Kalmykia, a Russian region that was long headed by a chess-mad authoritarian who claimed to have met aliens on a spaceship, now has a champion kickboxer at its helm.
President Vladimir Putin appointed Batu Khasikov acting head of the region on the southern steppes near the Caspian Sea on March 20, part of a shakeup in which the governor of another Russian region was replaced a day earlier.
A Kremlin statement said Putin met with Khasikov and told him that he would replace Aleksandr Orlov, who announced his resignation earlier in the day after eight years in office.
Khasikov, 38, is a professional kickboxer who has won several world titles. He represented Kalmykia in the Russian parliament's upper chamber in 2012-14 and has been an adviser to the head of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs since June 2017.
Kalmyks, a Mongol-speaking and predominantly Buddhist ethnic group, make up a majority of the population of the Republic of Kalmykia, according to Russia's 2010 census.
The region was headed from 1993 to 2010 by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a flamboyant figure who was accused of oppressive rule during his tenure. An aide to Ilyumzhinov was convicted of the 1998 murder of journalist Larisa Yudina.
Ilyumzhinov was president of the global chess governing body FIDE from 1995-2018.
Eighteen of Russia's 83 administrative regions are due to elect leaders in September, and the daily Kommersant reported on March 18 that up to six regional governors could be replaced in the coming days.
On May 19, Aleksei Teksler replaced Boris Dubrovsky as governor of the Chelyabinsk region, while Murmansk region Governor Marina Kovtun said she would step down.