Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 233

This year’s round of gubernatorial contests continued on December 10 with elections in five regions–Khabarovsk Krai, Bryansk Oblast, Vladimir Oblast, Kastroma Oblast and Kurgan Oblast, which had a runoff election to choose its governor (Russian agencies, December 9-11).

The attitude of national commentators on the eve of this round of regional elections differed from their tone prior to earlier ones. Practically none of them tried to predict who would win–or, in any case, predicted that this or that incumbent governor would be replaced by this or that Kremlin-backed opponent. On the contrary, the mass media which supports President Vladimir Putin admitted for the first time that the center’s help is useless not only to the incumbent governors’ rivals, but also to the governors themselves if they are incapable of utilizing their own “administrative resources”–meaning their informal power levers. The pro-Putin newspaper Vedomosti published an article on the recent gubernatorial election in Perm Oblast, where the incumbent governor, Gennady Igumnov, lost despite Kremlin support. According to Vedomosti, the Kremlin admits that it made a mistake in convincing Igumnov to run. The voting in Perm again showed that support from the federal authorities and big business is by no means a guarantee of victory (Vedomosti, December 5).

The story was the same in the other races held on December 10: Incumbent governors won four out of five of them. In Khabarovsk Krai, Governor Viktor Ishaev won nearly 90 percent of the vote (his only opponent, Svetlana Zhukova, won only around 6 percent), and in Vladimir Oblast, Governor Nikolai Vinogradov won 67 percent. In Bryansk Oblast, where no runoff is stipulated, Governor Yuri Lodkin won with 31 percent. In Kurgan Oblast, Governor Oleg Bogomolov won around 53 percent. Only in Kastroma Oblast will a runoff election have to be held, given that the incumbent governor, Viktor Shershunov, received only 43 percent of the vote while his opponent, Kastroma Mayor Boris Korobov, won 23 percent (Russian agencies, ORT, December 11).

The elections in Bryansk Oblast attracted much attention. The region’s governor, Yuri Lodkin, was first elected to the post in April 1993, but then President Boris Yeltsin removed him in October of that year for supporting the Supreme Soviet in its battle with the Kremlin. In December 1996, Lodkin won the post again, defeating Vladimir Babarbanov, whom Yeltsin had named as head of the oblast administration. On December 10, Lodkin was elected governor for a third time. Observers noted that Lodkin was the first governor to take advantage of legislation allowing governors to serve a third term (Russian observers, November 29). Given that the State Duma approved this law only recently, as recently as two weeks ago it was still unclear whether Lodkin would be able to run for re-election. Some observers doubted it, and the local branch of Yabloko even filed suit against him to prevent him from running (Russian agencies, November 30). Lodkin himself, however, never doubted that everything would turn out in his favor.

Yet even after the State Duma adopted the law allowing third terms, Lodkin continued to be dogged by scandal. For example, Gleb Pavlovsky, the Kremlin political strategist, said that not all of the regional leaders planning to run for a third term would win, because the federal authorities would not back all of them (Russian agencies, November 29). Lodkin was clearly one of those Pavlovsky had in mind, given that the Bryansk governor had never been supported by the center. Initially, the “Kursk scenario” seemed likely to repeat itself in Bryansk, and some observers predicted that Lodkin would be judicially excluded from the race December 8, just two days before the election. But after similar attempts in other regions failed, Lodkin’s opponents in Bryansk grew disillusioned with the idea of using the courts against him, and fell back on other methods.

As it turned out, two people named Lodkin, three named Denin and two named Demochkin registered as candidates for the governor’s race in Bryansk. According to experts, people with these names had the greatest chances for victory (NTV, December 8). The incumbent Governor Lodkin and his opponent with the same last name–a pensioner from the suburban Moscow village Elektrostal–even shared the same first name, Yuri. The PR experts behind this attempt to “double” the incumbent governor assumed that the voters, particularly rural residents, would not be able to figure out which Lodkin had been endorsed in election ads by Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (Russian agencies, December 8). Zyuganov and Lukashenka, of course, had endorsed the incumbent governor, not his rival by the same name. Meanwhile the governor’s main rival–Nikolai Deinin, the head of the “Snezhka” poultry-breeding firm who was supported by the pro-Putin Unity party–found himself with two “doubles.” One of them, Ivan Denin, was treated twice for alcoholism and had a prison record. A month before the election, this Denin was made the head of a firm also called “Snezhka.” On December 7, however, this second Denin unexpectedly dropped out of the race (Russian agencies, December 8).

Some observers say that the idea of using the “doubles” belonged to Yuri Demochkin, one of the incumbent governor’s rivals in the race. Governor Lodkin had accused Demochkin, a businessman from Yekaterinburg, of having ties with the Urals organized crime group. In response, Demochkin organized protests that included the beating of a Lodkin effigy (NTV, December 8). The fact that Demochkin himself had a “double,” however, suggests that the Kremlin may have had a hand in the Bryansk scandals. Political “technologists” from Putin’s team, understanding that Bryansk law allowed only one round of voting for governor and that Lodkin’s position in the region was strong, may have decided to try and disrupt the campaign to ensure either that turnout would fall below the legal limit or that large numbers of local residents would vote “against all.” This would have been a strong blow to Lodkin’s reputation as an “unsinkable” governor who knows how to employ his “administrative resources” effectively.

There is, of course, no way to prove that the Kremlin was behind the “doubles.” In any case, the outcome of the governor’s race once again demonstrated that it is generally impossible to challenge incumbent governors successfully on their own territory. The Kremlin may conclude from this that “political technologies” are ineffective and switch to trying to remove governors by force. Indeed, preparations for such an attempt may now going on in Primorsky Krai.