Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 47

On March 2, former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, one of the leaders of the Yabloko faction in the State Duma, announced that he would not, after all, run for governor of St. Petersburg. Stepashin, who had been seen as the likely favorite to defeat incumbent Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, explained his decision by saying that Russia’s second city should be headed by “someone who not only has political weight but who is also a good administrator and more of a compromise figure” (Russian agencies, March 2). Stepashin said that he considered Valentina Matvienko, deputy prime minister with responsibility for social issues, to be just such a figure, and claimed that his decision had not been influenced by his recent meeting with Acting President Putin (Kommersant, March 3).

Few Russian commentators bought Stepashin’s explanation: Most argued that there was no possibility that Putin had not been involved in the decision. Some speculated that Putin had promised Stepashin another high-ranking post (Vremya-MN, February 29).

Stepashin’s decision has put in a difficult spot a number of organizations on the political right who had announced their support for him, most notably, Yabloko. Stepashin claimed that he consulted various potential allies, including Yabloko leaders Vladimir Lukin and Vyacheslav Igrunov, before making his decision, but admitted that he had not discussed the matter with Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky.

The events surrounding Stepashin’s decision suggest that those members of Yabloko who opposed the alliance with Stepashin from the start–viewing it as alien to the party–were correct. The decision, however, now threatens the chances for the right in St. Petersburg to unite around a candidate guaranteed to defeat Yakovlev. If a worthy replacement for Stepashin is not found soon, the right risks being pushed to the periphery of the campaign, and the battle will be between Matvienko and Yakovlev.