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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Is Cherkesov Heading Off To Moscow?

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St. Petersburg seems incapable of living without political rumor, so here's the latest: Northwest Governor General Viktor Cherkesov may soon be on his way to Moscow in order to fill the shoes of the prosecutor general, Vladimir Ustinov.

Ustinov — who was a surprise pick as prosecutor, edging out a St. Petersburg man, Dmitry Kozak, at the last minute — has reportedly fallen out of favor with President Vladimir Putin after numerous derogatory remarks about privatization and, particularly, about proposed reforms to the legal system.

Kommersant even went so far as to name the person it thought would be Cherkesov's successor as Northwest governor general — Mikhail Prusak, currently the governor of the Novgorod region. But Prusak, who was in St. Petersburg recently, has himself flatly denied the suggestion — and was surprisingly cheeky about doing so. "I have never informed on anyone [for the KGB]," he said, in reference to Putin's and Cherkesov's security-service pasts, "and God save me from doing so."

In fact, Prusak said he has never even supported Putin's move to divide the country into seven federal super-regions. "You can't lump together Karelia and Kaliningrad, or the Komi republic and St. Petersburg, because these are regions with a completely different way of life," Prusak said.

"The idea was wrong from the very beginning. I would be a very strange person if I now agreed [to be a governor general]."

Cherkesov, for his part, has done what politicians tend to do with rumors of this sort: He denied it. He even came out with the standard "I'm-gonna-make-a-big-list-of-all-the-jobs-I've-been-rumored-to-have-been-offered" remark.

On the other hand, he has been notably blunt in his criticism of Ustinov — which is unusual for a state representative and all the more so for one so close to Putin. "If we look at the future, Ustinov is defending ideas that are on their way out," Cherkesov said just last week.

However, the sources of the latest rumor are standing their ground: Maybe Prusak doesn't figure, they say, but Cherkesov is definitely packing his bags.

Now, if all this — and some of my previous columns — seems to be taking us out of the city and toward Moscow, then there is a reason. Putin's ties with St. Petersburg have brought the city to the forefront of the national scene more than at any time since 1991. Beginning under former President Boris Yeltsin and accelerating after he retired, more and more natives of the northern capital have made the trip south. Most of them — including Putin — were not well-known politicians when they arrived in Moscow, but all of them now have considerable influence on the life of the entire country.

Such rumors du jour, therefore — many of which are based on Putin's tendency to surround himself with former fellow travelers in the espionage service — illustrate the point that St. Petersburg feels the ripples of more or less all the currents on the federal level.

Another interesting whisper concerns the possible replacement of Alexander Voloshin, the head of the presidential administration, with Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Federal Security Service. If this rumor and the one about Cherkesov becoming prosecutor turn out to be true, that would pretty much complete the security-organ takeover of all the key positions in the executive branch.

Vladimir Kovalyev is a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times.