Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 116

The gubernatorial race in Russia’s Samara Oblast, scheduled for July 2, has entered its final phase. This is a pre-term election: The date was moved up when the incumbent, Konstantin Titov, resigned following his poor showing in Russia’s presidential election in March. Titov said that he was standing down as governor because he had received only 20 percent of the votes in his home oblast. Not only did Vladimir Putin win more votes than Titov in Samara, so too did Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.

Six candidates have registered for the election, but the real battle is between only two of them: Titov himself, who is running for re-election, and Viktor Tarkhov, president of the Samara Oblast social fund “Razvitie” (Development). Until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Tarkhov headed the oblast’s executive committee [the body which, under the supervision of the Communist Party, administered the region in the Soviet era] (Russian agencies, June 4-5).

Tarkhov and Titov are the only candidates who are backed by anything more than a narrow economic or political group. Titov, whose departure from power was purely symbolic, is still the effective ruler of the oblast. The team he appointed remains in power and this gives him effective control over many regional resources (such as the local media), which is crucial to winning an election. Titov can also rely on his image as the leader who turned Samara into one of the few Russian regions sufficiently prosperous to make net contributions to the federal budget.

Tarkhov is nonetheless a serious competitor. His support comes from several social groups whose interests Titov has infringed during his term in office. For a while too the media, seduced by the idea that regional politics is merely an expression of federal politics, viewed Albert Makashov, the retired army general notorious for his anti-Semitic utterances, as another rival to Titov (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 2). Makashov was expected to rally support among the left-wing which had turned out, during the March presidential election, to have significant support in Samara. In the event, Makashov proved unable to muster significant support. When he failed to hand in his mandatory signature lists by the deadline for candidate registration, it transpired that Makashov had simply been unable to find 50,000 people to support him. Samara’s communists, many of whom might otherwise have been inclined to support a radical oppositionist, were split, with one group keen to support a certain “other candidate” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 2).

The identity of that “other candidate” was an open secret: It was Titov. Members of the pragmatically inclined wing of Samara’s Communist Party, who enjoy the greatest influence and make up the majority of the party’s grassroots, came out clearly in favor of the governor (Samarskie izvestia, May 29). In this respect, Samara’s communists echoed the split between hardliners and pragmatists in the Communist Party at the national level, which has left the once mighty party significantly weakened.

In general, practically all political organizations active in Samara Oblast have by now come out in support of Titov. For example, Vladimir Kadannikov, chairman of the board of the AvtoVAZ automaker and leader of the regional branch of the pro-Putin Unity party, is supporting Titov. True, Kadannikov told his fellow party members that they were free to make up their own minds whom they favored (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 2). But on June 7, the heads of the Samara branches of Democratic Russia, Russia’s Democratic Choice and Young Russia–all of which are currently involved in setting up a united branch of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS)–endorsed Titov’s candidacy for governor (Russian agencies, June 8). On the federal level, the SPS had come out in favor of Titov even earlier.

Some observers have expressed doubts about how solid this support will prove to be, given that some SPS leaders resent Titov’s activity and independence. These commentators speculate that Sergei Kirienko’s appointment as presidential representative in the Volga federal district may hinder Titov’s election campaign (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 8). Kirienko and Titov were close allies until Titov’s fateful decision to run for the presidency, whereupon relations cooled.

In all probablity, this will mean little: Titov’s control of the levers of power in the oblast is so strong that he does not have to worry about anyone, least of all the SPS, which he himself embodies for Samara residents. According to data collected by Samara State University’s Center for Sociological Research, 62.8 percent of those polled at the beginning of June were planning to vote for Titov (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 2). Titov also has the support of the oblast’s largest enterprises. He can rely on the support not only of the AvtoVAZ leadership but also of the Yukos oil company. Titov’s election headquarters is being run by Yukos Vice President Viktor Kazakov, who has reportedly been promised the post of deputy governor if Titov wins (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 8).

Opinion polls also indicate that, at the beginning of June, only 7.8 percent of voters were planning to vote for Tarkhov (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 2). Large political and economic groups are afraid to announce openly that they are supporting Tarkhov (though there is evidence that some of them may be secretly supporting him). At this stage in the campaign, it looks as if only interference by the Kremlin could rescue Tarkhov. But that too is unlikely.

For a long time it was assumed that, because Titov ran against Putin in the presidential election, the Kremlin would do its best to unseat him as governor. However, the Kremlin apparently reconsidered its plans. Putin’s team does not need a conflict with one of Russia’s most influential and reliable governors at a time when regional leaders have begun, for the first time, to come out openly against Putin’s policies. A Kremlin defeat in a battle with Titov could weaken its position in its battle with the regional leaders in the Federation Council. A clear sign of Kremlin thinking was the fact that Titov was invited earlier this week to a presidential reception honoring Russian Independence Day, even though he is not officially a governor at present. None of his competitors was deemed worthy of such an honor (Russian agencies, June 8). Titov’s Moscow appearance removed any remaining doubts over who will win the Samara election.