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REPUBLICATION – Stealth Authoritarianism: Setting the Stage for the Federal Election Cycle in St. Petersburg

The article below was originally published in autumn 2003 by the Moscow Carnegie Center. All of my articles written for Carnegie have been removed from their website and the Internet, so I republish them here. Original: Gordon M. Hahn, “Stealth Authoritarianism: Setting the Stage for the Federal Election Cycle in St. Petersburg,” 2003 Duma Elections – St. Petersburg (Moscow: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Moscow Center, 5 November 2003), http://www.carnegie.ru/en/pubs/media/68588.html.

Stealth Authoritarianism: Setting the Stage for the Federal Election Cycle in St. Petersburg

Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., Fulbright Scholar,

Faculty of International Relations, St. Petersburg State University,


Some say Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks the historical stature of Peter the Great. He certainly has increasingly more in common with the authoritarian modernizer of medieval Muscovite Russia. No where (perhaps excluding Chechnya) has this been more apparent than in Putin’s effort to establish a loyal administration in his native St. Petersburg. From the day Putin took office as acting president in the Kremlin in Januaray 2000 he sought to remove his long-time nemesis, Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, from power in the northern capitol.

In achieving his goal this summer and fall, President Putin has moved far toward a very different more strategic, global change in Russian politics: a subtly imposed regime transition from a regime that was slightly more democratic than it was authoritarian to one that is slightly more authoritarian than it is democratic. In his first two years Putin shifted the regime from the weak, illiberal, unconsolidated, electoral democracy created under BorisYeltsin to an increasingly manipulated and undemocratic ‘managed democracy’.

With the approach of the 2003-04 federal election cycle and a series of important regional elections set for 2004-05, the Putin administration has clearly crossed the line from ‘managed democracy’ (if there can really be something that is so manipulated and managed and still be a democracy) to a very soft, stealth authoritarian form of rule. The methods and nature of stealth authoritarianism were ‘perfected’ in the drive to push Yakovlev out of Smolny and ‘elect’ a pro-Putin parliament and governor in St. Petersburg. They include the broad use of the state-based and state-affiliated bureaucratic, financial, and property resources – the co-called administrative resources. The state’s monitoring, investigative, and police powers are applied selectively against the administration’s opponents in order to pressure, threaten, co-opt and only as a last resort remove from power or arrest opponents.

Probing and Maneuvering

Initially, the inexperienced Putin administration committed a number of blunders in attempting to replace Yakovlev with a Kremlin loyalist. This may in part have been the result of a certain haste on Putin’s part rooted in the crossed paths of the two politicians. There had been bad blood between the two ever since Yakovlev betrayed Putin’s boss, St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak in 1996. Both Putin and Yakovlev were deputy mayors under Sobchak. Putin was Sobchak’s favorite deputy and was chosen to run the mayor’s 1996 re-election campaign. Yakovlev, on the other hand, decided to break with Sobchak and run against him. Yakovlev defeated Sobchak, forcing both him, Putin, and many other Sobchak administration officials to find new work. Unfortunately, most of them foundwork in Moscow, and Putin rose upthe ranksto become premier in September 1999 and acting president on 1 January 2000.

As Putin’s presidential campaign rode to victory on the back of the Kremlin’s enormous administrative resources, the next Petersburg gubernatorial election approached. There were rumors that Sobchak would seek revenge and run against his former deputy. A media campaign of kompromat was launched by Smolny and prosecutors filed charges against Sobchak for abuse of office in acquiring apartments for members of his family; a rather common practice among Russian officials. It seemed there was a political subtext to the prosecutor’s investigation; one perhaps written in part at Smolny, which orchestrated a media campaign against the former mayor. Sobchak was forced to flee the country and shortly afterwards suffered a heart attack. Putin, already acting president, attended Sobchak’s funeral, praising him as his political mentor and blaming his death directly on Yakovlev’s media campaign.

