Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 236

There has been no let-up in the battle between Russia’s governors and President Vladimir Putin’s team. The focus of the struggle is the ongoing series of elections for regional governors. December 17 saw elections in seven regions; more will be held on December 24. Perhaps the most significant contest set for that day is the one in Ulyanov Oblast. The incumbent, Yuri Goryachev, is one of Russia’s most powerful governors. He faces a challenge from General Vladimir Shamanov, who was one of the commanders of the federal forces fighting in Chechnya. Shamanov’s chances for victory, however, are not great. He is not expected to receive a majority in the first round of the elections, and local law does not allow for a run-off.

Another contest set for December 24 attracted lavish media attention but has suddenly become predictable. The gubernatorial contest in the Chukotka Autonomous District–one of the remotest and least developed of Russia’s regions–was to have pitted incumbent Aleksandr Nazarov against the well-known oligarch, oil baron and Yeltsin “Family” member Roman Abramovich. Abramovich became the winner by default when, on December 16, Nazarov abruptly quit the race (NTV, December 16).

In fact, Abramovich’s victory looked inevitable all along. According to opinion polls, 39 percent of the local electorate was planning to vote for Abramovich and only 22 percent for Nazarov, while the remaining candidates were expected to garner between 0.7 percent and 1.9 percent of the vote (Russian agencies, December 7). Why Nazarov quit is unclear, but there is a theory that it resulted from an agreement with Abramovich, under which the oligarch will head the region while Nazarov, supported by the pro-Putin Unity party, will represent it in the Federation Council (NTV, December 17). According to one account, Abramovich told friends that running for governor was a “hobby” and a means of “internal emigration;” they believe he decided to run for the post because he had nothing better to do (Obshchaya gazeta, December 7). In reality, it is unlikely the influential businessman was guided by such childish considerations. In an era in which the Kremlin has declared war on such recently powerful oligarchs as Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, Abramovich’s actions may well be dictated by a desire to convert informal (and thus unreliable) political capital into the legal guarantees which come with the post of governor.

The December 17 contests took place without any surprises (Russian agencies, December 18). Most of them were run-offs, won by those candidates who came out ahead in the first round. Incumbents were reelected in three regions. In Arkhangel Oblast, Governor Anatoly Yefremov won 58.5 percent of the vote while his rival Nikolai Malakov, former head of the oblast’s government, got 31.6 percent. In Ryazan Oblast, Governor Vyacheslav Lyubimov won 65.1 percent while his opponent Valery Ryumin garnered only 26.8 percent. In Stavropol Krai, Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov won 56.6 percent, and Stanislav Ilyasov, former head of the krai government, 36.3. In the Republic of Marii-El, the Kremlin team won an important victory. Leonid Markelov, deputy head of the “Rosgossstrakh” insurance company, received 58 percent of the vote while the incumbent president, Vyacheslav Kislitsyn, won 33.7 percent. Communists won in two regions. In Ivanovo Oblast, Vladimir Tikhonov beat incumbent Governor Anatoly Golovkov by 62.4 percent to 33, while in Kamchatka Oblast Mikhail Mashkovtsev defeated First Deputy Governor Boris Sinchenko by 46 percent to 43. In the Komi-Permyatsk Autonomous District, Gennady Savelev, chairman of the Perm Oblast audit chamber, defeated incumbent Governor Nikolai Poluyanov by 44.2 percent to 40.1.

The political battlelines in these regions were generally predictable. With the exception of Kamchatka and Ivanovo, where local Communists ran as candidates, Unity supported opponents of the local leadership, demonstrating both the Kremlin’s priorities and the shortcomings of its regional policy. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) supported a number of incumbents. KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov traveled to Stavropol on December 14 to campaign on behalf of Aleksandr Chernogorov (Russian agencies, December 14). Naturally, Unity backed Chernogorov’s opponent, Stanislav Ilyasov (Russian agencies, December 8). At the same time, Chernogorov, unlike his opponents, did not flaunt his opposition to the Kremlin. The krai’s election commission even warned him for using Putin’s face in campaign material without asking the Russian president’s permission (NTV, December 17).

In the Republic of Marii-El, the KPRF backed the incumbent, President Vyacheslav Kislitsyn (Russian agencies, December 12). Meanwhile, right-wing parties joined with Unity in opposing Kislitsyn and backing Leonid Markelov (Russian agencies, December 8). During a conference of the Marii-El chapter of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), its activists refused to support the republic’s president. True, they also refused to back Markelov. According to the SPS members, neither candidate had a program for pulling the region out of crisis (Russian agencies, December 14). The following day, two members of Yabloko’s faction in the State Duma, Igor Artemev and Sergei Mitrokhin, published a letter in the local press in which they expressed the hope that Marii-El’s inhabitants would “by democratic means put an end to the existence of Vyacheslav Kislitsyn’s criminal regime.” In their view, Kislitsyn had established a regime that suppresses civil liberties, human rights and, “in general, any dissidence.” Yabloko came out in support of Markelov (Russian agencies, December 15). All of these parties together, with open and very aggressive support by the federal Center, turned out to be stronger than Kislitsyn with his “administrative resources,” which had been undermined by Kremlin personnel purges.

The December 17 round of elections saw another attempt to repeat the “Kursk scenario,” according to which a sitting governor is removed from the race. This happened just before the run-off election in Arkhangel Oblast, when one of the candidates, Nikolai Malakov, went to court to accuse Governor Anatoly Yefemov of using his official position to carry out election agitation (Russian agencies, December 14). It was an answer in kind: On the eve of the first round, Yefremov had tried to get Malakov thrown out of the race.

Electoral victory does not solve all of the governors’ problems. December 15 was inauguration day for Kurgan Oblast Governor Oleg Bogomolov, who was re-elected to a second term. That same day, court proceedings began in connection with a suit brought against him on December by the head of the local Unity chapter, who demanded that Bogomolov be thrown out of the race for violating election law. The attempt failed, however, when the judges ruled that, even if the complaint were found to be legitimate, it would not be enough to overturn the results of the election (Russian agencies, December 14).

The failure of a majority of the Kremlin’s candidates in the elections does not guarantee the sitting governors’ success in the future. It is obvious, however, that the Kremlin has in general lost this stage of the struggle. And its individual successes, achieved by mobilizing all of its forces, gives no basis for assuming that its future actions will be more effective.