Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 224

With an energy crisis deepening and teachers striking to protest wage arrears, deputies of Primorsky krai’s Duma are considering calling for the region’s governor, Yevgeny Nazdratenko, to step down or voting no-confidence in him. Yuri Rybalkin, head of the regional Duma’s economics committee will take up the energy crisis on December 7-8 and have invited both Nazdratenko and Konstantin Pulikovsky, President Vladimir Putin’s authorized representative to the Far Eastern federal district to attend (NTV, December 1). Pulikovsky announced today that Putin had decided to send a commission from the presidential administration Main Control Department to Primorsky Krai to assess the regional government’s ability to manage the krai’s economy in general, and heating-energy complex in particular (Russian agencies, December 1). On November 28, Pulikovsky blamed Nazdratenko’s administration for the crisis (NTV, November 28).

Earlier this month, Nazdratenko blamed the federal authorities for the crisis, claiming that it owes Primorsky krai 4 billion rubles (around US$148 million). In response, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko insisted that the federal government had paid out all the budget money owed to the region, and claimed that the arrears in salary payments to teachers and doctors was the result of “political games” by the regional administration (NTV, November 19). Nazdratenko flew to Moscow and met with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on November 25, after which Kasyanov said he had ordered two of his deputies, Aleksei Kudrin and Viktor Khristenko, to work out a plan to give Primorsky Krai additional federal funds to deal with the crisis. Nazdratenko charged this week that the real reasons for the energy crisis are “political” rather than economic, but would not say who he thought was behind it (NTV, November 27).

In the meantime, the energy and payments crisis in Primorsky krai shows no sign of abating. The Emergency Situations Ministry reported on November 30 that more than 50,000 residents of the krai are living without heat in their apartments. Today some 400 residents of the village of Uglovoe, just outside the city of Artem, blocked the Vladivostok-Khabarovsk highway, claiming that they are in danger of freezing to death. The protestors, mostly women and children, demanded that Nazdratenko resign and that Aleksandr Terentev, Artem’s former mayor, be criminally prosecuted. They also called on President Vladimir Putin to intervene in the crisis. While police were on hand, altercations reportedly broke out between some of the demonstrators and blocked motorists. According to NTV television, nineteen apartment buildings in Uglovoe, which has a population of around 3,000, are without heat, while the local authorities have been unable to get an emergency heating system to work. The channel reported that local schoolchildren are not only freezing, but also subsisting on potatoes and fish, because their parents are state workers who have not been receiving salaries. The temperature in the area is around 3-5 degrees Centigrade. Meanwhile, more than 400 teachers in the city of Asenev went out on strike today, demanding that the local authorities make good on unpaid back wages. Labor union lawyers who are supporting the teachers reported that if the five-month wage arrears are not paid off by December 15, all the city’s teachers will go on strike indefinitely. Earlier this month more than 500 residents of the town of Kavalerovo, site of a large metals factory, blocked the Vladivostok-Rudnaya Pristan highway to protest the lack of heating in their apartments (NTV, December 1).

For years now, Primorsky krai has been regarded as a kind of textbook case of misgovernment, and Nazdratenko has been the target of various Kremlin officials. In 1996, when, as now, the region was mired in an energy and nonpayments crisis, Anatoly Chubais–who was then head of the Kremlin administration and, like Putin today, striving to create a “presidential vertical of power”–reportedly worked hard to remove Nazdratenko. But while Nazdratenko humbly offered to resign in September 1996, he defied the predictions of many political observers and kept his post, outliving Chubais’ politically. The following year, then President Boris Yeltsin deputized Viktor Kondratov, head of the Primorsky branch of the Federal Security Service, to oversee Nazdratenko, and gave Kondratov the power to control the region’s budget funds. Nazdratenko survived that as well.

Now, however, things may be different. Starting March 1 of next year, President Putin will have the right to remove regional heads who are under criminal investigation. According to a governmental “analytical document” published this week, Nazdratenko is at the top of the Kremlin’s hit list, and an investigation is being prepared into a charitable fund set up by the governor and his wife (Novaya gazeta, November 30). If this is report is true, it will be interesting to see whether Putin succeeds where his predecessors failed.