Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ethnic Problems, Not Just Economics and Elections behind Putin’s Gubernatorial Changes, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 8 – Many commentators have suggested that Vladimir Putin’s latest round of installing new governors in place of old reflects concern about economic problems, a desire to have technocrats rather than politicians in these positions, and/or preparation the 2018 presidential elections. 

            All those things matter, Moscow analyst Andrey Kolyadin argues; but Putin’s replacement of Victor Basargin in Perm and Vyacheslave Nagovitsin suggest that more is at work, including Kremlin nervousness about the possibility of the intensification of ethnic conflicts in the regions (

            Both of the men pushed out, he notes, are “experienced economic administrators. The situation with the development of industry, construction and agriculture” in both their regions has been “completely possibility. Enterprises are working. Wages are being paid on time. And investment is growing.”

            But “from the political point of view, many errors have been made,” Kolyadin continues. “Inter-ethnic conflicts and wars are continuing. And the heads of these territories aren’t proving able to curb ‘the living creativity of the masses,’” something that could reduce participation in the presidential elections.

            In the case of Nagovitsyn, Putin has appointed a young individual “from Buryatia who has work experience in key federal posts. Whether he will be able to make his region better is something that only time will tell.”  But it is clear that he faces many challenges in that restive republic, and his being an ethnic Buryat may help. (Nagovitsyn wasn’t.)

            If Kolyadin is right that the Kremlin is worried about ethnic clashes, at least in Buryatia, the new appointment is very much a two-edged sword from Moscow’s point of view. On the one hand, his Buryat background will win him some support at least initially. But on the other, some Buryats may conclude that their protests forced Moscow’s hand – and decide to push for more.

            In reporting on Nagovitsyn’s resignation and Putin’s appointment of Aleksey Tsydenov, 40, the Nazaccent portal suggested that the change reflected the problems arising from clashes within the Buryat elite over posts in the republic legislature, clashes that reflect deep splits within the elite (

            The ethnic affairs portal stressed that the new man had been discussed as a possible replacement for Nagovitsyn for some time, given that he is simultaneously an ethnic Buryat and a Moscow official, and added that “experts note that the new administrator will have to take into consideration the interests of various groups of the population, including nationalities.”

            In commenting on Tsydenov’s appointment, Vladimir Borsobin of “Komsomolskaya Pravda” suggested that the new republic head’s ethnicity and transportation expertise may be just what is needed in a republic that has had many problems in recent years under the ethnic Russian Nagovitsyn (

            The republic’s ethnic problems and its transportation problems are closely interlinked, Borsobin says. Its rail network simply doesn’t connect into the broader Russian ones and for some reason, air tickets in Ulan Ude are twice as expensive as those in Irkutsk to the same destinations. Neither of those situations is acceptable. Perhaps Tsydenov will correct them.

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