Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 26

Yevgeny Nazdratenko, who earlier this week stepped down as governor of the crisis-ridden Primorsky Krai region of Russia’s Far East, has given his first interview since his resignation. Nazdratenko told the Primorsky newspaper Yezhednevnye Novosti that the only reason he stepped down was because Primorsky Krai had for too long been seen around the country as “a region of crises, scandals and conflicts.” “It was its inhabitants who above all suffered from this,” Nazdratenko added. “I don’t want to let anyone down anymore, I don’t want any more of these wars, these hysterical cries about our problems.” Nazdratenko, however, refused to take any blame for them, including the electricity and heating shortages which have plagued each of the last four winters and have been particularly bad this year. Rather than being the result of the “actions of the krai administration,” Nazdratenko said that the energy crisis was the result of “disastrous, unthinking privatization” in the country–an apparent reference to his long-time enemy Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russia’s controversial privatization scheme in the 1990s–and the “endless” federal probes and audits which, he charged, have disrupted the normal functioning of the regional government, enterprises and federal structures in Primorsky Krai.

On the day he accepted Nazdratenko’s resignation, Putin fired Aleksandr Gavrin as federal energy minister and ordered Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin to “strengthen the leadership” of United Energy Systems (UES), Russia’s electrical power grid. Voloshin is UES’s board chairman, while Chubais is its head, and most observers took Putin’s words and actions to mean that Chubais is on notice that he, too, could lose his job over the Primorsky energy crisis (see the Monitor, February 5). For his part, Nazdratenko said that when he offered Putin his resignation, the president had “expressed understanding” over his decision to step down and even offered him work in the capital (Russian agencies, February 7).

While it is understandable that Nazdratenko would try to put the best face on what was obviously a forced resignation, various press reports suggest that his conversation with Putin may have been less polite and chatty than the one he described. Moskovsky komsomolets today cited rumors that the federal authorities had planned to launch criminal cases against Nazdratenko’s sons for their alleged connections with a company called Magellan, whose chief was murdered in Moscow last September. The paper also cited rumors that one of Nazdratenko’s sons, Andrei, had received US$50,000 a month in protection payments from another company, which was involved in contraband shipments of alcohol, narcotics and precious metals (Moskovsky komsomolets, February 7).

At the same time, it should be noted that Nazdratenko’s removal as governor has meant something less than an outbreak of good government in Primorsky Krai, at least so far. He has been replaced by his first deputy, Konstantin Tolstoshein–a man who himself has a rather controversial reputation. For example, the website earlier this year published what it claimed was the transcript of a bugged telephone conversation between Tolstoshein and the head of the regional housing authority, in which Tolstoshein’s side of the conversation consisted almost entirely of “mat”–Russian profanity. Tolstoshein’s less amusing side was described in a 1997 document written by Viktor Kondratov, then President Boris Yeltsin’s representative in Primorsky Krai and head of the regional branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB). According to Russell Working, a Vladivostok-based American journalist, Kondratov’s report, among other things, accused Tolstoshein of conspiring with one local crime boss to sell Vladivostok’s largest hotel “for virtually nothing” and with another mobster to kidnap two local radio reporters, Aleksei Sadykov and Andrei Zhuravlyov. Working later interviewed Sadykov, who said his kidnappers had “tied his wrists behind his back, hung him from them, beat him and burnt him with cigarettes” (Moscow Times, December 28, 1999). Nowadays Tolstoshein reportedly controls Primorsky Krai’s gambling business (Moskovsky komsomolets, February 7).

According to a number of observers, including Viktor Cherepkov, former Vladivostok mayor and one of Nazdratenko’s most implacable foes, Tolstoshein’s elevation as acting governor leaves in place the system which Nazdratenko set up in Primorsky Krai after coming to power there in 1993–a system one newspaper aptly described as “a community of bureaucrats, businessmen and gangsters working for each other’s profit” (NTV, Moscow Times, February 6). Indeed, some of these same observers believe that Tolstoshein has been tasked with keeping that system in place while Nazdratenko prepares to make a comeback in the region’s next gubernatorial elections. As Moskovsky komsomolets wrote: “If the Kremlin is really interested in replacing the Primorsky team, it needs to look for another person for the position of Primorye head” (Moskovsky komsomolets, February 7).