The Kremlin plans to replace many of Russia's regional governors from the ruling United Russia party following the March 2008 presidential election. It was only a matter of time — the governors are the last remaining political institution in Russia that could be considered somewhat independent of the Kremlin.
The Kremlin plans to replace many of Russia's regional governors from the ruling United Russia party following the March 2008 presidential election, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov — a longtime Kremlin mouthpiece — said Nov. 27. The reshuffle itself has been on the horizon for a while. President Vladimir Putin has been aggressively consolidating and recentralizing power in Russia, and the regional governors are the last remaining political institution in Russia that could be considered somewhat independent of the Kremlin (with the key word there being "somewhat"). It was only a matter of time before Putin turned his attention to them. Under Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, the regional governors were selected by regional legislatures. Putin has gradually done away with that system; now he simply appoints them himself. (He does allow the legislatures to make recommendations, but he also tells them whom to recommend.) However, this change has not yet filled all the governors' chairs with yes-men. There remain holdovers from the Yeltsin era, as well as those who have gone native or who have been bought by oligarchs — but Putin is using the election as an opportunity to make a clean break. After the purge, the governors will fall into one of two categories. Many will be strongmen with a history in the Federal Security Services, put in place to keep local oligarchs and troublemakers in line. The rest will be those Putin wishes to reward with patronage positions. What they will not be is what they were in the 1990s: a potential political force that could stand up to the Kremlin. There is only one governor who could retain his independence: Mintimer Shaimiev of Tatarstan. The Tatars have an autonomous republic in Russia's South, and they guard their sovereignty (and their oil and mineral resources) fiercely against domination by Moscow. Tatarstan might still be too much of a hot potato for Putin to grab hold of at the moment — but it is the last one. For the rest of the governors, the party is over, and they see it coming. These are men who are accustomed to power, but the time when they could resist Putin's will has passed. They know that their fate is out of their hands. When he announced the governors' future, Mironov noted that, "There will be surprises." Not pleasant ones for this crowd.