Putin’s Meetings with Governors: What are They Like Amid the War in Ukraine?
May 8, 2023
  • Nikolai Petrov

    Independent scholar
Nikolai Petrov looks at the format and substance of Putin’s meetings with governors. Even though the information about these meetings on the Kremlin website is obviously incomplete, they still provide unique material for understanding both the general structure of the Russian political system and the situation on the ground.
Ahead of the September elections, Vladimir Putin met last week with three regional governors up for reelection: Gleb Nikitin from Nizhny Novgorod (in person) and Alexander Gusev from Voronezh and Viktor Tomenko from Altai (remotely). Only Nikitin asked directly for Putin’s support in his reelection bid. For the others, the very fact of the meeting was enough.

Meetings with governors: General canon

Putin’s meetings with the governors, information about which is published on the Kremlin website, approximately follow the same model: they usually take about half an hour, the president has in front of him a slide deck provided by the governor in advance on the progress of the region, some informational materials, as well as some briefs prepared by the Presidential Administration and requests sent in advance by governors with preliminary comments from presidential envoys.

At the very beginning, Putin sometimes asks the governor to talk about some specific thing that interests him. For example, at the meeting with Nikitin, he inquired about how big enterprises are doing. More often, the governor is invited to talk about what is most important for his region currently.

According to the custom that has developed over the past year, the governors start by laying out how the region is contributing to the special military operation (SVO) and helping to rebuild the annexed Ukrainian territories.

Nikitin said that Nizhny Novgorod Region spent RUB 2.2 billion on the SVO in 2022, supplying servicemen and mobilized soldiers with everything necessary as they went through training and off to the combat zone, as well as making regular payments to military families and providing material assistance to the wounded and the families of those killed. When speaking with Putin, Nikitin called it “sacred expenditures.” Nizhny Novgorod Region spent the same amount to support Bolshoy Khartsyzsk, an agglomeration it sponsors in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.

In the poorer Altai Territory, more than RUB 1.5 billion was spent on the SVO, according to Tomenko, which is about 1% of all expenses of the region’s consolidated budget. However, Tomenko does not complain, saying to Putin: “as much as needed, we will find as much and send as much.” At the same time, he asked for help building a school in Barnaul, for which there is no money in the regional budget.

For comparison, the better-off Rostov Region spent RUB 3.5 billion from its budget to support the SVO, as its governor reported at a meeting with Putin on April 26.

The main part of governors’ reports is usually devoted to the success of their regions in areas where the region either ranks highly or has been able to improve its position recently. Examples include the grain harvest, increased construction volumes and above-average economic growth.

Tomenko told Putin last week that his region is the leader in buckwheat production.

Meanwhile, the governor of Ingushetia insisted that his region had the highest life expectancy in the country. True, this was at a meeting not with the president, but with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. The format of meetings between the prime minister and governors is similar to presidential ones, though without mention of the SVO and with more emphasis on economic issues. Meetings with the prime minister also take place regularly. For instance, last week Mishustin met in person with all seven heads of regions in the North Caucasus Federal District in Kavminvody as part of a session with members of the Government Commission on the Socio-Economic Development of the North Caucasus Federal District.

Speaking about the specific achievements of their regions, governors try to reference Putin’s instructions and support from him, or, more rarely, from the government.
“The picture that the regional heads paint, if not flattering, is far from complete. Judging by the reports, everyone has something that can be said to be above the national average. What a region cannot boast of Putin gets from the briefs of the presidential envoys and his administration.”
Petitions of governors

At the end of the meeting, governors usually lay out their requests.

This is how it looked at the above mentioned meeting with Voronezh Governor Gusev: (1) speed up the reconstruction of the gas distribution station; (2) allow financing for an aircraft factory with special treasury loans; (3) transfer the Voronezh-Lugansk road to the federal balance sheet; (4) include in a Ministry of Economy program the reconstruction of the Voronezh embankment as part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the birth of St Mitrofan, the first bishop of Voronezh.

And here is what Tomenko from Altai Territory requested: (1) instruct the government to include in the federal investment program the 400-kilometer Barnaul-Nursultan road, part of which so far is only gravel; (2) allocate money for the construction of a second runway and auxiliary equipment at the Barnaul airport; (3) help with the construction of a school for 1,100 in a district of Barnaul; (4) instruct the government to consider including in the federal investment program the construction of a polyclinic at the regional ophthalmological hospital.

In response to governors’ petitions, Putin generally does not give specific answers, keeping to boilerplate phrases like: “the papers that you have prepared will certainly be looked at by the government.”
Unlike other regional heads, Primorsky Territory governor Oleg Kozhemyako, was rather self-confident during his recent meeting with president Putin and even interrupted him. Source: Wiki Commons
In most cases, the governors respond by thanking the president in every possible way. There has been only one exception in recent months – the meeting between Putin and Primorsky Territory Governor Oleg Kozhemyako on April 10.

Kozhemyako spoke about the aircraft plant in the city of Arsenyev – which is expanding amid a big order from the state for combat helicopters – and cited the low wages of the plant’s workers as a problem “that needs to be solved.” Because of the low pay, it is not possible to attract highly qualified specialists. Kozhemyako asked the president to instruct the government to raise the wage coefficient by 10%, while in response to Putin’s usual words about the papers, instead of profusely thanking him, he said: “I think that a call from you to the government and the Ministry of Industry and Trade will be enough, and they will resolve these issues so that we can fulfill the state defense order on time and with high quality.” Unlike other regional heads, Kozhemyako was rather self-confident during the meeting, even interrupting Putin. Instead of humiliatingly asking for something for his region, he gave more general advice and recommendations. Perhaps the reason for his independent and even blunt manner, which distinguishes him from all other governors, is his background in the criminal world and business.

The president’s parting words

An important part of the ritual is the presidential parting words. It may simply be a wish of good luck, or it may be an indication of weaknesses that need to be addressed. These weaknesses can look anecdotally incongruous with the place and time.

For example, wrapping up his meeting with Gusev from Voronezh Region – located on the border with Ukraine – Putin pointed out two issues that required his attention: a high traffic accident rate and acute poisonings from alcoholic products. This, on the one hand, shows that Putin’s meeting with governors is a kind of performance in which the president is playing a role that has long bored him, and, on the other hand, indicates that the Kremlin website contains a far-from-complete transcript of Putin’s conversations with governors – only the part intended for public consumption.

The published transcript of the meeting between Putin and Moscow Region Governor Andrei Vorobyov on April 3 was very short. The meeting, however, was held live and, if only for this reason, was far from routine.

Transcripts invariably lack the discussion of personnel issues, conflicts – internal and with federal entities – corruption issues and, presumably, much more relating to the inner workings and the underside of Russian politics.


A careful study of Putin’s meetings with governors shows that the president has short-circuited to himself and his administration the important decisions at the regional level on all issues, including seemingly technical ones. Meanwhile, the government plays a purely subordinate role, of a manager who is under strict, constant and often petty control by the “Collective President,” which includes the presidential administration, as well as presidential envoys and siloviki.

The independence of the regions in allocating their budgets is minimal – they act either with the permission of the Kremlin or by direct order “from above,” as in the case of supporting the SVO and patronage over the occupied territories.

A meeting with Putin, even remotely, is a sign of the Kremlin’s goodwill toward a governor. As for requests by governors, there is reason to believe that the very fact of voicing a request at a meeting with the president indicates that it has passed some kind of filters, has been recognized as legitimate and is allowed to be considered by government entities.
Share this article
Read More
You consent to processing your personal data and accept our privacy policy