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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yakutia and Alrosa To Get New Rulers

The Sakha republic will soon have two new rulers. The name of the one expected to be elected president Sunday is already known; the name of the other is not yet known, except perhaps to President Vladimir Putin.

Vyacheslav Shtyrov, the head of the Alrosa diamond giant, is considered a shoo-in to win Sunday's election after both Putin and the long-time president of Sakha, Mikhail Nikolayev, gave him their blessing.

If elected, Shtyrov would have to leave his post in Alrosa, which extracts 98 percent of Russia's diamonds. And the Kremlin now appears in position to put its man in his place.

Nikolayev, who had been battling in courts for the right to seek a third term, bowed out of the race last week after meeting with Putin. His withdrawal was seen as a sign of defeat in his battle with the Kremlin over control of Alrosa. But perhaps as part of a compromise, Putin gave his backing to Nikolayev's close ally, Shtyrov, as his successor.

"This is a very possible scenario," Alexei Titkov, an expert on regional politics at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said Thursday. "After Nikolayev met President Vladimir Putin earlier in December, the Kremlin immediately pulled its candidate, Vasily Kolmogorov, out of the race, and this was evidence of some unspoken accords being reached at the meeting."

Kolmogorov, a deputy prosecutor general, formally withdrew his candidacy Wednesday and asked his supporters to vote for Shtyrov.

Sergei Shoigu, pro-Kremlin leader of Unity and Fatherland, said Tuesday that the united party would support Shtyrov, Interfax reported.

"Shtyrov belongs to the clan of Sakha President Mikhail Nikolayev, which has effectively ruled the republic for 10 years," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, the president of the Panorama think tank. "Nikolayev will be protected from any criminal proceedings if Shtyrov wins."

There are six other candidates on the ballot: the head of the republic's legislature, Vasily Filippov; the Sakha vice president, Spartak Borisov; the chief federal inspector for Sakha, Ruslan Shipkov; and three local businessmen, Fedot Tumusov, Mikhail Sannikov and Afanasy Maximov.

"The six other candidates have no chance," said an official in Nikolayev's administration, speaking Thursday by telephone and on condition of anonymity.

According to the official, Shtyrov was elected in tandem with Nikolayev as Sakha's vice president in 1991. He served as the republic's prime minister from 1993 to 1995, when with Nikolayev's help he landed the job as head of the diamond monopoly.

The media has speculated on the Kremlin's choice to take over Alrosa, and the most likely candidate, according to Pribylovsky, is Pavel Borodin, the secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union.

Borodin was mayor of Yakutsk, Sakha's capital, until then-President Boris Yeltsin brought him to Moscow in 1993 to head the Kremlin property department. Borodin is under investigation in Switzerland on allegations he received some $25 million in kickbacks on construction contracts while in that post.

"Borodin will suit two of the most powerful groups in presidential circles -- Putin's chekists and [Vladimir] Voloshin's entourage coming from the oligarchic so-called Family," said Pribylovsky, referring to the former intelligence officers close to the president and the remnants of Yeltsin's inner circle, led by the head of the presidential administration.

Other names that have been floated are Sergei Veremeyenko, a business partner of the obscure banker Sergei Pugachev said to have Putin's trust, and Vladimir Litvinenko, the head of the Gorny Institute in St. Petersburg, who was Putin's aide in the 2000 presidential elections.

Alrosa spokesman Oleg Shaposhnikov said rumors about who would replace Shtyrov were running through the company, but refused to give names.

Shtyrov's worst enemy may be voter apathy and the weather. For the election to be valid, more than half of eligible voters must come to the polls -- a true act of civic heroism in temperatures of minus 50 degrees Celsius.