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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

AvtoVAZ Chief Named Samara Governor

MTKonstantin Titov
President Vladimir Putin removed one of the country's longest-serving governors Monday and named a subordinate of a former KGB colleague as his choice for the post.

Putin accepted the resignation of Konstantin Titov, who had held the top job in the Samara region for 16 years, and appointed Vladimir Artyakov, general director of carmaker AvtoVAZ, as acting governor, the Kremlin said in a statement on its web site.

Analysts characterized the move as the result of lobbying by Sergei Chemezov, a longtime ally of Putin and the general director of state arms export monopoly Rosoboronexport, which controls AvtoVAZ. The company is located in Samara region.

Putin has also sent a letter to Samara regional legislature speaker Viktor Sazonov endorsing Artyakov for the post of governor. By law, regional legislatures are required to approve presidential nominees to the top regional executive post.

Artyakov, 48, was quick Monday to argue that he was the right man for the job.

"I know closely and in detail all possible elements of the region's development and its problems," he was quoted as saying on the United Russia party's web site Monday. Artyakov joined the pro-presidential party last year.

His membership in the party would seem to make him a lock for confirmation, as 28 of the 44 seats in the Samara legislature belong to United Russia members, including Sazonov.

It was not clear Monday when the legislature would convene to vote. No one answered the telephone at the regional legislature's press office Monday, and Sazonov's secretary, who did not give her name, said the deputies were only scheduled to return from their summer recess Sept. 3.

She said she had received no indication that the body's first session, scheduled for the end of September, would be moved ahead.

Alexander Zhivaikin, first deputy head of the regional branch of United Russia, expressed his confidence that Artyakov would be confirmed in comments posted on the party's web site.

Although rumors that Titov was on his way out had been making the rounds in recent months, the timing of Putin's decision to accept his resignation appears to have caught the ambitious governor, who ran against Putin in the 2000 presidential elections, off guard.

He had been scheduled to meet with regional law enforcement officials Tuesday to discuss anti-terrorism measures, the regional administration's web site said.

The Kremlin press service said Monday that Titov had asked in his resignation letter to be allowed to stay on in government service in some other capacity, RIA-Novosti reported.

Vitaly Belousov / Itar-Tass
Vladimir Artyakov
Artyakov's appointment is in line with what appears to be a broader trend in which Putin allies are trying to move their people into the top jobs in important regions before he leaves office early next year.

"The latest example was the replacement of Ivan Malakhov by Rosneft-backed Alexander Khoroshavin as Sakhalin region governor earlier this month," said Alexei Makarkin, a political analyst at the Center for Political Technologies.

Igor Sechin, one of Putin's closest and most powerful allies, is the chairman of the board at Rosneft.

"Another reason for the Kremlin to remove Titov was his failure to secure the re-election of Samara mayor and United Russia member Georgy Limansky last year, allowing Viktor Tarkhov of A Just Russia, the pro-Kremlin rival to United Russia, to win the vote," said Rostislav Turovsky, a political analyst at the Agency for Regional Information.

Artyakov's mission would be to secure more votes for United Russia in the region in December's State Duma elections, Turovsky said.

Makarkin said that despite holding the post since 1991, Titov failed to consolidate his position like Moscow's Yury Luzhkov or Tatarstan leader Mintimer Shaimiyev, whom the Kremlin would be more careful about trying to remove in fear of losing popularity and, as a result, votes.

On the economic side, Artyakov will be expected to create a friendlier administrative environment for AvtoVAZ, which is worried as foreign automakers continue to carve into its once-dominant share of the country's car market, Turovsky said.

AvtoVAZ first vice president Alexander Pronin was appointed acting director Monday to replace Artyakov at the carmaker.

Given the central role AvtoVAZ plays in the region's economy, the appointment of a former head of the company as governor made sense, said Kirill Chuiko, an automotive industry analyst at UralSib.

Chuiko said 1 million local people were dependent on AvtoVAZ for their income and that the company generated one-third of the regional budget.

"AvtoVAZ is not a company," he said. "It's a city."

With the strengthening ruble continuing to diminish its competitiveness against foreign manufacturers, the recent move could help by cutting down on bureaucracy, Chuiko said. He stressed, however, that the company needed a radical overhaul of management and direction.

"If everything is left without any guidance, there will be a major crisis at AvtoVAZ in five years time," Chuiko said.

Sometimes referred to as the "Russian Detroit," the Samara region could now be pushed into diversifying production, Chuiko said. AvtoVAZ is set to cut back on its work force, and Chuiko suggested that a boost in parts production could help soak up some of the excess labor.

Artyakov has had close links with both Putin and Chemezov, who has been mentioned as a dark horse candidate for the presidency when Putin departs next year.

In the late 1990s, Artyakov worked in the Kremlin's property management office while Putin was deputy head.

From 2000 to 2006, he served as a deputy director of Rosoboronexport -- moving into the post at the same time Chemezov was named chairman -- and he has been chairman of the board at AvtoVAZ since the arms exporter took control of AvtoVAZ in 2005.

Rosoboronexport said in a statement Monday that it was proud that the president had expressed his confidence in one of their top managers by naming him for the post.

Staff Writer Max Delany contributed to this report.