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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Kiriyenko Vote Enthralls At Least One in Far East




Sergei Lukyanov and Vladimir Chernov sat on the steps in the sun outside an auto repair shop, digging rusty studs from winter tires.


Business is slow, and with nothing better to do, they recycle bald winter tires into punctured summer treads, which they sell to drivers who can't afford anything better. When I asked about recent events in Moscow, they were unimpressed. "Just who is this Kiriyenko guy?" said Lukianov, 40.


Admittedly, I'm an American and a newsman, two conditions that make one especially susceptible to announcements of crises in the public realm. But when the Duma debated last Friday whether to approve Sergei Kiriyenko as prime minister, I couldn't get enough of it. The session happened in the evening here, and I listened to it in two rooms: the kitchen, where the wire radio relayed it as I made dinner, and the bedroom, where the television echoed its broadcast everything a half-second later. I devoured olives while watching Vladimir Zhirinovsky jokingly propose his own candidacy. I chopped onions and wept while Kiriyenko, who sat with the resolute, sickly look of an Orthodox saint, refused to withdraw his candidacy.


The trouble is, I have since gotten the feeling that I am one of 12 people in Vladivostok who actually cared about the vote. In part, I blame my misreading of the situation on a Vladivostok communist deputy who made the Kiriyenko vote sound much more exciting than your routine constitutional crisis. Svetlana Goryacheva had objected: "We don't need little boys in pink pants in the government." But even Goryacheva caved in and voted for Kiriyenko.


I did find a street vendor who was excited about Kiriyenko's approval -- Maria Kostenko, a pensioner who sells peanuts and sunflower seeds and jars of Brazilian coffee that looks suspiciously like she scraped it off of somebody's shoes.


"Kiriyenko is young, and he has a very good future," Kostenko said. "Maybe he will shake up those old farts. We are old, and we don't have brains any more, but I like how he speaks, and I think he's very clever."


The morning after the debate, as I waited for the elevator, the steel door across the hall crashed open and a neighbor with a face of remarkable character shuffled out: He is a blotchy, purple-nosed veteran with one milky eye.


He addressed his remarks to my belt buckle. "Did you hear they approved Kiriyenko?" he asked.


"Is that so?"


He shrugged. He has lived through the Revolution, Stalin, war. He wasn't going to let on that the Kiriyenko affair really interested him. We rode the elevator in silence, smiling to ourselves.


Russell Working is editor of the Vladivostok News.