A conflict that could lead to further confrontation between the regions and the federal center erupted last weak in Krasnoyarsk Krai. The regional governor, Aleksandr Lebed, who ran for president in 1996 and then became secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council, refused to accept the appointment of Vladimir Demidov as the krai’s new prosecutor (Russian agencies, September 16-17).
According to law, Russia’s prosecutor general has the power to appoint a prosecutor in a given region without consulting the regional governor. Practice shows, however, that the legal guarantees are inadequate to allow the prosecutor general to act in such a way if he is opposed by the regional elite. As if to demonstrate this fact, Lebed last week threw down the gauntlet and refused to go along with Demidov’s nomination. In so doing, he cast doubt on the assumption that President Vladimir Putin has significantly strengthened the Kremlin’s control over the regions.
According to local sources, Lebed’s defiance was prompted less by political considerations than by simple annoyance when Demidov, who earlier served as deputy prosecutor in Kemerovo Oblast, failed to show up for a personal meeting with the governor (Izvestia, Moskovsky Komsomolets, Kommmersant, September 17). Local officials thought the row would be ironed out during a meeting between Lebed and Deputy Prosecutor General Valentin Simuchenkov, who flew to Krasnoyarsk especially for it, but the session did not end in agreement.
Lebed’s defiance will not pass unnoticed. The humiliation he has inflicted on the prosecutor’s office will be noticed both in Moscow and in the regions (Moskovsky Komsomolets, September 17). It will give fresh optimism to those governors who do not want to grovel to the Kremlin. It is true that Lebed himself has been much undermined by interfactional wrangling within his region, and that he is therefore considerably weaker than many other regional leaders. A majority in the Krasnoyarsk Krai legislative assembly did subsequently approve Demidov’s candidacy. Simuchenkov, who was present during the vote and called the governor’s position “inexplicable,” noted that Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov would take a final decision after “carrying out corresponding work with Lebed” (Polit.ru, September 18). It is quite likely that during the course of this “work” Lebed, who does not enjoy the monolithic support of the regional elite, will have to make concessions. Nevertheless, he has challenged Putin’s attempt to establish that regional law enforcement organs depend not on the regional elite but on the federal government. He will in so doing have given fresh heart to other, doggedly independence-minded governors (Izvestia, September 17).
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