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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Governor Turns to Left to Beat Lebed

Embattled Krasnoyarsk region Governor Valery Zubov is wooing local Communist Party bosses in a bid to win over the Communist electorate in his runoff against retired paratrooper Alexander Lebed.

With just over a week to go before the second round of gubernatorial elections, Zubov is trailing Lebed badly. Communist challenger Pyotr Romanov was knocked out in the first round, and Lebed and Zubov are now battling it out to pick up his votes.

A charismatic nationalist general, Lebed has said he plans to use Krasnoyarsk, a vast industrial region deep in the heart of Siberia, as a launching pad for his run at the presidency in 2000.

Zubov on Wednesday unveiled an offer to form a coalition administration -- including Communists in key posts -- should he win May 17. "We should solve our problems without engaging in political battle," Zubov, an avowed supporter of market reforms, told his erstwhile political foes. Communist leaders in Moscow, who fear a Lebed presidential bid, have called on Communist voters in the region to get behind Zubov.

The local Communist Party, however, sensing that Lebed's win is almost a done deal -- the retired general eased to a first round win over Zubov 45 percent to 35 percent last month -- suspect that Zubov will renege after the poll.

A Krasnoyarsk party plenum last week decided to oppose both candidates in the runoff.

"We don't know who will win," Krasnoyarsk campaign worker Zinaida Kazakova said this week. "But it looks like Zubov is trying to lure us in, and who knows what will happen after elections."

Zubov's overture to the communists was also viewed with skepticism by the Lebed camp. "It's Zubov's right to appeal or to make promises" said Lebed spokesman Vladimir Yakushenko. "But the Communists will make up their own mind on what to do."

Zubov, who appeared to have been given up for dead by the Kremlin, received a boost Wednesday in the form of a presidential decree releasing federal money to pay off wage arrears owed to workers at Krasnoyarsk's machine factory -- one of the biggest enterprises in the region.

Wage arrears are a chronic problem in the region -- a fact that Lebed has been playing on to good effect.

Last weekend, Zubov made an impassioned plea to the Kremlin, demanding instant support for his campaign and threatening that a "civil war" might swallow Russia should Lebed prevail in Krasnoyarsk.

That, however, only earned Zubov a rebuke from the Kremlin. "Any playing with the fire of separatism is inadmissible," a presidential spokesman warned Zubov this week.

Lebed, meanwhile, found an unlikely fan Thursday. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said he was supporting Lebed because he was "one of us."

"He is eager to learn and, most important, is devoted to Russia, which makes him one of the most likely winners in the forthcoming presidential elections," Gorbachev was quoted as saying by Interfax "He looks like one of us."