The former head of Chuvashia, Mikhail Ignatiev, is the first Russian official to try to challenge his dismissal through the courts because of “loss of confidence” on the part of President Vladimir Putin. Ignatiev lost his post in January 2020 after two scandals: at first he called for the “wetting” of bloggers and journalists who praise Western countries, and then demanded that the Emergencies Ministry employee jump behind the keys to the company car. Special Medusa correspondent Andrei Pertsev tells the story of a former official who decided to sue Putin.
The lawsuit of Mikhail Ignatiev against the president was received by the Supreme Court a week ago - May 20. In it, Ignatiev challenged the decree on his dismissal and demanded that he provide additional benefits and social guarantees for former heads of regions, including monthly life-time maintenance of 75% of earnings as head of the region. According to the latest income statement, Ignatiev's income for 2018 at the main place of work, taking into account unused holidays for four years, amounted to 5.4 million rubles. Ignatiev lost these payments, as he was dismissed with the wording “in connection with the loss of confidence of the President of the Russian Federation”.
The court accepted the lawsuit and ordered a hearing for June 30 - but rejected the claim for benefits. The Supreme Court also sent Putin a copy of the statement of claim. A representative of the president may file his objection with the court until June 22. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has already refused to comment on Ignatiev’s lawsuit: “This is not the main issue for us now.”
Ignatyev himself didn’t have any comments either, and on May 27 it turned out that the former head of Chuvashia was hospitalized with bilateral pneumonia. According to the Mash telegram channel, from May 7, Ignatiev has been in intensive care at the Almazov St. Petersburg Medical Center on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation apparatus (ECMO).
Medusa was unable to contact the wife of Mikhail Ignatiev. However, according to the political lawyer Oleg Molchanov, there is nothing unusual in filing a lawsuit while the plaintiff is in the hospital: in such cases, the lawyer files a proxy claim.
"The village peasant became the president"
Mikhail Ignatiev took office in 2010 - before that, he had served as Minister of Agriculture of the Chuvash Republic for eight years. An interlocutor of Medusa, close to the presidential administration, recalls that Ignatiev headed the republic almost by accident. According to him, in 2010, the Kremlin needed to remove the president of the republic (then the head of the region was called so) Nikolai Fedorov from the region. He led Chuvashia since the 1990s and was one of the “heavyweight governors,” while the Kremlin tried to replace them with more manageable officials who would be completely dependent on Moscow.
A Meduza source emphasizes that Fedorov did not want to resign and was trying to maintain influence in the region, promoting as his replacement the head of the republic’s government Nina Suslonova. “Ignatiev was also in the top three [candidates], but rather as a representative of Chuvash nationality. Fedorov believed in Suslonova’s appointment, ”he says.
The head of the legal service of the human rights project Protest Apology, Alexei Glukhov (lives in Chuvashia), recalls that in the republic “everyone was in shock” from Ignatiev’s appointment. “The president was the Minister of Agriculture, a former collective farm director, an inveterate village peasant. He tried to play a chip that he was his Chuvash guy, spoke Chuvash, gave press conferences in his native language. Then, apparently, they told him from above - finish this on you. He began to focus on Moscow, repeat after it, constantly mention Putin, ”adds Glukhov.
For Nikolai Fedorov, the appointment of Mikhail Ignatiev was also unpleasant news. The former head of the republic almost immediately began to openly confront his successor. In 2012, Fedorov (at that time held the post of Federal Minister of Agriculture) wrote a letter to Ignatiev stating that the republic is lagging behind Russia's regions in terms of economic growth.
“In Chuvashia for 2010-2011 not a single educational institution was built, although earlier, in 2000-2009, an average of about 1,400 student places were introduced annually. In addition, in 2011 not a single kindergarten was built. These facts indicate the unpreparedness of the heads of the relevant ministries and departments to implement state programs and events, ”Nikolai Fedorov criticized the new Chuvash head.
Even then, local politicians considered Mikhail Ignatiev a "lame duck." “I am considering three scenarios. Mikhail Ignatiev will leave on his own, he will be “left” or will be prosecuted, ”said the leader of the LDPR Chuvash branch Andrei Kulagin in 2012.