Yakovlev, who worked under Sobchak side-by-side with Putin from 1992-96, may very well have had access to some compromising materials on the Russian president, who was involved in several of early Russian capitalism’s major St. Petersburg scandals. Thus, Putin may have felt a need to ensure that Yakovlev never reached the stature of a competitor at the federal level, from where the latter might be tempted to deploy any kompromat he might possess in his own or an ally’s bid to undermine Putin. Moreover, Yakovlev’s membership in the leadership of the anti-Kremlin movement ‘Otechestvo-Vsa Rossiya’, eventually defeated in the 1999 Duma election and co-opted by the Kremlin afterwards, could have only put Putin further on his guard against Yakovlev at a time when he had been chosen by the Kremlin’s leading factions and Yeltsin himself as the crowned successor to the ailing president. Thus, the Kremlin co-opted then ambassador Valentina Matvienko, a former Petersburg Komsomol leader, to run against Yakovlev. Unfortunately, her ratings in opinion polls wallowed in single digits and the teens, while Yakovlev’s hovered near 50 percent. The Kremlin quickly withdrew her candidacy, appointed her deputy premier in charge of social policy, and waited for a better day. that came in 2003.

That day came in 2001 by which time the Kremlin apparently decided to prepare for a second run at Smolny. At this time, a panoply of administrative resources began to be deployed against Smolny. The investigative and police powers of prosecutors and the MVD were supplemented by oversight bodies like the accounting chamber and even the courts. In mid- to late 2001 and early 2002 the MVD and prosecutors investigated and filed charges of bribe-taking and the misappropriation of city and federal budget funds, among others, against four of Yakovlev’s top deputy governors, including his right-hand man and rumored chosen successor, Valerii Malyshev.

Throughout 2002, as Petersburg’s parliamentary elections approached, federal officials, such as MVD chief Boris Gryzlov and Accounting Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepahin visited the city frequently to hold press conferences highlighting the Yakovlev administration’s failures in combatting crime and corruption. Gryzlov went so far as to allude in one such press conference to the Yakovlev administration’s alleged ties to the Tambov organized crime group. Stepashin repeatedly emphasized the misuse of federal funds for various city projects, including construction and renovations for the city’s May 2003 300th anniversary.

The Kremlin’s message was simple. If Yakovlev would not go ‘peacefully’, he could be brought up on charges himself and removed from office. A key elelment in the first stage of Putin’s federative reforms (2000-02) was to remove governors from the composition of the federal upper chamber, the Federation Council, depriving them of the immunity from criminal prosecution enjoyed by federal legislators. Furthermore, the 2000 law on ‘federal intervention’ allows the president to remove governors from office upon a report by the General Prosecutor that a governor has committed a serious crime. It was within this context and atmosphere that the December 2002 elections to the 50-member St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly were held.

The Legislative Assembly Elections

The assembly elections were pivotal in the Kremlin-Smolny power struggle, since an assembly dominated by pro-Yakovlev deputies could amend the constitution allowing Yakovlev, then in his second gubernatorial term, to run for a third. With still rather high opinion poll ratings, showing him winning some 50 percent of the vote in a field of numerous candidates, the Kremlin would have ben hard-pressed to takeon Yakovlev directly at the polls. The Russian Constitutional Court had ruled in summer 2003 that third terms were possible for governors in regions where the constitutional charter did not contain an explicit term limit. On 2 October the Petersburg City Charter Court ruled in an emergency late night session that the city charter’s two-term limit was subject to no interpretation that could allow Yakovlev a third term. Thus, it became a matter of political survival for Yakovlev to pack the city assembly with allies and then have them amend the charter to allow for a third term.

