Staunton, October 4 – Vladimir Putin has in fact adopted a new approach to the appointment of regional leaders, Tatyana Stanovaya says, but it isn’t about promoting younger technocrats to these jobs but rather about lowering the status of governors at a time of resources shortages and the continuing “de-federalization” of Russia.
In a Republic commentary, the Russian analyst argues that the Kremlin put out the alternative view that it had no choice but to install younger specialists in place of aging politicians at the gubernatorial level, but “to put it mildly,” she says, “this is not quite the case” (republic.ru/posts/86759).
Instead, she argues, what is going on is a Kremlin effort not to bring to the fore “a new plead of young and talented leaders in the framework of some independent cadres campaign” to improve the economy but rather one intended to reduce the governors still further to cogs in the power vertical run from the center and ensure Putin gets the participation rates he wants.
There is no indication, Stanovaya continues, that Moscow is seeking to improve conditions in the regions with its changes. Instead, it has removed “governors who weren’t able to guarantee to a sufficient degree predictable results, who were caught up in intra-elite conflicts and were not keeping the situation under control.”
Thus, the Kremlin has been focused not on installing young people but on those who lack independent political skills, compared to those they replace, and therefore are less capable of pursuing any independent policy. The new men are thus more likely to implement without any questioning whatever the center wants.
But there is another reason, Stanovaya says, why there appears to be an emphasis on youth. More senior people with more experience in political life often present more problems to the Kremlin than younger ones. Given the devaluation of the position of governor, younger ones will take it when older ones will prefer to do something else.
If in the past, a governorship was “a trampoline for advancement,” now it is something with enormous burdens but one that provides few occasions for moving upward. That’s why, the analyst argues, younger people will jump at such a position while older ones won’t. As a result, Russia is becoming “a country of deputies” rather than one with heavyweights in the regions.
The new people are executors not politicians, “bureaucrats not leaders,” and thus are significantly less positioned to pursue any independent line. They can thus be counted on to follow any radical shifts the Kremlin may decide on.
There is another factor at work here as well, Stanovaya says. “The distancing of the president from domestic affairs has untied the hands of his administration in cadres policy,” opening the way for a very different kind of struggle over appointments to posts of all kinds, including governors.
In the past, each appointment involved people at the highest levels; but now, shifts at the regional level “have become less personified and more functional, connected not with specific situations but with the typical problems common for the entire process of selecting governors,” a shift that has opened the way for “a new role of interest groups.”
“If earlier interest groups were the initiators” of changes, she says, “now they play a more expert function in the interests of organizing relations with Putin’s Kremlin entourage.” The new people don’t have “patrons.” Instead, they are “recommended” by this or that group, something that promises to change their behavior in office as well.
Their loyalties are less closely defined and more “polycentric,” because they aren’t tied to one individual power holder but rather come out of a more general area of expertise.
In this process, Stanovaya says, there have been two basic approaches. In the first, Moscow installs someone not connected with the region or public policy and thus treats him as an executor within the power vertical. In the second, where there are “more complicated inter-elite relations,” local elites appear to continue to play a greater role.
This new approach to gubernatorial appointments will make future changes easier and changes likely more frequent. But it “will not create any basis for more effective economic or social policies or even for electoral success. It only simplifies the system of relations of the Kremlin with its subordinates.”
“The former influential and legitimate governors” are being replaced by “a faceless part of routine executors of the vertical.” But this carries with it the risk that crises in the regions may grow as the economy deteriorates, the analyst says.
That is because, she says, “the technologization of power is a process which lowers the resistance of the milieu for the adoption of administrative decisions, but also creates fewer conditions for development and the solution of political and economic tasks.”