Maybe it's me, but it seems that every time a long-serving regional leader is removed, speculation builds that Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and Baskortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov will be next on the chopping block.
So with Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiyev
finally announcing his retirement last week, it is hardly surprising that the "Luzhkov and Rakhimov are toast" meme has begun anew.
On Monday, days after the Tatar leader announced he would not seek a new term, "Vedomosti
" quoted an unidentified Kremlin official as saying "Shaimiyev's departure should serve as an example to other old-timers" like Luzhkov, who has ruled Moscow since 1992, and Rakhimov, who has been in charge of Bashkortostan since 1993.
The paper then quotes political analyst Yevgeny Minchenko as calling Shaimiyev's departure "a precedent" that could be followed by Luzhkov and Rakhimov being forced to step down.
Approximately one-third of Russia's provincial bosses have been in power since before Vladimir Putin ascended to the Kremlin in 2000.
The past year, however, has not been a great one for veteran regional leaders.
Last March, Oryol Oblast's Yegor Stroyev
and Murmansk Oblast's Yury Yevdokimov
were removed from office. Longtime Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel
retired in November.Volgograd Governor Nikolai Maksyuta
stepped down earlier this month after 13 years in power, followed by Shaimiyev's retirement announcement last week.
So is it finally time for Luzhkov and Rakhimov to go? Removing such deeply entrenched regional leaders is no easy task, and usually requires a fair bit of horse trading.
Shaimiyev reportedly only agreed to step down on the condition that Medvedev appoint his handpicked successor, Tatarstan's Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov.
But the horse trading can cut both ways. Aleksandr Berdnikov
, leader of the Altai Republic, was reportedly on his way out after a scandal in which he was accused of arranging illegal hunting trips in which endangered sheep were shot from helicopters.
But Berdnikov managed to keep his job. According tomedia reports
, he was saved by his close ties to natural gas monopoly Gazprom, and by agreeing to construct a 22-kilometer road costing 3.5 billion rubles ($119 million). The road will lead to a country estate for a "high ranking official" -- presumably Putin, who reportedly circled the area by helicopter shortly before the road construction project was announced.
Primorsky Krai Governor Sergei Darkin was supposedly on a "black list
" of regional chiefs who were on their way out. But like Berdnikov, he also managed to hang on. Media speculation suggested that this was partly because he was seen as the only figure in the region who would be able to make sure the 2012 ASEAN summit in Vladivostok comes off without a hitch.
Do Luzhkov or Rakhimov have a price for leaving the scene, a la Shaimiyev? Or does the Kremlin have a price for letting them stay, a al Berdnikov.
-- Brian Whitmore