Russia’s silent governors
August 26, 2022
Independent news outlet 7x7 looks at why some Russian governors have kept silent about the war in Ukraine.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, a number of governors across Russia have sought to boost their political profiles by speaking out in support of what the government insists on calling a “special military operation.” Most prominent is St Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov, who has tried to rebrand himself as a wartime regional executive, giving bellicose speeches about fighting supposed Ukrainian “Nazis” and making regular trips to occupied territories in East Ukraine. 

However, independent online news outlet 7x7 shows that some governors have been less eager to thrust themselves into the limelight. 7x7 journalists identified at least 11 governors who haven’t expressed their position on the war on social media over the past several months. They searched for posts with the keywords "Donbas,” “special operation,” "DNR,” “LNR,” “Ukraine” and "Nazism” and pro-war hashtags (#ZaSvoikh, #ZaPresidenta, #ZaRussiyu), and looked at statements made by the governors in the media.

One “silent governor” is Alexander Brechalov (Udmurt Republic). On February 27, local media outlet Udm-info published an article titled "Residents of Udmurtia: Why are regional authorities keeping silent about the special military operation in Ukraine?” In the article, online comments are cited criticizing Brechalov for failing to mention the war in his social-media posts. It was only two months later on May 3 that Brechalov published his first post about the war, when he told the story of a refugee from Mariupol who came to Izhevsk with her dog. The governor wrote that Izhevsk residents helped take care of the pet. Since then, Brechalov has made several other posts related to events in Ukraine, but in none of them has he shown explicit support for the war. 

Other “silent governors” include the recently appointed acting head of the Kirov region, Alexander Sokolov – who published a single online post thanking a driver who transports humanitarian aid to the Donbas – and Altai Krai Governor Viktor Tomenko, who hasn’t published anything about the war on his public VKontakte page. 

Sverdlovsk region Governor Yevgeny Kuyvashev has also been silent online. Though he did visit the Donbas on July 5, he didn’t write anything about the trip. His low profile upset TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov, who wrote an op-ed criticizing Kuyvashev. The governor responded by telling Solovyov “to watch his language” after the latter called Yekaterinburg a “center of vile liberals.”

Journalists from 7x7 spoke with political scientist Alexander Kynev to understand why these governors are reticent about the war. Kynev argues that some are trying to avoid rhetoric that could split their voters. Sverdlovsk, for example, is a relatively democratic and pluralistic region with strong “protest potential.” According to Kynev, it makes little sense to bring up potentially controversial issues when there is little demand for doing so from voters. This is an important point: several of the “silent governors'' highlighted by 7x7 are facing reelection in September, including Sverdlovsk governor Kuivashev. And though some opinion polling suggests that there is broad support for the war among Russians, everyone from scholars to political consultants who work on regional election campaigns argue that public attitudes are more complicated and ambiguous. Kynev also observes that it is weak and ineffective governors who often demonstrate hyper-loyalty to the Kremlin in public in order to compensate for shortcomings. This can be seen with, for example, Vladimir Uiba, the head of the Republic of Komi, who Kynev claims is one of Russia’s worst governors. “It's an attempt to escape when things are going terribly for you. You don't know how to govern, so you start jumping out of your pants in a demonstration of your hurrah-patriotism,” he concludes. 

Digest by Mack Tubridy for the Russia.Post editorial team. 
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