Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 45

Last week Alfred Kokh was elected to represent Leningrad Oblast in the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament. Kokh, one of the most controversial Russian politicians, is chairman of the board of the Montes Auri investment fund. He served as a deputy prime minister in 1997 but hit the headlines only when he headed Gazprom-Media, which the Kremlin used not too long ago to subordinate Russia’s main independent television channel, NTV (Russian agencies, February 26).

Kokh was assumed to have dropped out of politics after that affair, because of alleged contradictions with Gazprom-Media’s parent company, the state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom. His return is therefore all the more remarkable. Legislators in Leningrad Oblast showed particular interest in Kokh, and rejected his competitor, even though the latter had been nominated by the governor of the oblast himself (Polit.ru, February 27). Deputy V. Leonov commented: “Kokh is an outstanding person, a personality known above all for cynicism and odiousness: But better the devil you know than the angel you don’t.” Fellow deputy V. Zakurdaev was even more to the point: “We don’t need someone who follows the letter of the law, but a lobbyist who knows how to get money” (Gazeta, February 27). Kokh himself promised to lobby effectively for the economic interests of the oblast. He has himself, along with his partners, already invested US$10 million in building the local port in Ust-Lug (Izvestia, February 27).

Some observers link Kokh’s decision to enter parliament with his failure in the media business and attribute his appointment to foolishness on the part of Leningrad’s legislators (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 27). This is debatable, however, given that lobbying has been a key activity of the Federation Council since the start of this year, when regional executive and legislative leaders lost their ex officio seats in the upper chamber (Vedomosti, February 27).

Observers point to another aspect of the Federation Council’s activity that may not be without importance for Kokh. Those entering the council these days are doing so not merely in order to acquire immunity from prosecution and avoid unpleasantness from the Prosecutor’s Office. They see parliament as a forum where they can periodically attract the attention of a wider public (Polit.ru, March 1). As a senator, Kokh will be able to take his bearings and keep himself in the public eye while he decides where next to exercise his political abilities.