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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Two Leaders -- One Spot in the Vertical

Vladivostok Mayor Vladimir Nikolayev, already under suspension by court order, was arrested in Moscow on Tuesday.

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Nicknamed "Winnie the Pooh," Nikolayev is a major figure in the Far East Primorye region, which contains Vladivostok. Pooh and another figure, with the moniker "Carp," are alleged to have split the proceeds from the Vladivostok port racketeering business, which they allegedly inherited from the region's chief bandit, known as "The Trunk." The Trunk was the head honcho in Primorye until he quarreled with Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko. Despite being an accomplished diver, he died shortly thereafter in a swimming accident.

Among those involved in the Vladivostok dock scene was "The Lisp," whose real name is Sergei Darkin. Darkin was first "given" to Carp, who is said to have intimidated him by shooting an automatic rifle at his feet. When Carp was later murdered, Darkin married his widow and went over to Winnie the Pooh's side. Darkin was subsequently elected as Primorye governor.

I mention all of this to illustrate that arresting Nikolayev was probably a good move and in the best interests of the government. Criminal activity among the higher-ups in the Primorye fishing industry is one of the country's worst kept secrets. Poaching is widespread and poachers need protection. Thus, the late fishing magnate and Dalnegorsk mayoral candidate Dmitry Fotyanov was gunned down in Pusan, South Korea, in October. Local businessman Viktor Alexeyenkov was left paralyzed after a bomb blew up in the entranceway to his office building in 2002.

The unpleasantness between Winnie the Pooh and Governor Lisp began one year ago, with the arrival of a new Federal Security Service chief for the Primorye region, Yury Alyoshin. As deputy FSB chief, Alyoshin helped crack down on crime around the port of Nakhodka. Transcripts of his conversations published in a local newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, documented him talking about sharing in the proceeds from the port. If nothing else, this demonstrated that Alyoshin is no slouch in comparison to Winnie the Pooh and The Lisp when it comes to making a buck.

Once Alyoshin took office and got busy, almost half of the deputy mayors and governors started to find reasons to miss work. Ultimately, they just got out of town altogether. The new chief's activities seemed to fit in with President Vladimir Putin's to integrating authority in areas like Customs and the fishing industry by putting trusted state employees in charge of these income streams. Darkin and Nikolayev sold almost all of their business interests.

Alyoshin, meanwhile, left his job two weeks ago, having held the post for a little more than one year. It was immediately after this that Winnie the Pooh, who had been Alyoshin's main target, was bounced from his duties.

People who know Darkin think Alyoshin's departure was orchestrated by the governor, but that is unlikely. His removal was probably the result of the biggest behind-the-scenes power struggle taking place in the Kremlin, for control over the Federal Customs Service. Whatever actually happened, Alyoshin's exit meant the most senior security officer in the region had left.

It looks like the pressure tactics he had been employing were taken up by Darkin, who has very likely found himself under the thumb of the Moscow siloviki. Darkin may have simply used Alyoshin's now leaderless FSB team to keep up the pressure on Nikolayev.

This conflict between mayor and governor is common to a number of the country's regions, including Primorye, where half of the region's revenues are generated in the capital, under the mayor's nose. In this case, Darkin has come out the winner and, at least for as long as he remains under arrest, Winnie the Pooh will not be taking part in strengthening the vertical of state authority.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.