The Kremlin’s allies in the city and in the Northwest federal district (FO), respectively, provided all the political and ‘administrative’ support necessary to hand pro-Yakovlev forces the first of two essentially pre-determined electoral defeats. The FO contributed political, financial, and informational resources in the Kremlin’s battle to shape the outcome of the assembly elections. Northwest FO presidential envoy Viktor Cherkesov established a system of ‘Dialog’ centers around the city in the run-up to the election to bring potential voters and campaign workers into what were essentially covert campaign headquarters for anti-Yakovlev candidates. The Dialog centers were supposedly set up to channel citizen complaints and appeals to city authorities, but in reality they gave FO-appointed clerks an opportunity to lobby voters against Yakovlev and in favor of anti-Yakovlev candidates. In addition, through state-allied intermediaries, such as PromStroiBank and Evrofinans, the FO set about taking control of several important city media outlets, including the daily newspaper Nevskoe vremya. This was in addition to the major news agency RosBalt and the city’s premier weekly newspaper, Peterburgskii chas pik, both run by FO polpred Cherkesov’s wife, Natalya Chaplina.

These resources were supplemented by the formation in the city of a four-party anti-Yakovlev election coalition (including the pro-Kremlin centrist Yedinaya Rossiya and Volya Petersburga parties and the democratic SPS and Yabloko parties), which supported a list of candidates covering 33 of the 50 election districts. Moreover, two weeks before the vote, the FO released a list of candidates it backed. The so-called ‘Cherkesov list’ of 25 candidates included 12 on the 33-candidate, four-party coalition’s list, broadening the cohort of pro-Kremlin, anti-Yakovlev candidates. After the votes were counted and early assembly horse-trading was completed, the anti-Yakovlev parties’ deputies and now pro-Kremlin ‘independent’ candidates constituted approximately a two-thirds majority in the new assembly, the assembly speaker’s chair, and both deputy speaker’s chairs; a resounding defeat of the pro-Yakovlev forces. This eliminated any chance that Yakovlev could convince two-thirds of the deputies to vote for amending the constitution. When the question of amendment was proposed to the assembly, it was rejected by a 40-vote super-majority, putting an end to Yakovlev’s hopes of remaining in Smolny.

With a majority in the Legislative Assembly, pro-Kremlin forces engineered a vote to move up the gubernatorial election date from 2004 to December 2003 and then to 21 September 2003. The victory of the Kremlin’s candidate would thus allow it to consolidate its stealth authoritarian control over the city by the beginning of the State Duma elections. Then the city’s administrative resources could be marshaled to help pro-Kremlin parties win as many of the city’s 4 percent share of the national electorate (the second largest regional electorate in the country) as possible.

Removing Yakovlev

The only questions left were when and on what terms Yakovlev would leave Smolny and who would replace him. Intense Kremlin-Smolny ‘bargaining’ included several trips by Yakovlev to Moscow. According to Yakovlev himself in a 22 October 2003 Komsomolskaya pravda interview, he had discussions in the Kremlin as early as some time around October 2002 about his appointment to Moscow. Bargaining was accompanied by the usual Russian game of ‘cadre chess’, media takeovers, and the Kremlin’s continued use of various administrative levers; all used to corner and pressure Yakovlev into leaving Smolny on Kremlin terms.

Throughout the first half of 2003, Moscow moved new pro-Putin cadres into key posts in St. Petersburg and the Northwest FO to surround Yakovlev with unfriendly forces. First and foremost, Russian Deputy Premier Valentina Matvienko was appointed Northwest FO presidential envoy, replacing Cherkesov, who went to Moscow to head the new State Committee on Drug Trafficking. It was understood before the appointment, which had been rumored for some time, that Matvienko’s takinf charge of the FO would signal the Kremlin’s intention to nominate her once more as its candidate for Petersburg governor.

Under Matvienko, the FO set about replacing a series of St. Petersburg officials, whose appointment comes under the legal purview of federal authorities. In March, Nikolai Vinnichenko replaced pro-Yakovlev city prosecutor Ivan Sydoruk. Reportedly, Matvienko’s office was involved in replacing St. Petersburg Election Committee Chairman Aleksandr Garusov in May. According to Garusov in a 10 June Fontanka.ru interview, one of Matvienko’s deputies, Yevgenii Makarov, asked him to resign acknowledging that the FO’s ‘request’ was made because he was regarded as “pro-governor stuff.” On 5 June, criminal charges were filed against Garusov for allegedly exceeding the limits of his authority. On 26 June, Aleksandr Gnetov, a former employee of the Northwest Customs District, was appointed the city election commission’s head. Also in June, the head of the FSB’s Petersburg office was removed. In May, Putin strengthened his hold over the Nothwest FO by appointing a protégé of pro-Putin ER chairman and MVD chief Gryzlov, MVD Administrative Affairs head Andrei Novikov, to head the ministry’s office in the FO.

