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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Protests Grow Over Barinov's Arrest

Itar-TassBarinov listening at the court proceedings on Wednesday. He was detained on charges of fraud and embezzlement.
About three hundred residents of Naryan-Mar, the capital of the oil-rich Nenets autonomous district, took to the streets Thursday to protest the detention of Nenets Governor Alexei Barinov, a spokeswoman for the regional administration said.

Barinov's detention on suspicion of fraud and embezzlement late Tuesday came after he campaigned against a major subsidiary of state-owned oil major Rosneft for nonpayment of a 900 million ruble ($33 million) tax debt and for breaking ecological standards. Many have seen his arrest and his trial, which is to take place in closed hearings, as an attack on democracy. Protesters called for Barinov to be released and for his trial to be public.

Barinov is the last governor in Russia to be elected by popular vote following sweeping changes by President Vladimir Putin that allowed the Kremlin to appoint regional leaders. He is the first governor to be detained while in office.

Viktor Turovsky, a spokesman for Barinov, said he feared the governor's arrest was connected to his attack on the Rosneft subsidiary, Severnaya Neft, which owns the region's vast Val Gamburtseva field. "It is possible this is one of the reasons behind this. It seems state companies don't pay debts even though privately owned firms are paying in full," Turovsky said Thursday by telephone.

The criminal charges against Barinov -- for allegedly embezzling funds to buy apartments and for engaging in fraudulent schemes with promissory notes when he headed LUKoil subsidiary Arkhangelskgeodobycha -- had already been dropped once before, in 2000, Turovsky said.

Nikolai Petrov, scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Barinov's detention, together with recent moves to fire two senators from the Federation Council, was a sign the Kremlin was resorting to forceful methods to hold sway over Russia's 89 regions. "This shows the rapid activization of the hard-line faction in the Kremlin and their lack of desire to build relations with regional leaders through any other method aside from force," he said.

Rosneft's chairman is Igor Sechin, the deputy head of the Kremlin administration and seen as the leader of the hard-line, or siloviki, bloc in the Kremlin.

Rosneft has been seeking to strengthen its position in regions where it has production subsidiaries. Rosneft executive Sergei Burov was this month elected mayor of Nefteyugansk, home to the oil major's largest subsidiary, Yugansknefetgaz.

Barinov beat a Rosneft executive, Alexander Shmakov, for the Nenets governor's post in elections in February 2005, despite facing pressure to stand down, Turovsky said.

Shmakov, the former head of Rosneft's Polar Lights regional venture, arrived in Naryan-Mar from Moscow after Barinov's detention, Turovksy said. Shmakov is widely expected to be appointed acting governor in Barinov's absence, he said.

Rosneft spokesman Nikolai Manvelov said Thursday that Rosneft had nothing to do with events in Nenets. "We are not involved in political activities," he said. As for the tax debt, which stems from a dispute 10 years ago, "Rosneft is acting in line with all signed agreements," he said.