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Provincial Power Games

According to media reports, Russia's energy industry has a big role in recent regional reshuffles.

According to media reports, Russia's energy industry has a big role in recent regional reshuffles.

Another day, another governor steps down.

This time it was Yury Neyelov, governor of the gas-rich Siberian region of Yamal-Nenets, who announced on Wednesday that he would leave office when his third term ends in March.

Neyelov's announcement came on the heels of the mess in Khanty-Mansiisk, where President Dmitry Medvedev's decision to replace popular Governor Aleksandr Filipenko with Natalya Komarova, a State Duma deputy with ties to the energy industry, provoked unexpected public opposition.

And what do the neighboring Siberian regions of Yamal-Nenets and Khanty-Mansiisk have in common? For one thing, both are energy rich.

The daily "Vedomosti" cited unidentified Kremlin officials as saying that Komarova was sent to Khanty-Mansiisk with a mission -- laying the groundwork for the region's unification with Yamal-Nenets and another energy-rich province, Tyumen Oblast.

According to "Vedomosti," that project is the brainchild of Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Sobyanin, a former speaker of the Khanty-Mansiisk regional Duma and a former Governor of Tyumen Oblast:

According to a Kremlin source, Komarova was appointed for a specific project -- the union of Tyumen Oblast with Khanty-Mansiysk and Yamal-Nenets. The main obstacle to this has been Filipenko, who is popular in the region....Filipenko's departure is a victory of Deputy Prime Minister Sobyanin, a source close to the Kremlin said. Their relationship soured when Sobyanin, who was Filipenko's former deputy, led the Tyumen Oblast and hoped to merge it with the Khanty-Mansiysk and Yamal-Nenets.

The "Vedomosti" report adds, however, that it is unclear whether the Kremlin plans to go through with the proposed merger right away since it could be a risky move given the economic crisis.

But merging these three oil-and-gas powerhouses might be too tasty a morsel for Russia's powerful energy industry to resist. One thing to watch now is who gets the nod in Yamal-Nenets.

Meanwhile, Medvedev is just getting started in his campaign to rejuvenate Russia's gubernatorial corps. This year alone, the Kremlin leader is due to appoint (or reappoint) 22 more regional leaders.

So who else's job is in jeopardy? Two Russian think tanks, the International Institute for Political Expertise and the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation, have ranked the relative vulnerability of the country's regional leaders.

Two provincial barons scored a "one," meaning most vulnerable: Chelyabinsk Governor Pyotr Sumin and Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov.

Seven others scored a slightly less vulnerable rank of "two," including Neyelov of Yamal-Nenets, who just stepped down. Others on the endangered list include Governor Sergei Antufev of Smolensk, Georgy Boos of Kaliningrad, Boris Gromov of Moscow Oblast, Aleksandr Mikhailov of Kursk, Aleksei Chernyshov of Orenburg, and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

But as Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin points out in a recent interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Medvedev's ambitious plans to overhaul the gubernatorial corps comes at a time when regional elites are getting increasingly feisty:

Regional politics -- which were not public for the past 10 years, were handled in the back room, and were dominated by the idea of a united Russia -- are now coming out into the open. This is because regional elites, unlike voters, have rights and the means to defend themselves. This shows that the idea of a vertical controlled by the federal center is not working out.

Not to mention the fact that a solid majority of Russians want to scrap Kremlin appointments of governors altogether and go back to direct elections.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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