Medvedev shakes up governors as economic crisis begins to bite

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in a possible sign that the Kremlin is looking for ways to stimulate the regions with fresh talent as the financial crisis begins to bite, nominated four new governors on Monday.

In the Oryol region, Alexander Kozlov, 59, born in Tatarstan and graduated from the Kazan Financial and Economic Institute in 1979, was nominated to replace Yegor Stroyev, 72, who had tendered his resignation.

In the Pskov region, Andrey Turchak, 33, was nominated to replace Mikhail Kuznetsov, 40. Turchak was born in Leningrad (present day St. Petersburg) and is a graduate from the St. Petersburg State University in the field of aerospace design. Turchak has headed various engineering companies in his career and since 2007 has been a member of the Federation Council representing the Pskov region.

In the Voronezh region, Agricultural Minister Alexei Gordeyev, 53, was nominated to replace Governor Vladimir Kulakov.

In the Nenets Autonomous District, Governor Valery Potapenko, who was relieved of his duties upon his personal request, is to be replaced by Igor Fedorov, who has been the deputy regional governor for the fuel and energy, as well as housing construction.

Although the Russian president may nominate the governors, the appointments are pending approval in the regional legislatures.

The presidential administration stressed that the gubernatorial reshuffle will be limited in scope, First Deputy head of the presidential Administration Vladislav Surkov told reporters on Monday.

“It [the governor shakeup] will not become a trend. There will be no automatic spread of the reshuffle either.”

Surkov then made direct mention of the economic focus of the changes.

“The new appointments and resignations should be viewed in the light of better quality federal and regional management. State management should acquire a new quality amid the financial and economic crisis.”

Alexei Malashenko, political scientist and member of the Moscow Carnegie Center Expert Council, told Interfax on Monday that the appointment of new governors may auger more gubernatorial powers in the face of the crisis.

“I have a feeling that this reshuffle aims at a larger initiative. I do not rule out that governors may acquire more powers against the backdrop of the financial crisis,” Malashenko said.


Dmitry Medvedev (AFP Photo / Pool / Sergei Karpukhin)

Another political scientist, Dmitry Oreshin, argues that the previous governors were not performing well.

“This is a rational and non-political move that results from the low efficiency of the previous regional management,” Oreshin told Interfax.

The gubernatorial shakeup comes one day after Medvedev announced a long list of state-sponsored programs, from road construction to worker training, geared to jump-starting the Russian economy. The stimulus package is worth around 44 billion rubles ($1.3 billion), and will concentrate heavily on the regions where some industries have already fallen victim to the deepening crisis.

Whatever the motivation, there have been reports that the Russian president has been putting pressure on governors and other high-ranking officials to act more efficiently, and responsibly, during the worldwide economic slowdown.

At the beginning of the month, a financial daily reported that Medvedev had “warned senior officials against visiting luxury resorts abroad amid concerns over the country’s image and public discontent,” according to Kommersant, citing an unnamed source.

The Kremlin tried to impose rules on officials’ overseas trips under Vladimir Putin after the former president was unable to contact two governors who were vacationing abroad with their cell phones turned off, the paper said.

Robert Bridge, RT