Sobyanin: Putin’s Successor?

by Gordon M. Hahn

Introduction

The re-appointment of Dmitrii Medvedev to head the Russian government’s Cabinet during at least the first years of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term suggests that Medvedev remains in the running to replace Putin either as successor or authorized place holder one the fourth term ends in 2024. However, there are likely still in Putin’s mind other potential candidates. Some lingering in the wings are capable and well-positioned to play that role. One is Mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin. His easy victory in the election this past Sunday, despite the uneven playing field, will be seen by the Kremlin as a positive opinion survey rating, strengthening any play he might have for the Kremlin. Although Sobyanin’s career profile and record as Moscow’s mayor is not anything out of the ordinary when it comes to Russian officialdom, there are points which recommend him for the role of Russia’s president. This might be especially true if the Putin administration does not exclude a successor moving towards a slight liberalization of the regime, however unlikely albeit that may seem given the present harshening of the regime exhibited by new restrictions on Internet activity such as posting or re-posting extremist material and the needlessly harsh crackdown on September 9th’s anti-pension reform demonstrations (amid attempts to hijack them by increasingly radical opposition leader Alexei Navalnyi and others by deploying children at the marches on what was a countrywide election day, including the Moscow mayoral election).

Young Apparatchik in Late USSR

Sobyanin’s career is typical for a late-era Soviet politician, with his career spanning the pre-perestroika and post-perestroika eras and seeing him rise up through the Young Communist Youth League (Komsomol), CPSU, and ladder of soviets, gaining both administrative and electoral experience along the way. Born in the village of Nyaksimol in the Berezovsk District (Raion) in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District (Okrug) or KhMAO in oil- and natural gas-rich Tyumen Oblast оn 21 June 1958. His grandfather was exiled from Chelyabinsk to Nyaksimol during Joseph Stalin’s dekulakization campaign against peasants in the early 1930s. Sergei Semyonovich Sobyanin graduated from the Kostroma Technology Institute and worked in one of Russia’s largest industrial pipe factories, the Chelyabinsk Industrial Pipe Plant in Ural Mountain area’s industrial city of Chelyabinsk in the early 1980s.

In 1982 he began his political career, becoming head of the organizational department in the Lenin District Committee (Raikom) of the Komsomol in 1982 and went on to serve in a number of posts in the local CPSU apparatus and the soviets (1). As the USSR was collapsing and the CPSU apparat was outlawed, Sobyanin was appointed in December 1991 by the head of the KhMAO’s administration, Aleksandr Filipenko, to head the Kogalym city administration, where in the midst of crisis politics with social and economic issues such as housing and relations with the enterprise that formed the city under the Soviet Party-state’s centralized plan, the Kogalym Oil and Gas.

Up the Post-Soviet Provincial Ladder

In November 1993 Sobyanin rose to the okrug level and the heart of its and the oblasts’ political economy, being appointed by KhMAO administration head Filipenko to the post of KhMAO deputy head, in which he worked on economic and budget issues and the okrug’s relations with oil companies. Sobyanin worked in this office until march 1994. That year Kogalym Oil and Gas was privatized to LukOil, becoming LukOil-Western Siberia, giving Sobyanin his first contacts with Russian oil, private enterprise, and their oligarchs; in this case Vagit Alikperov, who was forming Russia’s first vertically integrated oil company at the time.  Backed by Filipenko, Sobyanin ran for and won a seat in the first convocation of the KhMAO duma and was elected its chairman. He then led a movement for the separation of the KhMAO and Tyumen’s other national autonomy, the Yamalo-Nenets AO (YaNAO) from Tyumen Oblast, so they could retain the profits and taxes generated by their powerful oil and gas industries; this, despite rumors that his candidate doctoral thesis supported the idea of a unitary state. Sobyanin led the AQs’ boycott of the Tyumen governor’s election in 1995 and was reelected a deputy in, and chairman of the KhMAO duma in October 1996. Thus, Sobyanin has a two-decade’s long history of participating in Russian electoral politics; a skill that is important for any presidential ambitions, regardless of the shortcomings of Russian election processes.

