Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 197

Voting in the Kursk Oblast gubernatorial elections took place yesterday, and the oblast’s election commission reported early today that the turnout was 51.7 percent, just a margin higher than the 50 percent required to validate the contest. Because none of the seven candidates in the race received more than 50 percent of the votes cast, a runoff will be held in two weeks, According to preliminary results, Aleksandr Mikhailov, the candidate from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), ran first, receiving 39.5 percent of the vote; Viktor Surzhikov, who was a Federal Security Service (FSB) officer charged with overseeing the Kursk and Volgograd regions prior to being appointed the federal government’s chief inspector in Kursk this past August, came in second, with 21.58 percent; more than 12 percent of those casting ballots voted marked off “against all.”

The big news, however, surrounded the candidate who did not run–Aleksandr Rutskoi, Kursk Oblast’s incumbent governor. On the evening of October 21, less than twenty-four hours before the vote, the Kursk Oblast court ruled that Rutskoi should be barred from running. The court decision followed public accusations by Surzhikov, the federal inspector and another of Rutskoi’s rival candidates, Kursk city Mayor Sergei Maltsev, that the incumbent had given false information about his personal property while registering as a candidate and had used his official position to carry out campaign “agitation.” Indeed, local police discovered that Rutskoi had not declared ownership of a 1994 Volga automobile when he registered as a candidate. For his part, Rutskoi claimed that he had sold the car but that its registration had not been cancelled. As of yesterday, Rutskoi said that he had not yet received a copy of the court decision banning his participation in the race, and that he had tried unsuccessfully to reach the head of the Supreme Court, the country’s prosecutor general and President Vladimir Putin. Rutskoi said he had already sent an appeal to Russia’s Supreme Court protesting the decision to bar him from the race. The incumbent governor claimed that the court decision was the result of a conspiracy against him, and noted that immediately after the decision, the local police cordoned off the court’s premises, along with those housing the local television and radio stations (Russian agencies, Radio Liberty, October 22-23).

There is little doubt that the decision to knock Rutskoi out of the race at the last minute, which left him with too little time to appeal the decision prior to the actual voting, was politically motivated. The only question is exactly who was behind the Kursk Oblast court’s decision. Immediately after that decision Rutskoi accused his rivals of a conspiracy, but refrained from blaming Moscow. By yesterday, however, he was openly pointing a finger at the Kremlin administration. The Kremlin administration, meanwhile, does not appear to be in a rush to deny such speculation–judging, at least, by comments attributed today to an unnamed high-level official in the presidential administration. A newspaper quoted the official as saying that while the Kremlin had decided to “distance” itself from the Kursk race, Mikhailov, the KPRF candidate, gave the impression of being a “sound person.” The anonymous official said the Kremlin would have preferred to see Surzhikov win the race, but that this was not a realistic possibility (Vedomosti, October 23).

If the Kremlin was truly behind the move against Rutskoi–which would appear to be the case–it seems strange at first glance, given that Rutskoi is a member of the pro-Putin Unity party, and that Unity’s leader, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, appeared on local television in Kursk prior to yesterday’s vote to announce that he was backing Rutskoi’s candidacy (Vedomosti, October 23). On the other hand, Rutskoi, according to some accounts, recently began working with Boris Berezovsky, the erstwhile Kremlin insider who publicly broke with Putin earlier this year and has been trying to attract regional leaders into an opposition movement. A newspaper today referred to Rutskoi as Berezovsky’ biggest “provincial friend” (Moskovsky komsomolets, October 23). Berezovsky himself was quoted today as saying that Putin had taken a strong disliking to Rutskoi following the sinking of the submarine Kursk in August, because the Kursk governor had met with relatives of the sub’s drowned crew even before he, Putin, met with them (Russian agencies, October 23).