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Russian pundit sees Kremlin looking to replace old regional 'heavyweights'

Moscow, 10 November: The well-known political scientist Dmitriy Oreshkin thinks that the replacement of other "seasoned regional heavyweights" should be expected following that of Sverdlovsk Region Governor Eduard Rossel.

"Among the well-known heads of regions who have been replaced previously, special mention should be made largely of Yegor Stroyev from Orel Region and Konstantin Titov from Samara. But these are after all more like middleweights. Whereas Rossel is the first of the genuine heavyweights," Oreshkin told Interfax on Tuesday (10 November).

It has been reported that Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev has put forward Aleksandr Misharin as the candidate for regional governor to be examined by the Sverdlovsk Region parliament. (Passage omitted: background on Misharin.)

Commenting on the possible reasons for Rossel's replacement, Oreshkin pointed out that "purely physically the heavyweights of the Yeltsin era have grown old". As examples he gave Kemerovo Region Governor Aman Tuleyev, Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaymiyev and Bashkortostan Murtaza Rakhimov.

"It is quite obvious that for several years the authorities have been preparing the process of unseating the heavyweights. It is just as obvious that election results depend extremely heavily on the regional elites, and there is a presidential election coming up in 2012. Therefore the questions arise: whose man is this, who will he work for? If you intend to take part in them (the elections), you at least need him to be loyal to you," noted Oreshkin.

"In one way or another, I think that this is only the start, and over the next one and a half to two years seasoned heads of regions will be replaced," the political scientist stressed.

(According to a report by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, Oreshkin said that, depending on how the situation in Sverdlovsk Region develops, the Kremlin will start discussing the future of Luzhkov, Tuleyev, Shaymiyev and Rakhimov.

Oreshkin also noted that it will be difficult for new governor Misharin to build up relations with the local elite. "It will take him at least a year to work out who matters and who doesn't, who he should agree with," he said. Oreshkin also noted that there are influential businessmen within Rossel's elite, with whom he will need to tread carefully. "Of course, he will be stitched up several times, he will be given 'demonstration lessons' so that he understands whom it is better not to touch. (Ingush President Yunus-Bek) Yevkurov had the same thing when he had to replace (former President Murat) Zyazikov. He has been blown up there. Of course, I think it will be gentler in Sverdlovsk Region," Oreshkin said.

Oreshkin also predicted that Rossel is likely to retain an influence in the region, at least in economic affairs. He said that if Misharin fails to get on with Rossel, the new gubernatorial candidate will probably try to eradicate his influence. "But eradicating Rossel's influence is easier said than done," Oreshkin noted. He also said that Misharin will have to be sufficiently tough in order to earn the respect of the regional elite.

Political scientist and head of the Centre for Political Technologies, Igor Bunin, said that Misharin could bring new ideas to the region, an earlier RIA Novosti report said. "Of course, a new broom sweeps clean. The candidate has a certain energy which could bring new ideas," Bunin said. "The new candidate, who has worked in Sverdlovsk Region, probably has thoughts of innovation, modernization and renewal," Bunin said.

Bunin argued that Rossel is the third "heavyweight" regional leader to be replaced, after Viktor Ishayev, who headed Khabarovsk Territory for 18 years before technically being promoted to the post of the president's Far East envoy, and Yegor Stroyev, who was head of Orel Region for 16 years.)

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