Sobyanin deepened his involvement in federative issues when in 1996. In January of that year he became a member of the Russian parliament’s upper house, the Federation Council, by virtue of his post as chairman of a subject of the federation’s legislature, the KhMAO’s duma. At the time, the Federation Council’s membership was neither popularly elected nor presidentially appointed but comprised of the heads of Russia’s then 89 subjects of the federation or regions and the heads of their legislatures. In the same year he appealed to Russia’s Constitutional Court to grant the KhMAO and YaNAO sovereignty but the court rejected the suit, continuing the AO’s subordination to Tyumen Oblast. In 1997 he became a member of the Federation Council’s Committee for Constitutional Legislation and Judicial-Legal Issues, and in July 1998 he became its chairman. In these posts he may have had his first contact with young a man from St. Petersburg who had come to Moscow and became the head of the Russian Presidential Administration’s State-Legal Department. In that office Vladimir Putin dealt with federative legal issues and became appalled at the large degree of legal chaos and hyper-asymmetrical sovereignty that many regions in Russia had achieved under then president Boris Yeltsin. In February 1999, Sobyanin would have come on to Putin’s radar screen with his signature on “An Appeal of Russian Society” that called for the creation of an electoral bloc standing for “the equal rights of the regions” in the December 1999 Russian State Duma elections and his becoming a member of the presidium of the political council of the Inter-regional Socio-political Association ‘YuGRA,’ which championed the YaMAO’s independence from Tyumen and its being given oblast status as a subject of the federation. In May, he became a member of both the presidium and executive committee of the 1999 Duma election bloc “Vsya Rossiya” (“All Russia”) led by Yeltsin’s opponents, Yevgenii Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, as well as the pro-federalism presidents of Russia’s two most autonomous national republics, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. Politically, Putin and Sobyanin were on opposite sides of the barricades.

With the victory of the Kremlin’s “Yedinaya Rossiya” (YeR) electoral bloc and Putin’s election as president, a temporary modus vivendi was found by the Kremlin and Vsya Rossiya, which was incorporated into YeR. While Primakov met his political demise, Moscow’s Luzhkov, and other leaders of Vsya Rossiaya such as Tatarstan Republic President Mintimer Shaimiev and Baskortostan Republic President Murtaza Rakhimov retained their posts for many years. On 12 July 2000 Sobyanin was appointed by Putin to be the first deputy head of one of the seven newly created federal districts (FOs), deputy plenipotentiary representative for the Ural Federal District Ural FO). This marked the beginning of a now long-standing political partnership between the two politicians. This despite that just recently, Sobyanin had been exposed to have likely committed plagiarism in attempting in the late 1990s to receive a doctoral degree in law (www.newsru.com/russia/05sep2013/sobyanin.html).

In late 2000, KhMAO head Filipenko and YaMAO head Yurii Neyolov backed Sobyanin’s candidacy to head Tyumen Oblast as governor. FO posts are often used as grooming and as a cadre reserve for future regional governors. Given Tyumen’s status as perhaps Russia’s third most important region behind Moscow and St. Petersburg with its enormous oil and natural gas reserves, Sobyanin was positioned for a major promotion with Moscow’s (i.e., Putin’s) approval, running as YeR’s candidate. Sobyanin easily defeated the incumbent by a margin of 52 percent to 29 percent. The victory demonstrated again Sobyanin’s electoral capacity to an even higher level office, despite the oil sector’s backing, at a time when Russian gubernatorial elections were more free and fair.

As Tyumen’s governor, Sobyanin proved able to forego his former principles and moved to incorporate into, rather than separate the AOs from the oblast, prompting his former patrons’ opposition and even YaMAO head Filipenko to threaten a referendum on the AQ’s secession from Tyumen. Nevertheless, Sobyanin was able to concentrate oil revenues in the oblast rather than AO budgets, making the latter dependent on Tyumen. Clearly, with Sobyanin’s rise to high politics, he was now about building up his own power base, rather than weakening it through decentralization. In 2004 Sobyanin struck a compromise program ‘Cooperation’ with the AOs under which they retained their administrative autonomy within Tyumen and jurisdiction over schools, hospitals, and roads in exchange for paying a new tax on resource extraction and 29.5 percent of tax revenues from profits to Tyumen’s budget. These revenues were then designated for infrastructure development. At the same, Sobyanin increased tax contributions from companies themselves, including a tax on natural resource use, by returning the main offices of such oil giants as LukOil and Tyumen Oil Company to the oblast and registering the oil services company Schlumbereger in Tyumen. The ten-fold increase in Tyumen’s budget was used to fundamentally renovate Tyumen’s capitol, Tyumen city, and the AO capitols. The Tyumen city plan and housing program were restructured to accommodate a near doubling of population to a million, the airport was modernized, highways were improved, etc. In 2005, with the end of popular gubernatorial elections, Sobyanin was nominated for a new gubernatorial term by Putin and the Tyumen Duma re-elected him governor. Sobyanin’s subtle assistance in developing Putin’s more centralized system was also rewarded in 2004 with his appointment to YeR’s High Council and a year later, in November 2005, by his appointment to head Putin’s presidential administration.

Although Sobyanin’s Tyumen period demonstrates administrative effectiveness in office, it also reflects full accommodation to the approach of Moscow. Unlike for a time Perm, Kirov, and even Ingushetiya, Sobyanin did not lend Tyumen any, even relative political liberalism. The opposition was marginalized and media subdued as they were across Russia in the mid-2000s. At the same time, modernization meant as it has in Moscow the dismantling of traditional holdovers. Foreshadowing the future, Sobyanin’s renovations demolished some of the Tyumen’s quaint, old attractions such as a main trolleybus rout in favor of modernization. Sobyanin, in short, had proven to be a ‘sistema‘ man.

Mr. Sobyanin Goes to Moscow

As a man who had not fully signed on to Putin’s system, Sobyanin was off to Moscow to head the presidential administration in November 2005, the apex of power in Russia. He was replacing Dmitrii Medvedev, who had been appointed Prime Minister and would be backed two years later by Putin and the YeR’s nomination as Putin’s successor as president. Thus, Sobyanin was in line to rise to the very top, if he played his cards right. His endorsement by the sistema was reaffirmed with his appointment to head Medvedev’s presidential election campaign in January 2018. With Medvedev’s 70 percent victory, Putin’s appointment as prime minister, and the tandem’s ‘castling move’ complete, Sobyanin moved in May to head the central apparatus of Putin’s government with the rank of deputy chairman of the government, where he coordinated work between the government and the presidential administration; a key role given the power-sharing that must have been the basis for the reconfigured tandem, with Medvedev as president and Putin as premier. Sobyanin also ran several major projects and sat on several high-powered commissions and councils, including the project of transitioning all government services to electronic form and serving as deputy chairman of the presidential commission on modernization and technology development. Sobyanin now had garnered both key governmental and presidential apparatus experience at the heart of both Putin’s ‘sistema’ and at the interface of both the ruling tandem and the executive branch’s two bureaucracies. The only other Russian politicians with a similar level of experience are Putin, Medvedev, and nearly so Sergei Ivanov, who is no longer a major figure, serving as a presidential advisor. And Sobyanin was not finished.

In October 2010 Sobyanin was tapped to be mayor of Moscow. After a row between President Medvedev and Mayor Luzhkov, the latter had been forced out after a series of publications exposed favoritism by the Moscow government towards his wife’s business. Although this kind of ‘friends and family’ clan corruption is ubiquitous in Russian politics, Luzhkov was the only official of such high rank up to that time to suffer politically from such corruption. Although Luzhkov’s demise did mean the beginning of the end of the Putin team’s toleration of the former Vsya Rossiya leaders like Luzhkov, Shaimiev and Rakhimov, Sobyanin had successfully distanced himself from them since heading the Ural FO in 2000. And given Sobyanin’s increasingly central role in Moscow, it was no surprise that the tandem tapped him to replace Luzhkov. In this post Sobyanin has been able to strengthen his stature within the Moscow elite that runs the country.  Ever since the Soviet era, when the Bolsheviks returned the status of the country’s capitol to Moscow, the leader of the city has always been one of the most powerful offices in the country, the holder of which is almost automatically positioned to challenge for the country’s top office. This was true for the officeholder of first party secretary of the Moscow City Party Committee (MosGorKom). The best example being Boris Yeltsin’s rise from MosGorKom first secretary to Russian (RSFSR) Supreme Soviet chairmanship and then to the first Russian presidency in 1991. In the post-Soviet era, especially after Putin’s re-centralization policies, Moscow has remained the city of the Russian elite and 80 percent of the country’s capital. All Russian roads lead to Moscow. Thus, Luzhkov, in alliance with Yevgenii Primakov, had mounted a challenge to the rising Putin, after the latter’s appointment by Yeltsin as prime minister in August 1999. However, Sobyanin, rather than fighting Putin’s Petersburg clans, had joined them. Now he had become an integral part of Putin’s extended team and the third man in the state hierarchy of administrative power, creating a troika of sorts attached to the Putin-Medvedev ‘tandem.’ An additional sign of his silent rise was his appointment to the bureau of the high council of the YeR, a kind of Politburo of the Kremlin party, the Moscow branch of which — with all its membership dominated by government officials and others from the Moscow — he also heads.

