The attempt to set up President Vladimir Putin’s bodyguards as regional governors has ended in failure. Two of four Federal Protective Service (FSO) officers appointed as regional governors have left their positions prematurely, before the elections. Astrakhan region acting governor Sergei Morozov, who resigned on June 5, had asked Putin for additional support for the region, but his request was rejected. The Kremlin no longer wants governors who take advantage of their special status as close associates of the president.

Right up until his resignation, Morozov’s website was publishing news of his work, such as meetings with constituents or new buses entering service in Astrakhan: materials that clearly resemble election propaganda. And on June 4, Morozov told the region’s finance minister, “Let’s keep moving forward,” during a meeting on budget debt reductions. Yet the next day, the Kremlin announced that the acting governor had resigned “for family reasons.” He will now work for the security services.

The contents of Morozov’s website and his own schedule (according to his website, Morozov was meeting with constituents at the time his resignation was announced by the Kremlin) clearly point to the fact that he didn’t expect to be leaving his post.

As an FSO officer and former bodyguard of Putin, Morozov was not a typical Russian governor: he wasn’t a young technocrat, nor did he have a solid economic background. His appointment as acting governor of the Astrakhan region in September 2018 followed the appointment of three of his former colleagues to gubernatorial posts in 2016. Alexei Dyumin, who was assigned to the Tula region, won the election for his post that same year, while the other two—Yevgeny Zinichev (Kaliningrad region) and Dmitry Mironov (Yaroslavl region)—planned to run their campaigns in 2017. Yet only Mironov ran the distance as a gubernatorial candidate, and was elected as governor in September 2017. 

Zinichev lasted for just two months before asking the president for a transfer. Again, family reasons were cited as the official reason for his resignation. He was first appointed deputy director of the FSB, and then emergencies minister. 

On the surface, Morozov and Zinichev’s stories are very similar. Yet while Zinichev’s replacement was chosen and promoted as a candidate almost a year before the election, the government has no such luxury in Astrakhan. The September gubernatorial election is looming, and the authorities will have to scramble to find another candidate. 

Morozov had been a governor for eight months and clearly wanted to be on the ballot. During that time, he had met with key federal government figures and major business leaders, showcasing his special status as the president’s close associate. Energy giants Gazprom and Lukoil had promised to construct public service facilities in the region, and the Russian fishing regulator guaranteed benefits and preferences to Astrakhan fishermen.

Putin visited the region in May, which is common practice in the run-up to elections. Traditionally, the president promises to support his candidate’s projects during such visits, but this time, something went wrong. Morozov’s request for federal funds for the region was met with a stern rejection. “You shouldn’t ask for additional funds at every possible juncture. We have planned to allocate large sums of money—hundreds of billions, trillions of rubles—[to the regions] for our national projects,” Putin said testily. 

The president had never before criticized regime candidates during election campaigns, regardless of what he thought of their ideas. This didn’t just apply to his FSO associates, but to any incumbent governors. According to sources close to the presidential administration, Putin was not pleased with the governor’s choice of investor for the Caspian Sea container port project, for which Morozov was also seeking substantial federal funds.

Nor did the president react kindly to his former security guard taking advantage of their close acquaintance to ask for additional subsidies for his region. Even Morozov’s fairly high electoral rating—around 62 percent of people were prepared to vote for him, according to the state-run VTsIOM pollster—was not enough to save him.

Morozov’s departure spells the end for the bodyguard governors. When the Dyumin, Zinichev, and Mironov trio was appointed in 2016, many thought that FSO officials would first be trained to govern the regions and then be brought back to work for the civilian branches of the federal government. Yet in the end, two of the appointees lasted for less than a year as governors before returning to jobs in the security structures.

The situation isn’t much better in the Yaroslavl region under Mironov, where carpetbaggers from the Moscow region occupy almost all the seats in the regional government, including the office of mayor of Yaroslavl. People there are concerned by this “expansion from Moscow,” as well as by more pressing issues, such as cost-cutting at medical facilities and the appearance of Moscow region companies on the local transport and waste-processing markets, for which they hold the carpetbaggers responsible.

Putin has already publicly reprimanded Mironov once, during a meeting with theater professionals. When Valery Kirillov, an award-winning actor, asked the president to find some premises in Yaroslavl for an actors’ guild, Putin referred the question to Mironov, addressing him using an informal diminutive of Dmitry, Dima. “We’ll work on that,” Mironov replied. This attitude drew the president’s ire. 

“I ask you, ‘Will you deal with this?’ and you say, ‘We’ll work on it’ … Dmitry Yuryevich, you have to sort this out, look for [premises],” said Putin, switching to the most formal form of address: the governor’s full name and patronymic.

This telling shift from an affectionate “Dima” to a cold “Dmitry Yuryevich” demonstrates Putin’s changing attitude toward his FSO governor picks, as does his refusal to extend federal aid. 

For Morozov, the dismissal will be an unpleasant lesson, but after getting a decent job with one of the security services, he will quickly forget about his Astrakhan experience. But we are unlikely to see any more of his FSO colleagues as governors. This doesn’t mean that security officials will no longer hold high-ranking government positions (after all, Astrakhan’s new acting governor, Igor Babushkin, is a former FSB colonel), but they won’t have the special status provided by proximity to the president. 

It seems that Putin doesn’t like the idea that good government is knowing how to ask for money. After all, as he told Morozov, the center has already allocated vast sums of money to the regions through the national projects. He is also unhappy when regional leaders use their closeness to him as a method of government. This is why the average governor, even a mid-ranking FSB official, seems a better choice: they won’t dare to ask for additional aid from the federal government, and will make no allusions to their special relationship with the president.

By:
  • Andrey Pertsev