Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 84

Dmitry Savelev–considered incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov’s main challenger in the Nizhegorod Oblast election–controls several of the oblast’s newspapers, television companies and radio stations. Other newspapers have recalled the scandals which dogged Savelev when he headed Transneft, the state oil pipeline company. According to one such report, Savelev spent more than US$400,000 year from the company coffers for “information services” or, as the paper put it, “self-promotion” (Tribuna, April 27). Savelev has reportedly been using his media for provocations against Sklyarov, including attempts to pit him against Kirienko. In March, an off-the-record conversation between Kirienko and journalists, during which the presidential envoy referred to Sklyarov’s alcohol-induced inadequacies, was made public. Sklyarov made it clear that he held Savelev responsible for this provocation (Polit.ru, March 19).

Many observers believe that big business is backing Savelev. Russia’s economic giants–Siberian Aluminum, Sibur and the Alfa Group–are increasingly penetrating Nizhegorod Oblast and probably influencing the election campaign to guarantee their investments in the region. It has been suggested that the regional governor’s post can be won only by a person with ties to big business, someone who has both worked in Moscow and managed to reach agreements with the presidential administration and the oligarchs. Savelev seems to fit this bill (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 17).

Recently, however, doubts have been raised about whether Savelev has the support of the oligarchs. Mikhail Veselkin, a deputy with the Nizhny Novgorod city Duma, began a drive to collect the signatures necessary to nominate Oleg Deripaska, general director of Russian Aluminum, as a candidate in the Nizhegorod Oblast governor’s race (Polit.ru, April 20). Veselkin said he did so on his own initiative, inspired by the examples of Chukotka and Taimyr (resource-rich Autonomous Districts which recently elected the oligarchs Roman Abramovich, co-owner with Deripaska of Russian Aluminum, and Aleksandr Khloponin, one of the heads of Norilsk Nickel, respectively, as governor). It is hard to imagine that Deripaska’s name could be canvassed in such a way without his consent.

For a while there was speculation that Savelev would have the backing of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 17), but this turned out not to be the case. Boris Nemtsov, head of the SPS faction in the State Duma and Sklyarov’s predecessor as Nizhegorod Oblast governor, denied that the SPS had decided to back Savelev and said it would be better for the group to maintain neutrality on the gubernatorial race (Polit.ru, April 25). As time passes, indeed, the stronger is the impression that Savelev is a skilful hoaxer who has created the illusion that he is backed by influential forces whereas in reality he depends only on the support of his own team.

The last strong candidate is Andre Klimentev. In March 1998 he won the Nizhny Novgorod mayor’s race, after which the federal Central Election Commission nullified the election’s results and Klimentev was sentenced to six years in prison for fraud. He was released in October 2000 (Lenta.ru, April 17). Klimentev is supported by the region’s vocal protest vote, but Ivan Sklyarov seems unperturbed. “Times have changed,” he said recently. “It will be difficult to become governor just by criticizing the oblast authorities” (Polit.ru, March 19).

Thus it is too early to say that the scenario for the Nizhegorod gubernatorial contest has been determined. It can, however, be said that, as long as Oleg Deripaska’s participation in the election has not been confirmed, the incumbent governor has little to worry about.