22 March, MOSCOW – Two of Russia’s regional governors resigned on Thursday, joining three others who stepped down this week in what experts say is a reshuffle ahead of difficult local elections in September.
The governor of the Orenburg region in the south of the Ural mountains, Yury Berg, resigned after nine years in the post. The head of the Murmansk region in the Arctic Marina Kovtun, who held the post since 2012, also stepped down.
President Vladimir Putin has nominated new heads of the regions, the Kremlin said Thursday.
Three other governors resigned earlier this week. These were the heads of the Ural Chelyabinsk region, the Siberian Altai republic and the Buddhist Kalmykia republic on the Caspian Sea.
Experts say rising social discontent over economic woes in Russia’s regions will make local elections planned for September tougher than usual for Putin’s ruling United Russia party.
“The federal centre does not want and is afraid of the regions becoming stronger and forming their own independent political will,” said analyst Alexander Kynev.
He said the reshuffle is aimed at avoiding electoral defeats.
“It is easier to appoint a new governor than rehabilitate an old one with a bad reputation,” Kynev said.
He added that most of the new governors are Moscow-loyal technocrats who “never lived in the given region.”
Analyst Alexei Makarkin said the changes take place every Spring, ahead of Autumn elections.
“Not wanting to lose control of the regions, the Kremlin’s system is to decide (on governors) at the federal level half a year before the election,” he said.
But Kynev said the rate of the rotations has increased, with Moscow replacing 49 governors in under three years.
“This has not happened in Russia in the last 20 years,” he said.
Governorship elections were scrapped in 2005 but reinstated in 2012 as claims of mass fraud in the 2011 parliamentary elections prompted tens of thousands of Russians to rally against Putin.