Political analysts have been increasingly speculating on whether the institution of presidential envoys in the federal districts will continue to function. Apparently, the interest in this topic has arisen because the position of the presidential representative in Siberia has been vacant for two months already.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin made it clear at the recent St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF,) that the institution of envoys had not been abolished. As before, they have a decisive role in creating the business climate in the regions.
"The protracted appointment of the envoy to Siberia reflects the efforts to find new challenges and objectives for this institution," said expert Marat Bashirov in comments on Vladimir Putin's SPIEF speech and the waiting for Putin’s pointman on Siberia.
What Do Political Analysts Think About the Importance of the Envoy's Office?
On May 13, 2000, the Russian leader signed a decree on the post of presidential envoy in the Central, Northwestern, Southern, Volga, Urals, Siberian, and Far Eastern federal districts. Later on, the then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev divided the Southern Federal District to create a new North Caucasus Federal District.
Political analysts say that the institution of envoys has lost its importance over the past 20 years. Last year, for example, Putin held regular online meetings with the governors, while his communication with envoys was not as intensive.
Political strategist Konstantin Kalachev believes that everything was already clear with this institution even before the COVID-19 pandemic. To his thinking, it has reached its limits. Indeed, in the early 2000s, envoys were needed to resist the regions' drive for autonomy. Now, the situation has changed, and the regions are encouraged to assume more responsibility and self-sufficiency.
"Today, the institution of envoys is obsolete, but the conservative system makes sure that these officials keep their jobs. Putin wants to keep track, although I believe that other supervising bodies can be more effective. The institution of envoys could have long been retired without anybody even noticing. However, this won’t happen," Kalachev said.
According to St. Petersburg Policy Foundation president Mikhail Vinogradov, this institution has long become inefficient. "Nowadays, it is more like a backup, kept to meet possible force majeure challenges, such as complex political problems," he said.
Political analyst Alexei Martynov believes that the envoys are needed as a sort of organizing and coordinating center. In his opinion, one should not forget that Russia has vast territories and that it is difficult to control and regulate everything from a single center. In this respect, envoy's offices collectively make the command center of a large territory.
Who Will Be the Next Presidential Envoy to Siberia?
This post has been vacant since April 9, when Siberian Federal District envoy Sergei Menyailo stepped down to be appointed acting head of the Republic of North Ossetia.
Analysis named several possible successors such as Krasnoyarsk territory governor Alexander Uss, Kemerovo region governor Sergey Tsivilev, Yaroslavl region governor Dmitry Mironov, head of the Republic of Crimea Sergey Aksyonov.
"A governor at this post is unlikely to suit Moscow, given the new challenges and prospects. It needs a person with a strong federal background, equidistant from local ruling clans. Chances are the office will be given to a law enforcement or federal official," the @russica2 Telegram channel writes.
Nobody has taken the post yet. Is it needed to help a crony to sit it out until a new appointment, or is the post still important?
The scenario where the authorities do not make the envoys redundant, but, on the contrary, give them more powers is based on the rumors that Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin might take up the post of presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District. Telegram channels allege that Sobyanin is likely to resign because he did not ensure the proper level of COVID-19 vaccination of Muscovites. He will probably continue his political career as SFD envoy or Federation Council member, although it's hard to believe that a politician of this level might lose office just because of slow vaccination.
Maybe, the real reason is different. Siberia is launching several big economic projects including the construction of the second track of the Baikal-Amur Railroad (BAM) with proposed use of prison inmates’ labor instead of migrants. This is a complicated and ambiguous decision, which will undoubtedly have many nuances.
BAM runs across several Siberian regions. Political analyst Tatiana Kosacheva says that the presidential envoy will monitor the work of federal and regional agencies on site, and directly report on the situation to the presidential administration. “The current political system cannot do without these "important aspects,” she said.
Political analyst Alexei Osipov agrees with her. The SFD is one of the largest in the country, so the Siberian envoy must be well informed about the situation, have influence upon the large regional administration and make sure that “local government bodies know and understand him.” Sergei Sobyanin has such skills as no one else. He is a heavyweight in the political arena and a good manager, full of strength and energy.
However, there are also completely different opinions. Sobyanin needs this post to wait for the presidential election. In that event, he is no longer in charge of Moscow, and will not be fully responsible for Siberia either, as the grand plans are still being implemented.
Time Will Show
Moscow will probably name the next presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District very soon. Vladimir Putin certainly has a trusted person who can extend his influence over the vast Siberia.
“The choice of envoy is a hidden mechanism, which depends only on the president,” said Konstantin Antonov, Doctor of Social Sciences, head of the Novosibirsk branch of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society. “In this matter, we must judge from the very specifics of this job. This person is going to be the president's plenipotentiary representative, so the president has the right to appoint a person whom he trusts.”
Siberia is a complex territory in all respects, with permanent conflicts of interests between the federal and regional elites and disproportionate huge potential. The new presidential envoy should seek to balance this potential. According to the infrastructure policy outlined in Putin’s State of the Nation Address, Siberia is expected to become the backbone of the country, as outstanding Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov wrote long ago: “Russia’s power will grow with Siberia.”