Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 229

Mikhail Nikolaev, president of Russia’s Far Eastern Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), has dropped his bid to win reelection. In a televised statement aired yesterday on local television, Nikolaev said he was dropping out of the presidential race in favor of another candidate–Vyacheslav Shtyrov, head of the diamond monopoly ALROSA. “Endless court processes [and] uncertainty in the legal sense forces me to withdraw my candidacy,” Nikolaev told the republic’s voters in his broadcast. “I am doing this for the sake of peace, accord and the republic’s further moves forward. I propose Vycheslav Shtyrov as my successor. I am sure he will receive the support of a majority of the voters.” It is less than clear, however, that Shtyrov will get the chance to become Nikolaev’s successor: On December 11, a Yakutian Supreme Court judge, Aleksandr Federov, unexpectedly annulled Shtyrov’s registration as a candidate. The judge based his decision on an investigation conducted by the office of the republic’s prosecutor, which found that Shtyrov’s campaign team had used aircraft paid for by ALROSA to gather signatures in support of his candidacy in one of the huge republic’s districts. Shtyrov was initially refused registration as a candidate, but was recently registered. Voters in Yakutia will go to the polls to elect their new president on December 23.

As the Monitor has recorded more than once, Yakutia’s presidential election has turned into a tussle between the Kremlin and the local elite for control over the republic’s vast and valuable diamond resources. The local elite supports Nikolaev in his bid for reelection, while the federal authorities back Vasily Kolmogorov, Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation (see the Monitor, October 16, 28, November 6, 13, December 4.) It now appears that the Kremlin has won the power struggle. The newspaper Kommersant today quoted an unnamed official of the Kremlin administration as saying that during a Kremlin meeting on Monday (December 10) between Nikolaev and President Vladimir Putin, the Yakutian president promised the head of state he would drop his reelection bid and Putin promised that the Kremlin would not support Kolmogorov. The following day, however, the Yakutian Supreme Court announced its decision nullifying Shtyrov’s candidacy. This apparently led Nikolaev to postpone the airing of his taped statement announcing his withdrawal and designating Shtyrov as his successor. Nikolaev’s statement, however, was broadcast yesterday, after the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ordered Yakutia’s Supreme Court to suspend its decision canceling Shtyrov’s registration as a candidate (Kommersant, December 13).