'Strengthening of Tatarstan in the Volga Federal District is not very convenient for the Kremlin'

Why a native of Tatarstan is unlikely to become the governor of Ulyanovsk and what the prospects for the heads of the regions of the Volga Federal District are

The gubernatorial election in Ulyanovsk Oblast is scheduled for autumn. Sergey Morozov has occupied this chair since the distant 2004 and has confidently declared his readiness to continue to manage the region. Political expert Ilya Grashchenkov discussed with Realnoe Vremya the recipes for the success of governors in the Volga Federal District. Why Morozov has a chance to continue the leadership, what the appointment of Zdunov means, and why a native of Tatarstan is unlikely to ever get the chair of the Ulyanovsk governor — read in the material.

“The best that Morozov can offer its region is stagnation”

Ilya, let's start with the statement of Sergey Morozov. Why does the governor of one of the poorest regions of the Volga Federal District confidently declare his readiness to hold his seat for another five years after having already sat in it for almost 17? After all, now the Kremlin is not in the mood to leave the long-lived governors.

Let's be objective — in the Volga Region, there are a couple of regions that are much poorer than Ulyanovsk, for example, Mari El, Chuvashia. And Ulyanovsk Oblast is, first of all, an industrially developed region. Second, Morozov, despite the confrontation between Russia and the West, manages to host international economic forums. So, there is some movement there.

On the other hand, Morozov has been ruling for 16 years, and why he should run for governor for another five years is unclear. The best thing he can offer his field is stagnation. He sends signals to the Kremlin — without him, the Kremlin would not hold power in this territory because the communists are strong in Ulyanovsk. At the same time, Morozov is sure that there will be no dissatisfaction of people in the region, even if he uses the administrative resource.

He also believes that the young technocrat that the Kremlin can put in his place is doomed to come under fire from the communists, other strong local players, and everyone else. Can we say that Morozov will lead his region to development by 2026?

In my opinion, this is presumptuous — the age of the governor and the system of power built in the region does not contribute to this. Yes, he can bring some production to the region in these five years, but such things are now tied to Moscow. Only it can allow or not allow them to run a certain project in the area. Hence the conclusion that Morozov sells himself as a cog of the system, as the same technocrat, only not young one.

The prospect of remaining in power for him looms only because the Kremlin relies on the system that somehow still works.

Photo: 1ul.ru
Morozov has been ruling for 16 years, and why he should run for governor for another five years is unclear. The best thing he can offer his field is stagnation

“Khabirov has not shown the ability to negotiate with people”

You have already said that Morozov's main opponent in the election will be a communist. How important it is now for the Kremlin to prevent a communist governor from visiting Ulyanovsk, or Saratov, or Kirov? After all, Oryol was entrusted to communist Klychkov a couple of years ago, and they are not in a hurry to remove Khakass governor Konovalov, despite all the criticism of his work.

In my opinion, by not allowing competition, the administrative system makes a mistake and makes the system very vulnerable, very fragile. Yes, now the post of governor is not as important as in the 1990s — now the heads of regions are strongly tied to Moscow, to the ministry of finance, they are in a very subordinate position. The same Konovalov and Klychkov turned out to be embedded in the system, so it does not matter from which party the governor is now.

The exception was, of course, the Khabarovsk governor Furgal from the LDPR — he launched, in fact, separatist processes, where Moscow was the main rival of the region in many issues. As for Ulyanovsk, I don't see any problems for appointing a communist there. Kurinniy is quite a man of the system, and it is rumoured that the speaker of the State Duma, Volodin, is even behind him, supporting him. He's not some radical. I think that if the election in Ulyanovsk was won by Navalny — I just can't imagine what breakthrough he would have made in the region.

But, on the other hand, the presidential administration is already used to that it is the one who distributes positions. They have an established vision of what the system should look like, who should be part of it. Therefore, they are not ready to consider competition — any loss is perceived as a blow to the system, as a challenge, as a virus, and the system begins to respond accordingly.

Is it right? Probably not — the system becomes fragile. But there is a moral aging of the government: once it was ready for both competition and dialogue with political forces, but gradually everything was simplified. And the simplification has reached a kind of corporate system, where the regions are such departments of the corporation, and if some unknown person breaks into this business without a competition, then the Kremlin believes that they need to be removed.

Photo: kremlin.ru
Khabirov did not show the ability to negotiate with people living in the region. This skill is very important at the present time

“Markelov and Merkushkin became the evil geniuses of their regions”

Let's talk about the old governors. Merkushkin from Mordovia and Fedorov from Chuvashia also failed to take their republics out of poverty for many years. Does it turn out that the republics were just unlucky with the heads?

Not all regions overcame the path of historical development in the same way. For example, Mordovia, Chuvashia and Mari El are at a lower level of development than Tatarstan and Bashkiria. Simply because of the lack of money from oil. Oil allowed the republics that had decent reserves of it to pass the stage of financial accumulation and reach the level of the capital's economy. How would you compare agricultural Mordovia with technological Tatarstan? Why would a region get rich if it lived only on federal budget allocations?

It was uneasy for everyone in the 1990s. But in the same Saratov and Samara Oblasts, they warmly remember ex-governors Titov and Ayatskov and did not like their replacements.

Do not forget that a lot of production facilities was concentrated in the Volga Region, and Ayatskov and Titov could preserve the Soviet legacy, modernise it, and managed to rebuild the regional economy in a new way. They owe to their former leaders for technological development, for which these regions are famous for. And yes, there were regions that lost their industrial potential because of their leaders. Ulyanovsk Oblast is an example of this. Unfortunately, its aircraft and automobile industries could not modernise like AvtoVAZ in Samara Oblast. Although the UAZ had the potential to develop.

