As media reports last week predicted, Yury Yevdokimov was stripped of his post as governor of Murmansk Oblast over the weekend by a presidential decree. In his place, Dmitry Medvedev nominated the deputy head of the State Fisheries Committee, Dmitry Dmitriyenko.
Yevdokimov has headed the oblast since 1996, but rumors of his imminent demise have been swirling in recent weeks since he found himself in open conflict with the local leadership of Unified Russia. That conflict went so far that Yevdokimov opposed Unified Russia's candidate for the recent mayoral election in Murmansk and succeeded in helping his former deputy, Sergei Subbotin, win that post.
But Yevdokimov's name had been among the list of about 25 long-in-the-tooth governors expected to be ousted that has been making the rounds in Moscow for about the last year. In fact, Yevdokimov was regarded as No. 2 on that list (more on No. 1 below). Political analyst Aleksandr Kynev told RFE/RL's Russian Service that "it was understood that Yevdokimov, one of the veterans among the governors, of course, was considered a candidate to be replaced. And I am absolutely certain that he understood this perfectly."
That is to say, his conflict with Unified Russia may have been a last-ditch effort to hang onto his post by the old-fashioned (almost quaint, in the Russian context) tactic of demonstrating how strong his local support was and proving to Unified Russia's central leadership in Moscow that they still needed him. It didn't work.
In fact, Medvedev showed his disdain for the idea that local politicians should rule in the regions by selecting Dmitriyenko, who has a long career in the northwest region, but no particular ties to Murmansk Oblast, to replace Yevdokimov. Kynev told gazeta.ru that Dmitriyenko is a "Petersburger" who is tied to the "siloviki" by virtue of his career in the navy.
In his interview with RFE/RL, Kynev questioned the long-run wisdom of the policy of appointing outsiders as governors:
It is clear that the tactic of appointing outsiders, appointing governors from other areas who have no relationship to the region, annoys the locals. It means not only the arrival of the governor, but, as a rule, a mass of other bureaucrats along with him. They do not know or understand the specifics of the region and, proceeding from this ignorance, make mistakes, get into conflicts with local elites, and so on.
The issue of the Shtokman gas field continues to loom large in this story. The oblast's governor plays a key role in the development of this Gazprom-led project that is slated to become the main supplier to the Nord Stream gas pipeline to Europe. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported earlier this month, citing an anonymous source in the presidential administration, that Yevdokimov was being ousted for essentially being an American stooge (another thread of the Kremlin's use of anti-Americanism for domestic purposes). "He practically betrayed Russia's interests in the Arctic by cooperating with American institutes that were giving out grants to support opposition activity in Russia," the anonymous source reportedly said.
Now, back to that list of governors. The No.1 most wanted man on the list is long-time Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, one of the country's most odious leaders. Rakhimov came up through the Bashkir oil industry in Soviet times and has ruled the republic with an iron fist since 1993. He was reconfirmed in the post by Vladimir Putin in September 2006.
Gazeta.ru reported today that his removal is also imminent -- and could come as soon as March 25 ("Vedomosti" reported similar rumors earlier this month). Apparently feeling that he has nothing left to lose, Rakhimov is also making waves. On March 20, he sharply criticized Moscow for its supposedly anti-federalist policies and called for a power-sharing agreement between Moscow and Bashkortostan similar to the one in effect between the center and Tatarstan. Like Yevdokimov, Rakhimov criticized Moscow for ignoring advice from locals and for appointing outsiders to key posts in the republic. He also criticized Moscow's interference in local education matters (saying the Kremlin listens too much to the Russian Orthodox Church) and accused the central government of "restricting the right of national-cultural development of the peoples of the Russian Federation."
Political commentator Yevgeny Minchenko told gazeta.ru that he believes Rakhimov's daring signals that he has concluded "that loyalty is no longer sufficient grounds for keeping one's post."
Other governors who are reportedly in danger according to the "black list" are: Republic of Karelia President Sergei Katanandov, Primorsky krai Governor Sergei Darkin, Volgograd Oblast Governor Nikolai Maksyuta, Kursk Oblast Governor Aleksandr Mikhailov, Leningrad Oblast Governor Valery Serdyukov, Moscow Oblast Governor Boris Gromov, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, and Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Pyotr Sumin.