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Russia: Are The Presidential Envoys Fading Away?

  • Julie Corwin --> A shot from NTV yesterday showing Kirienko (right) with Putin (NTV) President Vladimir Putin dismissed on 14 November two of the original seven men, Sergei Kirienko and Konstantin Pulikovskii, that he named as presidential envoys to the newly created federal districts in May 2000.

Their replacements are two men with little professional experience at the federal level or outside their hometowns.

The move suggests that the presidential administration is not expecting the envoys in these two districts to be tackling any difficult issues or to do so without substantial Kremlin supervision.

What's more, the nomination of these two political lightweights may signal that the Kremlin no longer wants to risk the appointment of envoys who are capable of building independent power bases in the regions.

Kazan Mayor

Kamil Iskhakov, the long-time mayor of Kazan, has no experience above the municipal level and no professional experience outside his hometown. In his new position, he will oversee the Far Eastern Federal District, a large territory that includes 10 different regions.

According to RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, Iskhakov's name has been widely discussed as a possible replacement for Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev. In a comment to "Novye izvestiya" on 15 November, Aleksei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technology suggested that with his appointment as envoy, Iskhakov is being prepared for the position of Tatar president.

The Tank

Iskhakov's predecessor, Konstantin Pulikovskii, not only had no experience with the federal government, he lacked any experience in government at all. He served as a Russian military commander in the first Chechen war. Lieutenant General Pulikovskii did not practice the quiet self-restraint in his public statements that usually characterizes Russian officialdom.

He earned the nickname, "The Tank" -- supposedly for the subtlety with which he engaged in politicking. During the 2001 gubernatorial election in Primorskii Krai, Pulikovskii challenged two Vladivostok officials to duels.

At times, Pulikovskii seemed to take positions that were at odds with those of certain factions of the Kremlin and even within the Foreign Ministry. He became friends with the reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and declared publicly in August 2001 that Kim is "more progressive than the people around him" and is "really trying to open up North Korea to the Peter the Great did for Russia."

Iskhakov, if he is indeed to follow in Shaimiev's footsteps, will have to be adept at political rhetoric. That means offering Moscow the appearance of full support and cooperation, while suggesting that only he is capable of preventing a tidal wave of public unrest directed at the federal authorities.

Kirienko had fewer problems with public relations than Pulikovskii and more success at intervening in local political battles. When appointed envoy, Kirienko was already an experienced politician, having served as acting prime minister and the head of a political party, the Union of Rightist Forces.

Kirienko focused on regional management and used this position to shape a loyal team. He progressively demonstrated that good politicians are those who act, unlike those who merely comment.

For the most part, he avoided comment on Kremlin decisions and maintained a relatively low profile on federal news. But he didn't mind calling TV channels to film him wearing various costumes: he opened a Moscow martial-arts center in a kimono and, on Environment Day, he decided to clean the Volga wearing a wet suit.

Over the past four years, the Volga district became an important place to visit if one wanted to be seen as a genuine political manager and an intellectual. Following the lead of the St. Petersburg seminars, which served as a political incubator for the St Petersburg clan, Kirienko sponsored a number of seminars, mainly focused on political and regional management. In doing so, he was shaping a new team that potentially could have been a threat in the 2008 presidential election.

His replacement Aleksandr Konovalov, Bashkortostan's prosecutor, has little professional experience outside of his hometown. Konovalov, a St. Petersburg native, served in Ufa, Bashkortostan for only the past nine months. He will assume control of the Volga Federal District, a populous, ethnically heterogeneous district with 15 regions, including Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.

Kirienko, the former envoy, previously said in more than one interview that he sees the office as a "temporary" one. He said the envoy positions will fade away as soon as the tasks that they were formed to perform, such as the harmonization of laws, are completed.

RFE/RL Russia Report

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