Although decentralization is often modeled as an outcome of bargaining over rents and poli-cies, intuitively it seems possible that public statements, symbols and status often have a great impact on this process. The paper studies the relative importance of the “real” political actions versus the changes of symbolic nature in the bargaining over devolution and secession, using the unique laboratory of the personnel recentralization in the Russian security agencies in 2000-2007. While in the 1990s regional branches of federal ministries were mostly captured by regional governors, in 2000s Putin replaced the heads of agencies by new bureaucrats, cut-ting the connections to the region. The paper finds a robust influence of symbolic gestures made by regional governments in the earlier bargaining process on appointments, even if the actual devolution policies did not matter. Symbolic actions seem to play a crucial role in the decisions in this highly sensitive area.