Cablegate: Samara Oblast: New Sheriff in Town

DE RUEHMO #4598/01 2611701
R 181701Z SEP 07




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Samara Oblast: New Sheriff in Town

Ref: 2006 Moscow 12812

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The shocking speed in which Yeltsin-era Governor
Konstantin Titov was replaced after 16 years in power has fostered
an atmosphere of nervous expectation among the political elite in
Samara. In a whirlwind of events this August, Titov announced his
resignation; Putin nominated Artyakov; the regional Duma approved
him; and the then president of Avtovaz Vladimir Artyakov was
inaugurated as the new governor. Despite his tenure as the head of
the region's largest employer and his election to the regional Duma,
Artyakov remains an enigma for many in Samara who share concerns
that his arrival could mark the end of Samara's comparatively
pluralistic political environment. Others, likely including
Artyakov's supporters in Moscow, have a different take, and see the
new governor as a "new broom" to sweep clean the corruption of local
"oligarchs" and re-assert order in the region. End summary.

--------------------------------------------- -
Titov Failed to Deliver for United Russia
--------------------------------------------- -

2. (SBU) During discussions in Samara on September 10 and 11, most
interlocutors viewed Titov "the man" with a certain respect, seeing
him as a leader who had been capable in managing the competing
interests of a number of political and economic groups within the
region. However, in recent years, his performance had declined and
he was seen by many as being too deeply ensnared in corruption and
his own business interests -- leading to what Sergey Kurt-Adzhiev,
the chief editor of the local edition of Novaya Gazeta,
characterized as a period of stagnation. People had grown frustrated
with the lack of progress and blamed the regional administration.
(One common complaint by all interlocutors, including taxi drivers
and the hotel staff, was the poor conditions of the roads in Samara
oblast. They blamed former Mayor Limanskiy particularly for failing
to maintain the Samara city infrastructure.) Sociologist Vladimir
Zvonovskiy linked the decline in Titov's effectiveness to Putin's
2005 decision to have governors appointed by Moscow rather elected;
with the implication that the change meant that Titov was no longer
responsible to the citizenry of the region.

3. (SBU) Titov's removal, according to pundits in Moscow and Samara,
resulted primarily because the Kremlin no longer had faith that
Titov could manage regional political conflict or handle relations
with the center. Titov appeared unable to help the fortunes of the
Kremlin-backed United Russia (UR) party; during elections to the
oblast Duma in March, UR candidates won just over 30 percent of the
vote -- far below the hopes and expectations of the party's Moscow
leadership. In public statements in August, just before he resigned,
the former governor said that he would not serve as the "locomotive"
to push support for UR, a position that suggested his reluctance to
use administrative resources to promote the party's candidates in
upcoming State Duma and Presidential elections. Further complicating
Titov's efforts, conflicts between regional elites had escalated as
powerful local business interests supported their own candidates in
the oblast Duma and mayoral elections. Those local "oligarchs" last
year provided financial backing to help Viktor Tarkhov win the
mayoral election in Samara on a Just Russia (SR) ticket, defeating
the incumbent UR candidate Georgiy Limanskiy. (See REFTEL) Given
the increasing stakes in the run-up to national elections, it seems
likely that the Kremlin brought in Artyakov to reassert some balance
in regional politics.

--------------------------------------------- ----
Titov: A Victim of Inter-regional Power Struggle?
--------------------------------------------- ----

4. (SBU) Many of our contacts in Samara related the quick
replacement of Titov with a perceived Kremlin strategy to break the
power of regional elites. The chief editor of the local branch of
the independent radio station Ekho Moskvy, Tatyana Prokopavichene,
saw the replacement of Titov as another step in a program to remove
the Yeltsin-era regional elite. (She excepted Mintimer Shaymiyev of
Tatarstan, however, noting that he has a special place among the
Muslim population "like President Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan.")

5. (SBU) Titov's decision to resign may also have been connected to
concerns that information about his business interests and corrupt
past relations were about to be revealed. Ludmila Kuzmina of the NGO
"Golos" related the arrest of Togliatti Mayor Utkhin in early May to
Titov's ultimate decision to offer his resignation. Utkhin had been
the chairman of the oblast Duma Committee on Budget, Finance, and
Economic and Financial Policy for the past three convocations and
Embassy interlocutors surmised that he knew enough about regional
financing and flows to Titov's business interests to compromise the
governor. They speculated that Utkhin might have been willing "to
make a deal" with investigators in order to bring down Titov.

The New Sheriff

MOSCOW 00004598 002 OF 002

6. (SBU) Embassy interlocutors were mixed in their assessments of
what the Artyakov administration would look like. Mikhail Sychev,
the head of the Just Russia (SR) party apparatus in Samara, said
that people had lost faith in Titov because he no longer was able to
fulfill his political promises. Sychev predicted the appointment of
Artyakov would usher in an age of increased discipline and improved
government for the region. He expected no broad scale change of
cadres, but suggested that those who had grown comfortable under
Titov would have to prove their efficiency to a new boss.

7. (SBU) The chairman of the Samara regional Yabloko party, Igor
Ermolenko, expressed his concern that Artyakov's role in Samara was
to "do what Putin had done" on the national level: clean out the
oligarchs and assert the prominence of the government-controlled
holding companies. Golos' Kuzmina said that she expected Artyakov
to remain in power for only a year, once he had stabilized the
region's "cadres," he would be moved to other tasks. Kuzmina
gleefully predicted that there would be greater political infighting
as regional businessmen defended their interests against the
"bureaucrats from Moscow" that were descending on the oblast.

8. (SBU) Ekho Moskvy's Prokopavichene took a different point of
view, suggesting that the regional elite would compromise with the
new Artyakov regime rather than face a long battle with a foe that
had vast political and economic resources behind it. She further
predicted that Samara Mayor Tarkhov would also trim his sails to
adjust to the new environment, bringing an end to Samara's period of
"pluralist" politics. Indeed, on September 17 Tarkhov announced at
the regional SR conference that he would not head the party's
election ticket for the State Duma elections, according to, because the party organization ignored his
recommendations for setting the candidate lists. (SR is running two
tickets in Samara, one centered in Togliatti, the other in Samara
city.) His decision provoked a scandal and could be a crippling blow
for SR election plans, since he was perhaps the most well known and
influential politician in the region.

9. (SBU) COMMENT: Samara is a wealthy oblast, with a host of
competing oligarchic business interests; politically akin to Ohio in
U.S. politics. One measure of whether the center has "tamed" the
province with the removal of Titov will be the success or failure of
Artyakov to deliver the votes for United Russia in the December Duma
elections. To do so, he will need to rein in members of the wily
party elite who have felt free to break ranks in the past, and who
have felt isolated enough from the "vertical of power" to get away
with it.

© Scoop Media

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