Photo: zasekin.ru
Merkushkin is a strong, grasping personality. To this day, Mordovia is called Merkushkin's business empire. But he and Markelov in Mari El became the evil geniuses of their regions — both plunged the republics into poverty

Would Mordovia and Chuvashia have the things better, for example, under Ayatskov or Ulyanovsk under Titov? Or is a strong governor not enough for a powerful development?

If we take the same ex-head of Mordovia Merkushkin, then he is a strong, grasping personality. To this day, Mordovia is called Merkushkin's business empire. But he and Markelov in Mari El became the evil geniuses of their regions — both plunged the republics into poverty.

Probably, it is just important for the governor to love his territory, its people. Without this, the personality itself can work for the region both in the red and in the black. Do not be deceived — many of those who came to the governorship in the wake of perestroika and Yeltsinism were hardly altruists. But still, they did not alienate the population of their regions from production, and the population was lucky — they were also taken care of as an electorate.

Now the voters as a class have disappeared, now it's just the population that needs to be worked with somehow to get it to vote correctly. Hence the problems that governors have — they do not think how to play with people, so that they live well and that they elect their governors again. For the governors, the main thing here is the Kremlin, with which they need to negotiate, but with people, they say, everything will be decided by the administrative resource. The population is now a burden, not the backbone of the economy. As Markelov said: “We need to look for oil!” because people are only “losses”.

Could the former respected heads of the regions — Titov, Ayatskov — be re-elected as governors now? And how much would they change?

They could have been elected. When Luzhkov was in power in Moscow, many people did not like him. Ten years have passed, and nostalgia for Yury Mikhailovich has begun. Judging by the measurements of sociologists, he would have a good trust rating.

It is the wave of nostalgia for the past, the belief that the old power will return and the time of opportunity, form the request for the former heads. But the time is impossible to return — in the best case, we would see a clone of the old governor, and no more.

The system is tailored to young technocrats — for those who have to go to the ministry of finance with a folder, sit for a long time in the waiting room to get something for the region as part of a national project or a target programme. But there will be no such powers, as the same Ayatskov had in the 1990s, to, relatively speaking, “turn the plane around”, in the new system.

Let's take Alexander Uss from Krasnoyarsk — he headed the local legislative assembly for a long time, he was a candidate for governor in the 2000s, and finally became one in 2017. What can it do? He stands in the same row as the rest of his colleagues —he is like the head of the department, who can lead, but in a narrow framework, and Moscow pulls the strings.

Photo: kremlin.ru
Alexander Uss stands in the same row as the rest of his colleagues —he is like the head of the department, who can lead, but in a narrow framework, and Moscow pulls the strings

Of course, this whole system does not suit society very well — the elites, the population, and the governors are dissatisfied with this situation: everyone wants to expand the powers taken away from them. And the question arises — what will be the next popular governors? It is difficult to say yet, but I am sure that the return of regional policy will definitely be due to the current discontent of people.

“If Tatarstan was left the post of president, it speaks about the exclusivity of the region”

What, in your opinion, helps Rustam Minnikhanov to stay in the top of the Kremlin's trust rating?

The head of the region and the republic itself are helped by oil and the isolation of the elites. Where there is a lot of money, serious forces are always formed, and if the post of president was left to Tatarstan, this indicates the exclusivity of the region.

But the point, I think, is not so much in the money, as in the principled elites — if the elites always say that we are the masters on our own land and it will not be possible to turn us into robots that distribute resources — this is an important factor for Moscow.

How do you assess the prospects of former Tatarstan citizen Artem Zdunov as the head of Mordovia and to what extent will Tatarstan help the republic to get out of poverty?

The appointment of Zdunov is also an attempt by the Kremlin to close Mordovia, as well as other regions, to certain financial groups. But since the republic's debt will be serviced by the ministry of finance, then, of course, this will put Governor Zdunov, first of all, in the position of a technocrat — to sit and sign the papers. But since Mordovia is an agrarian republic, Tatarstan's elites can also be involved in its development as serious financial groups.

Photo: e-dag.ru
The appointment of Zdunov is also an attempt by the Kremlin to close Mordovia, as well as other regions, to certain financial groups

Mordovia is still further from Tatarstan than Ulyanovsk Oblast, with which we started the conversation. How correct would it be to put a native of Tatarstan elite respected by the Kremlin in the region?

It is difficult to say who can replace Morozov now, and in five years. Yes, I heard that people, including those from Tatarstan, as a serious financial centre, were also discussed in his place. But here, the system of checks and balances that Putin likes will fully work.

And in this system, strengthening Tatarstan in the Volga Federal District is not very convenient for the Kremlin. The struggle of local and federal elites in the country is still going on, and that is exactly why Tatarstan is unlikely to be strengthened in Ulyanovsk Oblast. Besides, Tatarstan, having Marat Khusnullin and Irek Fayzullin in the government, is already promoting its construction capacities. And the region, managed by another Tatarstani, will be a super-strengthening of the republic. But this is probably not in the Kremlin's plans.

Rather, on the contrary — the region can go to some federal group like the same Rostec, which would urgently engage in the modernisation of existing technological production facilities in the region. After all, they can really become drivers of the economy.

By Sergey Kochnev
Tatarstan