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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Says 50 Senators Must Go

President Vladimir Putin wants to replace more than one-quarter of the senators in the Federation Council this year, and a senior Federation Council adviser said Putin, wary after Ukraine's Orange Revolution, recognizes that many senators place their business interests above the state's and is anxious to make sure there is no room in the government for opposition to take root.

Putin said at a meeting with the Federation Council's leadership this month that the 50 senators in the 178-member chamber whose terms expire this year should not be reappointed.

"Bright people who are popular in the regions, public figures and professionals should be attracted to the Federation Council," Putin said. "I am convinced that the personnel should be reshuffled to make the chamber's work and personnel more stable."

Senators have not shown any sign of opposing Kremlin policies since Putin early in his first term effectively firmed up his grip over the Federation Council by getting rid of the governors and regional legislature speakers who had filled its seats. Each of the 89 regions still has two representatives, but one is picked by the regional leader and the other by the regional legislature for four-year terms.

Putin is worried that there is room for dissent, and his fears have been compounded by nationwide protests in recent weeks over the Kremlin's monetization of social benefits, said the senior Federation Council staff member, who advises senators on various issues. The staff member asked not to be identified for fear of possible repercussions.

"The fear is that in this moment of weakness for the Kremlin, some hostile political force might channel the protests and organize an opposition to the Kremlin," the adviser said. "The president is well aware of what happened in Ukraine and is frightened of the prospect of an Orange Revolution at home. The Kremlin is now trying to avoid even the smallest possibility of the emergence of a potential opposition."

While two-thirds of State Duma deputies are in the United Russia party, many senators primarily serve the business interests of those who paid for their nominations, and they consider the legislative process to be of secondary importance, the adviser said.

Among the senators whose terms end this year are people linked to oil companies LUKoil, Sibneft and Russneft, Siberian Aluminum and Alfa-Eko, the trading arm of oil, banking and telecommunications giant Alfa Group.

Putin overhauled the Federation Council shortly after his election in 2000, declaring in a televised address that "this is intended to strengthen the state's unity." Putin was taking aim at the enormous clout wielded by governors at the time, whose Federation Council seats offered them immunity from prosecution and an opportunity to derail Kremlin-backed reforms.

But those seats were soon taken over by representatives of big and medium-size companies, which saw the Federation Council as a good place to build contacts for their businesses. "Our businesses do not operate under the rules of competition as in the West but under the who-you-know rule," said Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the Indem think tank. "In this game, a seat is very helpful. Senators are invited everywhere, and this gives them a chance to make friends with useful bureaucrats who might help their businesses."

Businesses actively buy seats for themselves or for their lobbyists, and at least two-thirds of the senators are businessmen or lobbyists for big businesses, the senior adviser said. "The main task of senators these days is to recoup their investment, not to defend the interests of the regions they represent," the adviser said. "Governors at least knew what was going on in their regions."

Buying a seat is very simple, said Vladimir Pribylovsky, a political analyst with the Panorama think tank. "Businesses usually give governors stakes in their companies in exchange for their support for their candidate," he said.

Another reason why Putin may want new senators is because the siloviki have few representatives in the chamber and would like to gain additional seats, Pribylovsky said. "In this way they [the Kremlin] will make sure that everything is under control," he said.

The Federation Council adviser, however, said that when it comes to passing legislation, the Kremlin has no cause to be worry about rogue senators. "Senators would never dare to oppose the Kremlin. They vote the way the Kremlin tells them to," the adviser said.

The Federation Council failed to pass only two bills last year. In July, it balked at amendments to the law on the Audit Chamber that envisioned its chief and deputy chief being nominated by the president and approved by the Duma and Federation Council. Senators went on to approve the bill in November after adding an amendment to allow the president to propose an alternative candidate if the first one is vetoed. Also in November, senators refused to approve a bill to restrict public drinking, saying it was not strict enough. They then approved an amended bill the next month.

"These two bills were not that important to the Kremlin. That is why the senators were given a little bit of freedom," the senior adviser said.

Senators whose terms end this year include Ralif Safin, a former LUKoil vice president; Khamzat Gutseriyev, a brother of RussNeft head Mikhail Gutseriyev; Gleb Fetisov, a former president of Alfa-Eko; Yefim Malkin, who is widely believed to be a representative of Sibneft; and German Tkachenko, a former vice president of Siberian Aluminum.