Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 151

On July 30 Gennady Khodyrev, victor in the Nizhegorod Oblast gubernatorial election, took a step few had anticipated in announcing that he would suspend his membership the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) while serving as governor (Russian agencies, July 30). The announcement came a day after Khodyrev had unseated incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov, winning 60 percent of the votes to Sklyarov’s 28 percent. On August 1, the regional KPRF committee granted Khodyrev’s request and suspended his membership (, August 1).

Khodyrev promised to work constructively with all political parties and to take no further part in the work of the regional Communist Party organization while he was governor (, August 1). He expressed the hope that Nizhegorod citizens would accept him “as a people’s governor, not as a representative of the KPRF.” Khodyrev cited President Vladimir Putin as an example, pointing out that the head of state does not belong to any political party (NTV, August 2).

Khodyrev’s move allowed the Kremlin to save face. Officials close to Sergei Kirienko, Putin’s representative in the Volga federal district, which has its capital in Nizhny Novgorod, expressed satisfaction with the election result (Radio Ekho Moskvy, July 30). Sources in the Kremlin also declared it ready to cooperate with the new governor. Khodyrev was, a spokesman declared, a candidate with whom the Kremlin could do business, and the federal center had “completely withdrawn from the election process in this region” (, July 30). National newspapers also played down the significance of the fact that voters in Nizhegorod, once a stronghold of reform, had deserted to the Communists. One national newspaper alleged that Khodyrev had suspended his party membership without seeking the approval of the KPRF leadership, which was licking its wounds over his defection (Vremya MN, August 1). Another claimed that it was not the Kremlin that had suffered a defeat but merely Kirienko, whose team allegedly took too little interest in the election, thereby allowing victory to slip to the Communists (Argument i Fakty, August 1). Yet another argued that the Kremlin had not sustained a defeat at all, because Khodyrev would differ little from his predecessor Sklyarov (Vremya MN, August 31). The newspaper Vek made much of the fact that Khodyrev was elected on a low turnout, going on to assert that he would in any case have to become a capitalist if he wanted to improve the economic situation in the oblast (Vek, August 3).

There was also some sensible commentary. Some observers pointed out that party affiliation plays a relatively insignificant role in Russian politics, “where elections are only one means of obtaining power and property, and where democratic values are discredited” (Vremya MN, August 31). Some described the Nizhegorod election as the first battle between the KPRF and the pro-Putin coalition of the Unity and Fatherland parties. According to this view, the real significance of Khodyrev’s victory was that the noncommunist parties were unable to compete with the KPRF, and anti-Communist propaganda was cutting less ice with the voters than it has done. “Nonparty politicians such as Putin cannot offer the voters a credible explanation of their current predicament,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote on August 3. “The KPRF is the only party capable not only of mounting an effective opposition but also of convincing the electorate that it represents a credible alternative strategy.”

The KPRF is not resting on its laurels, however. Khodyrev has won a battle, but he has not won the war. He still has to assert control over his region and must do so under conditions of “hostile encirclement.” The Kremlin will watch his every move and will also have to compete for turf with Kirienko’s strongly entrenched team. Looked at in this light, Khodyrev’s first step–allowing the Kremlin to save face–is a sensible concession. The fact that Kremlin is also preparing to compromise is evidenced by the fact that it has quietly dropped its earlier threats to transfer the capital of the Volga federal district from Nizhny to Samara or Saratov (, July 30). The pro-government media are now asserting that reports of a move were just wild rumors (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, July 31). From the point of view of the official propaganda, therefore, Khodyrev has morphed from a Communist into just another governor–still a political opponent, but one with which the Kremlin can and will do business.