MOSCOW, February 27 (RIA Novosti) – Two senior Russian regional officials were fired on Wednesday after President Vladimir Putin criticized the level of hikes in utilities tariffs.
The resignations of St. Petersburg's Deputy Governor Sergei Kozyrev and the Altai Republic's local Regional Development Minister Yury Sorokin were announced on Wednesday. Although no specific reasons were given, utilities tariffs in some parts of the Altai Republic and Murmansk Region have jumped by as much as 225 percent this year.
Sorokin confirmed his resignation to RIA Novosti but declined to comment further. “Well, there are some actions without a reason. This is the case,” Sorokin said.
The dismissals in the regions began on Monday, when Putin lambasted Regional Development Minister Igor Slyunyaev over utilities rates.
Murmansk Region’s Housing and Utilities Minister Gennady Mikichura was fired on Monday for “miscalculations” in the new local rates.
The increases prompted several hundred people take to the streets in Murmansk earlier this month. Last week, more protests were held in the smaller Murmansk Region towns of Kandalaksha and Monchegorsk.
Putin on Monday ordered the utilities rates to be revised, with increases not to exceed 6 percent a year.
Reform of the housing and utilities sector has been a sensitive issue for the Kremlin, with upward pressure on gas and electricity prices from suppliers. The government has had to maintain a balance between voters, particularly those in remote, poorer areas - often those with higher energy needs - and energy providers who have borne the costs of investment in Russia's ageing power infrastructure.
A recent survey by the VTsIOM state pollster showed about 58 percent of Russians consider housing and utilities problems to be their main concerns, far ahead of corruption or human rights.