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Analysis & Opinion
19.07.10 The Last Of A Dying Breed
By Tom Balmforth

This morning the Kremlin oversaw the rapid appointment of Rustem Khamitov to the Bashkortostan Republic regional presidency, only four days after it finally managed to oust the long-serving, now ex-President Murtaza Rakhimov. The Moscow authorities capitalized on the summer lull to replace Rakhimov, an ethnic Bashkir who has weathered Kremlin attempts to oust him, by relying on nationalist support. With today’s appointment of Khamitov, Moscow secures itself a more reliable, “technocratic” Bashkortostan governor, ahead of the Russian regional parliament elections scheduled for October 2011.

On Thursday last week 76-year-old Murtaza Rakhimov, one of the last of the old guard of regional heads appointed by Boris Yeltsin, stepped down from the presidency of Bashkortostan after 17 years in office. By Monday morning he had already been formally succeeded.

President Dmitry Medvedev accepted Rakhimov’s resignation immediately on Thursday, appointed Rustem Khamitov acting president the next day, and on Saturday nominated Khamitov from a list of four candidates presented to him by the United Russia ruling party. This morning, at an extraordinary session of the regional Parliament in Ufa, Bashkortostan’s capital, Khamitov received 105 out of the 120 seats in the Parliament dominated by United Russia, and officially succeeded Rakhimov who had governed since 1993.

Last week’s resignation (or brokered dismissal) marks another in a long line of battles fought by the Kremlin to replace Boris Yeltsin-appointed regional heavyweights with more pliant leaders.
This process has intensified since legislation was passed under now-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, allowing the federal center to directly nominate successors.

But what makes the Bashkortostan turnaround a “unique case” is the speed with which he was replaced, said Nikolai Petrov, an expert on regional politics at the Carnegie Moscow Center. Rakhimov arrived in Moscow last Monday – evidently to negotiate his exit from power – and a week later he had already been formally succeeded. As part of the deal, Rakhimov walks away on a pension of nine million rubles ($295,000) a year, and has been granted personal and financial immunity, the Vedomosti business daily reported.

“They wanted to replace him a lot earlier, but the process was just not that simple,” said Sergei Mikheev, the vice president of the ?enter for Political Technologies. Petrov believes that the unusually quick power turnaround showed that the Kremlin had executed a “special operation” to finally oust the regional powerhouse. As an ethnic Bashkir, Rakhimov was able to resist the Kremlin’s attempts to replace him since 2003, by currying nationalist Bashkir sentiment. The reason the Kremlin chose the height of summer was to stop him from playing the “nationalist card,” because it is harder to recruit the “nationalist youth” groups in the middle of summer, said Petrov. “The way that this [transfer of power] was organized shows that the Kremlin was afraid of nationalistic protests.”

Replacing Rakhimov with another so-called “technocrat” will therefore give Moscow extra room to breathe. “What the Kremlin needs are people who are going to govern the region, and that is all, rather than people challenging the structure of the federal system,” said Mikheev. The newly appointed president Khamitov was chosen over regional Parliament Deputy Rudik Iskuzhin, the head of the local national bank Rustem Mardanov and Ufa City Mayor Pavel Kachkayev.

“The new leader of Bashkortostan was carefully chosen,” said Petrov. Khamitov is half Bashkir, half Tatar and is married to a Russian, and as such represents the three ethnic groups which dominate the complex ethnic make-up of Bashkortostan. Overall Khamitov is seen as a “Moscow-Bashkirian,” said Petrov. Although Khamitov has a background in Bashkortostan politics, since 2003 he worked in the Supreme Council based in Moscow, before latterly managing Russia’s state-owned hydroelectric power company RusHydro.

Khamitov’s first action as regional head was to dissolve the regional Parliament that had just approved him. He said that a new Parliament would be formed within two weeks, RIA Novosti reported. Mikheev said that Moscow would be relieved to have brought in Khamitov, who, unlike his predecessor, is “not a public politician” and not likely to “play adversary to the center.”

Regional parliamentary elections are currently slated for October 2011, but the Speaker of Parliament and United Russia Head Boris Gryzlov suggested yesterday that the regional elections might be postponed until December, to coincide with the State Duma elections, RIA Novosti reported. Nonetheless, Petrov said it had been crucial for the Kremlin to oust Rakhimov by the end of summer. “The time period when it is possible to replace influential regional leaders without destabilizing the situation on the eve of elections is now coming to an end,” said Petrov.

The regional power shuffle will also give another lease of life to the "Yuri Luzhkov's days are numbered" rumor mill. The Moscow mayor is now the very last of the old guard of regional bosses, and he is up for re-election next year when his fourth term expires. “You hear these rumors every year. Every year it’s ‘this year Luzhkov is definitely out.’ And he never is. Nonetheless, it’s clear that his political career is coming to an end. In the very best case, he’s got a couple of years,” said Mikheev.

Luzhkov’s term is set to run out in summer of next year. Petrov is skeptical that Luzhkov has long. “My bet is that he will be replaced before early fall. I’ll be surprised if he lasts till the end of the year,” said Petrov. Asked yesterday whether he would seek to run again, the Moscow mayor cut a dejected figure. “No comment,” RIA Novosti quoted Luzhkov as saying.
The source
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