AM Headlines: Putin Shuffles Governors, Appoints FSB to Head Customs, Kaliningrad

July 28, 2016
President Vladimir Putin eating breakfast in the fields with the mechanics during a visit to an agricultural complex . The manager congratulated the president on St. Vladimir's Day, which marks the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of the Russian people. Photo by Dmitry Smirnov/Twitter

LIVE UPDATES: President Vladimir Putin has made a number of personnel shuffles, removing the governor of Russian-occupied Sevastopol and putting a KGB general in charge of Kaliningrad Region bordering Baltics.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

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Putin’s Major Personnel Shuffles Bring FSB Generals to Critical Areas Before Elections; Opposition Calls It ‘Coup’

President Vladimir Putin made a number of key personnel shuffles, characterized as “massive” by Gazeta, which have been widely covered by both state and independent media.

Slon has made a table of the changes:

Translation: all the shuffles of today in one diagram!

Here’s a list of the dismissals and appointments: 

Aleksandr Belyaninov, now under investigation, has been removed from his position as Federal Customs Service. His office and home were searched this week.
Vladimir Bulavin, an FSB general was removed from his position as presidential representative of the North West Federal District and has been made the new head of the Federal Customs Service.
Nikolai Rogozhkin, presidential representative of the Siberian Federal District, was removed from his post.
Sergei Menyaylo, the governor of Russian-occupied Sevastopol in Crimea, was removed from his post and literally sent to Siberia; he has now replaced Rogozhkin.

Nikolai Tsukanov, governor of the Kaliningrad Region, an exclave which borders Poland and Lithuania, has been dismissed from this post and appointed presidential representative to the North West Federal Region.

 Yevgeny Zinichev, an FSB general, has replaced Tsukanov.

– Putin signed a decree to immediately remove Sergei Yastrebov, governor of the Yaroslav Region, and replace him with Dimitry Mironov, deputy head of the Interior Ministry (police), who had previously been sent into retirement.

Nikita Belykh, governor of Kirov Region who was arrested earlier this month on charges of bribery, has been dismissed. (Actually, the term Putin employed in his decree is not often used for such acts — Belykh was “detached” from his position because he had “loss the confidence of the president.”). Belykh, a former opposition member, denies the charges.
Sergei Melikov, former presidential representative to the North Caucasus Federal District has been appointed deputy director of Rosgvardiya, the new Russian National Guard. 

Oleg Belaventsev, previously serving as the presidential representative for the Crimean Federal District, has been sent now to the North Caucausus Federal District.

Mikhail Zurabov, Russian ambassador to Kiev, was dismissed. There is a rumor that Mikhail Babich, currently presidential representative to the Volga Federal Region, who served in both the KGB forces and the Airborne Troops, is rumored to be tapped as the next ambassador to Ukraine.

Sergei Toropov, a Russian diplomat who served in Latvia as press attache, was named charge d’affaires of Russia in Ukraine.

The Russian Federation has 85 subjects, such as republics, autonomous regions, city region, etc., including Russian-occupied Crimea and Sevastpol, but it was also divided into 8 districts: Central, South, North West, Far East, Siberia, Ural, Volga and North Caucasus, each of which is assigned a presidential representative to oversee it. In 2014, a 9th district, the Crimea Federal District was added. But now, Putin has attached the Crimean Federal District to the South District.
This elaborate musical chairs has boiled down to one point for the opposition: Putin is putting into place in sensitive areas FSB generals and in one case a police general — the siloviki or law-enforcement officials: North Caucasus, where clashes between Islamist militants and police in Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia and elsewhere have grown more intense; Kaliningrad, which borders Poland and Lithuania and has been a region from which Russia has launched provocations; Russian-occupied Crimea; the Customs Service, one of the profit-producing agencies of the Russian government; and Ukraine.

The news of the dismissals and appointments, some expected, some not, came as Putin was broadcast by LifeNews having a bucolic breakfast of fresh local yogurt in the fields with farm hands in Tver Region, being congratulated with St. Vladimir’s Day, the day in which Russia (rightfully or not) celebrates 1025 years of Christianity in Russia.

