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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Disgraced Yeltsin Aide Seeks Power In Krasnodar

KRASNODAR, Southern Russia -- Uncle Sasha, a street vendor, stared at the Leonid Brezhnev re-election poster and nodded appreciatively.


"We should always respect the dead," said Sasha, 67. "Still, I wouldn't vote for this guy."


In fact, the long-deceased Soviet leader is just a prop used by Mikhail Kurkov to stand out against the other nine candidates who will appear on this Sunday's Krasnodar gubernatorial election ballot.


Kurkov places a poster with his own face next to Brezhnev's, but more often than not it gets ripped down.


Another candidate, Alexander Travinkov, poses alone but with an anti-tank missile perched on his shoulder, pointing westward. "Voters need representation, but they also need protection," the Krasnodar city council member's poster proclaims.


"Everyone wants to be the leader," said Uncle Sasha. "But I'm voting for Yegorov. Today we have lots of produce. Yegorov says he will keep things that way."


Nikolai Yegorov, the former governor, Yegorov has only two potential rivals: a Communist with ultranationalist leanings named Nikolai Kondratenko, and Valery Krokhmal, who has no party but was recently officially supported by ex-security chief Alexander Lebed.


Regional elections are thick on the ground this fall, with half of Russia's 89 regions going to the polls before year's end to choose their governors. On Sunday, in addition to Krasnodar, the voters of Kaluga, Stavropol and Chita will elect heads of the regional government.


At stake is the relationship between the regions and the center, with the Kremlin openly agitating for its candidates to hold sway against Communist challengers. The governors also hold seats in the Federation Council, parliament's upper house, which has up to now been largely a rubber-stamp body supporting the president.


But in region after region, Communists have taken the governor's chair away from presidential appointees, sending a message to Moscow that discontent is growing in the provinces.


The black-earth region known as Kuban is strategically important for Moscow because of its potentially rich farmland. Oil and precious metals are exported from Novorossiisk, Russia's only warm-water port, and an enormous oil refinery stands outside the city.


But while State Duma Deputy Lev Rokhlin, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, came here Thursday to assure voters the president is supporting Yegorov, the local press published reports that, in fact, Chernomyrdin intended to support the Communist Kondratenko.


Despite his old ties with the Kremlin hierarchy, Yegorov is definitely on the outs these days.


In an interview published by a Moscow daily earlier this week, the former chief of staff said President Boris Yeltsin was removed from reality and called for early presidential elections. He also attacked Chubais, saying the man who replaced him in the Kremlin as chief of staff did not really know Russia but was treating the country "like it was some sort of putty" out of which he could fashion whatever he wanted.


Kondratenko told the Krasnodar independent newspaper, Volnaya Kuban, that he had met twice with Chernomyrdin and heads of the president's administration; Kondratenko claimed to have earned Moscow's full support in both sessions.


"His campaign was fledgling, but he returned from Moscow loaded with cash," said the paper's political editor Anatoly Ushakov. "He flooded the airwaves with ads, and our paper started to run flattering articles about him."


Spokesmen at Kondratenko's campaign headquarters could neither confirm nor deny the story.


Although Krasnodar voted for Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov in both rounds of Russia's presidential election, and the region is referred to as part of Russia's so-called "Red Belt," Ushakov said that Yegorov had taken a number of popular steps that quickly made him popular with the public.


"He promised to lower the price of gas. He has set up a fund to pay cheated investors. He says he'll pay the pensioners next," Ushakov said.


These issues play well in Krasnodar, said local deputy administrator Vladimir Sinyagovsky.


Over half of the region's 1.7 million citizens are farmers who are greatly affected by fluctuations in the price of gas, Sinyagovsky said. The warm climate also attracts a large number of pensioners, many of whom have lost the life savings they invested in numerous pyramid schemes set up in Krasnodar.


Kondratenko plays on these issues as well, although his message often carries a decidedly nationalistic edge. "We Slavs are on the verge of stepping into a muddy pit, and I'm the only candidate who is brave enough to warn you of this," Kondratenko said in a recently televised interview.


Yegorov has also been known to play the race card, an issue deeply felt among Russians here due to the proximity of Chechnya and the region's large Caucasian population.


On the radio Friday, Yegorov called Chechens "bandits that I will never allow to go inside Krasnodar."


Krokhmal, a third candidate whom local polls indicate could still become governor, has particularly strong backing among the farmers. He owns a large and relatively wealthy granary, and while he was supported by Lebed two weeks ago, the endorsement appears to have had little effect on the non-party candidate.


Of the 10 candidates, only one is know here as a "radical democrat." Vasily Dyakonov, who is in fourth place but well behind the leader, appears in his campaign poster together with a photograph of U.S. President Bill Clinton.


The region's governor for a brief span in the early '90s, Dyakonov claims both he and the American president have black belts in the martial art Tai Kwan Do. Dyakonov says he will invite Clinton to Krasnodar for an exhibition fight.


But if this is a half-hearted attempt to stir interest in politics among the younger generation, one could find little evidence that the effort has hit its mark.


Andrei Kopylov, 19, tending a recently opened Planet Reebok store on the city's main avenue, seemed quite resigned to let the older folks fill out ballots Sunday.


"Here we have lots of pensioners and farmers, while I sell high-tech sneakers," Kopylov said. "You tell me who I should vote for."