June 01, 1998

Life Beyond Moscow

In an interview with Russian Life for this issue, Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov said he advocated, “like President Yeltsin, a formula of ‘strong center – strong regions.’” Although this phrase sounds oxymoronic, it is in fact a political Trojan horse that offers insight into what is going on in Russia’s regions.

At press time, Alexander Lebed had just defeated incumbent Valery Zubov in the race for governor of Krasnoyarsk krai (see Note Book, page 4), ending weeks of vituperative vitriol. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said, before the final polling, that the situation in Krasnoyarsk reminded him of Weimar Germany when Hitler rose to power. A Lebed victory, Zyuganov railed, “would mean misfortune beyond your worst dreams.” Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev, also a communist, compared Lebed to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Despite these strident words, the Communist Party told its followers to vote against both candidates in the coming election. Zubov, meanwhile, received the support of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov (who, it was said, did not want to see Lebed win, because that would make the latter a more serious contender for the presidency in 2000). Finally, Lebed and others were accused of voter fraud and it is not unlikely that the results of the election will be annulled by the Kremlin.

That is just what happened in Nizhny Novgorod recently. When the election of a governor to succeed the liberal Boris Nemtsov (now deputy prime minister) in this important industrial region led to a surprise victory for Alexei Klimentiev, President Boris Yeltsin annulled the election results. Klimentiev, the president declared, had a criminal record and thus was barred from running in the election. It is interesting that this fact was not raised prior to the election itself.

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