One photo shows Aleksei Dyumin, former head of the presidential protection service and former defense minister, who was made governor of Tver Region.  

Translation: Governor Aleksei Dyumin at a low starting position. Putin has his hand paternally on his shoulder.

Aleksei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy, also commented: 

Translation: Sergei Toporov,  chargé d’affaires in Kiev is currently the adviser in our embassy in Ukraine. He was a peace-keeper in the US forces in the Middle East.

The opposition immediately characterized the promotion of FSB generals as a coup of sorts:

Translation: There you go, grandma, and a coup d’etat. I don’t remember such a massive coming to power of the siloviki in a long time.
Translation: Putin only trusts his own personal bodyguards.

Translation: the new head of the FTS is an FSB general. The new governor of Kaliningrad Region is an FSB general. The new governor of Yaroslav Region is an Interior Ministry general. A junta, or what.

Kommersant speculated that the removal of Belyaninov, an old colleague of Putin’s since his days as a KGB officer in then-East Germany, whose offices were searched yesterday was not an indication that the FTS might be dismantled, like other formerly-separate agencies, Officials said there were no such plans for the FTS. But it could be connected to the alcohol market, and an effort to “purge” another agency, Rosalkogol, of officials close to the head of the FTS.

Yekaterina Shulman, an analyst writing for Snob, said that the removal of Belyaninov was reminiscent of the removal of Vladimir Yakovlev, head of Russian Railways.

“There, too, was a head with an ideal biography, a close friend [of Putin], an old, trusted cadre, a kin-favorite-loyal-Russian Orthodox patriot. But he cost a great deal and demanded more and more government subsidies, and in doing so created a threat of non-fulfillment of the basic social guarantees — for example, he nearly destroyed the commuter train. And despite all the friendship, Russian Orthodoxy, and former history of love, he had to be changed for his deputy, who is trying, even successfully in places, to provide the services necessary to the public for less money. That is, he costs a bit less, and works a bit better.”


What is happening is not a campaign in the war on corruption and not a purge, and not an operation unfolding according to a previously-prepared scenario. It is bellum omnium contra omnes [“war of all against all”] in the literal Hobbesian sense. Naturally, this is only a parody of the citizen of civilian oversight, oversight by the law and the system of checks and balances existing in democracies.

Yekaterina Altabayev, chair of the Sevastopol legislature, said law-makers were not happy with Menyaylo’s work and were happy to see him go. The vice-speaker said he was a “good man” and you could “go on a reconnaissance mission with him, if you didn’t have to form a government there,” as he was a poor manager.

But perhaps opposition member Vladimir Milov, former deputy head of the Energy Ministry, explained the shake-up best:

Translation: in reality, all of these replacements of governors, of course, is related to the elections. In the regions where there are the most thoroughly bad ratings, there will be “a guaranteed result.”

Gazeta said a source also told them that the elections were the main motivation for the moves but added another interesting thought — that after a fair number of officials will be removed by dint of losing elections, places would have to be found for them, and by putting in train some of these major dismissals and those around them, Putin would have other positions freed up that would then be places for these “losers”.

Perhaps indicative of all the talk about Putin’s influence of the US elections and the Russian hack of the DNC was a sense that Putin imitates Trump as well:

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that the shuffles were related to any FSB shake-up or the elections and said they were “a normal rotation,” RBC reported.

A parody account for Dmitry Peskov, presidential spokesman, said:

Translation: the personnel changes will not end until they run out of generals at the FSB.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
AM Headings; Putin Shuffles Governors, Appoints FSB to Head Customs, Kaliningrad

The ruble is trading at 66.32 per dollar and 73.58 per ruble. Brent crude is selling for $43.02 per barrel.

Translation: New head of Federal Trade Service (FTS) – FSB general. New governor of Kaliningrad Region – FSB general. New governor of Yaroslav Region – Interior MInistry general. A junta or what.

What We’re Reading

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick