Year of purification: 2016’s big resignations in Russia
Many Russians will remember 2016 as rich in criminal incidents: the case of Shakro Molodoy and ‘his investigators’, Ulyukaev’s arrest, Zakharchenko’s billions. And, of course, some high-profile 'non-criminal' resignations. The CrimeRussia prepared an overview that will focus on those who left their highest echelons but managed not to ruin their reputation (i.e. avoided prosecution).
Indeed, 2016 was a year of change for many high-ranking officials. There have been some cleansings both at federal and regional levels. They affected the President’s Office and various law enforcement agencies. The resignations were rationalized in various ways: President’s dissatisfaction with local authorities, officials’ reluctance to obey Putin’s orders, fight against corruption. Vladimir Putin addressed the latter at his annual speech to the Federal Assembly on December 1.
“Unscrupulous officials have no right to use as a cover neither their high position, nor top-level ties or past achievements. However (and this is also important) no one can decide that the person is guilty or innocent until the court passes the verdict", said the president.
July 28, 2016 may well enter into the history as another "Clean Thursday" (Orthodox version of Maundy Thursday). Three federal districts had their envoys replaced, Russian ambassador to Kiev was recalled, the authorities were changed both in Sevastopol and Kaliningrad.
The same day was marked by the Russian President combining the Southern Federal District and the Crimean Federal District. Naturally, this resulted in new envoys for each of the four districts. Kaliningrad Governor Nikolai Tsukanov replaced former security officer Vladimir Bulavin in the Northwestern Federal District.
General Nikolai Rogozhkin who had served as head of the Northern Federal District, gave way to Sergey Menyailo, who had been dismissed from his Sevastopol governorship.
All the shifts stem from the fact that the Crimean Federal District had been meant to exist only until the Crimea’s integration to Russia would be completed. Vladimir Ustinov headed the newly unified Federal District.
Also, on July 28 envoy Oleg Belaventsev was transferred from the Crimean Federal District to the North Caucasian Federal District to replace Sergei Melikov, who, in turn, was appointed the first deputy director of Rosgvardiya (Federal National Guard Troops Service).
On the same day, four new governors were assigned instead of those who had proved ineffective: Nikita Belykh was caught while taking a bribe, Yaroslavl governor Sergey Yastrebov had been dismissed after he ranked last in the Governor Efficiency Rating. The post was taken over by Lieutenant General Dmitry Mironov.
Chief of local FSB Evgeny Zinichev became new Kaliningrad Governor after Nikolai Tsukanov was appointed envoy to the Northwestern Federal District.
Sergey Menyailo’s seat in Sevastopol was taken by Dmitry Ovsyannikov, deputy minister of Industry and Trade.
Yet, the main news of the summer was Sergey Ivanov’s dismissal as Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration. No murky corruption-related business this time, but it does have some hidden agendas. Ivanov’s resignation was a surprise for all officials and political analysts, for none of them could predict that. Sergey Ivanov had been Putin’s man since as far back as 1999. At one point he was even considered his possible successor along with Dmitry Medvedev. Experts differ when it comes to Ivanov’s resignation. According to some, Vladimir Putin is preparing for 2018 elections and shaping a new administration: what he needs now is a younger team composed of doers rather than advisors like Ivanov. Others say it was Sergei Ivanov’s choice to leave when he realized that he had had no say over the past years.
Political analysts believe that all the rearrangements are associated with strengthening of the Russian law enforcement agencies since the key positions were taken by law enforcers: lately the president seems to trust them.
In this light, the resignation of Andrey Belyaninov, Federal Customs Service permanent head, makes a lot of sense. He was replaced by another FSB officer, Colonel General Vladimir Bulavin.
It was particularly emphasized that Belyaninov had for a long time asked to retire. However, three days before his dismissal Investigative Committee and Federal Security Service officers raided his house (in fact, undeclared), his apartment and office. The searches were held within the investigation of an alcohol smuggling case. Belyaninov turned out to have 9.5 million rubles, 390 thousand dollars and 350 thousand euros. No match for Colonel Zakharchenko, of course, but still something. Belyaninov claimed the money was his personal savings that he had accumulated for a long time. Just as long as he had collected his old paintings, clocks and jewelry (also found during the search). Investigators believed Belyaninov’s testimony, and already the former head of the Federal Customs Service became a witness in the case.
Despite there was a criminal case against him, six months into his arrest, Deputy Culture Minister Grigory Pirumov voluntarily resigned. He is suspected of fraud during the restoration of heritage assets. Apart from Pirumov, the case features seven other people. Among them is Boris Mazo, chief of the Ministry’s Property Management Department and Investment Policy and Boris Tsagaraev, chief of the Ministry’s Directorate for Construction, Reconstruction and Restoration. Perhaps the Restorers’ case accounts for the 'voluntary resignation’. In May, Evgeny Murov wrote a letter of resignation from the post with the Federal Protective Service (FSO). Officially, he left upon retirement age, being over 70 at the time. There is another version, however, that he was friends with Pirumov and could discredit the agency if it turned out that he was involved in the scandal.
Global changes have affected the Ministry of Internal Affairs too. In late September, Moscow MIA chief Anatoly Yakunin was appointed Director of Operations with the institution’s headquarters, to be replaced by Oleg Baranov at the former post. It would seem that Yakunin furthered his career, but security officials doubt whether the appointment could really be considered as a progressive career move. The MIA has taken a number of issues with him: under Yakunin personnel deficiency appeared, since he invited people from the regions to senior positions, hindering promotion of local policemen. Also, at Yakunin’s time Criminal Investigation officers got involved in a number of criminal cases. For example, in 2015 there was a scandal around several operatives who traded weapons previously seized from criminals, and unregistered.
Following Anatoly Yakunin, Major General Igor Zinoviev left his post as Chief of Moscow Criminal Investigation. In October, he was appointed head of the Department of Internal Affairs for Moscow’s Eastern District. Although MIA sources claimed that Zinoviev simply did not get on with Oleg Baranov, the reason might have been more complicated. TASS wrote that all Moscow Criminal Investigation Department officers had been laid off. This was meant to reorganize the criminal investigation department, increase efficiency and eliminate corruption. However, a CrimeRussia source claimed the information was false and our insider article was followed by an official denial from the authorities.
Besides, the version of top-level ‘cleansing’ has been proved by the recent resignations in August. Vladimir Putin then signed a decree to dismiss eight generals. Some of them are Major General Dmitry Shershakov (Deputy Head of the Main Directorate of the procedural oversight over anti-corruption campaign) and Vitaly Frolov (First Deputy Head of the Main Department for the Investigative Committee of Russia).
Other officials who lost their jobs are: Police Major General Vyacheslav Andreev (Bashkortostan MIA Deputy Head), Police Lieutenant General Vadim Antonov (Krasnoyarsk Region MIA Head), Police Lieutenant General Vasily Bykadorov (MIA Academy Deputy Head), Major General of internal service Pyotr Ivanov (Orenburg Head of Emergency Situations Ministry), Police Major General Alexey Laushkin (First Deputy Head of the Main Department of MIA Private Security).
It was then that Putin terminated the appointments of Samara Region Public Prosecutor Murat Kabaloev, Stavropol Region Public Prosecutor Yuri Turygin, Major General Aleksandr Tiskovsky (Tambov Region ICR Investigation Department Chief) and Colonel of Justice Vladimir Skvortsov (Krasnoyarsk Region ICR Deputy Head).
This year’s wave of demotions did not spare Vasily Khristoforov (Head of FSB Office of Registration and Archives), Konstantin Kotenko (Kremlin’s Chief Property Manager), Aleksandr Fisun (Chief of Ministry of Defense’s Army Medical Department) and Aleksandr Savenkov (Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Head of MIA Investigation Department). Vladimir Putin was discontented with the fact that the above-mentioned officials had been elected academicians of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) despite the President’s recommendation not to take part in the RAS election. On November 23, at a meeting of the Presidential Council for Science and Education, Vladimir Putin said the following: "I believe I'll have to give them a chance to do science, since, apparently, their academic work is much more important than some routine administrative tasks in the government structures." On November 28 the newly elected academics lost their jobs.
However, there have been certain officials this year who willingly said goodbye to their high posts. Among them is Aleksandr Skorobogatko, State Duma deputy of the 7th convocation. Just two months into the Duma’s work, the prominent businessman ranking 40 in Forbes’ Russia’s Richest list, owner of $2.3 billion, resigned in November. On December 2 Skorobogatko’s resignation was approved; no reasons for his resignation have been disclosed.
In fact, next year is going to yield new high-level resignations, which has been confirmed by Levada Center’s survey in December. 60% of the polled were confident that the resignation wave would go on, while 16% do not rule out a resignation of the Government.
Preliminary hearings of the case pertaining to embezzlements committed during the construction of notorious Zenit Arena haven’t commenced yet – but the trial of Marat Oganesyan already ceased to be monotonous. The former Deputy Head of the St. Petersburg Municipal Administration has directly hinted at the involvement of his successor – current Vice Governor Albin – in the embezzlement of billions of rubles.