As Moscow’s mayor, Sobyanin has overseen a major makeover of the city. The city incorporated territory from surrounding Moscow Oblast, more than doubling in size and taking on another quarter of a million inhabitants. Sobyanin moved aggressively to reduce Moscow’s horrendous traffic jams by drastically expanding paid parking territory in the city to discourage auto transportation and simultaneously expanding public transportation, including a massive Moscow Metro expansion program, creating 78 new stations by 2020 with an investment of more than a trillion rubles and integrating new electric train lines with the Metro (https://tass.ru/obschestvo/2364038). Consequently, Moscow has moved from first place to  the world’s most traffic-jammed city to 13th place. From 2010 to 2016, congestion levels dropped from 52 percent to 44 percent (www.tomtom.com/en_gb/trafficindex/city/moscow). Moscow won the parking services award from the international automobile transport and traffic monitoring company ‘Tom-Tom (www.tomtom.com/en_gb/trafficindex/city/moscow#award). Sobyanin also created new pedestrian zones for strolling and shopping in the city center. New parks and a bicycle rental system have upgraded the city’s ‘green’ component. Despite the low turnout, Sobyanin’s re-election in September by 70 percent of the vote is a significant endorsement of his city management performance, which has not gone unnoticed in the Kremlin.

In addition to his electoral and administrative credentials, Sobyanin also has some foreign policy experience, since upon becoming Moscow’s mayor in 2010, he was appointed a member, though not a standing member, of the Security Council, on which he sat until Putin narrowed the council’s membership upon his return to the Kremlin in 2012. This would have afforded Sobyanin an inside look at the foreign policy decision-making process as well as made him privy to top secret intelligence.

Who Is Mr. Sobyanin?

In terms of political orientation, Sobyanin can be considered a ‘system liberal’ on the order of Medvedev, but with a less striking image as such. He is said to be close to liberal SberBank Director and former Economics Minister German Gref, who, like Medvedev, one of the relatively liberal ‘civiliki’ or ‘system liberals.’ For example, his SberBank issued a controversial report in May 2018, which criticized GazProm for undertaking projects to the benefit of its contractors, such as Putin associate Genaddii Timchenko, and for which Gref was forced to apologize to Timchenko and fire its two authors perhaps under Kremlin pressure (https://m.lenta.ru/news/2018/05/24/sorry_bro/).

Sobyanin’s image as an effective manager provokes less opposition among the siloviki than does Medvedev’s more pro-Western image accentuated during his presidency. Sobyanin’s semi-liberal image was bolstered by his standing for election and victoriously against the major anti-system opposition leader, Aleksei Navalnyi, in the September 2013 mayor election, after Putin returned the system to popular election of regional heads. This image has been somewhat sullied by his re-election this past September in a campaign that included not a single serious challenger. Nevertheless, Sobyanin’s liberal credentials were buttressed by the agreement of Konstantin Remchukov to head Sobyanin’s mayoral re-election campaign. Remchukov is the owner and editor-in-chuef of the pro-democracy, pro-market liberal, though not overtly oppositional daily newspaper, Nezavisimaya gazeta. In an interview on the prodemocracy, opposition radio station Ekho Moskvy, Remchukov heaped praise on Sobyanin as a not just a workaholic but a “resultaholic” and “the type of personality” for whom he has “respect.” He relayed an episode involving Sobyanin relayed to him by Gref:

“I knew about him long before I interacted with him. And German Gref — we are on good terms — …. and he he sends me a report about Korea. A good one, thick, an 850 page thing with articles, the development of Korea in all spheres: how to transform the economy and how to establish competitiveness…

“Well, I read it. Then we (Gref and Remchukov) meet to discuss some details, in what way state monopolies will transition to market sector, and those branches where they dominated, And he (Gref) unexpectedly says to me: ‘Can you imagine, I sent (the book) to all the members of the government. After a week — they have government meeting on Thursdays — comes Sobyanin, who read it and asks precise questions. He did not like the translation, can I send him the original?’ And German says: ‘I was simply shocked: the guy read the entire thing, understood it, and gives concrete questions about this economy.’ Then I began to pay attention” (https://echo.msk.ru/programs/personalno/2218920-echo/).

