May 01, 2007

Looking for Connections

No less than six mayors of major Russia cities – Vladivostok, Togliatti, Volgograd, Tomsk, Arkhangelsk and Stavropol – are sitting in jail awaiting trial. Charges vary – “abuse of power,” “illegal allotment of land plots,” “theft of municipal property” – but most all are the fallout of turf and purse-string battles between governors and mayors. Governors (appointed) seek to dictate to mayors (elected) and want access to the huge government outlays which are bestowed on large cities. 

If impatient governors can’t get what they want through straightforward arm-twisting (particularly difficult when dealing with a politico from another party), they will resort to what has become a common Plan B: sick prosecutors on the mayor. In a system with confusing and convoluted laws, something can always be pinned on everyone.

The spate of criminal prosecutions and the lumbering national anti-corruption bandwagon – this pre-election-year’s theme – have led some to see this as an orchestrated campaign to do away with the direct election of mayors. If so, it could be the final link in the Kremlin’s ever-lengthening Vertical of Power. 

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