Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Price of Loyalty

Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov is resigning from the Federation Council. He has decided not to wait until Jan. 1, 2002, when the council is scheduled to be restructured according to a law passed this summer at the initiative of President Vladimir Putin in order to reduce the power of the regional barons. At that time, the governors and speakers of local legislative assemblies who now make up the council will be replaced by "representatives of branches of local government" and the regional governors will be transferred to the State Council of the Russian Federation, which was created as something of a consolation prize.

Ayatskov rushed to announce his intention as early as possible, no doubt in order to maximize its effect (and its coverage in the central mass media). The media first reported this information on Nov. 15. These reports made clear that Ayatskov did not intend to step down quietly, but to do so in full view of the president and the maximum number of journalists at the State Council?s Nov. 22 session.

Only later did it emerge that Ayatskov?s statement was far from definite. At the State Council, he did not announce he was resigning but merely that he was "initiating the procedure of stepping down." He repeated the sad line that a phase in the formation of parliamentary government in Russia had passed and that "the Federation Council has completed its mission and now must devote itself exclusively to professional law-making." Ayatskov?s press service in Saratov reported that his words were met with the approval of many other governors who supported his decision.

But the press service didn?t name any of these governors. As it turned out, the only governors to speak publicly about Ayatskov?s move were decidedly opposed. Oleg Korolyov, deputy speaker of the Federation Council, said "one shouldn?t treat state obligations lightly." Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev said Ayatskov?s statements were "incomprehensible and inexplicable." The president of Chuvashia, Nikolai Fyodorov, said anyone who resigned from the Federation Council early was just trying to "stand out in front of the powers that be and to demonstrate their extreme loyalty." Fyodorov was supported by Altai Governor Alexander Surikov who dismissed Ayatskov?s announcement as "populism."

Ayatskov, however, is completely serious. After his appearance at the State Council, he detailed his intentions further before the government in Saratov. He told officials he would soon submit his instruction to the regional legislature and would name a successor before Dec. 20.

Ayatskov is not the first to take this step. The president of North Ossetia has already been replaced by a representative and Leonid Roketsky, governor of Tyumen, announced his intention of stepping down from the Federation Council on Sept. 27. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has made a similar statement. However, no one has managed to attract as much media attention as Ayatskov has.

Perhaps this is because Ayatskov, not having received much support from his fellow governors, is getting a boost from the Kremlin. After all, the administration has made it clear it expects such behavior from other regional leaders. The presidential administration feels that the governors, having been granted cushy posts in the State Council, should move quickly to abandon the Federation Council.

Vyacheslav Khizhnikov, the president?s representative in the Federation Council, said in September, "The governors should not be in two state organs simultaneously. They should not both recommend policies and make decisions." It appears that Ayatskov took the hint.

But why has he taken this step just now? One possible explanation is that Luzhkov and Roketsky have been named to the presidium of the State Council, a body made up of representatives of the seven federal super-districts. In fact, their announcements regarding leaving the Federation Council were made in connection with these appointments. The presidium seat for the Volga region has already been occupied by Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiyev. However, the presidium?s makeup is set on a rotating basis and there is hope that Ayatskov has reserved his place in line. After all, he must do something to distinguish himself from the other governors vying for the seat.

In general, observers have the impression that Ayatskov is struggling to move into the front ranks of Russia?s regional politicians. To take just one small example, in November work was completed on a new bridge across the Volga in the Saratov district. That bridge, however, still sits idle, waiting until Ayatskov can muster a satisfactory delegation from Moscow to hold an official opening ceremony. Local politicians are hoping for Putin himself. So far, though, it appears that no one is coming since, after all, such structures are built somewhere in Russia practically every day. Such incidents, though, indicate Ayatskov?s place in the regional hierarchy.

So, he has decided to take more decisive measures. His move has certainly come at a welcome time for the Kremlin, which has run into certain difficulties in its war with the regional elites. Ayatskov?s demonstration of submission may help to ameliorate the impression created by the failures of several pro-Kremlin gubernatorial candidates to win in local elections.

It would seem that Ayatskov?s action has not gone unappreciated. During the week of Nov. 27 to Dec. 3, a "golden rain" suddenly descended upon the Saratov region from the federal budget. On one day, 200 million rubles were transferred to the local budget: a record for the last three years at least.

Ilya Malyakin is the editor of the Volga Information Agency in Saratov. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.