Remchukov here affirms Sobyanin as an economic liberal. He may also be a cultural liberal or at least is willing to play the part, reaching out to Moscow’s liberal, even non-conformist intelligentsia. For example, Sobyanin asked and received agreement from Moscow’s cultural rebel of sorts, theater and film director Konstantin Bogomolov, to be one of his authorized representatives during his mayoral re-election campaign. As one analyst notes: “Sobyanin invited to become his authorized representative one of the most controversial and non-standard directors, who explodes cultural inertia, not to mention that he is on of the most talented” (https://carnegie.ru/commentary/77104). Bogomolov put the first ‘gay tragedy’ ever to appear on a Moscow stage and has had his plays stormed by radical traditionalists. Sobyanin’s reach out to the non-conformist, whom “venerable directors and people’s artists are afraid to invite…to put on performances,” is a “risky decision” (https://carnegie.ru/commentary/77104); one clearly more in line with a Gorbachev’s or a Medvedev’s more open political line than with Putin’s. One could conclude this was an election ploy, but the mayor’s office has also conducted a liberal cultural policy, exemplified by this summer’s city budget-funded avant-garde art exhibition ‘Here and Now’ held in central Moscow’s Manezh, in which the city’s Culture Department put on display its hands-off policy regarding curators’ and artists’ full control over exhibition content (https://echo.msk.ru/programs/museum/2256078-echo/). 

The head of Sobyanin’s Culture Department, Aleksandr Kibovskii, has been a thorn in the side of Russian establishment and an ally of liberals on several occasions. As head of the Russian governments State Cultural Preservation Service (RosOkhranKultury) lost his position for leading the fight at the federal level against GazProm’s plans to build a skyscraper looming over the St. Petersburg’s historical city center, a project bitterly opposed by St. Petersburg liberals (among others) in part because of GazProm’s establishment profile. After Gazprom took revenge machinating Kibovskii’s removal from RosOkhtanKultury) and the department’s incorporation into the Culture Ministry, Sobyanin hired Kibovskii to head Moscow city’s Culture Department (https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/1581754).  Also, the Sobyanin-Kibovskii tandem organized Moscow’s History of the GULAG Museum and museums dedicated to two victims of communist oppression, Vladimir Mayakovskii and Sergei Yesenin, driven to suicide by Soviet power. (2)  

Moreover, Sobyanin has shown greater willingness than federal authorities to tolerate opposition demonstrations in the city and to meet the democratic opposition halfway on other issues. One example was his agreement during the recent presidential campaign to the placement of a plaque commemorating slain opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, whose murder many Russian democrats suspect the Kremlin of covering up, if not perpetrating. None of this means that Sobyanin will necessarily ring in a new perestroika, however. Sobyanin certainly offers Putin a soft perestroika option should he need one, as Putinism’s popularity and viability decline.

Sobyanin’s Political Prospects

Sobyanin’s semi-liberal reputation among certain elite circles makes him an intriguing option as Putin’s 2024 successor for several reasons. First, Putin may be looking to tack back to a more liberal ‘Medvedev thaw-like’ politics in 2024, as he may decide to step down entirely or, less likely, to buy time for his return for yet a fifth term in 2030. A more liberal administration stance could diffuse democratic opposition to Putinism without Putin. Second, the Kremlin is particularly concerned about the potential for a ‘color revolution’ and since any such revolution would require large protest support in the capitol, Sobyanin’s history of ruffling few feathers in Moscow serves him well in this regard. The overwhelming majority of decided Muscovites have either a neutral or positive view (39 percent and 41 percent, respectively) of Sobyanin; only 11 percent have a negative one, according to a May 2018 Levada Center survey (www.levada.ru/2018/05/29/levada-tsentr-zafiksiroval-u-konkurentov-sobyanina-rejting-v-1/). This evidences the fact that many liberals can accept a Sobyanin alternative to Putin, since the liberal wing of the electorate is at least twice as large as 11 percent of the capitol’s population. Recall Navlnyi’s 29 percent of the vote in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election. The selection of Shoigu or any other silovik as Putin’s successor would be more likely to provoke opposition mobilization in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Third, if the system appears to be destabilizing and under threat of a revolutionary regime transformation by 2024, Sobyanin would be an ideal choice to lead a full-fledged perestroika 2.0 or regime transformation imposed from above or one negotiated with opposition elements, given his pro-sistema status but state liberal reputation. Fourth, Sobyanin’s long-time association with Putin suggests he would likely be inclined to protect Putin from any potential investigation and arrest during the playing out of one of these scenarios. So, for example, in any internal Kremlin discussions of how to extract themselves from a revolutionary situation in which Putin still remained powerful, Putin would likely be willing to trust Sobyanin to escort him safely out of politics, as Putin did with his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Other scenarios might see Sobyanin become prime minister, say, for example, under a Medvedev or other presidency after Putin in 2024 or under Putin in a fifth-term in 2024 if constitutional changes are made to allow Putin to remain in full power.

