and you have to put on a mask, but if you don't like it — pay 5,000, or we'll beat you with a baton, or throw you out of the bus.

“They only need to talk to people with kindness”

How should the heads of regions act to remove the irritation of people from fines for masks? How to eliminate the fear of lack of civilised treatment or lack of beds?

Even Bulgakov in Heart of a Dog through the mouth of Professor Preobrazhensky said that you only need to talk to people with kindness. You can politely ask to wear masks, give them away for free. With a respectful approach, citizens will have the culture that the authorities expect. But when you are forced to do something, the actions will be the opposite. What should the governors do here? They should launch positive advertising in the media and social networks, come up with material incentives for the most observant ones — there should be not a stick but only a carrot.

As for the availability of beds — of course, this issue is the responsibility of the governor. Recently, there has been information that everything is crowded and there is nowhere to put people. On the other hand, doctors said that hospitals were very poorly filled, and there was a question of somehow loading the bed capacity so that it would not be empty.

Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
Beds were over because everyone with a fever was put in hospitals. Therefore, it is now in the competence of the same governor to give instructions not to keep “unnecessary” patients in covidariums and not thereby create a threat of infection: do not run after statistics!

And all those who could pose a threat were put “under lock and key”. Beds were over because everyone with a fever was put in hospitals. Therefore, it is now in the competence of the same governor to give instructions not to keep “unnecessary” patients in covidariums and not thereby create a threat of infection: do not run after statistics!

We must be adequate — sending only people with Covid-19 in hospitals, but at the same time, not forgetting about people with other diseases. Because otherwise we will get an increase in the death rate of people from concomitant diseases that were not treated due to the coronavirus — heart attacks and so on. If this is done in the first place, the situation in the region with the incidence of coronavirus will significantly improve.

Is there enough beds for COVID-19 patients now?

The situation is still unclear — we are at the very beginning of the second wave of the virus, so it is difficult to say yet. If the number of cases is twice as high as in the spring, there is a chance that the governors may not be able to cope with the situation. After all, an increase in the bed capacity in the regions has not happened over six months.

Can we say that the Russian government has helped the governors enough financially to avoid problems in the regions?

It did, and even excessively. But how effectively these billions were spent in the regions is another question. Until the autumn, there had been no vaccines or medicines for coronavirus in Russia, and it is unclear whether these funds helped in the fight against the pandemic or not. On the one hand, people got sick and died, but on the other — masks, ventilators were purchased, hospitals were created.

Conclusions about the effectiveness of spending will only be available in five years, when the pandemic is officially due to end. However, very few people will be interested in this. In the meantime, we will have to be between two speculations — some will say that there is horror around and billions should be spent on fighting the pandemic, while others will say that all this is all made up (look, for example, at Belarus).

Photo: Ilya Repin
Conclusions about the effectiveness of spending will only be available in five years, when the pandemic is officially due to end. However, very few people will be interested in this

“The logic of the governor's resignation in Russia is not connected with the state of emergency and conditions”

In the comments of your colleagues, in media materials, you could see that the pandemic was largely the reason for the resignations of some governors this year — Gaplikov in Komi, Vasilyev in Dagestan (the situation there, as the Kremlin itself admitted, was just catastrophic). Is it really true?

All the resignations of governors in 2020 were not related to the coronavirus — the pandemic was just a convenient form for resigning. Similar to the Komi Republic, Dagestan and Kamchatka, bad figures on the incidence and mortality from Covid-19 were also in other regions, but there was no talk about the resignation of the leader.

In fact, the reason for Gaplikov's resignation was environmental protests around Shiyes, and Vasilyev was already an elderly man for the role of governor, he often got sick, and he has already fulfilled his main task as the head of Dagestan — to resolve the situation with the corrupt elites of the republic.

Can there really be Covid-19 gubernatorial resignations?

Hard to say. If we recall the entire history of Russia over the past twenty years, there have been few resignations of governors due to some emergency. There was the destruction of the dam in Khakassia, but the governor remained at the helm of the region. Uss in Krasnoyarsk Krai has had environmental disasters this year, but he also remains in his place. The logic of gubernatorial resignations in our country is connected not so much with emergencies but with situations.

In other words, if the governor is already in a weak position, this may cause his resignation. Otherwise, he may be simply irreplaceable, and the Kremlin will have to look for switchmen, but the governor will remain.

Therefore, it will be the same with Covid-19 — in order for the pandemic to lead to the dismissal of the governor, some very serious negligence is needed, the immediate negligence of the head of the region.

Photo: government-nnov.ru
Not for the first year Nikitin has been leading in Nizhny Novgorod, and of course, in the fourth year of managing the region, his gubernatorial positions may already be weakening. Turbulence begins, and the situation with the coronavirus can be used against Nikitin

On Friday, we heard from President Putin's mouth a call to the heads of regions to be careful in making decisions in the current difficult epidemiological situation. What did the president mean under 'to be careful'?

This is a new step by the Kremlin to remove responsibility from itself. Now the governors were hinted: if there are any excesses at the local level, the centere will say: “Putin warned you!”. In the spring, we were faced with that some governors began to go crazy and come up with measures that looked like outright mockery of the population and even as a violation of the constitution — highway blocking, etc.

I think that Putin hinted to the leaders of regions exactly this, because otherwise people may well take to the streets, and the Kremlin will say to the governor: “You are fired. The president has warned you — “Be careful!”.

By Sergey Kochnev
Tatarstan