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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Political Martyrdom of United Russia

Dmitry Fotyanov, a mayoral candidate in the far eastern city of Dalnegorsk, was gunned down last Thursday on the eve of the election. State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov immediately suggested the killing was politically motivated.

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Gryzlov's reaction was only natural, as Fotyanov was running under the banner of United Russia, the party Gryzlov heads. When two candidates are vying for the mayor's job, it's usually a safe bet that one of them will be from United Russia. There are even instances when both are from United Russia, in which case they fight it out between themselves to prove which of them is more United Russia than the other. The candidates then quarrel like a couple of train passengers who have bought expensive tickets for a good berth, only to discover that some shyster has sold them both the same spot.

Fotyanov was part of a constellation of politicians in the Primorye region, whose best-known member is Vladivostok Mayor Vladimir Nikolayev, otherwise known by the nickname "Winnie the Pooh." Nikolayev has past convictions for assault and threatening to murder someone, so the background for many of these characters is fairly clear, Fotyanov and Winnie the Pooh actually started out together, but then had a huge falling-out.

Nikolayev's rival, Alexander Terebilov, belonged to a somewhat different Primorye political grouping, best represented by the region's governor, Sergei Darkin, a businessman who previously enjoyed Winnie the Pooh's patronage and who is also known as "Sergei the Lisp." This subgroup within the political elite has a strong criminal reputation.

Rumor has it that Fotyanov had previously provided protection for retail stores and kiosks operated by Terebilov, so we could stretch the point slightly by describing the conflict between them as one between the laboring bourgeoisie and their oppressors. The mayoral race in Dalnegorsk also bore similarities to a protection racket falling apart.

As for Dalnegorsk, it is a dead town, home to the just-as-dead dead Dalpolimetall mining company and far enough away to make it difficult to control from either Vladivostok or Moscow. But the town's lure is the timber that is shipped to Japan by people who buy licenses for 1,000 cubic meters and cut down 100,000. As a friend from Vladivostok once told me: "All you ever write about is fish. Fish is nothing compared with timber. Timber brings in so much money that scallops and crabs are irrelevant!" This is the prize over which the two major political groups were slugging it out.

Until now, United Russia has not had the aura of martyrdom about it that comes when members are oppressed, gunned down or thrown into torture chambers. In this sense, Gryzlov's statement opened a rich new political vein.

Nikolayev, for example, also at one point represented United Russia in the region, but now has serious problems. One of his deputies is already behind bars. So in light of Gryzlov's statement we should recognize this as political persecution of United Russia and not, for instance, as a sign that the local FSB has teamed up with Winnie the Pooh.

Or another example: Last year vodka king and United Russia Duma Deputy Kirill Ragozin died when his snowmobile plunged through the ice on the Gulf of Finland. Given Gryzlov's statement, maybe it is worth re-examining the case. Those who don't get Gryzlov's point probably still believe the official explanation that Ragozin died when some male-bonding revelry got out of hand and he lost control of the powerful machine. But how do we know that this wasn't a political murder?

What should we make out of all of this? As the party goes, so go the political murders.

We should, of course, feel sadness for Fotyanov. Apparently he was a nice guy. He just fell victim to the nature of Primorye political elites. There are no other elites available there.

Yulia Latynina is host of a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.