Russia’s governors are resigning. Three regional leaders stepped down last week; the media warns of four impending resignations.

10:12, 14 february 2017

Photo: Alexei Nikolsky / Russian Presidential Press and Information Office

Last week, three of Russia’s governors stepped, amongst them head of the Perm region Viktor Basargin, head of Buryatia Vyacheslav Nagovitsyn, and head of the Novgorod Region Sergei Mitin. The media has now predicted the resignation of the heads of four other regions. Meduza explains why regional leaders are stepping down and what the media is writing about this wave of resignations.

The governors are resigning before the election. Perm regional governor Viktor Basargin announced his resignation on 6 February, justifying his decision by stating his reluctance to participate in the election of the region’s new head, which will be held September 10, 2017. Head of Buryatia Vyacheslav Nagovitsyn resigned on February 7; just like Basargin, he said that did not intend to stand for re-election. Novgorod regional governor Sergei Mitin resigned on February 13. He too did not wish to stand for re-election. Nagovitsyn and Mitin were finishing up their second terms as governor; Basargin was finishing up his first. Basargin has already found a new job as head of Russia’s transportation watchdog Rostransnadzor.

Perm native and thirty-seven-year-old head of Moscow’s Economic Department Maxim Reshetnikov has been appointed the new interim head of the Perm Territory. Deputy Transport Minister Alexei Tsydenov, who has held senior positions in the railway companies of the Far East in the past, has been named interim head of Buryatia. General director of Russia’s Agency for Strategic Initiatives Andrei Nikitin has been named interim governor of the Novgorod region. In his thirty-seven years, he has had nothing to do with the Novgorod region.

In Russia, it is prohibited for a governor to serve more than two consecutive terms. In 2015, a law was passed prohibiting the regional governors from being re-elected for a third term. This law could not be applied to the current governors in question, because only those elected from 2012 onward are subject to the new restrictions irrespective of whether the person in question had served as regional head before.

Neither Nagovitsyn, nor Mitin are formally subject to the new law. But there is an accepted practice amongst governors that do not go for a third term even if the new law does not apply to them at present. This very practice was Nagovitsyn justification for stepping down. Mitin said that he wants to try his hand at other job. In regards to Basargin – the governor clashed with the local elites and was not popular in the Perm region.

The governors are giving emerging candidates an opportunity to prepare for the upcoming elections. This is a long-standing practice in Russian politics: the old governor leaves and is replaced by an acting governor appointed by the president. He has several months to master the position and, by election day, becomes the clear favorite of the people.

This scheme has not misfired as of yet and has enabled candidates to win elections in regions that they knew little about before their appointments. For example, Governor of the Tula Region Alexey Dyumin, who had previously worked as part of Vladimir Putin’s protection services, was appointed in this way in February 2016. Voters in Tula knew nothing about him. Dyumin earned his status in the months preceding the September 2016 elections and won.

Four other governors are now expected to resign. On February 6, the newspaper Vedomosti citing its own sources as saying that the head of Karelia Alexander Khudilainen, the head of Ryazan Oleg Kovalev, the head of Ivanono Pavel Konkov, and the head of Sverdlovsk Yevgeny Kuyvashev were now in the spotlight. The three governors who have already resigned were also listed by Vedomosti.

According to news agency RIA Novosti, Khudilainen will be replaced by the head of the Federal Bailiff Service Artur Parfenchikov. Former Kaluga mayor Nikolai Lyubimovis seen as a probable replacement for Oleg Kovalev. Newspaper Kommersant has quoted sources conjecturing the possible resignation of Nizhny Novgorod regional governor Valery Shantsev, but such rumors have been circulating for year now and his term expires only in 2019.

Pavel Borisov