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Russia: New Presidential Aide Supports Power Vertical --> Sobyanin in the Kremlin yesterday with First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitrii Medvedev (AFP) By Julie Corwin and Jean-Christophe Peuch

Sergei Sobyanin was born 47 years ago in Nyaksimvol, a small town in the oil-rich Khanty-Mansii Autonomous District.

According to his official biography, four generations of Sobyanins have lived in Russia's north. One of his forbearers was an Urals-based Cossack who was heavily decorated in the Imperial Army and was sent to Siberia by Stalin in 1937. His father was a hunter who brought up the young Sergei Semenovich in strict observance of Russian Orthodox traditions.

That did not preclude Sobyanin from becoming a model Soviet worker.

In the early 1980s, he joined the Komsomol, or Communist youth organization, while being employed as a skilled worker at the Chelyabinsk pipeline factory.

In 1986, he was picked to run the Communist Party organization in the city of Kogalym.Around the same time, he graduated from the All-Union Law Institute.

Following the demise of the Soviet Union, Sobyanin first becamemayor of Kogalym, then first deputy head of the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District.

Prior to being appointed to run the Kremlin's administration on 14 November, he had seldom left Russia's northern regions.

Enters Legislature

Yet, he was still sometimes in the public eye.

In the mid-1990s, Sobyanin was elected chairman of the Khanty-Mansiisk legislature -- a post that two years later allowed him to sit at the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia's federal parliament. He was soon elected chairman of the Federation Council's Committee on Constitutional Legislation.

Following Putin's election in 2000, Sobyanin became deputy presidential envoy to the Urals Federal District. In January 2001, he was elected head of the Tyumen region, one of Russia's largest oil-producing regions.

In that election, Sobyanin reportedly had the support of LUKoil and Gazprom, Russia's largest hydrocarbons producers. His rival, incumbent Governor Leonid Roketskii, was backed by the Tyumen Oil Company, or TNK.

In comments printed in the 15 November edition of the "Vedomosti" newspaper, sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya said that Sobyanin was considered "[LUKoil head Vagit] Alekperov's person," but in the capacity of speaker of Khanty-Mansiisk's regional parliament he was able to balance the interests of more than one "oil general" in the district. She said he had managed to maintain good relations with rival regional elites.

Power Vertical

Three years ago, Sobyanin -- then a prominent member of Russia's State Council -- publicly argued with Dmitrii Kozak, then deputy head of the presidential administration, on how the Kremlin should best subsidize Russia's regions. In particular, he protested against a system that allocated too little money to Russia's self-governing bodies:

"Today, in essence, one level of the [executive power] is making decisions but these decisions lack financial support. The lower level is trying to implement the decisions reached by the upper level. Yet, it hasn't the necessary financial resources to do so. Such a practice should be stopped without delay," Sobyanin said.

While arguing in favor of broader financial autonomy for Russia's regions and cities, Sobyanin remains a firm supporter of Putin's vision of the state.

Commenting on Putin's decision to reinforce the vertical of power through the effective appointment of regional governors in the aftermath of the Beslan hostage crisis, Sobyanin last year said a stronger chain of command could only benefit Russia's regions:

"A real mechanism of executive power, stretching from the federal center down to the region, is now appearing in the country. This should help us develop our territory and manage the situation -- the uneasy situation -- in which we are now," Sobyanin said.

Sobyanin was recently reelected Tyumen Governor under the new mode of selection.

In comments broadcast on Russia's state-controlled ORT television channel, Tyumen Mayor Vladimir Yakushev on Monday described Sobyanin as a "very systematic man." He also said that his promotion can only benefit Russia in general, and its oil sector in particular.

Tyumen Oil and Gas University head Nikolai Karnaukhov, in turn, described Sobyanin as "a man who is able to set goals and pick up the necessary people to reach those goals."

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