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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Primorsky Governor Submits to Kremlin

Since his 1993 appointment as governor of the Primorsky Krai in Russia's Far East, Yevgeny Nazdratenko's outspoken criticism of Kremlin policy and swaggering public persona have made him a combative b?te noire of liberals both in the federal government and in the media.

In Moscow on Tuesday, however, the embattled Nazdratenko was singing a different tune.

Under the gun due to an energy crisis at home and weakened after the dismissal in July of his former protectors in the Kremlin, Nazdratenko said he was ready to obey any decision reached by the administration, even if that meant stepping down.

Should the president issue a decree removing him from his post, as has been widely rumored, Nazdratenko said he would obey it.

"I am a person who respects order in government, and I will obey whether or not I agree with [the decision]," he said.

"Although I was elected by the inhabitants of Primorsky Krai [in 1995], and have the right to appeal, I would be duty bound in this case to vacate my office."

Striking coal miners and energy workers have reportedly called for Nazdratenko's removal and for the president to impose direct control over the region, charging that the governor's malfeasance led to the present crisis.

Some 10,000 energy workers on Tuesday joined a region-wide strike called a day earlier to force authorities to pay some 1.3 trillion rubles in back wages.

Also Tuesday, 120 workers who have staged a two-week hunger strike in a Vladivostok power plant were hospitalized for what doctors called a sharp decline in their condition, Itar-Tass reported.

Another 65 hunger strikers have been placed on a reduced work schedule.

A judge on Russia's Constitutional Court, who requested anonymity, told Interfax on Monday that direct presidential rule in the region would violate the constitution.

If Nazdratenko were dismissed, the judge said, appointment of a presidential representative to govern until the next election would be "the only legal solution."

President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree last month ordering Nazdratenko to fire his deputy, Mikhail Savchenko, but spared the governor himself, at least temporarily.

He was given one month to "stabilize the situation in the region's fuel and energy complex."

But that term expired Sunday, and Nazdratenko is expected to report on his fulfillment of the decree to administration officials Wednesday.

According to Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the drama surrounding Nazdratenko has less to do with energy policy and the region's non-payments crisis than with the administration's attempt to exert its control over Russia's newly elected governors.

Under a 1995 law on the Federation Council, all regional heads who were formerly appointed directly by Yeltsin must stand for election by the end of this year.

"The Nazdratenko case is being used in working out a new mechanism for influencing governors from the center which will compensate for the loss of Moscow's influence occasioned by popular gubernatorial elections," Petrov said.

In the past, Nazdratenko earned a reputation for tough talk and independence in policy-making by publicly expressing his disagreement with federal policy, and harshly criticizing top officials, most notably the president's new chief of staff Anatoly Chubais, when the latter was still deputy prime minister.

"At the time it was believed that he was controlled by [then top Yeltsin aide Viktor] Ilyushin, and perhaps [Alexander] Korzhakov," Petrov said. "Now he obviously has no such political cover, and he is being shown that he should change his behavior accordingly."

Nazdratenko blamed the present crisis primarily on the many military installations in Primorsky Krai which, he said, had not paid their electricity bills in months.

Because these crucial facilities could not be left in the dark, the regional government has been forced to pick up the tab, but lacks the funds to do so.

The governor announced that his negotiations with Yeltsin administration officials had produced a resolution under which wage payments to the region's energy workers and coal miners would be made directly from the federal budget, avoiding the military altogether.

This resolution would "untie" the non-payments crisis within two to three weeks, he said.