Outgoing Moscow Region Governor Boris Gromov’s resignation was predictable. The federal government no longer views the development of the Moscow Region as a separate process; Moscow and the Moscow Region are seen as an integrated entity and they are going to be restructured as one.
Outgoing Moscow Region Governor Boris Gromov’s resignation was predictable, given his low popularity in recent times, as well as several high-profile scandals he was involved in, such as the case of the billions of rubles mysteriously disappearing from the regional budget.
Gromov would stand no chance of reappointment today, or reelection, for that matter. There is no mystery here. Gromov had to manage a very difficult region. Although it would be wrong to say that his tenure was a complete failure, it was still punctured by endless fights with Luzhkov and involved having to deal with huge difficulties in the region, including the ever worsening environmental situation, and never-ending land disputes, with most of that land requiring regeneration due to the high levels of pollution. Migration is another major problem, because migrant workers now account for the majority of the population in some areas and even control the local governments.
Yet, to identify the main reason for replacing Gromov, one should look to the future rather than the past. The Moscow Expansion project involves a complete restructuring of relations between the City of Moscow and the Moscow Region, and will potentially create a single mega-entity out of the merger of the two. The government never intended to entrust Gromov with such a risky political project. The new governor has to be able to work closely with the Moscow mayor and enjoy the Kremlin’s confidence. This is not just a complicated political project but a painful social operation. It entails the resettlement of large numbers of people, with Muscovites moving to the new territories and additional migrant workers being attracted there. This is fraught with conflict, and the property issue will become especially acute.
The Moscow Expansion project involves the privatization of some major properties, primarily involving real estate and land. More likely than not, this is not going to be an entirely transparent process. It will require some political insurance, and Sergei Shoigu seems to be the right man for the job, with his impeccable reputation among the public as well as his long-standing, solid partnership with the Kremlin. In the event of a problem arising in Moscow, Shoigu is also quite capable of providing back-up for Mayor Sobyanin and even, hypothetically, stepping in for him should the worst come to the worst. Today Moscow is seen as a potential source of serious problems and a city which is not entirely loyal to the government.
The federal government no longer views the development of the Moscow Region as a separate process; Moscow and the Moscow Region are seen as an integrated entity and they are going to be restructured as one. The Moscow Expansion project has mechanically annexed a large piece of the Moscow Region onto the city, without any kind of public discussion, which suggests that the federal authorities see the two as one political field. The restructuring of that field will remain one of the government’s domestic policy priorities for the next few years, meaning the future of the Moscow Region is of secondary importance in this context.
The significance of this project is all the more evident because it has already triggered some government reshuffles. Future reshuffles will be even more serious. Shoigu, who is enormously popular among the Russian public, is leaving the Cabinet. This is a serious loss; he will need to be replaced with someone who is capable of restoring the balance in the government. Everyone is so used to Shoigu always being there that his presence alone seemed to help maintain the positive moral image of the government. With Shoigu gone, that image will have to be strengthened. In any case, it is an open secret that the Cabinet is going to be completely overhauled.