Protests Come With the Territory

Journal Title: The Current Digest of the Russian Press

Issue Edition: Vol. 72, No. 29

Author: Andrei Vinokurov and Yelena Rozhkova

Protests Come With the Territory

By Andrei Vinokurov and Yelena Rozhkova. Kommersant, July 13, 2020, p. 1. Condensed text:

. . . Khabarovsk Territory Governor Sergei Furgal was arrested in Moscow on Friday [July 10; see Vol. 72, No. 27‑28, pp. 8‑10 – Trans.]. He was charged with murder and attempted murder of several businesspeople in 2004 and 2005. The arrest and charges sparked large-scale protests in the region. Last Saturday, a rally in Khabarovsk demanding Furgal’s release drew, by various estimates, between 10,000 and 35,000 people. It became the biggest [protest rally] in the city’s history. Rallies with similar demands took place across the region all weekend – in Khabarovsk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Amursk and other cities in Khabarovsk Territory.

Sergei Furgal became head of the region in 2018, after winning the election in the second round against United Russia’s Vyacheslav Shport, who had been head of Khabarovsk Territory since 2009. [Furgal] ran on the ticket of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR).

Two informed Kommersant sources close to the presidential administration said that after the first round, Sergei Furgal came under pressure from the federal center via Yury Trutnev, the president’s authorized representative to the Far Eastern Federal District.

Just before the second round, Sergei Furgal even recorded a video message in which he agreed to become Shport’s deputy in case the latter won. But then, the two sources’ accounts start to diverge somewhat: One Kommersant insider said that Yury Trutnev wanted Sergei Furgal to withdraw from the race, which he refused to do. The other Kommersant source states that it was actually the other way around: [Furgal] kept up his end of the deal with the Kremlin, but nevertheless still won the election. Yet another Kommersant source close to the presidential administration says that even after the election, the authorized representative’s office continued to insist that Sergei Furgal be removed from his post. At the very least, [the authorized representative’s office] did not object to the security establishment’s activities against the governor.

Meanwhile, Sergei Furgal grew increasingly popular in the region. In 2019, Khabarovsk held City Duma elections, regional parliamentary elections and an early election for a State Duma seat. United Russia did not win a single seat in the Khabarovsk City Duma, and garnered only two seats out of 36 in the regional parliament. Meanwhile, LDPR candidate Ivan Pilyayev won the open State Duma seat. Basically, Khabarovsk Territory became the LDPR’s political stronghold. . . .

According to a Kommersant source close to the presidential administration, Sergei Furgal’s arrest came as no surprise to the Kremlin’s domestic policy team. It was expected ever since Furgal’s business partner Nikolai Mistryukov was arrested in November 2019. However, Kommersant sources say the protests sparked by the governor’s arrest threw a wrench in the search for an interim governor. A high-ranking federal official maintains that a decision on Sergei Furgal’s dismissal will most likely be made before Thursday. Kommersant’s source in the presidential administration confirmed that the plan was to dismiss Furgal due to “loss of confidence,” as reported earlier by RBC, and replace him with a suitable candidate by the middle of next week. However, that process was complicated by difficulties finding suitable candidates. . . .

Independent political analyst Aleksandr Kynev believes Sergei Furgal’s arrest was a huge political mistake. In his opinion, the smartest thing for the federal center to do right now would be to put the brakes on the case. “This may not be the most comfortable decision, but it is the wisest one for the federal center. Otherwise, protests will continue. It won’t be possible to control the territory by force, since it’s clear that any interim governor will be rejected,” he says. Regional policy expert Vitaly Ivanov believes that the Kremlin will not agree to let one of Sergei Furgal’s deputies run the region. “It is necessary to make a decision. It seems that the best option would be to appoint someone who hails from Khabarovsk, with a good track record in the region, and who has not participated in any United Russia initiatives – someone acceptable to the LDPR. Such a person could calm the region pretty quickly,” he says. Konstantin Kostin, head of the Civil Society Development Foundation, disagrees. He does not think the Kremlin would find it acceptable to have one of the deputy governors take over the post while consultations and a search for an interim governor continue. In his opinion, there’s no need to rush to appoint an interim governor, either, since in the current situation it’s more important to make the right decision than a quick one. “What matters here is [finding] a figure that fits the situation in terms of scale,” he believes. At the same time, he believes that gubernatorial candidates don’t necessarily have to represent the LDPR; it’s possible to come to an agreement with the party by some other methods. Gleb Kuznetsov, head of the expert council of the Expert Institute for Social Research, believes this situation will proceed from the premise that the absence of leadership is worse than unpopular leadership. “The interim governor won’t have it easy, but that person can calm the situation through balanced policies and sensible steps. It could be a local, but an outsider may work as well. The main thing is to show that they know what it’s like to come from the [Russian] Far East and treat Khabarovsk residents respectfully,” Kuznetsov said in summary. Political analyst Aleksandr Pozhalov believes that Sergei Furgal’s remand by the court automatically spells dismissal due to a loss of confidence. In his opinion, the scale of the protests may at best delay the appointment of an interim governor by a few weeks, allowing [the federal center] to use that time to present society with convincing proof of [Furgal’s] guilt. “The authorities are clearly not going to be swayed by public opinion. The scale of the protests will only impact who the replacement will be,” he believes.

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