Primorsky Krai will elect a new governor on May 27. The pre-term election became necessary in early February, when President Vladimir Putin managed to convince the region’s then governor, Yevgeny Nazdratenko, to step down and assume the chairmanship of the State Fisheries Committee. Fourteen candidates have joined the race to succeed him.
The atmosphere in Primorsky Krai has become increasingly tense with the return to power of Konstantin Tolstoshein, who had been a vice governor under Nazdratenko. Following Nazdratenko’s resignation in February, Tolstoshein, who had been tapped to serve as acting governor, also resigned. He later charged, however, that he had been forced to do so by another vice governor, Valentin Dubinin, who had assumed the acting governor’s post. On May 4, a court upheld Tolstoshein’s complaint and ruled that he could take that role (Radio Ekho Moskvy, May 4-6; Moscow Times, May 8).
A majority of observers see Tolstoshein as another manifestation of the chaos reigning in the Primorsky governor’s race, where the situation has spun out of the control of the Nazdratenko camp, the Russian president’s team and Konstantin Pulikovsky, the president’s emissary to the Far Eastern federal district. The main problem appears to be the actions of Pulikovsky, who has increasingly been playing his own game and ignoring the Kremlin’s advice. Indeed, various media believe that Pulikovsky was behind Tolstoshein’s restoration (Izvestia, May 5). Initially, Pulikovsky managed to force Tolstoshein to step down and to get another of Nazdratenko’s deputies, Valentin Dubinin, named acting governor. As it turned out, however, Dubinin had no intention of assisting Pulikovsky’s deputy, Gennady Apanasenko, in winning the gubernatorial election, and this forced Pulikovsky to switch back his support to Tolstoshein–a move observers say is aimed at boosting Apanasenko’s chances and weakening Dubinin’s hold over the region’s “administrative resources” prior to the vote.
Apanasenko is facing an uphill battle in any case: He is less popular than both Dubinin and another candidate–Viktor Cherepkov, the former Vladivostok mayor who led the opposition to Nazdratenko and is now a State Duma deputy (Polit.ru, May 7). Dubinin, meanwhile, hinted that Pulikovsky was behind Tolstoshein’s reinstatement, saying that someone had used Tolstoshein as an “instrument” in an attempted “palace coup” (Kommersant, May 7). Pulikovsky, however, has denied such insinuations, insisting that he was unhappy about the reinstatement of Tolstoshein–who, he added derisively, should be put in charge of the region’s collective farms (Lenta.ru, May 6).
Whatever the case, immediately after Tolstoshein was reinstated, Vladislav Surkov, a deputy head of the Kremlin administration, arrived in the region along with top officials from the Federal Security Service (FSB), Interior Ministry and Prosecutor General’s Office. Observers saw the arrival of the Kremlin team as a sign that the situation was not developing to the Kremlin’s liking and that it could no longer rely on Pulikovsky (Izvestia, May 5; Kommersant, May 7). Other observers, however, said that the Kremlin team’s arrival did nothing to change the situation in its favor (NNS.ru, May 7). Meanwhile, the Primorsky Krai regional Duma, in an appeal to President Vladimir Putin, accused Pulikovsky of marshalling all of his “administrative resources” to secure Apanasenko’s victory at the polls (NTV, May 11). The deputies complained that there had been “unprecedented pressure” during the election campaign and called on Putin to act as an arbiter (Polit.ru, May 11). Some local observers called the krai Duma’s demarche a “deputies’ insurrection” (Zolotoi Rog [Vladivostok], May 11).
Pulikovsky’s team fired back quickly. The Primorsky regional chapter of the Honor and Motherland movement directed its own appeal to Putin, accusing the Duma of deliberately creating a confrontation with Pulikovsky and of being a long-time tool of Nazdratenko (Polit.ru, May 11). Meanwhile, the council of municipal leaders in Primorsky Krai announced that it was backing Apanasenko for governor (Polit.ru, May 11). According to some observers, the council was put under strong pressure to do so (NNS.ru, May 11).
The situation surrounding the Primorsky Krai election has become so tangled that it is hard to predict what will happen next. And while Aleksandr Veshnyakov, the head of the Central Election Commission, flew to the region to on fact-finding mission, his intercession is unlikely to change the situation, which will become clear only after the May 27 vote (Russian agencies, May 11).
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