In favor of this opinion, there were also curious situations in which Ignatiev constantly got into. For example, in the spring of 2012, he called Dmitry Medvedev (then the President of Russia) “Vasily Petrovich” - during an in-person meeting in the Kremlin. And in 2014, local media found a "secret sauna" in the house of the government of the republic. As a result, deputies of the regional parliament from the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and Just Russia began to collect signatures for the dismissal of Ignatiev.
Despite the scandals, Ignatiev finalized before the expiration of his term in 2015 and received sanction from the Kremlin to participate in new elections of the head of the region. Even then, the Kremlin’s internal political bloc was discussing the replacement of the head of Chuvashia: one of the high-ranking United Russia members, in an interview with a Meduza correspondent, complained about Ignatiev’s “poor knowledge of the Russian language and eccentricity”. But in the end, the presidential administration decided to adhere to a common line - then most of the heads of regions received permission to participate in the campaign.
To ensure Ignatiev’s victory in 2015, the Kremlin had to eliminate strong competitors from the newsletter. For example, the head of the republican branch of "Fair Russia", State Duma deputy Anatoly Aksakov was offered the post of head of the parliamentary committee on economic policy in return for refusing to participate in the elections - he agreed. Spravorossov instead of Aksakov was represented by the deputy of the legislative assembly Oleg Nikolaev, who received 14.7% of the vote. Mikhail Ignatiev scored 65.5%.
“He was an objectively strange, eccentric man, but a sincere eccentric. For example, Ignatiev runs in the mornings, he did not want to run alone, officials ran with him - this is a vivid example of his actions. But the entourage did not tell him about strange things, pretended that it was necessary, ”Semyon Kochkin, the head of the Chuvash headquarters of Navalny, explains to Meduza.
“Wet” journalists and joke on the Ministry of Emergencies
At the federal level, Ignatiev was talked about on January 18, 2020, when in his speech during the celebration of Press Day in Chuvashia, he called for “wetting” journalists and bloggers who criticize the authorities and “write how good it is in Europe, how good it is in America.”
“Therefore, it is necessary to clearly state - it is necessary to wet them, as the people say. It is necessary to wet. Tell where they came from, with what thoughts, where they live, where they work, what they earn. This should be discussed. I don’t want to educate anyone here, just when the distorted information, it ultimately affects those who submit it, ”he attacked Russian critics.
A few days later Ignatyev had to apologize: “The meaning of my speech was different, but, as usual, everyone twisted and changed. I have always correctly treated journalists who objectively criticize and correctly submit articles. "For those whose feelings touched the word" wet ", I - a man with a good soul - I apologize."
The press service of the regional administration then claimed that Mikhail Ignatyev had in mind people "who call themselves journalists, but have the only goal - to discredit the authorities."
Alexey Glukhov suggests that this excess could have arisen due to the fact that Ignatiev does not really speak Russian very well: “The Russian language was not his native language. He thinks in Chuvash, and then translates into Russian, like the Google translator, his translation failed. I think he sincerely did not see anything wrong with the word “wet”. ”
A few days later, the head of Chuvashia got into another story. On January 23, during a ceremony of presenting new service vehicles to firefighters, he forced an EMERCOM officer to bounce behind the keys to one of them.
After the video with Ignatiev and the fireman was spread over the media, the behavior of the governor was condemned by the head of the Ministry of Emergencies, Yevgeny Zinichev. “It is unacceptable for a leader of such a high rank to behave in this way. And the EMERCOM of Russia employees need to remember that they represent an agency respected not only in our country, but also in the world, and behave accordingly, ”he said.
Mikhail Ignatyev tried to justify himself: “I am filled with the deepest respect for these courageous people [firefighters] and their work, therefore I reject all speculation, rumors, gossip and outright lies about any disrespectful attitude towards the Ministry of Emergencies.” But on January 27 he was expelled from United Russia, and two days later Vladimir Putin dismissed the Chuvash head because of a "loss of confidence."
“Ignatiev was fired - everyone was happy,” Kochkin describes the reaction of the residents of the republic. But he clarifies that there was no "hatred" for Ignatiev in the region: "There was an understanding that this strange man was out of place, which makes life in the region worse."
"The ultraputinist is suing"
After the dismissal, Mikhail Ignatiev did not take any political action and disappeared from the public field. The only exception was the appearance in public at the sambo tournament in February 2020. “Then he took a picture with and. about. Minister of Sports of the Republic, the next day the minister was fired. Ignatiev was deleted from life, ”states Alexei Glukhov.
