The departure of one of the very last “Mohicans,” Murtaza Rakhimov, who had led Bashkortostan for two decades as president, is not just a serious change to the political scene. It paints a clear picture of how things are run from the Kremlin.
Recall the scandal after the first round of the 2003 Bashkortostan presidential election when ballots that had been printed without the authority of the election commission were confiscated. (Rady Khabirov, who was head of the Rakhimov administration and is now a deputy to Kremlin first deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, has been implicated as the person who organized the false ballot campaign.)
Then before the second round, Rakhimov went to Moscow and cleaned up everything, promising to hand over control of the republic’s petrochemical plant. Seeing a good opportunity, banker Sergei Veremeyenko, with the Kremlin’s blessing, actually ended the battle, and Rakhimov continued on as the republic’s president.
Two years ago, there was a big scandal involving Khabirov when he was invited to work in the Kremlin. Fearing that Khabirov could be a potential threat, Rakhimov fired him, using the scandal as a pretext, and opened a criminal case against him.
The next scandal happened last year when Rakhimov ruffled a lot of feathers in the Kremlin about incompetent leaders within United Russia.
The Kremlin’s candidate to replace Rakhimov as president is Rustem Khamitov, a former Bashkortostan minister and chief federal inspector who then left the republic. It seems that he had been handpicked by Moscow some time ago, after it was decided to replace Rakhimov before his term was up last year. Rakhimov tried to resist by playing the nationalist card. But it’s possible that he fought back a bit too hard, which only accelerated his departure. The mass media released compromising material against the Rakhimov clan, including Rakhimov’s son Ural, who lost control of Bashneft and fled to Austria.
How did such a stubborn, unrelenting regional leader, whom Moscow obviously had wanted to remove for quite some time, last for so long? The political mechanisms set in place by former Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev, Rakhimov and Mayor Yury Luzhkov in the 1990s are very hard to dismantle. After all, it is difficult to change horses in midstream.
But in the end, the Kremlin accomplished what it had to do and cleaned the slate of unwanted regional heads. The trophies are awe-inspiring: In addition to Rakhimov and Shaimiyev, there was Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, Khanty-Mansiisk Governor Alexander Filipenko and Rostov Governor Vladimir Chub. The only survivor — so far at least — from the group of veteran regional bosses is Luzhkov.
It’s not bad that a generation of governors is leaving the political scene. That is quite normal. What is bad is that they are leaving as a result of a Kremlin special operation and that they are being replaced by small-time officials who neither have the experience of public politics nor an appetite for it.