For the past year or so, President Dmitry Medvedev has been busy replacing long-serving regional governors, some of whom have been in office since the term of former President Boris Yeltsin.
A report in "Nezavisimaya gazeta
" by journalist Yelina Bilevskaya suggests he is also about to go to work on the presidential representatives in Russia's federal administrative districts.
Early in his term as president, Vladimir Putin established seven federal districts and appointed powerful presidential representatives (known as plenipotentiary representatives, or prefects) to oversee them (the number of districts was expanded to eight in January when the North Caucasus district was split off from the southern districts).
Most of the prefects, whose job it was to keep an eye on regional and local officials, were drawn from the security services or the military. Their presence was one of Putin's earliest steps to rein in Russia's far flung and unruly regions and establish his beloved power vertical.
According to the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" report, Medvedev now wants to rotate out the siloviki prefects and replace them with technocrats who will spearhead his modernization project in the regions:
This emphasis on the so called siloviki was understandable and perhaps even justifiable once. They were supposed to strengthen state integrity and federalism which they did. They were also supposed to have Federation subjects harmonize local legislations with the federal. By and large, these missions were accomplished.
There are new tasks President Dmitry Medvedev wants his plenipotentiary representatives to accomplish now, and modernization is on top of the list of priorities. New missions require new personnel to accomplish them. By and large, renovation of the corps of presidential plenipotentiary representatives is already under way.
Citing unidentified sources, the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" report says Nikolai Fyodorov, the outgoing president of the Chuvash Republic and a former Justice Minister under Yeltsin, will become Medvedev's prefect in the Siberian federal district after his term ends on August 29.
According to the daily's sources, Fyodorov will replace Anatoly Kvashnin, an army general who served as Chief of the Russian General Staff from 1997-2004.
The article notes that Medvedev has already appointed two non-siloviki prefects. In January he named Aleksandr Khloponin
, the former Krasnoyarsk governor and ex-chairman of the board at Norilsk Nickel, to head the newly formed North Caucasus district. In April of last year, he tapped Viktor Ishayev to head the Far East District.
"According to our information, the Kremlin is pondering involvement of presidential plenipotentiary representatives in modernization projects like the development of an information society, and advancement of the so called electronic diplomacy," the daily wrote. "In time, the presidential plenipotentiary representatives' office will evolve into information hubs."
Analysts, however, are skeptical. "Once the presidential representatives brought regional legislations in line with the federal laws, they degenerated into purely bureaucratic structures... not something to be trusted with modernization," Yevgeny Minchenko director of the International Institute of Political Expertise told "Nezavisimaya gazeta."
Minchenko's point is well taken. As I have written
times on this blog, Russia will not truly modernize until it decentralizes its economy and allows a vibrant private sector that is not dependent on the state to flourish.
If we assume that Medvedev is indeed planning a massive turnover among the prefects to oust the siloviki (a very big if at this point), the more interesting question is what this portends for the country's political direction.
Is Putin on board? One has to assume he is since Medvedev would probably not embark on such a move without a green light from the national leader. But what about powerful siloviki like Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin? Will there be any pushback?
I'm not sure where this will go at this point. But it merits watching.
-- Brian Whitmore