Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 64

The conflict surrounding the election of Alfred Kokh to represent Leningrad Oblast’s legislative assembly in the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, has played itself out. Kokh, the chairman of the Montes Auri investment fund’s board of directors who earlier, as head of Gazprom Media, played a key role in bringing Vladimir Gusinsky’s NTV television under the control of Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas monopoly, last week announced he was withdrawing his candidacy to become a Federation Council member (Russian agencies, March 28).

In late February, the Leningrad regional assembly (legislature) elected Kokh to represent it in the Federation Council, but a deputy in the assembly, Oleg Petrov, together with the Leningrad Oblast prosecutor’s office soon went to court to challenge Kokh’s selection, claiming that procedures had been violated during the voting. Kokh’s initial reaction to this challenge was defiant (see the Monitor, March 12). The conflict soon intensified, with attacks on “the strangler of NTV,” as he is known in some quarters, appearing in the press, including a claim that Viktor Bout, the reputed Russian arms trafficker who allegedly supplied the Taliban and al-Qaida, began his career with Kokh’s help (NNS.ru, March 25). The Federation Council’s rules commission met on March 29 to discuss whether Kokh would be confirmed as a Council member, but was unable to reach a decision (Polit.ru, March 27). While the issue of Kokh’s candidacy was to be discussed further in the Federation Council, word came on March 28 that he had asked the Leningrad Oblast legislative assembly to withdraw his candidacy. The assembly is scheduled to take up the issue on April 23 (Lenta.ru, March 28).

Kokh apparently decided to withdraw his candidacy because of the “unhealthy atmosphere” surrounding it. Leningrad Oblast Governor Valery Serdyukov quoted Kokh as saying that he did not want to “create a negative opinion about the purity of thoughts of the deputies” who voted for him to represent them in the Federation Council. In addition, Serdyukov said Kokh found it difficult to experience “the negative feelings toward him on the part of society” (Kommersant, Gazeta, Polit.ru, March 28). In public commentaries, Kokh emphasized he had not withdrawn his candidacy because he thought he would lose in court. “I think I would have won in court,” he said (Izvestia, March 28). Kokh may still have to prove this assertion: Petrov indicated he would not drop his suit challenging Kokh’s election despite the fact that Kokh had withdrawn his candidacy (Polit.ru, March 29).