Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin Names Army General as Presidential Plenipotentiary to Siberia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 13 – Vladimir Putin’s decision to name an MVD general as his plenipotentiary representative to the North Caucasus came as no surprise given that that federal district is far from pacified, but his choice of an army general for that position in Siberia raises some broader questions about the Russian president’s current thinking and future plans.

                At a superficial level, Putin’s action is simply about filling a position that had been occupied by Viktor Tolokonsky who will now become governor following the appointment of Lev Kunetsov, who had been governor there to head the newly created North Caucasus development ministry (nakanune.ru/news/2014/5/12/22352402/).

            But the Kremlin leader’s decision to turn a second time within the week to the force structures for another plenipotentiary representative suggests both that Putin may want to use these bodies less for the development of new investment programs or policy implementation than for control, both political and even physical.

            That possibility is especially intriguing because Putin has chosen a general for a region that has not shown the kind of instability found in several other federal districts and could mean that the Russian president plans to take actions, either dramatic budget cuts or purges of regional officials, that would make having a representative of the force structures there especially useful.

            Consequently, the biography of the new presidential plenipotentiary is worth attending to for clues about both Putin’s concerns and his plans.  The new man is Nikolay Rogohkin, who prior to this appointment was first deputy minister of internal affairs with the rank of general of the army.

            In the military since 1969, Rogozhkin served in progressively higher posts in the Group of Soviet Forces in the GDR, commander of a tank regiment in the Kyiv military district, and commander of a motorize rifle division in the Turkestan Military District. He participated as a military planner in Chechnya in 1996 and then was involved in military action along the Tajik-Afghan border.

            In 2000, he was transferred to the internal forces of the interior ministry, rising through the ranks of that command to become commander in chief of those forces with the rank of colonel general. In 2009, he was promoted to full general and named deputy minister of internal affairs, and then in 2013, he was named first deputy interior minister.

            His military background in Germany, Chechnya and Central Asia and his work both in the regular army and the internal forces suggests that Rogozhkin is first and foremost a commander rather than an economic administrator and thus is going to focus as is his colleague in the North Caucasus on security issues.

            But that raises two larger questions to which there are as yet no obvious answers: Is Putin planning to make the presidential plenipotentiaries primarily about security? And just what security threat – either from the population or within the elite – does he see emerging against himself?

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