Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 222

In the Far Eastern Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), one of the Russian Federation’s largest regions and its main diamond-mining center, the intrigue over the impending election of the president of the republic continues to intensify. On November 27, the regional prosecutor’s office searched rooms in the Tygyn Darkhan, the largest hotel in the republic capital, Yakutsk. Afterwards, the prosecutor’s office launched a criminal investigation into the alleged dissemination of leaflets containing nationalistic attacks against a number of candidates for the presidency (Russian agencies, November 26-29). Two journalists from Moscow and one from Smolensk were reported to have been detained (Polit.ru, November 29). Though they were subsequently freed, a female journalist from Moscow was later said to have been detained (Lenta.ru, November 29).

The detentions aroused anger in the Russian media, but the prosecutor’s office insisted that its actions were justified. Sergei Nemkov, Yakutia’s deputy prosecutor, explained that in cities of the republic with majority Russian-speaking populations, leaflets aimed at inciting interethnic strife had been distributed. During the search of the hotel, he said, prosecutors had found notes aimed at discrediting certain presidential candidates along with material that apparently served as the basis for the above-mentioned nationalistic leaflets (Polit.ru, November 27). An official of the prosecutor’s office claimed that computers belonging to those detained had been found to contain an action plan for discrediting various candidates, including Vasily Kolmogorov, Russia’s deputy prosecutor general. Yakutia’s incumbent president, Mikhail Nikolaev, was reportedly not among those targeted (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 28). Information subsequently surfaced that nationalistic leaflets had themselves been seized during the searches (Radio Ekho Moskvy, November 28).

None of this convinced the media, which accused Yakutia’s prosecutor of interfering in the election campaign. The incensed journalists argued that, even if nationalistic leaflets were discovered during searches, this proved nothing: Journalists may be in possession of electronic or hard copies of a variety of materials necessary for their work, but that does not mean they have written the materials or plan to distribute them (NTV, December 1). The journalists supported their protests with references to the fact that none of those detained had been charged with anything, indicating that the prosecutor had no basis to do so (Polit.ru, November 29). The journalists were joined in their indignation by former Russian Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev, who accused the prosecutor general’s office of interfering in Yakutia’s election in order to further Kolmogorov’s electoral chances. Kovalev claimed he had material confirming that Kolmogorov was guilty of abuse of office and said that the evidence had already been passed to the appropriate authorities (Radio Ekho Moskvy, November 29).

Most observers believe the actions described above are aimed at knocking “candidate No. 1”–incumbent President Nikolaev–out of the race (Vremya Novostei, Novye Izvestia, November 28). Other steps have been taken toward this end, but they have failed. They include attempts to use the courts to overturn Nikolaev’s registration as a candidate on the grounds that he is violating Yakutia’s constitution by running for a third term (see the Monitor, November 27). A court decision made on November 29 upheld an earlier decision to ask the Russian Constitutional Court to rule whether Yakutia’s constitution conforms to the Russian constitution (Polit.ru, November 29). The next meeting of the Constitutional Court is set for December 6, and will decide whether to take up the case (Radio Ekho Moskvy, November 29). Nikolaev’s supporters are hoping that the slow-moving Constitutional Court will not manage to rule before election day–December 23. If it does, Nikolaev’s enemies have another card up their sleeve–charges that anti-Russian sentiment is being whipped up in Yakutia. It is telling that the initial report concerning the searches in Yakutsk, which was later denied, claimed they were being carried out “in the election campaign headquarters of Yakutia’s president” (Russian agencies, November 26).