Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 219

November 19 marked a milestone in President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing campaign against the leaders of Russia’s regions. On that day, in Kaliningrad Oblast, the Kremlin scored its first clear victory over a governor on his own territory. Admiral Vladimir Yegorov, commander of the Russian Navy’s Baltic Fleet and the Kremlin’s favorite for the post of regional governor, defeated incumbent Leonid Gorbenko in a runoff vote. For once, the Kremlin turns out to have made the right choice. Yegorov won 56 percent of the vote, Gorbenko only 34 percent (Russian agencies, November 20).

Kaliningrad is home to Russia’s largest naval base on the Baltic Sea, and the Baltic Fleet’s commander enjoys authority and power equal to that of a governor. This should have made the battle between the two candidates an even fight. However, Gorbenko went into the race burdened by unfulfilled obligations and the fact that the exclave had failed over the last decade to make the most of its status as a special economic zone. All of the region’s main political organizations–which, unlike their counterparts in most other parts of Russia, are well developed and play an active part in political life–opposed Gorbenko. The Union of Right Forces/Yabloko coalition opposed the governor and, thanks to this stance, managed to win eleven of the thirty-two seats in the oblast Duma in the elections held at the same time as the gubernatorial contest (Russian agencies, November 15). The Communist Party of the Russian Federation also opposed Gorbenko. Its leader Gennady Zyuganov said Gorbenko had not fulfilled “the election obligations given to our voters during the 1996 gubernatorial campaign” (Russian agencies, November 17). Nor did Gorbenko receive support from the pro-Putin Unity movement, in whose creation he actively participated. Finding himself politically isolated and without support from the Kremlin, Gorbenko was unable to realize the formal and informal advantages provided by his incumbency.

The Kremlin’s first clear-cut success in a gubernatorial contest should not be seen as presaging a series of victories for Kremlin candidates in other regions. The situation in Kaliningrad was unique and it would be premature to extrapolate it to other Russian regions.