Staunton, November 6 – The people of Khabarovsk have gone into the streets for the 120th straight day to protest Moscow’s removal of a popular, directly elected governor and his replacement by a Moscow appointee. But politicians in the Kalmyk Republic have now gone them one better in a move that likely sends shockwaves through the political system.
The current head of Kalmykia, a Buddhist republic in the North Caucasus, is Batu Khasikov, a United Russian loyalist, the Kremlin installed to rein in what had been the flamboyant actions of his predecessors. But Khasikov has made two major mistakes that have alienated not just the Kalmyk people but his own United Russia comrades.
On the one hand, he backed the installation of an ethnic Russian from the Donbass, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, to be mayor of the republic capital of Elista. And on the other, he has so mishandled the pandemic that his republic leads the region in terms of the number of coronavirus deaths.
People and politicians are outraged by his decision to hold subbotniki during the pandemic, events that clearly became super spreader actions, and even more by his decision to send Kalmyk doctors to help Moscow respond to the crisis even though Kalmykia itself suffers from a severe shortage of medical personnel.
That has led all the parties in the republic parliament to appeal to Vladimir Putin to remove Khasikov, and among their numbers are the ruling United Russia Party. They say that the republic head’s handling of the pandemic shows that he is “incapable of taking decisions to improve the situation in the republic” (region.expert/kalmykia/).
Given that similar disastrous mishandling of the pandemic has occurred in other federal subjects, regionalist writer Vadim Sidorov says, it is entirely possible that what is going on in Kalmykia may be the first sign of a breaking apart of United Russia. If that should prove to be the case, it could transform the political landscape in much of the country.
After all, it is one thing for the population as in Khabarovsk to express their anger about Kremlin moves. It is quite another for politicians who are supposedly vetted and controlled by the Kremlin to take such a step and to do so in such a public way designed to put them on the side of the beleaguered population rather than the ruling elite.