More local media were saddled as well. The Kremlin seized control of Radio and Television Company (RTK) ‘Peterburg’ television, jointly owned by the Peterburg government and Leningrad Oblast. Igor Ignatiev, formerly a deputy head of the St. Petersburg branch of state-owned RTR television, was put in charge of the station. At the same time, the station closed three political and analytical programs, forcing their hosts to leave the channel in protest. The takeover was facilitated by the purchase of a 23.3 percent block of RTK ‘Petersburg’ shares by the bank Evrofinans, founded by Russia’s Central Bank. As emphasized by ‘Peterburg’ director Ignat’ev, because of its state origins and an unspecified oligarch-owner the bank has “state influence.” Evrofinans would later contribute funds to Matvienko’s gubernatorial campaign.

At the same time, a series of new investigations engineered from Moscow were deployed against the Yakovlev administration. In early April, Petersburg Monitoring and Accounting Chamber head Dmitrii Burenin announced that R1.6 billion of the city’s 2002 budget funds had been spent illegally and R800 million were misspent. On 16 April, Russian MVD chief Boris Gryzlov kept up the pressure in a meeting met with Northwest FO chief Matvienko, which highlighted MVD investigations into the misuse of funds as a result of which 17 criminal cases had been begun in the city involving the theft of R176 million. At about the same time, federal Accounting Chamber and Petersburg Accounting Chamber audits of the Petersburg administration’s expenditures of federal funds for the city’s 300th anniversary celebrations found alleged misuse of funds. Matvienko and Federal Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin, a Petersburg native and once considered a potential candidate for Petersburg governor himself, jointly warned that after the celebrations the expenditures and work done would be inspected, and “the most serious and objective conclusions” would be made regarding federal ministries “and regarding the city administration.” A month later and just days before the governor’s 16 June resignation, Stepashin publicly demanded an explanation from Yakovlev regarding the misuse of funds.

The pressure campaign was accompanied toward the end by a continuous flow of rumors and press reports as to exactly why, when, and where Yakovlev would go. For example, on 20 May, the new pro-Kremlin Legislative Assembly chairman criticized Yakovlev’s performance as governor, recommended his resignation, and stated that it was possible that the governor, “as an intelligent politician,” would resign immediately following the Petersburg 300th anniversary festivities then in full swing, as he subsequently did (“Sankt-Peterburg: Gubernatoru prochat otstavku,” Regions.ru, 20 May 2003, 16:55, http://www.regions.ru/article/news/id/1110626/html).

As pressure mounted, there seemed to have been some thought in Smolny of mounting a resistance. On 23 April, Vice Governor and Yakovlev loyalist Anna Markova decried the Legislative Assembly’s decision that moved the date of the gubernatorial election up to December as “a violation of the law” and “a manifestation of disrespect toward the populace and the governor” (“Sankt-Peterburg: A. Markova: ‘Nalitso narushenie zakona, sushchestvuet Ustav goroda,” NEWSpb.ru, 23 April 2003, 14:36, http://www.newspb.ru/allnews/109818/html). On 5 June, Markova announced she would run for governor, warning that “all the principles of democracy – in which Petersburg was always proud – will be negated by the upcoming elections” (Andrei Milkin, “Kriticheskii den’ Anny Markovoi,” Nevskoe vremya, 6 June 2003, p. 1). She added that “the campaign of one candidate has been going on already for two months” and that “strong pressure is being exerted on people” (“Nastoyashchaya polkovnitsa,” Leningradskaya Pravda, 5 June 2003, http://www.lenpravda.ru). On 16 June, it was finally announced that Yakovlev was being ‘promoted’ to the post of Russian Deputy Premier in charge of the housing sector. Housing reform has actually been handed over to another Yakovlev nemesis and St. Petersburger, chairman of the state electricity monopoly ‘United Energy Systems’ (YeES) Anatolii Chubais, suggesting the purely formal and temporary nature of Yakovlev’s new appointent.

The Gubernatorial ‘Election’

Putin’s new authoritarianism would win a similar fait accompli in the gubernatorial elections, underscoring just how antithetical it is to democracy. With the 21 September gubernatorial election barely two months away upon Yakovlev’s resignation, pro-Putin authorities at the federal, federal district and city levels set about consolidating power in the city, so that pro-Matvienko forces would have full control of all administrative resources during the campaign.

The Kremlin did not opt for the much rumored, more blatant approach of appointing Matvienko acting governor and thus establishing her direct control over city administrative resources. Instead, in line with stealth authoritarianism’s more subtle methods, the Kremlin backed Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputy and ER member, Yurii Beglov, for acting governor. He was soon appointed head of Edinaya Rossiya’s Petersburg organization. At the same time, the city Administrative Committee headed by Matvienko’s chief rival, Anna Markova, was abolished by the City Charter Court on the basis of an appeal from pro-Putin assembly deputies. This deprived Markova of even the limited administrative resources available through this office.

The Kremlin then set about shaping the field of candidates such that no serious rivals put forward their candidacies and several less serious candidates did simply in order to undermine that of Markova. Except for Yabloko, not other political party put forward a gubernatorial candidate. There were reports in July that Petersburg SPS leaders Grigorii Tomchin and Andrei Likhachev (St. Petersburg EES chief) were considering a run for governor. Russian Duma Vice Chairman and one of SPS’s top leaders, Irina Khakamada was regarded as a potential candidate with some prospects. Yet they all decided not to run. Khakamada seemed to squelch any plans for an SPS alternative when she announced her support for Matvienko early on. The important administrative resource of kompromat and control of the administrative organs may have been deployed to convince SPS not put forward a candidate. If it did, that candidate would have been able to shave at least several percentage points off Kremlin candidate Matvienko’s vote. Thus, presidential economic advisor Andrei Illarionov, speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio on 14 July, suddenly raised the long-forgotten 2001 ‘Czech debt deal’ from the dead, accusing electricity monopoly YeES, headed by SPS leader Anatolii Chubais, of “stealing” $750 million dollars from the state. On the eve of the first round vote, in a 16 September Nevskoe vremya interview, Chubais praised Matvienko and announced his support for her in the election.

The emergence of the “Yabloko Without Yavlinskii’ movement in Petersburg suggests similarly the Kremlin’s hand; its effort to drive a wedge between SPS and Yabloko so any candidate put forward by one or the other would be unable to consolidate the democratic electorate. At the same time, growing tensions between the SPS and Yabloko increased tensions within Yabloko between those for an against an alliance with the SPS. Divisions within Yabloko emerged during the campaign when its gubernatorial candidate, Mikhail Amosov, head of the Yabloko faction in the Legislative Assembly, came under pressure from some Yabloko members to pull out of the race ostensibly because of his single-digit poll ratings, compared with Matvienko’s 40-50 percent ratings.

The candidacies of First Pasta Factory Director Viktor Yefimov and former Russian State Property Commission Chairman Sergei Belyaev may have been designed by Kremli forces to undermine Markova’s campaign. Yefimov filed suit in the Petersburg City Court demanding Markova’s de-registration because of violations by the GorIspolKom in ignoring that  the number of her nomination signatures found to be invalid exceeded the limit beyond which the candidate should have been allowed to be registered. After the court rejected his suit, the city prosecutor’s office appealed the decision. Belyaev was well-known in the city, but his anti-Matvienko stance was more likely to cut into Markova’s electorate than Matvienko’s. With no serious democratic candidate and no communist candidate in the race, it came down an uneven contest between the Kremlin’s Matvienko and seized Smolny’s embattled Markova.

Matvienko enjoyed a near monopoly over all administrative, financial, and informational resources during the campaign. As noted earlier, the city’s Election Commission (or GorIspolKom), prosecutor, the MVD, the FSB, and the Press Ministry had already been placed under Moscow’s control. All these bodies were then placed under the supervision of the new city prosecutor Vinnichenko in an operational group for ‘monitoring’ the election campaign. The Russian Press Ministry’s Northwest Federal District office (still headed by candidate Matvienko, though on leave) reportedly placed a representative in the Petersburg prosecutor’s office to monitor all press materials published about the campaign. The prosecutor was to convene the group weekly and report witin 24 hours any campaign violations. The prosecutor accepted complaints of the GorIspolKom regarding violations during the collection of nomination signatures for various candidates and threatened those who committed the violations (not the candidates necessarily) with Article 142 of the criminal Code (falsification of documents).

The authorities paid special attention to violations of election law allegedly committed by Matvienko’s opponents, but ignored the Matvienko campaign’s early start before the period when official campaigning is allowed. Already, Matvienko posters appeared throughout the city. The first major campaign scandal came when authorities singled out Markova’s signatures for special scrutiny not only by the election commission but by the MVD. Meanwhile, the MVD arrested the entire print run of an issue of the Markova campaign’s newspaper for the alleged unauthorized use of a photograph.

All television channels in Petersburg covered Matvienko’s every move and ignored Markova. City newspapers, especially Petersburgskii chas pik and Nevskoe vremya printed Matvienko campaign ads with an astounding frequency. These ads were often accompanied side-by-side with pro-Matvienko propaganda pieces disguised as news articles and innocent interviews; a practice rampant in Nevskoe vremya. Chief editor of Nevskoe vremya, Alla Manilova, would become Matvienko’s first gubernatorial appointment, becoming the head of the city adminsitration’s Press Committee. PromStroiBank, headed by Putin ally Vladimir Kogan, financed both the paper and Matvienko’s campaign. The MVD arrested four days before the election an alleged member of a Chechen organized crime group in the city, who was charged with ties to the rebels in Chechnya. It was immediately leaked and broadly publicized by media that the arestee’s mobile telephone belonged to a Markova campaign staffer in charge of liaison with the Belyaev campaign. Belyaev’s campaign was also the victim of ‘black PR’ from the Matvienko campaign. Days before the first round vote, officials of Moscow’s Sheremetevo airport released a press communiqué charging Belyaev with corruption during his tenure as director of the airport and urging voters not to vote for him.

The Kremlin went beyond these more covert forms of administrative resources and openly violated Russian law by putting forward the highest state officials to voice their support for Matvienko. These included MVD chief and co-chair of the pro-Kremlin ER party Boris Gryzlov, Kremlin-alied State Duma Deputy Yevgenii Primakov, and Russian Deputy Premier for housing policy and former Petersburg governor Yakovlev. The coup de grace in this parade of officials backing Matvienko came in a meeting with Putin in the Kremlin on 2 September broadcast on Russia’s two top evening news programs on channels ‘One’ and ‘Rossiya’. In a meeting staged as an official one coming under the candidate’s official duties as Northwest FO presidential envoy (from which, however, she had temporarily stepped down for the campaign’s duration), Putin told Matvienko: “I sincerely wish you victory in the election.” He also announced another form of support for the incoming governor: R5 billion and $100 million in foreign credits for construction projects in Petersburg.

These public declarations of support by such state officials were a clear violation of the 27 September 2002 Russian Law (no. 119-FZ) ‘On the Basic Guarantees of the Electoral Rights and the Right to Participation in a Referendum of the Citizens of the Russian Federation’ amended on 24 December 2002. That amended law’s Article 48.8 reads that “persons occupying state office of category ‘A’ or elected municipal office are prohibited from conducting election campaign activity on channels of television and radio broadcasters or in mass print media, with the exception of cases when the official is registered as a candidate for deputy or (other) elected office.”

The president’s demarche caused a flood of protest from candidates. Candidates Markova and Legislative Assembly deputy Konstantin Sukhenko filed suit asking the St. Petersburg Municipal Court to nullify Matvienko’s registration as a candidate. On 11 September, however, Petersburg GorIspolKom official Dmitrii Krasnyanskii said the meeting and statement by Putin did not violate the law. On the next day, the court ruled that this did not amount to a violation of law becuase Putin’s meeting with Matvienko was a “working meeting” between the president and a person who had information he needed to prepare the federal budget. Markova said she and Sukhenko will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. The position of the city court and election commission held little, if any any water, since both Putin and Matvienko could not have been unaware they were being filmed for broadcast. It may be no coincidence that on the eve of the GorIspolKom’s announcement and court decision, Russian Presidential Adminisration head Aleksandr Voloshin met with GorIpolKom. Within days of the decision that the president’s demarche was not a violation, posters appeared around the city showing Matvienko with Putin. This ad was also challenged as a violation of election law, bit it too was ruled to be within the law. It is indicative that the same tactic was used in Chechnya to support the Kremlin’s candidate there, acting Chechen administration head Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov in a campaign also marked by the use of ‘administrative resources’ to tilt the playing field in the favor of the Kremlin’s candidate.

The Kremlin persisted in using administrative resources and other advantages to associate Matvienko with the president. On 16 September Matvienko met publicly with a physical embodiment of the Kremlin’s willingness to openly flaunt election laws: MVD chief Boris Gryzlov. He like, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, is one of three co-chairs of the pro-Kremlin ER party. The simultaneous possession of state and party posts is an overt violation of Russian law. At the meeting, Gryzlov offered thinly-veiled support for Matvienko’s candidacy, claiming that it would be a mistake for anyone to suspect Matvienko of a lack of nerve and that he knew from working with her in the Russian government that this was certainly not the case. Thus, the MVD, which is supposed to enforce election and other laws, was openly violating them by taking sides in the campaign.

For all the administrative resources applied in Matvienko’s support, she failed to win in the first round, garnering only 49% of the vote. Her arch-nemesis in the campaign, Markova, took 16%. Belyaev finished a surprising third with 8%. Yabloko’s Amosov finished a disappointing fourth with 7%, and Sukhenko finished fifth with 5%. The city’s election commission chairman, hand-picked by the Kremlin, immediately put the imprimatur of legitimacy on the election the day after the vote, announcing there were no important violations of the law in the voting. The Kremlin’s hand-picked acting governor Aleksandr Beglov chimed in, declaring the the elections were fair, without use of administrative resources, and “even very democratic.” The first round produced a shamefully low turnout of 29%, the lowest turnout for a gubernatorial election campaign in Russia’s post-Soviet history, and an equally disturbing high ‘against all’ vote of 11 percent, one of the highest such votes in a post-Soviet Russian gubernatorial election. Whether Markova’s remaining allies at the city district level worked to reduce turnout, as the Matvienko campaign charged after the first round, or whether voters were turned off by ‘black’ campaign PR and the pre-determined likely result is almost irrelevant. Each are the product of administrative resources and underscore the undemocratic nature of the so far soft, albeit, authoritarian order.

