Gubernatorial elections are continuing in Russia, with ballots scheduled in more than thirty regions. On November 5, elections took place in three oblasts–Kaliningrad, Kursk (in fact, this was a second-round runoff) and Magadan (Russian agencies, November 5). The contest in Kaliningrad was the most dramatic. Twelve candidates ran there, among whom the leaders were incumbent Governor Leonid Gorbenko and Baltic Fleet Commander Vladimir Yegorov. To win outright, a candidate needed to score more than 50 percent of the vote. As of November 6, none of the candidates had done so, meaning that Gorbenko and Yegorov will face each other in a runoff. It was not Gorbenko who came in first, however, but Yegorov. According to early returns, the latter received 38.5 percent of the vote, while Gorbenko won 18.3 percent (Russian agencies, November 6).
What is unique about the situation in Kaliningrad is that, for the first time in the current cycle of elections, the candidate supported by the Kremlin has a chance of defeating an incumbent governor whom the presidential administration considers undesirable. It is striking that in this election (as in previous ones in St Petersburg, Samara and Chita), the Kremlin deliberately chose an apparently losing strategy. Two candidates in the Kaliningrad contest were banking on the Kremlin’s support–Yegorov and Yuri Sinelnik, chairman of the State Fishing Committee. The competition between these two automatically increased Gorbenko’s chances of victory (Itogi magazine, October 30). In addition, the ambiguity of the Kremlin’s position enabled the incumbent to claim that Putin was supporting him. Gorbenko claimed he was receiving such support because he had been one of the founders of the pro-presidential Unity movement (NTV, November 3).
At the last minute, however, the Kremlin made its choice. On November 3, anonymous sources in the Russian government were quoted as saying that Sinelnik might lose his post on the State Fishing Committee. This was the Kremlin’s way of signaling that Sinelnik did not have Putin’s backing and that voters should go for Yegorov (Russian agencies, November 3).
The Kremlin’s decision was quite rational. Yegorov was practically the only person on the list of “Kremlin candidates” who had a real chance of winning. Kaliningrad is home to the large Baltic Sea Naval Fleet, on which the region is heavily dependent. A majority of the local inhabitants serve in the fleet or work in related infrastructure. For Kaliningrad, the fleet is a symbol of stability, while Gorbenko’s reputation has been seriously tarnished by his failure to realize the oblast’s potential as a free economic zone, a project in which many Kaliningraders had placed great hopes. Viktor Cherkesov, President Putin’s representative in the North-West federal district, reminded Kaliningrad voters of this fact on the eve of the vote. In an interview with the local press, Cherkesov hinted that the future of the Kaliningrad free economic zone had been placed in doubt, adding that he intended to “seek the route to economic and social development of the oblast on the basis of the law on special economic zones” along with “the new representatives of the region’s branches of power” (Kaliningradskaya pravda, November 3).
It would be wrong, however, to assume that Yegorov has already won the Kaliningrad contest. Observers note that the center had hoped for a first-round victory and were worried about having to go to a second round (Russian agencies, November 3). Gorbenko may use the break between the two rounds to mobilize his own “administrative resources” and achieve a turnaround in his favor. True, it is difficult to know what new inducements the governor can come up with. On the eve of the first round he made a big show of distributing fuel-efficient cars to local invalids (NTV, November 3) but this seems to have done little to boost his support (Radio Ekho Moskvy, November 6).
KURSK: KREMLIN DEPRIVED OF VICTORY.