Saratov’s gubernatorial election typifies two trends seen in many Russian regions. One is the fact that, because governors are no longer to be appointed by the Kremlin, regional elites are becoming increasingly independent of the political center. The influence of the Moscow-based political parties is not strong in most regions. Instead, regional elites are increasingly dominated by local business and economic interests. Businessmen already figure prominently among deputies to local legislatures and this trend is likely to be consolidated during this fall’s elections of governors and mayors.
The second, competing trend is for leaders in some regions to forge stronger links with Moscow-based financial and business interests. This trend was exemplified in Saratov oblast when, on August 20, incumbent governor Dmitri Ayatskov signed a series of bilateral agreements on economic, scientific, and cultural cooperation with Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Under these agreements, Saratov will supply Moscow with vegetables, chemicals, buses and trolley-buses, while the Moscow government will provide the oblast with financial support. When Ayatskov visited Moscow two weeks ago, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin indicated his support by promising to help the region with gas supplies; it is of course no coincidence that Chernomyrdin is a major shareholder in Russia’s Gazprom.
Ayatskov has portrayed himself, and been portrayed in the local media, as a regional leader who is at home in the Moscow corridors of power and who will be able to use his influence there to get money for the region. Ayatskov’s supporters stress that Communist challenger Anatoly Gordeev would not enjoy that kind of access. But the Monitor’s correspondent in Saratov says many voters feel they have a difficult choice. They are reluctant to vote for a Communist candidate, though they recognize that Gordeev is energetic, honest, well-liked and respected locally. At the same time, many have been put off by Ayatskov’s self-aggrandizing campaign. They fear his use of the media in support of his campaign may presage authoritarian tendencies. And they are wary of the increased influence of Moscow banks and financial interests likely to result from Ayatskov’s alliance with Luzhkov. Even so, almost everyone is predicting an Ayatskov victory.
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