Yaroslavl Drops Putin Challenge

APYaroslavl deputies on Tuesday voting to reverse last week's motion to challenge Putin's right to appoint governors.
YAROSLAVL -- The Yaroslavl regional legislature, which last week announced it would go to the Constitutional Court to challenge President Vladimir Putin's right to appoint regional leaders, voted on Tuesday to recall its decision.

Oleg Vinogradov, the deputy who initiated the court motion, said the reversal came under strong Kremlin pressure.

"The Kremlin didn't like the fact that a region dared to challenge it," Vinogradov said. "If it didn't make an example of us, this democratic plague could spread across the country."

Vinogradov, the chairman of the legislative committee of the regional legislature, said the Kremlin had exerted pressure through the United Russia party, the platform of which can be boiled down to loyalty to Putin.

"There was a direct command from United Russia to take back the resolution," said Vinogradov, who belongs to the small oppositional Republican party. "They put pressure on deputies, invited them in one by one, and told them how to vote."

Pavel Smirnov, a local deputy with the United Russia faction, said the party's central committee in Moscow had advised the faction to introduce a motion to withdraw the legal challenge.

"As the governor told lawmakers today, this measure could have negatively influenced the federal center's attitude toward us," he said.

Yaroslavl Governor Anatoly Lisitsyn urged deputies moments before the vote that they "should not go against a law that has been working all over Russia and that has been backed by the people and the regions."

Lisitsyn has clashed with the Kremlin over regional rights in the past, but he supported the Putin-backed law that replaced gubernatorial elections with presidential appointments as of the start of this year.

"I know the corridors of power in Moscow, and I understand that a confrontation between the region and the federal center would negatively influence the development of Yaroslavl and the achievement of various important growth plans," Lisitsyn said Tuesday, Interfax reported.

The legislature then voted 27-3 with one abstention to recall the legal challenge.

In a political climate of virtually unchallenged dominance by Putin, the Yaroslavl legislature's defiant gesture on Sept. 27 unleashed ripples that quickly reached the mighty Kremlin walls.

A day after the vote, the chamber's speaker was summoned to Moscow, and by the weekend a senior Kremlin official was reiterating a months-old plan that the Kremlin would offer political parties that win the most votes in regional legislative elections a say in selecting governors. Putin sent a bill to that effect to the State Duma on Monday.

The liberal Union of Right Forces party and an individual in Siberia have filed lawsuits in the Constitutional Court over the abolishment of direct gubernatorial elections. The cases are still pending.

Since the law was rushed through the Duma last year, some 30 regional leaders have been reappointed or selected at Putin's behest.

Putin insisted that the measure, introduced after a series of bloody terrorist attacks last summer, was necessary to strengthen federal authority and help stem terrorism. But critics counter that it has eroded democracy and made local leaders unaccountable to the electorate.

His new bill to give parties a greater say in naming governors was likewise criticized for giving even more dominance to United Russia and thus as being democratic window-dressing.