The outcome of the gubernatorial election’s second round was never in doubt, but several aspects of the campaign’s finale are notable. First of all, none of the failed candidates threw their votes behind Markova. Yabloko, whose candidate Mikhail Amosov finished a disappointing fourth in the first round, backed Matvienko (after some hesitation), despite Yabloko’s oppositionist stance vis-à-vis the Kremlin. It is worth noting that as the Kremlin’s plans for Yakovlev’s ‘promotion’ to Moscow and the gubernatorial elections were put in motion in the first half of 2003, oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskii’s oil company Yukos was coming under increasing pressure from the administrative organs. Indeed, its offices and those of affiliated companies like Menatep bank (including Menatep-St. Petersburg) were intermittently subjected to searches by police, and prosecutors arrested the head of Yukos’s economic security department Aleksei Pichugin and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Menatep Platon Lebedev on murder charges. Khodorkovskii had been known to be funding the SPS and Yabloko parties, which put up no and a rather weak resistance to Matvienko’s candidacy. It appears that the timing of Khodorkovskii’s arrest was dictated by the Kremlin’s desire to avoid prompting a realignment of Yabloko and SPS forces in the city perhaps in an alliance with the Yakovlev camp against Matvienko in support of a joint opposition candidate.

Konstantin Sukhenko declared his neutrality. He was the only other candidate in the first round besides the two finalists as well as Belyaev and Amosov to take more than 1 percent of the vote, placing fifth with 5.1 percent of the vote. Belyaev all but disappeared from the scene, except for his appeal published in the English-language St. Petersburg Times condemning the new authoritarian order. On 26 September, 36 of the 49 deputies in the Petersburg Legislative Assembly approved a declaration to voters asking them to vote for Matvienko. With the elite more uited than ever behind Matvienko, the second round produced results consistent with the first: an easy victory for Matvienko (63% to Markova’s 23), low turnout (28%), and a high ‘against all’ vote (11%).

Post-Election Afterword

The low turnout and high ‘against all’ vote gives Matvienko little or no mandate to rule. Over the long-term, as the state comes to be dominated officials without mandates, the regime’s legitimacy will erode. In response to the absence of legitimacy, the regime is likely to tighten its rip in a dangerous cycle, increasing the authoritarian nature of its rule.

Indeed, since Matvienko’s inauguration as governor, she has moved cautiously to consolidate the hold of Moscow and stealth authoritarian rule in Petersburg. A new city law and amendments to the City Charter on the government’s structure strengthens both the governor’s power at the expense of the Legislative Assembly and Moscow’s control over Smolny. The old statutes stipulated 13 vice governors, each heading a city committee. Gubernatorial nominees for these positions had to be approved by the Legislative Council. The new statutes require a minimum of 7 vice governors, each heading a bloc of several city committees. Each committee is headed by a charman,who cannot simultaneously be a vice governor. This means that the legislature has lost the power to nominate those who are the direct heads of the committees. In addition, the government consists of the governor, the vice governors, as well as the heads of federal ministries’ and departments’ agencies in the city. This means that the heads of the MVD (GUVD), FSB, prosecutor’s office, and other federal agencies in the city may participate directly in governing the city, since the government (as opposed to the old one which was purely an advisory body under the governor) is a full-fledged executive branch body. The only limit on the number of federal agency chiefs that can be part of the Petersburg government is the limit of 15 government members, including ex officio the governor and all 7 vice governors.

Matvienko’s first gubernatorial appointments suggest the growing power of the Putin-tied PromStroiBank. As noted earlier, Alla Manilova, chief editor of Nevskoe vremya, financed by PromStroiBank, was appointed head of the Press Committee. In addition, deputy chairman of the board of PromStroiBank, Vladimir Blank, was appointed to head the city’s Committee of Economic and Industrial Policy.


Thus, with the onset of the federal election cycle, the Kremlin has succeded in subordinating the northern capitol to the new stealth authoritarian order. This means that the city’s administrative resources under the close watch of the Kremlin and the Northwest FO will be amply applied in the elections to the State Duma in December and of the president in March. It remains to be seen whether in the federal elections, with more at stake, the Kremlin will step out of character, abandon its stealth methods, and act more aggressively in applying administrative measures in order to achieve its campaign goals. It also remains to be seen if the more powerful leaders of federal parties, such as the SPS’s Chubais, Yabloko’s Yavlinskii, and the KPRF’s Genaddii Zyuganov will succumb to the power of the Kremlin peaceably should the Kremlin step out of character and act more aggressively.


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