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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Generals Land Governor Posts

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Two generals — one a commander in the Chechen war and the other a local FSB chief — unseated incumbent governors in the Ulyanovsk and Voronezh regions in the latest round of gubernatorial elections.

Also among the seven governors elected Dec. 24 was Roman Abramovich, a young Kremlin-connected oil and aluminum tycoon, who won a de facto uncontested election in the easternmost Chukotka autonomous district with more than 90 percent of the vote.

His only real opponent, incumbent Governor Alexander Nazarov, had withdrawn from the race one week before the election. Abramovich, the principal shareholder of Sibneft oil company, had spent millions of dollars on charity programs in the remote region.

In Ulyanovsk and Voronezh, both regions in the so-called "red belt," communist-leaning incumbent governors Yury Goryachev and Ivan Shabanov were beaten by generals: Vladimir Shamanov, who commanded the eastern group of federal forces in Chechnya last year, won in Ulyanovsk with 56 percent of the vote; and the head of the regional Federal Security Service department, Vladimir Kulakov, took the post of Voronezh governor with 60 percent.

"I would not draw a clear conclusion that law enforcement officials are making a premeditated powerful drive for political posts," said Andrei Ryabov, political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center. "First and foremost, Goryachev and Shabanov lost because local elites gave up on them, and any significant personality had a strong chance to win."

Ryabov, speaking Wednesday by telephone, said that while Kulakov is likely only to "carry out orders from Moscow," Shamanov may eventually become a national politician.

"Despite his image as a stubborn soldier, he has shown himself quite flexible during the campaign, finding a common language with liberals, communists and nationalists," Ryabov said.

According to Ryabov, Shamanov got some backing from Anatoly Chubais, the head of the electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems, and from the Communists, who shifted their allegiance from Goryachev to Shamanov at the last minute after Gennady Zyuganov's visit to the city. "Serious political forces in Moscow are showing interest in Shamanov," Ryabov said.

While commanding troops in Chechnya, Shamanov won a reputation for cruelty and his determined refusal to distinguish between rebels and civilians.

Both he and Goryachev attempted to present themselves as Kremlin-supported candidates. But a senior presidential administration official said in early December that the Kremlin had no consolidated opinion on the electoral situation in Ulyanovsk and various Moscow officials supported different candidates in the city.

In four regions, strong incumbent governors kept their posts. Communist Nikolai Maksyuta will remain governor of the Volgograd region. He won a close race, getting 36.51 percent of the vote, which is significantly less than the 51 percent he got in 1996.

In the Ural Mountains region of Chelyabinsk, respected Governor Pyotr Sumin left his challengers, two State Duma deputies, far behind. In Khakassia in southern Siberia, incumbent Alexei Lebed won about 72 percent of the vote, maintaining about the same level of support as he got four years ago.

As for Abramovich's victory in Chukotka, the question was less why he won, than why in the first place he wanted to lead a region bordering Alaska and located nine time zones east of Moscow.

Ryabov said Abramovich may want Chukotka as a safety net in case the political influence of former President Boris Yeltsin's inner circle , nicknamed "the Family," decreases further. Abramovich already held a seat in the State Duma.

He may also want to use the region as a testing ground for some new business projects, Ryabov said.