Russian oil hub Governor Komarova resigns after controversy over Ukraine War remarks

The resignation comes after Komarova sparked controversy last year when remarks she made were interpreted by some as discrediting Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, leading to calls for her prosecution from an anti-war activist.

Natalia Komarova, the long-serving governor of Russia’s oil-rich Khanty-Mansiisk region in Siberia, announced her surprise resignation on Thursday, months after facing criticism over comments perceived as questioning Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.

In a video statement posted on Telegram, Komarova, 68, said she was stepping down from leading the autonomous region that accounts for over 40% of Russia’s total oil output, despite her term not expiring until next year. She did not provide explicit reasons for her abrupt departure.

The resignation comes after Komarova sparked controversy last year when remarks she made were interpreted by some as discrediting Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, leading to calls for her prosecution from an anti-war activist. Her aides claimed the comments were taken out of context and affirmed Komarova’s support for the campaign.

Komarova was Russia’s only serving female governor and had led the resource-rich Khanty-Mansiisk region, also known as Yugra, since 2010. Prior to that, she headed the natural resources committee in Russia’s State Duma parliament.

While Komarova did not cite the Ukraine backlash as the impetus for her resignation, the move comes amid Russia’s ongoing efforts to consolidate authority and clamp down on public dissent over the military operation, now in its 16th month.

Local media have tipped Ruslan Kukharuk, the mayor of Tyumen city which neighbors Khanty-Mansiisk, as the frontrunner to succeed Komarova pending approval from the Kremlin.

The Khanty-Mansiisk region, located in western Siberia, is a key component of Russia’s oil and gas industry, with major firms like Rosneft, Lukoil and Surgutneftegaz operating prolific fields in the territory. Its exports are crucial for Russia’s energy revenues amid Western sanctions.

Komarova did not reference the sanctions or their impact during her resignation remarks, which thanked regional officials and praised economic development efforts undertaken during her tenure.

Her departure underscores the tensions and potential risks for local leaders deviating from the Kremlin’s official line regarding the Ukraine conflict and its framing as a “special military operation” against Ukrainian forces and Western interference.