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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fisheries Choice Raising A Stink

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Politicians cried foul Monday over the appointment of former Primorye Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko as the government's head of the fishing industry, with some accusing the Kremlin of drawing up a deal to prevent Nazdratenko from seeking re-election.

Nazdratenko, who governed his far eastern region for seven years, abruptly resigned earlier this month after talking by telephone with President Vladimir Putin. It remains unclear what was discussed during the call, which came amid a Primorye heating and energy crisis.

Then Saturday, the government without explaination named Nazdratenko the head of the State Fisheries Committee, filling a spot vacated amid a corruption probe in January.

"If the government thinks that Yevgeny Nazdratenko will rejuvenate the fishing industry, it is in my mind mistaken," Konstantin Pulikovsky, the presidential envoy to the Far East, told Interfax in Seoul on Monday, where he joined Putin on a visit to South Korea.

Union of Right Forces faction leader Boris Nemtsov said handing Nazdratenko the post was a "cynical deal" and "a gigantic step back" that "discredits both the president and the government," in remarks Sunday night to NTV and Ekho Moskvy radio.

"I think this is the beginning of a large-scale government crisis," he said.

He added that Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin had just last week told Union of Right Forces lawmakers that the government would never allow Nazdratenko to secure a government job.

The "cynical deal" that Nemstov — and other politicians in the Yabloko and People's Deputy factions, among others — alluded to regards speculation that Nazdratenko was awarded the post in return for a pledge not to seek the Primorye governorship in elections scheduled for May.

Interestingly, the same day Nazdratenko was named fisheries tsar, Putin sent a bill to parliament banning governors and mayors who resigned from immediately running for re-election. The draft applies to all resignations, voluntary or pressured.

The bill, if passed into law, would not only keep Nazdratenko off the campaign trail but also put a stop to a practice that critics have complained is at times used to incumbent leaders' advantage.

Nazdratenko has long been a thorn in the side of the Kremlin. President Boris Yeltsin for years toyed with the idea of ousting the governor. Nazdratenko found himself himself embroiled in numerous scandals, including garbage strikes and allegations of shareholders rights violations as well as the more recent power and heating shortages.

As such, some Primorye residents have a very dim view of their former governor and his appointment to the fisheries committee.

"This man just can't improve anything. He has compromised himself in anything he has done here," Alexander Kirilichev, head of the Primorye Shipping Co., said Monday in a telephone interview from the port of Nakhodka near Vladivostok.

"He is not only untrustworthy, but he should be kept away from any managerial position in the government."

Kirilichev, who plans to run for the Primoye governor's seat, knows the economic situation in the region well: the Far East Shipping Co. lost millions of dollars in revenues after foreigners on its board accused Nazdratenko of trying to strong-arm them out of their shares, the Vladivostok Zolotoi Rog newspaper reported. Another shipping fleet, region-controlled Vostoktransflot, has been brought to its knees during Nazdratenko's governorship and is now selling off the last of its assets.

Overall sentiment in the Far East over Nazdratenko was unclear Monday. No major surveys have been taken of the region recently. One poll of 324 people in the town of Arsenyevo last week found that 49.4 percent were glad that Nazdratenko was gone, according to the local Biznes-Ars newspaper.

However, observers said Monday that the ex-governor was a master manipulator who could have easily scored a win for re-election.

"Nazdratenko is a talented populist, a gifted demagogue," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, analyst with the Panorama think tank. "And there in Primorye, in this marginalized region, there are a lot of former prisoners who appreciate such a performance."

Andrei Ryabov, political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center added: "Nazdratenko has created such a powerful administrative resource in the region that he would have been elected if he wanted."

But Ryabov rejected assertions that Nazdratenko's new appointment would spark a governmental crisis, saying the Kremlin had taken the easy road in keeping the ex-governor out of the region.

"The Kremlin just did not have sufficient resources to oppose Nazdratenko should he decide to run in the early elections," he said.

"All this exposed the limited ability of our president to resolve such issues. Effectively, he just used the Brezhnev approach of not jailing a failed communist official but sending him to a Moscow trade union, a wealthy ministry or abroad as an ambassador."

Yury Korgunyuk, analyst with the INDEM think tank, said a crisis was the last thing the Cabinet wanted.

"I think Kudrin and [Economic Development and Trade Minister German] Gref would prefer to hold on to opportunities to implement their reforms than to have a dispute with Putin over Nazdratenko," Korgunyuk said.

With the fisheries committee Nazdratenko takes the helm of a potentially lucrative industry that has been plagued with allegations of corruption — chiefly that it was implicated in a racket of accepting bribes for access to fishing quotas. In a bid to mop up the committee, its previous chief was sacked and the government kicked off this month a series of auctions for quotas.

It was unclear Monday what stance Nazdratenko will adopt on the auctions — which he has previously opposed. The auctions have sparked protests from fishermen who fear losing their fishing privileges.

"He was opposing the auctions at his previous post," said Gennady Chursin, executive director of the All-Russia Association of Fisheries Enterprises, Entrepreneurs and Exporters. "As for what he will do now — let's wait and see."

The fishermen's union would not comment.

But cynicism was building Monday in Russian newspaper reports about how Nazdratenko would handle his new responsibilities. "We are team players," Vremya Novostei quoted an unnamed government source as saying. "If our superiors order a tamed monkey appointed to a high position, we would do it. We could also appoint a wild monkey."

Kommersant quoted a government source as saying "the most serious measures will be taken against him" if he sabotages the quota auctions.

Primorye Shipping Co.'s Kirilichev pointed out that Nazdratenko could cash in at his new post. "They just allowed a goat into a garden," he said. "Don't tell me about auctions — he will be able to benefit from any scheme. Very soon those who want to participate in the auctions will have to pay him for access."

Nazdratenko is scheduled to hold his first auction — the second for his committee — on Tuesday.

But Pribylovsky at Panorama said he believed Nazdratenko would hang onto his new post at any cost. "Nazdratenko sees the world pragmatically," he said. "He will forget what he said yesterday and will do his best just because he understands that he could lose a good job."