An attempt was made yesterday on the life of Anatoly Makarenko, the vice-governor of Smolensk Oblast, where voters will go the polls on May 19 to elect the regional governor. A car ferrying Makarenko, his 5-year-old daughter and bodyguard came under gunfire yesterday morning as it left a small dacha village outside the city of Smolensk. Makarenko’s driver was killed and his bodyguard, who shielded the vice governor’s daughter, was seriously wounded. The child was uninjured. Makarenko himself received a minor wound to his finger.
After the shooting, Makarenko alleged that General Viktor Maslov, head of the oblast’s branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and one of the candidates challenging incumbent Smolensk Governor Aleksandr Prokhorov in the May 19 election, was behind the attack. The goal of such attacks, Makarenko claimed, was to demonstrate that Prokhorov’s administration is mired in criminal “razborki” (violent settling of scores), and that “a new, firm governor is needed.” It was not the first act of violence directed against the Prokhorov campaign. Earlier, a dacha belonging to two members of the incumbent’s election staff was burned down, another member of his election team was robbed, the son of a lawyer working for the campaign was beaten up and a bomb exploded in his election headquarters (it was empty at the time and no one was hurt). Maslov, for his part, denied ordering the attack on Makarenko, dismissing the vice governor as a “semi-criminal businessman” who had supplied equipment to vodka distilleries belonging to Smolensk criminal bosses and who “has nothing to do not only with the elections, but with politics generally.” A source in the oblast prosecutor’s office, meanwhile, said the attack on Makarenko might either have been carried out by personal enemies, connected to disputes involving his “commercial activities” or, as Makarenko himself alleged, politically motivated (Kommersant, May 17).
Makarenko was made Smolensk’s deputy governor in the autumn of last year after the then deputy governor in charge of external economic affairs and investment, Yury Balbyshkin, was tried and found guilty of abusing his position and sentenced to two years in prison. Balbyshkin had been arrested by the local FSB the previous year during an investigation into the contract murder of a local businessman who was also deputy in the oblast legislative assembly (Lenta.ru, October 19, 2001).
In the meantime, an investigator from the Prosecutor General’s Office in Moscow arrived in Smolensk yesterday to question Prokhorov and other top Smolensk administration officials in connection with a probe into whether 274 million rubles (more than US$9 million at current exchange rates) earmarked for highway construction in Smolensk Oblast were misused. Earlier this week, the Smolensk police launched a criminal investigation into whether 100,000 rubles (a bit more than US$3,000) from the oblast budget was used to finance a trip to the resort town of Sochi by a soccer team made up of Smolensk administration officials, including nine of Prokhorov’s close friends (Lenta.ru, May 15).
Today the Smolensk Oblast Court is considering a suit brought by an employee of the local branch of Russian state television, who alleges that the incumbent governor illegally used the local channel to campaign and is demanding that Prokhorov be disqualified as a candidate in the May 19 election (Kommersant, May 17). All of this raises the possibility that the incumbent governor could be thrown out of the race in the next day or two.
Whatever the case, the events surrounding the Smolensk governor’s race look similar to those which took place in other regions where the Kremlin reportedly worked very hard to replace a powerful regional boss with a loyalist (these would include Kursk Oblast and, more recently, Ingushetia). Prokhorov won the Smolensk governor’s race in 1998 with an overwhelming majority. He was backed by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). The situation in Smolensk also underscores the degree to which business and politics remain highly criminalized in many of Russia’s regions. This was underscored late last month with the killing of a newspaper editor in Tolyatti, the Russian auto-industry town located in the Samara region. Valery Ivanov, chief editor of the Tolyatti Review, was shot to death on April 29. The paper was known for its articles on crime and corruption, including investigations into organized crime activities at AvtoVAZ, Russia’s largest carmaker (Moscow Times, May 13).
PUTIN WIDENS KADYROV’S POWERS.