Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 99

On May 19, following a scandal-ridden campaign, the gubernatorial election in Smolensk Oblast took place. Viktor Maslov, head of the oblast’s Federal Security Service (FSB) branch, defeated the incumbent governor, Aleksandr Prokhorov, 40.65 percent to 34.54 percent (Russian agencies, May 20). Prokhorov, who was running for a second term, was backed by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and its allied group, the People’s Patriotic Union of Russia. KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov personally campaigned on Prokhorov’s behalf. Maslov, for his part, was backed by Russia’s “power structures” and the regional branch of United Russia. He had, that is to say, the Kremlin’s support (Polit.ru, May 13, 16). Three other candidates were in the race–former Smolensk Governor Valery Fateev, Smolensk city Mayor Ivan Averchenkov and businessman Andrei Atrokhov (Strana.ru, May 17). These candidates, however, represented no serious threat to the front-runners.

The methods employed in the battle between Prokhorov and Maslov were extreme even by Russian standards. On the eve of the voting, dachas belonging to the head and deputy head of Prokhorov’s election team were set ablaze, and a small bomb went off in the governor’s election headquarters. While Prokhorov’s election team did not directly accuse Maslov of being behind these incidents, it characterized them as acts of intimidation and said that it was “very clear” who benefited from them (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 14). Whatever the case, far and away the most serious incident was the attack on the vice governor, Anatoly Makarenko, whose car came under gunfire on May 16, killing his driver and wounding his bodyguard. Makarenko accused Maslov of being behind the attack (see the Monitor, May 17). Zyuganov echoed Makarenko’s accusations in telegrams to President Vladimir Putin, and the Interior Ministry, FSB and Prosecutor General’s Office, in which the Communist leader called the attack on Makarenko another attempt to force Prokhorov out of the race (Vremya Novostei, May 17).

The federal law enforcement authorities, however, categorically ruled out that the attack was politically motivated. Andrei Pashkevich, head of the press service of the Interior Ministry’s branch in Central federal district, said that the attack had nothing to do with the elections. Investigators, he added, had evidence the attack was linked to Makarenko’s commercial activities (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 17). Some observers, indeed, noted that Makarenko earlier headed a local distillery in Smolensk and was the object of three criminal investigations (Vremya Novostei, May 17). Maslov, for his part, claimed the attack was an “electoral spectacle” staged by the incumbent governor’s team (Kommersant, May 17). This is doubtful given that Makarenko’s five-year-old daughter was in his car at the time it was fired on (NTV, May 16; see also the Monitor, May 17).

Given the degree to which Smolensk’s law enforcement agencies have been involved in the political battle there–including the local FSB, which the governor-elect headed–it is unlikely that those responsible for the ambush of Makarenko and other acts of election violence there will be caught. In fact, Makarenko is predicting more trouble: in an interview published today, he said he feared persecution by Maslov, up to and including physical “liquidation” (Kommersant, May 20).