Staunton, December 12 – The Kremlin does not yet know what to do with Vyacheslav Nagovitsyn, the increasingly unpopular head of the Buryat Republic, according to a Siberian commentator; and one of the possibilities under consideration in Moscow is eliminating his position by amalgamating Buryatia with the predominantly Russian Irkutsk Oblast.
Such an outcome would provoke outrage in Buryatia, as officials in Moscow are certainly aware, and the fact that amalgamation is being considered at all highlights not the Kremlin’s strength but the problems it faces both in Buryatia and in Siberia more generally at the present time (newsbabr.com/bur/?IDE=141046 and asiarussia.ru/news/10304/).
Babr’s Maksim Bakulyev says that his sources in the Presidential Administration “confirm” that Nagovitsyn’s standing there is “extremely weak;” but they also indicate that Moscow has not reached any final decision about whether to retain or fire him or deal with the situation in some other way.
Since beginning his second term as head of Buryatia, Nagovitsyn has rapidly lost support both in his republic and in Moscow, the commentator continues. “There are many causes for this.” He is viewed as an outsider, he’s made mistakes in imposing his own people in top jobs, and he’s driven his former proteges like Ulan-Ude mayor Aleksandr Golkov into opposition.
Moreover, Bakulyev continues, the Buryatia head hasn’t been successful in lobbying Moscow for the things Buryats need, including a cut in electricity charges that might have saved the republic and the republic government from collapse.
To try to save himself, Nagovitsyn has played the nationalist card in order to “frighten the Kremlin by the growth of separatist attitudes in the republic,” but he has done so in ways, such as expanding ties with Mongolia, that have in fact “led to a sharp growth of national self-consciousness of Buryats,” that make him a liability to the center rather than an asset.
In fact, the commentator argues, “only one factor is preventing Nagovitsyn’s overthrow: the lack of an acceptable candidate to replace him as head of the republic.” Nationalistic Buryats have been lobbying for Vyacheslav Markhayev, the ethnic Buryat KPRF senator from Irkutsk oblast.
But “from the position of the Kremlin, having a second ‘red’ head of a region in Siberia as well as well as a very public nationalist, is hardly acceptable,” although the situation has developed to the point that Moscow now accepts that the next head of Buryatia must be an ethnic Buryat.
All this puts Moscow in a bind. If it forces him to retire this month, then “with a high degree of probability,” he will run again in 2016 and quite possibly win, given that “in the course of nine months, the opposition will not be able to prepare an adequate and recognized candidate for whom a majority of the population of Buryatia would vote.”
At the same time, the collapse in local support for Nagovitsyn is a real problem for Moscow. If it leaves him in place until the end of his term in2017, then “the result of direct elections [at that time] could turn out to be unpredictable for everyone including for the Kremlin.” Consequently, Moscow is almost certainly going to try to “force events.”
And one tactic it may employ is to eliminate the need to find a new head of Buryatia by amalgamating Buryatia with Irkutsk Oblast into “a single Baikal kray,” an idea that has been circulating in Moscow “already for several years.” Taking that step would solve other problems as well, including those connected with KPRF Sergey Levchenko’s becoming Irkutsk head.
If the republic and region were combined, Moscow could have a free or at least freer hand in imposing a new leadership entirely. And thus this move is possible, all the more so because, Bakulyev says, “elites in Buryatia and Irkutsk Oblast have been given a signal not to conclude long-term agreements with Vyacheslav Nagovitsyn.”