A rumor appeared yesterday that Vladimir Yakunin was poised to leave his long-time post as Chief of Russian Railways. He was allegedly going to be transferred to Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, where he would represent Kaliningrad.
This was met with cheers on Twitter, with many automatically assuming it was a done deal. And today the rumor was confirmed, with Yakunin reportedly sending a telegram to announce his resignation.
Some are apparently viewing this move as a demotion, but I’m not convinced. In fact, I think it may end up having the opposite effect than the one these people hope it will have.
The post of Senator is a sinecure position. It is an appointed position, and not guided by the demands of the voting public. In addition, Yakunin is now protected legally by the fact that he is a Senator, and therefore cannot be prosecuted. Now, of course, as we have seen in the recent past, this protection can be taken away. But since Yakunin is trusted and protected by the Kremlin, this gives him an added layer of security.
This is particularly noteworthy in light of the fact that Yakunin was put on the US sanctions list in March 2014, after the Russian annexation of Crimea. He has not, however, been sanctioned by the EU, and was able to travel to Berlin in May 2014 for one of his conferences.
In addition, the position of Senator does not actually require a lot of “work”. I am pretty sure that showing up to vote in the Federation Council is still not mandatory. I don’t view this as a good thing because it will free Yakunin to do more work for his charities and research organizations. Both of which are arguably more important than his position at Russian Railways, and give Yakunin the clout that he has with the regime.
Now if Yakunin were ousted from his charities, then I’d view this news with more interest. Until then, I view it as just another transfer, and mostly meaningless.
[This comic shows two popular Russian cartoon characters bidding farewell to Yakunin.]