Yevgeny Nazdratenko, who was forced to resign as governor of the Far Eastern region of Primorsky Krai earlier this month, has been named head of the State Fisheries Committee. The appointment of the controversial governor, whom many observers blamed for Primorye’s severe energy crisis this winter, was not a surprise. Earlier this month, following a Kremlin meeting between Nazdratenko and President Vladimir Putin, Sergei Knyazev, head of Primorsky Krai’s election commission, reported that the president had offered Nazdratenko the fisheries committee post (Russian agencies, February 24; Moscow Times, February 15-16). What is surprising about the appointment was the way some top federal officials rushed to disassociate themselves from it. According to various media reports today, the top members of the cabinet, including Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, opposed Nazdratenko’s appointment. A newspaper quoted an anonymous government source as saying: “We are team players. And if our senior comrades order us to name a trained ape to a high post, we will do it. And maybe even an untrained one.” The same paper, however, reported that the presidential administration had also opposed Nazdratenko’s appointment. The paper concluded that President Vladimir Putin alone must have been responsible for the appointment (Vremya Novostei, February 26).
The key question is why Putin agreed to appoint Nazdratenko to the fisheries post. The most popular explanation–put forward, among others, by Gennady Raikov, head of the pro-Putin People’s Deputy faction in the State Duma–is that the appointment was the result of a “deal” between the two men, with the “quo” being Nazdratenko’s agreement not to run in the new elections for Primorsky Krai governor, which are set for this summer. Likewise, Sergei Ivanenko, deputy head of the Yabloko faction in the Duma, called Nazdratenko’s appointment a “typical nomenklatura reshuffle in the Soviet manner” aimed at removing Nazdratenko from the upcoming Primorye gubernatorial race (Vremya Novostei, February 26). What is more, Putin has come out in favor of amending Russia’s law on elections so that regional or municipal leaders will be banned from participating in pre-term elections after they have either stepped down or been removed from office by the president (Gazeta.ru, February 24). Some observers believe that Putin’s support for these changes was directed specifically at ensuring that Nazdratenko stays out of the election in Primorye, where he reportedly remains surprisingly popular, in spite of the energy crisis.
In addition, there are those who believe that the other shoe may still drop on Nazdratenko. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov was quoted over the weekend as saying that the former governor would soon go on trial (Vremya Novostei, February 26). Nazdratenko’s administration had a reputation for being very corrupt and criminalized. Earlier this month, the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets cited rumors that federal authorities planned to launch criminal cases against Nazdratenko’s sons for their alleged involvement in various criminal activities (see the Monitor, February 7). Last November, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, citing a leaked government document, reported that the federal authorities were investigating irregularities connected to a charitable fund set up by Nazdratenko and his wife (see the Monitor, December 1, 2000). What is less than clear, however, is why Putin would appoint Nazdratenko to a not-insignificant federal post if his ultimate goal were to prosecute him. The State Fisheries Committee distributes fishing quotas worth billions of dollars, and the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade has insisted that these quotas be distributed through auctions–a reform that Nazdratenko and the powerful commercial fishing interests in Russia’s Far East strongly oppose (Vedomosti, February 26). It is also worth noting that the State Fisheries Committee has itself been dogged by corruption allegations. A newspaper today quoted an “informed” anonymous source as saying that “theft” in the committee amounts to US$5 billion a year (Vremya Novostei, February 26).
The decision to name Nazdratenko head of the State Fisheries Committee has come under sharp criticism from some quarters. Boris Nemtsov, head of the Union of Right-Wing Forces’ faction in the State Duma, called the decision an indication of a crisis in the country’s political leadership (NTV, February 25).
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