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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nazdratenko Plea Bargain Really Stinks

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"A fish rots from the head down," runs a pithy saying that seems surprisingly apropos these days. An apt illustration could be, for instance, the Primorye region, which stagnated and decayed during seven years of corruption-plagued and inept "management" by former Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko. The State Fisheries Committee — which Nazdratenko was appointed to head on Saturday and which is already no stranger to corruption — will likely become another example, we fear.

Nazdratenko's appointment has provoked outrage across the political spectrum. The transparent cynicism of the deal — apparently the Kremlin offered Nazdratenko this lucrative post in exchange for his promise not to interfere in the upcoming election for his replacement in Primorye — is almost too much to bear, even in the country that holds the patent on cynicism. No matter how often it happens, it remains hard to accept that disgraced, discredited officials here are at least as likely to end up in government as in court.

Anyone who knows anything about Nazdratenko's tenure in Primorye will have a hard time believing that he still retains considerable popular and bureaucratic support there. Through his heavy-handed control of the regional media, Nazdratenko was able not only to cover up the incompetence and venality of his administration, but to actually foist much of the blame for Primorye's suffering off on Moscow. He left his dominion, especially the media and the bureaucracy, infested with his loyalists and could well indeed have played a decisive role in the upcoming vote.

Obviously, it is a good thing if this misfortune has been averted. But at what price? The practice of kicking opponents upstairs has a long pedigree in Soviet and Russian politics and, we admit, it is an improvement on the technique Stalin preferred. But it is far from what Russia needs, sending the signal throughout the bureaucracy that the punishment for corruption is promotion and that maintaining a feudal power base is the best way of avoiding an indictment.

The Nazdratenko affair perfectly exposes the evil of the Yeltsin-era system of regional administration. If Nazdratenko had been watched and criticized by an independent legislature, judiciary and media, he wouldn't have gotten away with as much as he did, and President Vladimir Putin would not be forced to cut an embarrassing deal with him now.

But the most disturbing thing is that Putin seems hell-bent on reproducing this disastrous system on the national level — cowing the Duma, stalling on legal reform, imposing increasing control over the media. Call it the Nazdratenko Model.