Shortly before passing the benchmark of his first year in office, President Dmitry Medvedev made a staffing decision that was his fourth change to a presidential envoy position and his 15th affecting a governorship. Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishayev became the first person appointed as presidential envoy to a federal district after serving as governor.
What was the logic behind the Kremlin's decision to name Ishayev as presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District? More than one reason might apply here. Sometimes officials are appointed as presidential envoys in an effort to resolve problems affecting the whole region, but more often this assignment is meant as an "honorable discharge." The Far East is a tangled web of serious political and economic problems that have only deepened during the crisis. It is no coincidence that presidential envoys there have been switched with such frequency -- Ishayev is the fourth. Only the presidential envoys to Russia's southern district have been switched more often.
Ishayev is not only a successful manager who has served as the regional head for almost two decades, but also heads the Association for Economic Cooperation of the Far East and Zabaikalsky Regions and is a member of the Academy of Sciences in economics. In addition, Ishayev developed an alternative government program for the country's economic development and has successfully lobbied for more attention for the Far East.
It would seem that Ishayev has the necessary tools to help develop the Far East Federal District. What's more, Vladivostok is slated to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2012, but preparations for the event lag far behind schedule. The region needs a leader who can provide serious oversight of Primorye's political and economic elite. Who is better to fulfill that role than a local leader experienced with the rough and tumble of the region's competing groups?
But there is a more compelling reason why the Kremlin named Ishayev to the presidential envoy post. In 2004, Ishayev headed a movement against the government's plan for the monetization of benefits. That action greatly upset the Kremlin and became the deciding factor in then-President Vladimir Putin's decision -- announced shortly after the Beslan hostage crisis ended on Sept. 3, 2004 -- to switch from the direct elections of governors to a system of appointing them from Moscow. But the Kremlin was unwilling and unable to simply remove such a powerful and popular governor from his post.
There was a similar incident in February. The Khabarovsk parliamentary speaker was removed from his post for expressing an opinion to Moscow not in line with the Kremlin's position. Strangely enough, immediately after the speaker lost his position, Ishayev took him on as the deputy chairman of his government.
In moving Ishayev from the governor's post to the presidential envoy spot in the same region, the Kremlin sets a precedent and achieves several goals at once. The Kremlin creates a powerful and competent government lobbyist for the interests of the Far East, someone who is capable of preventing mistakes like the poorly designed decision to raise duties on used cars imported from Japan. In addition, the Kremlin will be able to apply pressure on Primorye with the goals of preparing for the APEC summit and preventing a situation like the mass protests in December.
The next Kremlin move could very well be the replacement of Primorye Governor Sergei Darkin.