For Khakasia, the Kremlin named an official of the ministry for the North Caucasus, something consistent with its past practice. “But this time, Putin directly said that he was appointing this individual, Mikhail Razvozzhayev for only a month, after which he would be offered work in Moscow.:
One clearly must not understand how things work in the regions to make such a declaration and take such an action, Shaburov says. No leader who is only going to be in place a month can win over the population or reach the accords with elites that solving the problems there will require. The first will ignore him; the second will wait him out.
For St. Petersburg, the Kremlin removed Georgy Poltavenko as governor even though his term of office ends a year from now and installed Aleksandr Beglov who is only three years his junior. It appears the Kremlin “has doubts about Poltavenko’s ability to be reelected, but even if that is the case, why remove him now?”
It isn’t clear that Beglov can win over the people in St. Petersburg and win, or even that he will not face serious challengers a year from now. And that again gives rise to the sense that “this decision was taken in a hurry and panic” rather than the result of any careful calculation of costs and benefits.
And for Primorsky kray, there are also problems aplenty. The Kremlin installed Oleg Kozhemyakov who has already headed three regions. “His appointment says that the Kremlin does not have anyone whom it could throw into such responsible position” and therefore can only rotate people.
All three cases suggest, of course, that “the former Kremlin tactic of appointing outsiders and even accidental people into a region no longer works.” But they also suggest – and this is more serious – that “the Kremlin itself does not understand this and intends to continue to act in the very same way in the future.”
The appointment of the former body guard of the president to be governor of Astrakhan Oblast shows that to this day, “the federal powers as before consider that a governor personally loyal to Putin is better than any of the local politicians.”
That approach indeed worked “for a long time,” based as it was on “the indifference of the population and the willingness of regional elites to go along. “But in the middle of 2018, the attitudes [of both] changed” as a result of the pension reform and other Moscow actions that have led the population to engage in protest action and regional elites to follow their lead as well.
Only a local politician could successfully address the dissatisfactions of the population and calm the elites, someone who “has the credit of rust and ties with the regional establishment,” Shaburov says. But precisely such politicians are most unacceptable for the Kremlin because the probability is very great that they will begin to play an independent role.”
For the first time in a long time, the federal center faces a real choice between turning to a local politician or continuing to use outsiders. “Obviously, the powers that be are choosing the second course and do not intend to turn from it. [But] if the situation in the country doesn’t change, then by the next gubernatorial elections, the number of regional crises will only grow.”
Appointing body guards or Moscow officials won’t stop that. The center may try to use propaganda, force or foreign policy actions to “save the situation.” But in the current environment in the regions, Shaburov suggests, those normally reliable methods may not work as well as they did in the past.