Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 198

Aleksandr Rutskoi is no ordinary Russian governor. An air force general, hero of the Afghan War and President Boris Yeltsin’s first and last vice president, in October 1993 Rutskoi and then Russian Supreme Soviet speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov led an armed rebellion by opponents of Yeltsin’s decree dissolving the parliament. Rutskoi was jailed for his part in the rebellion and later amnestied. In 1996, Rutskoi defeated incumbent Kursk Governor Vasily Shuteev, marking the end of a quiet period for the region, which resembled the other oblasts of Russia’s southern “Red Belt.” Rutskoi appeared in Kursk as an outsider who planned to impose his own order, and paid little heed to how the region’s influential figures viewed him. The former general, following the pattern of other governors, tried to set up a power pyramid in Kursk–with himself at the top–and a monopoly over both the oblast’s economy and main channels of information. In doing so, Rutskoi encountered strong resistance. The region political-economic elites did not want to subordinate themselves to the newcomer, who did not control the resources necessary to incline them toward cooperation. Rutskoi’s position as governor, of course, gave him a significant advantage, but not enough to ensure a final victory. He was unable to take control of either the Kursk Oblast Duma or the organs of local self-government. In fact, his attempt to replace the latter with local units of state power subordinated to him led to one of his most scandalous failures. In fact, all of his projects seemed to boomerang against him. Even the man he chose to head the oblast government turned against him. Rutskoi’s situation was complicated by the fact that his 1996 victory in Kursk had irritated the administration of then President Boris Yeltsin, which had not forgotten his role in the October 1993 events. The administration launched an information war against Rutskoi, turning him into of the most odious figures in Russian politics, even though his behavior differed little from that of other regional heads.

Following Vladimir Putin’s accession to the Kremlin, the national media regularly identified Rutskoi as one of the governors the new Kremlin administration wanted to replace, and Kursk became one of the regions in which a veteran of Russia’s power structures challenged the incumbent. Viktor Surzhikov, a Federal Security Service general who was named chief federal inspector in Kursk earlier this year, became one of the eight candidates in the governor’s race (Segodnya, October 18; Russian agencies, October 20).

That the Kremlin wanted to remove Rutskoi became clear from series of political attacks on him in the walk-up to the elections. Chief among the accusations was that Rutskoi was using his official post to carry out his campaign. At the same time, it was clear that he did not even control the oblast’s election commission. The chairman of that commission, Yelena Yarovaya, said on October 18 that it had won two court cases, one against the newspaper Kurskaya Pravda, the other against the oblast’s Information and Press Committee. The press committee was accused of placing pro-Rutskoi material in Kurskaya Pravda, which it had helped found. Both the committee and the paper were fined. The heads of the “Kursk” state television and radio company were also warned about engaging in election agitation on Rutskoi’s behalf (Russian agencies, October 19).

Rutskoi and his team, it should be noted, provided ammunition for the accusations against them. In the campaign’s final days, for example, Rutskoi was awarded a doctoral degree in economics by the academic council Russian Academy of State Service under the Russian Federation president. On October 19, a monument of the poet Aleksandr Pushkin was unveiled in Kursk; Rutskoi was named as one of its creators. The oblast administration later explained Rutskoi’s name on the list by the fact that he had for several years pushed a new concept for developing Kursk’s city center (Russian agencies, October 20).

The “stab in back” which the regional opposition dealt Rutskoi was supplemented by the federal Center’s frontal attack. In the final week of the campaign the Constitutional Court took up a case the State Duma had initiated which involved Rutskoi’s plans to set up alternative local self-government organs. Valery Lazarev, the Duma’s representative on the Constitutional Court, said that Rutskoi’s initiative would effectively abolish local self-government institutions (Russian agencies, October 12).

Viktor Surzhikov, the Kremlin-backed gubernatorial candidate, dealt the final blow to Rutskoi when he filed a suit in the oblast court demanding that Rutskoi be disqualified for having used his official position for campaigning and for lying about his property on his candidate’s registration form. Court cases of this kind are not rare in regional elections, but this one stood out from the others: The court decided in the plaintiff’s favor.

It appears that Kursk’s local elite successfully played the Kremlin against Rutskoi, thereby securing a victory for Mikhailov, its favored candidate. It is possible, but unlikely, that the Russian Supreme Court will find in favor of Rutskoi’s appeal, which would mean that the elections would have to be held again.