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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
September 29, 2017

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
The Kremlin's Fight Club

A dozen Russian governors have been removed by President Vladimir Putin in recent weeks. In an article title "Campaign Storyboard" translated by The Interpreter, Novaya Gazeta journalist Kirill Martynov, editor of the independent news site's politics department explains what this "purge" of governors is all about.

Russians have dubbed the wave of forced resignations as "governor-fall," using the same term they use for autumn leaves. Martynov explains that this major shuffle of officials was dictated by the Kremlin's preparations for a post-election 2018, following the March 2018 presidential elections--The Interpreter.

The presidential campaign is being run by the rules of Fight Club, the first rule of which, as everyone knows, is that no one should know of its existence.

The Central Elections Commission is prepared to announce the nomination of candidates and the start of the election campaign in December. There is a group of "wedding generals" (dignified figures brought out for show), who are hoping that once again they will be summoned for the democracy holiday.

They say that although there can only be one candidate for president, they are all prepared to carry their cross and also join the elections, but only after "he himself" announces this -- a reference to Putin.

In the absence of new information, with good reason, both the public and specialists are entertaining themselves with various political campaign sensations, related not so much to the content of the campaign but its form.

A great deal of interest was provoked, for example, by the rumor of the possible run of socialite and fashion editor Kseniya Sobchak (daughter of past St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak who died under suspicious circumstances in 2000).

Kseniya Sobchak would thus serve to play the role model of "an independent candidate for the liberals" -- and she's a woman, to boot. Opposition leader Alexey Navalny berated Sobchak for not disassociating herself from these rumors clearly. In reply, Sobchak recalled Alexey's "great leaderism," and this was fodder for a week's discussion. That's the brightest news in our political life.

The Kremlin, of course, has a problem: how to organize pretty and convincing presidential elections. But as for the other sides of the issue, there's almost no significance as to which selection of candidates will be offered within the framework of this campaign: in any event, it will be for decoration. The only exception in fact is Navalny himself. But after the events of the last six months, we can say with nearly total confidence that under no circumstances will the authorities let him take part in the 2018 elections. (Navalny has faced a number of criminal cases that would disqualify him from the elections; just today he was detained on the way to making a call for yet another protest demonstration--The Interpreter.) After Navalny's rallies and the aggressive alternative campaign, this would be too risky.

So if we want to understand how the real search for the "image of the future" is going in the Kremlin, we have to look not at the technological side of the issue, but the personnel side. For denizens of the Kremlin, the future is a question of which people will get into which positions. And if we arm ourselves with this lens, then we see that the real campaign to organize the transition to Kremlin System 2018 is already going full speed ahead.

On the one hand, this is explained by a new wave of purges of the governors corps, where the most odious figures like Samara Governor Sergei Merkushkin are being removed, and "technocrats" are replacing them who essentially differ little from their predecessors.

On the other hand the gradual replacement of key personalities in the government and the presidential administration is of greater significance in the "image of the future. So far, this is going along without sensational departures, so as not to attract the attention of the broader public, and not destroy the image of "stability".

Thus, Oleg Plokhoi, head of the anti-corruption department of the presidential administration was moved to the position of first deputy justice minister. This position had been vacant since the infamous Sergei Gerasimov, who had led the operation to create the registry of "foreign agents" left the post. Gerasimov thus became one of three deputies of Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov who has left the ministry in recent months. Plokhoy has the president's personal trust, and has prospects of taking the seat of the minister in time.

The dressing-down of transport minister Dmitry Sokolov over the failed airline VIM-avia gained wide publicity. Putin issued a formal reprimand for "poor performance" and proposed to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that he should think about what to do about it.

Vice Premier Arkady Dvorkovich also came in for a scolding from Putin -- he is Medvedev's main man, and is responsible for overseeing transportation among other areas. The president asked whether Dvorkovich was not "too overloaded" and wasn't it time to do something about this?

This is where the real presidential campaign is taking place. The Kremlin's hyper activity now with personnel indicates that the system has reached its latest line and needs a shuffle on the eve of the March 2018 elections, and after them. The contribution of any even somewhat visible player will be weighed and valued within the framework of the new correlation of forces.

(See also: Resignation of Ramazan Abdulatipov, head of Dagestan: poet, playwright and head of one of the most volatile Russian regions. Sum-up of his rule)

(See also: Summary of liberal reforms. Governor of Nenets Autonomous Region who led his region out of raw materials crisis is dismissed)

See also: 'Young Technocrat' from Moscow selected as governor of Novgorod Region in the 'political heavyweight' scenario.)

-- Translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

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