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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Peculiar Case of Tuva

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In the next few days, President Vladimir Putin is expected to nominate a new president for the republic of Tuva, as the term of the incumbent, Sherig-ool Oorzhaka, is just about up. By law Putin was supposed to have named someone to the post by March 7, but the political morass in the republic has clearly rendered him reluctant to choose.

The problem is that Tuva's political elites have been locked in serious conflict for a year now. Last spring, 13 deputies in the Tuva legislature, including its speaker, Vasily Oyun, sent a letter to Putin asking him not to appoint Oorzhaka to another term. This coincided with a public campaign by Federation Council Speaker and A Just Russia party leader Sergei Mironov against senators from the Yamalo-Nenetsk, Khakasia and other regions, as well as against regional leaders defending them. Mironov's campaign may have been an attempt to open up seats for members of his own party.

Prior to regional elections in October, Oyun, his deputy, Vitaly Valkov, and the chairman of the Tuva construction committee, Anatoly Damba-Khuurak, broke ranks with United Russia and joined the Party of Life, which was led by Mironov and has since been folded into A Just Russia. Ludmila Narusova, the Tuva legislature's representative in Moscow, is also a Party of Life member.

The split resulted in United Russia winning only 48.8 percent of the votes in October and just 16 of the 32 seats in the parliament. The Party of Life, which polled a more modest 31.8 percent of the overall vote, won more single-seat constituencies. In response, the local election committee, which is under Oorzhak's control, rejected the election results in four districts won by the Party of Life in the republic's capital, Kyzyl.

Party of Life members responded by boycotting the legislature, which brought work on the local budget and other functions to a complete halt.

New elections were held March 11 in the disputed districts. Candidates for A Just Russia won in three, but the election committee only confirmed the results in the fourth, which was won by United Russia.

Beside the obvious showdown between United Russia and A Just Russia supporters among the local elite, there is also another factor at play: money. The federal government recently announced it would provide money from the investment fund to finance the construction of a Kyzyl-Kuragino railroad branch to serve the Elegetskoye coal field. The project's construction is expected to take six years and will cost 132 billion rubles ($5 billion), of which 49 billion rubles will come from the investment fund. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref has said Tuva will no longer require state subsidies once the project is in operation, the region's gross product will more than double, and its budget revenues will increase fourfold. The bank behind the project is Mezhprombank, the principal founder and primary shareholder of which is Sergei Pugachyov, who happens to be the second Federation Council member from Tuva. Gref's ministry originally rejected the project due to the enormous cost and low anticipated returns. Curiously, the minister now claims the project is "most important for the development of the regions in the east."

Fans of comparative political science will recognize what in the United States is called "pork barrel" politics at play here. The difference is that in Russia the politicians lobby not so much for the interests of the regions they represent as for their personal interests in those regions. The conflicts in Tuvan politics, with the leaders of opposing groups waging open campaigns against each other and appealing directly to Putin, do not differ much from similar conflicts in the Saratov, Nizhny Novgorod, Irkutsk and Altai regions. In none of those cases did Putin come down on the side of any of the warring clans. In most cases he appointed someone from the federal level --an outsider -- as he did in Nizhny Novgorod and Barnaul. In others he appointed someone who had not taken a side in the showdown and could be counted on to follow a line handed down from Moscow.

But Tuva, as a republic with a strong indigenous ethnic majority, is a different matter. Here, it looks like the Kremlin will have to follow the Adygeya model and appoint an insignificant figure as governor while trying to strike a balance between the interests of the competing clans.

Nikolai Petrov is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.