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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Primorye Super-Governor

Judging from his brief television appearances, General Konstantin Pulikovsky, the Kremlin's new representative to the 10 Far Eastern regions, is a bulldog of a man in a shiny suit who is either (a) very slow, or (b) playing his cards close to the vest.

Last month on the program "Zerkalo," Pulikovsky was asked what he would do about the most notorious of the 10 governors he oversees, Yevgeny Nazdratenko. Pulikovsky ruminated, his face like that of an honest giant in an illustrated fairy tale, and said hoarsely, "We intend to work together for the benefit of the Motherland."

"He's as dumb as a piece of wood," sighed a Russian friend who was watching. Maybe, but now that the seven super-governors are on the job, there are conflicting signals about how Pulikovsky will rule an unruly region. Vladivostok was abuzz with rumors last month when President Vladimir Putin appointed his junta of military and Federal Security Service officers because the Far Eastern headquarters was situated in Khabarovsk, rather than in the Russian Pacific's largest city. Khabarovsk may be more central, but many read the decision as an attempt to keep Nazdratenko's paws off the new power center.

Pulikovsky has already gotten a taste of just how hard it can be to throw one's weight around in a land of entrenched interests. When his advance team proposed a local military building for his new office, the army posted soldiers to keep Pulikovsky out. Pulikovsky's scouts found another site at a military institute, and the army posted more guards there.

Little is known about Pulikovsky's background. He comes from Ussuriisk, about 100 kilometers north of Vladivostok, and retains some loyalty to the Primorye region: He was spotted at a soccer match cheering Vladivostok's team. He helped lead Russia to its glorious victory in Chechnya, yet he is no stranger to grief. His son died in battle there.

Beyond that, a deeper understanding of Pulikovsky may be long in coming, because he disdains the press, even servile provincial reporters who let government officials edit stories. He refuses interviews, works in secret and wouldn't allow journalists to shoot their traditional footage of the start of his meetings with local authorities. He has appointed a press secretary who won't talk to the press. (What would such a press secretary do with his time? Read the papers and compile an enemies list?) As the nation ditches its Constitution for a Pinochet model of governance, the spooks and generals are reasserting their hostility toward glasnost.

Pulikovsky did hold one short press conference, but those hoping he would knock the governors' heads together left disappointed. He stated that to his surprise the governors are supportive of him (I have no doubt they all love you, Konstantin Borisovich, but don't turn your back on them, and do not underestimate their power in Moscow). And he insisted he came not to shake things up, but to solve problems. He made moot the best rationale for installing unelected super-governors f that they will crack down on rampant corruption.

In the absence of hard news, the media are studying the tea leaves. Pulikovsky met with officials from Dalenergo, Primorye's power supplier and a victim of Nazdratenko scapegoating, but the blackouts haven't stopped in Vladivostok. Last week, around the time of Pulikovsky's first meeting with the governors, the press reported that Pulikovsky might appoint FSB General Viktor Kondratov, a former presidential representative who was dismissed at Nazdratenko's insistence, as his personal representative to Primorye.

If true, this would indicate that Pulikovsky is ready for a knife fight. It was Kondratov who wrote a 1997 report detailing the Nazdratenko administration's alleged theft of federal transfers and ties to smugglers, mobsters and killers. But the smart money is on Nazdratenko. In power struggles, Moscow always backs the guy with the deepest pockets.

The talk about Kondratov also raises a structural question: Do all seven super-governors intend to have appointees in each of the territories they oversee? If so, then Russia will, in effect, continue to have presidential representatives in each of its 89 regions, oblasts and republics.

This was the system in the past that allowed governors to bully the president's man on the ground. In retaining it, the super-governors would become another layer of bureaucracy in a government swollen with apparatchiks, buried in mountains of forms that must be filled out slowly, torn with a ruler, and sent to three different departments for review.

Stay tuned for further updates on the rebirth of the regions in the post-Yeltsin era.