Citing unidentified sources, the daily "Kommersant" reported today that Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak is emerging as a top contender.
According to the report, Kozak has already been tasked with overseeing United Russia's State Duma campaign in St. Petersburg, will likely lead the ruling party's regional list in the December elections, and is emerging as "a prime candidate" to replace Matvyenko as governor:
If Kozak does return to St. Petersburg, it would be the latest of many Mr. Fix-It missions he has taken on for the Kremlin -- some of which have been more successful than others.
As deputy Kremlin chief of staff from 2000-2004 he was among the architects of Putin's drive to centralize power by establishing the current system of regional prefects.
In September 2004, he became part of that system when Putin named him presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, which includes the restive North Caucasus, in order to oversee the reconstruction of the war-torn region. In that job, he argued that the Kremlin needed to battle corruption, rights abuses, ethnic tension, poverty, and crime in order to quiet the volatile region. (His advise was largely ignored when Putin was president, but got a more sympathetic hearing from Medvedev.)
And in October 2008, he was named Deputy Prime Minister in charge of overseeing and rooting out the corruption and inefficiencies in the often troubled preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
If Kozak is appointed St. Petersburg governor it would certainly make sense based on the logic of the ruling elite. He is a loyal -- and largely apolitical -- apparatchik in the mold of Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. A legendary workaholic, he is also widely seen as a smart and competent manager.
Kozak is not going to go off the reservation and act counter to the Kremlin's priorities (a la Yury Luzhkov) or commit any major gaffes or make a mess of running the city's affairs (a la Matviyenko).
Additionally, he doesn't rub the opposition the wrong way.
Speaking to "Kommersant" (which ran two stories on the subject today), Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin called his appointment as governor "likely," adding that "it is hard to find a more successful figure. I know him personally, he is head and shoulders above Matviyenko."
Likewise, Sergei Mironov, whose recent sacking as Federation Council speaker set this whole process in motion, called Kozak's candidacy "optimal" and "fully working." Mironov added that "Dmitri Nikolayevich has high professional qualities."
Working as a journalist in St. Petersburg in the 1990s, I interacted with Kozak fairly regularly and found him intelligent, funny, pleasant, and sometimes even helpful -- a functionary without the usual arrogance of that species. He was fairly popular among reporters for this reason (and could often be found sharing a smoke, and the occasional scoop, with the press in the Legislative Assembly stairwell).
With an unpopular and ineffective governor, creaking infrastructure and housing, and an increasingly restive electorate, St. Petersburg -- the hometown of both sides of the tandem -- has become a bit of an embarrassment for the Kremlin. Time to call in Mr. Fix-It.
-- Brian Whitmore