Sobyanin has tolerable trust ratings that can be improved if the Kremlin desires, given its hegemony within Russia’s information space. A September 2018 Levada Center survey shows that only three establishment politicians have a higher trust rating than Sobyanin: Medvedev, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who has the highest trust rating among establishment politicians besides Putin. However, Medvedev has the highest distrust rating of any politician among all Russians (www.levada.ru/2018/10/08/doverie-politikam-2/). In some surveys, Sobyanin has a higher trust rating than Medvedev, who has been crippled by Navalnyi’s corruption revelations and hardliners’ disdain of his liberalism and perceived weakness (www.levada.ru/2018/05/29/levada-tsentr-zafiksiroval-u-konkurentov-sobyanina-rejting-v-1/). However, in another survey conducted in 2017, Sobyanin finished 7th nationwide (3.7 percent) as a leader respondents designated as one they trusted; those ahead of Soyanin were: Putin (52.8 percent), Lavrov (26.4 percent), Shoigu (20.7 percent), Zhirinovskii (7.7 percent), Medvedev (5.7 percent), and Zyuganov (7.3 percent)   (http://politeia.ru/files/articles/rus/Politeia-2018-2(89)-51-68.pdf).  This leaves only the popular Shoigu and domestically, the less networked foreign minister as Sobyanin’s challengers for being tapped as Putin’s 2024 successor or Medvedev’s replacement as prime minister, at least in terms of popular trust.

Does Sobyanin have his ‘eyes on the prize’? There is evidence of mounting though still cryptic competition between Sobyanin and Medvedev for the regime liberal leader’s mantle. Medvedev recently published an academic article in the journal Voprosy ekonomiki (Questions of the Economy) on economic and high technology development (www.vopreco.ru/rus/redaction.files/10-18.pdf). Remchukov’s Nezavisimaya gazeta, likely Remchukov himself, immediately reacted, as he is an economist by training and interest. The first point made in Remchukov’s ‘response’ to Medvedev’s article emphasizes the significance of two time frames noted in the article — 2024 and 2035 – that is, the period encompassing two prospective Medvedev (or Sobyanin) presidential terms, should he succeed Putin as president in 2024. The second point the Nezavisimaya gazeta piece makes is to underscore the alleged “banality” and propagandistic intent of Medvedev’s article as a “semiotic phantom,” pointing out several inconsistencies (www.ng.ru/editorial/2018-10-14/2_7331_red.html). So, it seems the game is on.

Conclusion

Sobyanin’s possesses the requisite experience, credentials, bureaucratic standing, and popularity base to become a viable contender to replace Medvedev or Putin under the various 2024 scenarios at play. He has both electoral and administrative experience in Putin’s sistema. He has proven to be an effective chief executive in Tyumen and Moscow, where he has been able to attain important ties to, and status within the important oil and gas sector, central state apparatus, and ruling party. His relative popularity in Moscow renders him great political capital as a buttress against the dreaded color revolution. Therefore, among sistema politicians, with the possible exception of Shoigu, Sobyanin appears best positioned to serve as at least part of the answer to Putin’s 2024 succession problem.

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FOOTNOTES

1) From 1984 through the bulk of the perestroika period he held Party (CPSU/KPSS) and then Soviet positions in Tyumen’s Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District (Okrug). In 1984 the Komsomol sent him to work as deputy head of the Soviet of the village of Kogalym, KhMAO, Tyumen. He then rose to work in Kogalym City Soviet IsPolKom (Executive Committee), where he worked until transferring in 1988 to the organizational department of KhMAO’s Party apparatus, where he worked as department deputy head.In 1989 he finished his candidate of law degree at a local branch the All-Union Correspondence School. In 1990 he was appointed to head the Kogalym tax inspectorate.

2The Moscow tandem also reversed previous Moscow mayor Luzhkov’s unpopular city construction policies, which saw the demolition of hundreds of cultural sites across the city in favor of commercial projects benefitting the well-connected. In addition, Kibovskii wrote a book on the historical inaccuracies in traditionalist film director Nikita Mikhalkov’s film ‘Sibirskii Tsirulnik’.

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About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, http://www.canalyt.com and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, www.cetisresearch.org. Dr. Hahn’s most recent book is Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War”. He has authored three previous, well-received books: The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.

Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.

11 thoughts on “Sobyanin: Putin’s Successor?

  1. Wow. This blogpost didn’t age well, but ties in nicely with your doom-n-gloom activity this September.

    Let’s start with the fact, that there are plenty of typos of things like this:

    “His endorsement by the sistema was reaffirmed with his appointment to head Medvedev’s presidential election campaign in January 2018.”

    Time-travel and parallel dimensions are real – whee!

    “Ever since the Soviet era, when the Bolsheviks returned the status of the country’s capitol to Moscow, the leader of the city has always been one of the most powerful offices in the country, the holder of which is almost automatically positioned to challenge for the country’s top office.”

    That is simply not true – at all. Let’s start with the simple easily checkable fact the rank of the “mayor of Moscow” (re)appeared in 1991. Since 1917 the capitol had been run not by MosGorKom, but by the Chairman of MosSoviet’s ExecCommitee and Secretaries of Moscow’s Party’s ObCom (given Leading and Ruling role of the Party). Of these fine gents only 1 (one) had a very huge role in country-wide decision making – certain Kamenev (heard that name?). Your idea that Moscow had served as some kind of political trampoline is completely baseless.

    “Although Sobyanin’s career profile and record as Moscow’s mayor is not anything out of the ordinary when it comes to Russian officialdom, there are points which recommend him for the role of Russia’s president. This might be especially true if the Putin administration does not exclude a successor moving towards a slight liberalization of the regime”

    I knew it! I knew, that this wouldn’t be a real relevant analysis, but instead a wishing upon a star from the liberal throngs over there! Seeing as Medvedev’s card is pretty much beaten (what handshakable liberal from either side of the Ocean will support treasonous Dimon, Putin’s enabler?), that the card-carrying liberals from the economic block are hated and reviled, that even Kirienko and his “technocrats” are still associated with the default ’98, liberal Pollyannas of the Russia-watching seek new victims of their baseless hopes.

    Mr. Khan – why would the “Regime”, as you call it, try to “liberalize” itself, when faced with the increasing antagonism from the West? You, the West, designate Russia as your enemy now – “rival”, “opponent”, “hostile power”, whatever. Naturally, you’d like nothing better to see us D-E-A-D and gone, with Russia totally out of the picture, when new post-Trump ultra-liberast America will be trying to Make itself Hegemony Again. Why should we make it easier for your Regime? Colour revolutions are defeated not by submitting to the wishes of the miniscule westernized urbanites but being relentless and cracking down on the sponsors of the coup.

    As for “new restrictions on Internet activity” – that’s funny, given EU’s upcoming Article 13 or the surveillance state which is both real and virtual (thank you, FB!) America. Do you think that your readership is this dumb no to notice a blatant hypocrisy?

    “Thus, Sobyanin has a two-decade’s long history of participating in Russian electoral politics; a skill that is important for any presidential ambitions, regardless of the shortcomings of Russian election processes.”

    Putin had none. Didn’t hinder him at all. Elections are not important anyway. How Gorbachev came to power? By invitation. Yeltsin? By Gorbachev’s invitation. Putin? By invitation. Not really by elections. Someone from far off is invited to Moscow, “boils” in Kremlin and near-Kremlin kitchen for some time, learns the ropes and, if lucky, gets the appointment to the Purple. If Yeltsin was re-elected in 1996, then it would be a cake-walk to get elected with the official blessing of Putin.

    “Sobyanin’s semi-liberal image was bolstered by his standing for election and victoriously against the major anti-system opposition leader, Aleksei Navalnyi, in the September 2013 mayor election, after Putin returned the system to popular election of regional heads.”

    Mr. Khan, “Sobyanin semi-liberal” exist only in your fervent imagination. You have nothing but desperate, far fetched assumptions to back it. Are all Western Russia watching liberals in a panic mode as well and ready to label “liberal” just about anyone?

    Hey, a couple of years ago Daily Mail ran an article about how former Putin’s bodyguard is bound to succeed him . Because – hey, why not? Legit info, totally, 100500%. You know what’s the difference between your blogpost and Daily Mail’s article, Mr. Khan? Daily Mail’s article was mercifully shorter, didn’t resort to the wall of text copypasta and had an added bonus of seeing photos of scantily clad famous ladies as a click-bait to other DM’s content. All in all, the chief rag-paper of the Blighty is better and more esthetically pleasing than your exercises in liberal shamanism. And shamanism it is – I’m not convinced by your wishful thinking any more, than DM’s no-brainer reporting. Even less.

    Like

      1. “In short, the think tanks and their experts have been repeatedly getting it wrong. They do so because they underestimate Putin, support and thus engage in wishful thinking regarding the liberal opposition in Russia, and tend to support that opposition’s revolutionary rather than a negotiated transition change of regime.”

        How is that any different from what you do, Mr. Khan? You also engage in wishful thinking, imagining that Russian liberasts would SUDDEBLY get their shit together, become appealing to the vast majority of the ordinary Russians (and not just their usual 5% of demshiza) or that the “Regime” will trust card carrying fifth columnists in the times of confrontation with the West.

        Also – re-read Marx and Lening, to finally understand the meaning of the term “revolution” and how the revolutionary situation come into being.

        Like

  2. Bloody hard authoritarian crypto-Bonapartist (“whiff of grapeshot v 2.0”) Macronite regime is ruthlessly suppressing FREEDOM in France:


    ^Горіла шина, палала, горіла шина і мішок, та й навезли нам тітушок

    12 journalists received wounds at the hands of the brutal French riot police – this is a crime that cries up to (Liberal) Heaven! French tyrant proved himself lacking legitimacy and empathy to his own people. This is an open warfare of the Regime against its own People. Why the State Dept of the US is silent? Why all shy and conscientious members of the artistic intelligentsia, academia, gays and democratic journalists are silent? Russian opposition and EuroUkrs – when they going to condemn this?

    Oh, and btw – when shall we expect selfies of all those dozens of detained (and wounded) protestors from inside paddywagons and prison? Because, naturellament this is possible only in free and democratic country!

    #FreePavlensky

    Like

  3. 400+ arrested and 120+ wounded protesters. Watercannons and rubber bullets used against peaceful protesters indiscriminately. Tyrant Macron threatening to declare War on his own people, by declaring the state of emergency.

    The entire civilized world must stand fast in solidarity with the People of the Best Republic and its vibrant, very active civil society!. France – get from your knees! Everybody – you know what to sign!

    Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira!
    Les aristocrates à la lanterne,
    Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira!
    Les aristocrates on les pendra!
    Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira!
    Les aristocrates à la lanterne.
    Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira!
    Les aristocrates on les pendra.
    Si on n’ les pend pas
    On les rompra
    Si on n’ les rompt pas
    On les brûlera.
    Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira,

    Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira,
    Les aristocrates à la lanterne ;
    Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira,
    Les aristocrates on les pendra ;
    Et quand on les aura tous pendus,
    On leur fichera la pelle au c…

    Like

  4. Quote:

    “The targeting of women and children is a red line, which once crossed could likely lead to a public reaction against the regime. Should this practice continue it is certain to rile many in the mainstream who support Putin in lukewarm fashion or are largely indifferent to the president or politics.”

    Well – your prayers were finally answered, mister Hahn!

    Bloody tyrant Macron and his goons did this to CHILDREN! A red line as per your words. Now his Regime lost the last vestiges of respect and legitimacy. Time for the UNSC to gather for the emergency meeting and condemn France

    Like

  5. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-46492070

    These protests get more intense with each week. It started with simple road blockades, now Paris is on literal lockdown. Almost 1000 people have been arrested (including schoolchildren!) since this morning. Water cannons and tear gas are all out on the streets and the Gendarmerie has replaced Police National in riot control.

    The protesters don’t seem to care about the fuel anymore, this is now the nation vs. Macron and they’re not going to stop protesting until he disappears one way or another. France is now governed by a man supported by 18% of the population and the only way to uphold his rule is to send the (para)military (Gendarmerie) on the streets to quell protests. At what point is it appropriate for the Western pundictocracy and liberal Academia to call France a dictatorship?

    Like

  6. 1700+ arrested which, according to the Homeland Security department of the French government, is a new record : There has never been so much arrests on a single day in France ever. In 2005 there were 2’921 arrests from the beginning on the 27th of October to the end on the 16th of November.

    Armoured vehicles were used to push through the barricades which marks their first use in an urban landscape since the great riots peaceful protests of 2005 and the very first time in downtown Paris itself. This is the first time that armoured vehicles are used in combat situation in the capital city of France since the end of the Second World War.

    About a fifth of the whole population of France actually identifies as Yellow Vests and the rest either sympathy or express understanding, but there is no denying that compared to other episodes of civil unrest that lasted more than a month (like the general strike against the restructuring of the SNCF) its support base remains exceptionally wider.

    Down with Bloody Illegitimate Regime! 6th Republic or bust! Why the EU, PACE, OSCE, UNSC, USA and liberal artistic intelligentsia are silent?

    #FrenchSpring
    #ParisIsBurning
    #MacronMustGo
    #SaveParis

    Like

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About Gordon M. Hahn