Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 78

Next Sunday’s election for governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai in central Siberia is being seen as the first round in the 2000 Russian presidential election. Presidential hopeful Aleksandr Lebed, retired paratroop general and former secretary of Russia’s Security Council, is running against a well-respected incumbent, Valery Zubov, an economic reformer who is putting up a strong fight to retain his post. The election is not expected to be conclusive in its first round on April 26. Also running is Petr Romanov, former head of a local armaments factory, now a communist member of the State Duma who has the backing of the Communist Party and of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party. Romanov is not seen as likely to win, but where his votes go in the second round could be decisive. Zubov will likely have to cut an uneasy deal with the Communists if he wants to win in the second round.

The campaign has two aspects. On a national level, it is seen as a preview of the upcoming presidential elections. Lebed wants the job because, after eighteen months in the political wilderness, he needs the public profile that the governorship of Russia’s second-largest and third-richest constituent territory would ensure him. The region’s immense mineral and timber reserves would help him finance his presidential election. “Krasnoyarsk is a miniature Russia,” Lebed declared when he launched his gubernatorial campaign. (NTV, February 17)

For this reason, other national figures are actively involved in the election. The Kremlin is quietly campaigning for Zubov. Also actively involved on Zubov’s behalf are Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and financier Vladimir Potanin. Potanin’s Oneksimbank owns the huge nickel producer Norilsk Nickel, situated on the territory of the krai. Norilsk’s desire to retain the relative autonomy it has enjoyed under Zubov explains why the newspaper Izvestia, which is partly owned by Oneksimbank, is leading the campaign against Lebed. By the same token, Potanin’s sworn enemy, the financier Boris Berezovsky, and the media controlled by him are supporting Lebed.

On another level, this is a local campaign. Lebed’s financial support is coming from Anatoly Bykov, a former boxer elected to the Krasnoyarsk Krai Duma last December. Bykov is vice president of the Rossiisky Kredit bank and acting chairman of the board of the huge Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Factory. Some commentators believe Bykov is backing Lebed not because he has particular sympathy for Lebed’s policies but in order to exert leverage over Zubov, and that Lebed may not have understood that he is in effect Bykov’s pawn. (Izvestia, November 11-14, 1997; February 13 and March 27, 1998; Moskovsky komsomolets, February 11; Moscow Times, April 14) Lebed does, however, understand the importance of winning this weekend’s election. He has said that, if he fails to win election in Krasnoyarsk, he will put aside his plans to run for president in 2000. (Russian Television, April 19)