Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 99

Only a week remains before the gubernatorial election in Primorsky Krai scheduled for May 27, but the far eastern region is in deep political crisis. After deputies to the krai’s legislative assembly accused Konstantin Pulikovsky, President Vladimir Putin’s emissary to the Far Eastern federal district, of trying to influence the course of the election campaign, the region was visited by an “unbiased arbiter”–the head of the Central Election Commission, Aleksandr Veshnyakov (Russian agencies, May 15-18; see also the Monitor, May 15). Veshnyakov’s task was to deal with the situation created by the conflict between representatives of the local elite (above all, the team of former Primorsky Krai Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko) and Pulikovsky, which had spun out of the Kremlin’s control.

The Kremlin is rumored to be understandably unhappy that the candidate it is supporting in the Primorye contest, Pulikovsky’s deputy Gennady Apanasenko, is beginning to be associated with anti-Kremlin statements made by krai politicians as well as with Putin himself (Polit.ru, May 15). Moreover, according to opinion polls, Apanasenko is in fourth place (Russian agencies, May 15). The Kremlin does not need another defeat in a regional election. It would be particularly unpleasant to lose in a race in which the incumbent governor was not running. Thus one of Veshnyakov’s most important statements during his visit to Primorye was his comment that Putin was not supporting any of the candidates (Izvestia, May 16). Veshnyakov did not emerge any the stronger after the confrontation. The sides have continued to trade accusations. Pulikovsky has charged that Nazdratenko, who now heads the State Fisheries Committee, is still trying to control the krai administration, claiming that Nazdratenko calls acting Governor Konstantin Tolstoshein several times a day from Moscow to give him orders. Pulikovsky has noted that the krai’s election law covering the gubernatorial contest was passed “under Nazdratenko” and has complained about the fact that a candidate need win only 35 percent of the vote to win in the first round (Lenta.ru, Radio Ekho Moskvy, May 16). For their part, local politicians have accused Apanasenko’s election team of “dirty tricks,” such as posting leaflets ostensibly printed by his opponents, that openly violate the rules governing campaign agitation (Yezhednevnye Novosti [Vladivostok], May 16). There have also been rumors that Apanasenko’s election war chest exceeds even Putin’s during last year’s presidential campaign (TNT, May 19).

Veshnyakov took all this in his stride. On his return to Moscow, he supported Pulikovsky’s assessment of local election law but suggested that the elections would nonetheless run to two rounds (Polit.ru, May 18). While “influential forces” in Primorsky Krai were seeking to overturn the elections, Veshnyakov said that such forces would fail because law enforcement agencies would ensure that voting was carried out lawfully on voting day (Russian agencies, May 18). It would appear that neither the Kremlin nor its emissary can influence the situation and that both are counting on being able to deliver a “precision strike” if need be.