Former head of the information department of the administration of Chuvashia Mikhail Vansyatsky, who worked with Ignatiev, told Meduza: it’s impossible to say exactly that the Minister of Sports was fired for talking with the former head, but that “these cases happened one after another is a fact."
Vansyatsky recalls how Mikhail Ignatiev tried to meet with the new acting head of the republic, Oleg Nikolayev, but this attempt was unsuccessful. “Ignatiev was not even allowed on the threshold of the government house. It seems to me that you can’t treat the former leader of the republic like that. Although the new administration may have an opinion on this, ”he says.
Vansyatsky himself also lost his job and appeals his dismissal from the administration in a local court - he says that other officials who worked with Ignatiev were also dismissed. According to him, it is now difficult for people from the Ignatieff team to find decent work in the region. “I don’t understand the phrase“ Ignatieff’s team ”. Teams play football, and people who worked in the government of Chuvashia and the administration of the head of the republic served the state. Not Mikhail Vasilyevich, ”he adds.
Vansyatsky calls filing a lawsuit against the president “a normal step in the rule of law”: “A person has been dismissed on a dubious occasion, for him these are vital issues, he is seeking protection in court. The president is the same citizen of the country. Mikhail Ignatiev disputes the legal act signed by the president, he understands that it was not the head of state who was preparing it, he was given a decree to sign. He defends the right to work and to his good name. ”
Both Alexey Glukhov and Semyon Kochkin also believe that Mikhail Ignatiev, having sued the president, committed a “sincere act”. “Now even his opponents say: yes, he has eggs. Such an ultra-Putinist is suing. Challenge the president - yes! Although Ignatiev’s lawsuit is most likely not a challenge, it’s a labor dispute. They sympathize with him now, ”says Kochkin.
According to Alexei Glukhov, the former head of Chuvashia wants to call the president to talk. “Until Ignatiev goes to the grave, he will believe that the enemies brought the wrong information to Putin: [Nikolai] Fedorov,“ Fair Russia ”, State Department, [opposition member Alexei] Navalny. The lawsuit is another attempt to reach Putin, Ignatiev was deprived of all the benefits of a civil servant, and he has disability, ”explains Alexei Glukhov.
“A man has suffered and is fighting for his rights!” - Communist Valentin Shurchanov, a State Duma deputy from Chuvashia, told Meduza, adding that he has nothing more to comment on.
One of the former Chuvash officials, speaking with Medusa on condition of anonymity, believes that the last straw for Ignatiev could be criticism of his work by the current leadership of the republic: Chuvashia as acting head of Oleg Nikolaev, who lost the election, Ignatiev. “A few weeks ago, acting Oleg Nikolaev made statements that the previous leaders made the wrong decisions, although there were no attacks before,” he points out.
Political analyst Alexander Kynev, in turn, believes that the lawsuit came about not only due to the personal position and stubbornness of Mikhail Ignatiev, but also the general situation in the country. “Members of the system show internal discontent - there are no general, uniform rules in the system. It is controlled in manual mode. Ignatiev is unclear why he is being punished, other governors are doing worse and worse, and with them water is like a goose. The lawsuit no longer speaks of Ignatiev’s personal qualities, but that the system is pouring in, ”says Kynev.
“The court cannot force to trust”
Mikhail Ignatiev is the 11th governor dismissed with the phrase "in connection with the loss of confidence." However, his lawsuit is the first attempt under the presidency of Vladimir Putin to appeal against the dismissal of the governor on the "loss of confidence."
Two attempts to challenge the removal from office were made under Boris Yeltsin. In 1993, two heads of regions - Gennady Kuptsov (Lipetsk region) and Yuri Lodkin (Bryansk region) - were fired by presidential decree, but the loss of confidence was not indicated in the documents as a reason. Kuptsov successfully appealed the dismissal in court, but the decision was not enforced: new elections were held in the region, they were not canceled. Lodkin failed to challenge the resignation.
The prospects for Ignatiev’s lawsuit are also in doubt, says political lawyer Oleg Molchanov. The law states that the basis for loss of confidence may be facts of corruption or conflict of interest. Putin has publicly stated that there is no information about Ignatiev’s corruption crimes.