Putin merges Crimea into Russia’s southern federal district

MOSCOW, July 28 (UPI) — Russian President Vladimir Putin consolidated the country’s Southern and Crimean federal districts into the united Southern Federal District, shuffling and replacing several governors, local representatives and one ambassador.

The newly formed, reorganized district will be led by former justice minister and former prosecutor general, Vladimir Ustinov. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the main goal of the reshuffling was to improve the administration of the state. Russia’s news agency, Tass, reported the moves were “for the purpose of strengthening the operating efficiency of federal state bodies.”

“This is not related to a staff reshuffle in the [Federal Security Service] and it is not directly related to the [September] elections. This is just a normal rotational work connected in part with the necessity to boost effectiveness and, in some cases, with making corrections in places where the rates of development could be better. This is an ordinary rotation,” Peskov said.

Putin’s order includes the following changes:

– Sevastopol governor Sergei Menyailo was appointed presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District, replacing Nikolai Rogozhkin, who was dismissed by Putin’s decree.

– Oleg Belaventsev, the former representative for the Crimean Federal District, was appointed to the same position in the North Caucasus Federal District. He is replacing Sergey Melikov, who was appointed deputy director of the Russian national guard.

– Nikolay Tsukanov, governor of the Russian Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, was reassigned as representative to the Northwestern Federal District. Evgeny Zinishev, head of the regional branch of the Federal Security Service, was appointed acting governor in Tsukanov’s absence.

– Vladimir Bulavin, former Northwestern representative, was appointed head of the Federal Customs Service to replace Andrey Belyaninov, who resigned on Thursday amid a smuggling investigation.

Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Refat Chubarov criticized the changes, saying “Dark days are looming on Russian horizon.”

“This move indicates that Russian leadership plans to treat Crimea as every other Russian region where unified state policy is applied. It means ethnic, historic and cultural diversity in the region will exist as a cover until Crimea is cleared up to meet the “Russian world standards,” he said. “Nowadays everyone knows what these ‘Russian standards’ are and where Putin thinks they end.”

In 2014, Putin annexed Crimea, a move that was denounced by the United States, Europe and Ukraine. Crimea, which has a Russian ethnic majority, had since 1991 been an autonomous republic within Ukraine with its own parliament.

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