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Could Events In Khanty-Mansiisk Lead To 'Tandemocracy' In Russia's Regions?

  • Paul Goble

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- a political system coming to a Russian region near you?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- a political system coming to a Russian region near you?

Anger in Khanty-Mansiisk at Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's decision to replace longtime Governor Aleksandr Filipenko with Duma Deputy Natalya Komarova could have the unexpected result of leading to the creation of the first "tandemocracy" in a region.

That could happen,'s Vitaly Sotnik says, if Komarova, after becoming governor, names Filipenko head of government of the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District, something that would go a long way to calming tensions in the gas- and oil-rich district without forcing Medvedev to back down.

Following an 80-person demonstration in support of Filipenko on February 10, Sotnik reports, Komarova agreed to fly to Khanty-Mansiisk on February 11 and meet with Filipenko about how the two could cooperate to keep the situation from getting out of hand. They had already agreed, Sotnik says, to have more discussion about the situation in the regional media, and he adds, on the basis of his sources, that it is probable that "in the course of talks, Komarova will offer Filipenko the post of chairman of the government of the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District."

"If he agrees," then Khanty-Mansiisk "will become the first subject of the Russian Federation where by analogy with the Kremlin will be realized the scenario of so-called tandemocracy at the level of a region," something that should "satisfy everyone: the population, the federal center, the new and departing governors, business, and the local political elite."

Overseeing these arrangements, Sotnik continues, is the deputy presidential envoy for the Urals, Sergei Smetanyuk, who was dispatched to Khanty-Mansiisk to try to get control of the situation after local officials and the population there made it clear that they were angry at the Kremlin for deciding to replace Filipenko. The journalist says Komarova and Filipenko will meet today, at which time "it is not out of the question that the current and future governors will discuss the possibility of continuing the work of Filipenko in the leadership of the region in the capacity of head of government. Such a variant, people close to Komarova say, is "being considered at present."

Power Horizontal

Local officials with whom spoke gave four reasons for viewing such a scenario as "logical" and appropriate. First, Filipenko's continuation in the leadership of the region will have the effect of "calming society" and members of local elites, including not unimportantly the heads of the oil and gas companies. Second, these people say, the new governor will find it far easier to work if she can draw on the expertise of the former one. Third, the Kremlin will be able to avoid a political retreat or unrest in a key region. And fourth, "from the point of view of image, the authority of Aleksandr Filipenko will not suffer" as a result.

Indeed, Sotnik continues, "specialists in public-relations technologies suggest in private that if such arrangements have been used in the Kremlin at the level of the first persons of the government [eds: a reference to the tandemocracy of Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladmir Putin] then why should they not be implemented at the level of a region" as well? And what is best about this, of course, is that "there are not obstacles technically for the introduction of such an arrangement." Consequently, Sotnik concludes, "it is completely possible that if both sides will come to a suitable conclusion, then this could be officially declared at a session of the [Khanty-Mansiisk] duma [already] on February 15."

It is of course quite possible that Sotnik's report reflects nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of the Khanty-Mansiisk elite or a Moscow tactic designed to calm what appears to be an increasingly explosive situation in a key region, but it is certainly plausible and could fundamentally change Russian politics from below.

On the one hand, if this arrangement were to be accepted, it would invite governors at risk of losing their jobs to organize resistance to Moscow in order to remain near the top of the political system, thus opening up the Russian political system in the regions and ultimately forcing Moscow's hand. And on the other, just as the tandemocracy has led to more discussion rather than less in Moscow, so too the emergence of a parallel set of arrangements in the regions could prompt more debate there, again something that could restart the kind of politics that Putin's power vertical was intended to end.

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on the former Soviet space. The views expressed in this commentary are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL