For whom the Kremlin bell tolls

The Kremlin-connected Public Opinion Foundation regularly conducts polls in 60 regions across the country. Although the foundation does not usually divulge its findings to the public, it recently released the results of two surveys conducted in November and March.

The latter survey reported that for the first time in six years, only 36 percent of those questioned held a favorable opinion of their regional leaders, while 37 percent held a negative opinion. Similarly, 38 percent of respondents nationwide felt that the government is doing a good job, and 36 percent thought just the opposite. Only in the three regions where the leaders enjoy broad popular support — Tatarstan, Khanty-Mansiisk and Tomsk — were more people satisfied than dissatisfied with the state of affairs.

The survey revealed a direct correlation between a region's economic condition and the popularity of its leader, with the Voronezh region and its governor faring the worst and the republic of Tatarstan and its president at the top of the list. It turns out that people hold their regional leaders to be more directly responsible for the situation in the region then they do the federal government.

Although respondents in some regions gave similar ratings to both their regional heads and the federal government — with high marks given in Tatarstan and Khanty-Mansiisk and a more critical assessment in the Tver and Saratov regions — the results in a number of other regions were mixed. For example, people questioned in the Udmurtia and Tambov regions gave a relatively positive appraisal of the federal government but a more negative evaluation of their regional leaders.

The survey revealed that a number of major gubernatorial figures had suffered a serious blow to their authority, with popularity ratings falling by an average of 20 percent for Valentina Matviyenko of St. Petersburg, Valery Shantsev of Nizhny Novgorod, Eduard Rossel of Sverdlovsk, Alexander Tkachyov of Krasnodar and many others.

It appears that the governors of the urbanized and industrialized regions that suffered the worst by the crisis fell furthest in their ratings. Among the few regional heads whose popularity actually increased, the most notable are the recently installed governors of Kirov, Orlov and Khakasia. But this is not so much a vote of confidence in their performance as it is hope that things might improve.

Respondents gave their lowest evaluations to governors Dmitry Zelenin of Tver, Alexander Mikhailov of Kursk, Pavel Ipatov of Saratov, Sergei Katanandov of Karelia and to the governors of Voronezh and Pskov.

Overall, the governors of the Urals and Siberia received above-average ratings, even though their regions did not escape the effects of the crisis, while the heads of the northwest and southern regions were seen as below average.

It would be incorrect to interpret the survey results as necessarily a negative appraisal of any particular governor, although it seems that was precisely the intention of the Kremlin in releasing the data. First, the findings show an overall decrease in people's faith in the authorities and not in any particular public official. Second, governors are seen as Moscow strongholds or "ambassadors" appointed by the Kremlin. They are like a fence between the federal government and citizens, and this protects Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from negative fallout during the crisis.

But even if the federal authorities manage to deflect some of the responsibility for the crisis onto regional leaders, they won't be able to get away with this forever.

Nikolai Petrov is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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