Russia Reshuffles Regional Heads Ahead of Fall Elections

President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to remove Vyacheslav Bitarov from his post as head of the republic of North Ossetia, replacing him with former Sevastopol governor Sergei Menyailo, the Kremlin said Friday.

Bitarov becomes the latest regional head to lose his post this week, joining the republic of Tuva’s head Sholban Kara-ool and Ulyanovsk region Governor Sergei Morozov.

Last month, analysts at the Minchenko Consulting agency published a ranking of the political stability for each of Russia’s regional heads that placed all three men in the “red zone,” or the most likely to resign.

According to Minchenko Consulting, Bitarov’s political standing was damaged by protests against coronavirus restrictions in the North Caucasus as well as a high-profile road accident involving his brother.

Kara-ool and Morozov, who had been in power since 2007 and 2005, respectively, were branded as old ruling elites whose support was fading in a new political reality.

The departures come as the Kremlin gears up for this fall’s key regional and State Duma elections, where it seeks to maintain a majority for the ruling, pro-Putin United Russia party.

Election day “will be one of the most difficult and strategically important for the federal authorities — in addition to regional elections, elections to the State Duma are coming, the outcome of which will define the contours of the 2024 solution and the future political regime,” the Minchenko Consulting report said, referring to the year when Putin’s current presidential term ends and he will be able to seek re-election for a fifth term under newly passed legislation.

Maduro: Venezuela has funds to complete vaccine payment

Venezuela has secured the funds to fully pay for coronavirus vaccines via the Covax system, President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday, a day after a surprise announcement that the country had paid more than half the amount due.

Mr Maduro’s government has for months said US sanctions block it from paying the $120 million (£87 million) needed to obtain Covid-19 vaccines, but on Saturday said it had transferred $64 million (£47 million) to the Switzerland-based GAVI Vaccine Alliance.

“We have already secured the rest to make 100 per cent of the (payment) to the Covax system,” Mr Maduro said in a televised speech. He said the government had been able to access funds that had been “kidnapped” by the United States.

“At the right moment, we will reveal where the money came from,” he said, without elaborating.

Allies of opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized by Washington as Venezuela’s legitimate president, for months negotiated with government officials to pay for Covax vaccines with funds that had been frozen in the United States.

The opposition said Saturday’s announcement was evidence that sanctions do not prevent Mr Maduro’s government from paying for vaccines.

Coronavirus cases have spiked in Venezuela in recent weeks, though numbers remain low compared to other countries. On Sunday, the government reported a total of 173,786 cases and 1,759 deaths.

Venezuelan scientists have attributed the relatively lower case numbers to gasoline shortages that limited mobility in the early months of the pandemic as well as swift lockdown measures.

Venezuela has received 750,000 doses of vaccines supplied by allied countries such as Russia and China, which officials say have primarily been supplied to health workers.

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