As I blogged here yesterday, locals demonstrated and gathered signatures in protest when President Dmitry Medvedev nominated State Duma deputy Natalya Komarova to replace the popular Filipenko.
Seeking to avoid another regional embarrassment like the recent mass protests in Kaliningrad, the Kremlin moved quickly to douse the flames. Filipenko flew to Moscow for consultations and Sergey Smetanyuk, the deputy presidential envoy to the Urals region, traveled to Khanty-Mansiisk.
Now, ura.ru is reporting that a deal is being cut that would save face for everybody: Komarova would become governor and then she would name Filipenko as head of the regional government, essentially the prime minister. Voila! A Siberian tandem is born! (another h/t to Paul Goble at Window on Eurasia for being all over this story)
There, of course, is nothing official out there yet on the tandem deal. Everything thus far is based on anonymous sources. Russian media is reporting today that Filipenko and Komarova have met to discuss "possible structural changes in the government."
Mikhail Vornov, RFE/RL's Russian Service correspondent in Khanty-Mansiisk, however, says after the meeting Komarova dismissed rumors that Filipenko would be named prime minister. Vornov also cited unidentified sources as saying he will not be given a job in the government, which contradicts local press reports.
The situation should become clearer when the regional Duma convenes on Monday to consider (read: rubber-stamp) Komarova's candidacy.
Filipenko, who has run the Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug for nearly two decades and reportedly did not want to step aside, is clearly trying to put a brave face on the Medvedev's decision to replace him. This suggests the Kremlin either frightened him into submission or offered him some kind of sweetheart deal in exchange for calling off his supporters. (Gazprom practically owns the energy-rich region, so either is entirely possible)
For his part, Filipenko told reporters that his replacement was part of Medvedev's strategy to modernize the political system and bring in fresh faces in the regions. He praised Komarova as a "professional manager" and urged his supporters to back her:
An automobile rally had been planned for the weekend to support Filipenko.
However the Khanty-Mansiisk issue is solved, it is clear that this trend is not going away anytime soon. We should expect more Khanty-Mansiisks -- and possibly more Kaliningrads -- to pop up periodically, especially as the regional elections in March get closer.
The last two rounds of local and regional elections in March and October of last year -- the only times voters have gone to the polls since the global economic crisis hit Russia --have not gone well for the Kremlin and the ruling United Russia party.
In March, United Russia won most of the races, but also suffered some embarrassing setbacks, most notably in Murmansk. (see The Power Vertical's posts on those elections here and here)
And in October, the ruling party was accused of massive falsification, sparking a walkout in the State Duma by A Just Russia, the LDPR, and the Communists. (see The Power Vertical's posts here, here, here, and here)
The regions are restive. And one of the consequences of Vladimir Putin's decision in 2005 to scrap the election of governors -- and the subsequent takeover of the country's regional legislatures by United Russia -- is that when things go wrong in the provinces, the Kremlin owns the problem.
-- Brian Whitmore