KGB man takes control of Russia's St. Petersburg

31st August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia's tsarist capital of Saint Petersburg on Wednesday selected a former KGB agent who built his career on a friendship with Vladimir Putin as its new governor.

Georgy Poltavchenko's candidacy was backed by the region's local legislature in a 37-0 vote with five abstentions. He replaces another Putin ally who was earlier asked to head Russia's upper house of parliament.

The soft-spoken security agent is a long-serving member of Putin's ruling United Russia party who reportedly first crossed paths with the future Russian leader in his home town of Saint Petersburg in 1992.

The 58-year-old Poltavchenko also reportedly help provide security at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow and most recently served as the Kremlin's envoy to the Central Federal District -- a post that oversees local officials.

"I think that this is very prestigious -- perhaps the most important assignment of my life," Poltavchenko said in televised comments after the vote.

The rapid succession of Putin associates at top posts in Saint Petersburg reflects the enduring influence of Russia's former president and the importance his home town plays in national affairs.

Poltavchenko's predecessor Valentina Matviyenko is on course to becoming the country's third-most senior politician by heading the Federation Council upper house of parliament.

The State Duma lower house is already led by Boris Gryzlov -- a former interior minister and another close Putin ally who also spent most of his adult life in Saint Petersburg.

Putin himself has refused to rule out running for a third Kremlin term in March elections that he would become the overwhelming favourite to win.

The race may also be contested by President Dmitry Medvedev -- another Petersburg native -- and the two men have already vowed not to run against each other.

The city founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 still sees itself as Russia's cultural capital and burnishes a reputation of liberalism and independent thought that often goes missing from the more bureaucratic Moscow.

One Russian publication this week asked prominent Russians whether they "feel sorry for St. Pete" after seeing a dour KGB official put in charge of the vibrant city.

"I feel very sorry for them," actor Oleg Basilashvili told Kommersant Vlast. "They could have picked a decent mayor who answered the interests of the people instead."

© 2011 AFP

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