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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Sochi, United Russia's Candidate Rules the Airwaves

Itar-TassAn election poster picturing Dzagania, left, Nemtsov, third right, and Pakhomov, second right, in Sochi on Thursday.��
SOCHI, Krasnodar Region — Acting Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov not only dominates local media coverage ahead of Sunday's mayoral election, but rival candidates say he also has a complete monopoly.

Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, Communist Yury Dzagania and ousted billionaire candidate Alexander Lebedev have all sued Pakhomov for purported abuse of office during the election campaign. They complain that his meetings with Sochi residents are shown daily on television, his activities fill local newspapers and he spoke as a mayoral candidate during a recent interview with Russia Today television that apparently was filmed in his office in violation of election law.

"He has used his office to campaign," said Alexander Glushenkov, a lawyer representing Nemtsov at a court hearing of his complaint this week.

Pakhomov's lawyer Oleg Naukin denied any wrongdoing in court, saying the mayor had used a public reception office decorated to look like his office in the Russia Today interview.

When asked by Glushenkov to provide the address of the public reception office, Pakhomov's lawyer said there were 28 such offices organized by Pakhomov's campaign around the city, and he did not know which one had been used for the interview.

Asked why Russia Today editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, who conducted the interview, made on-camera comments afterward in the lobby of the City Hall building, Naukin advised to put the question to Russia Today.

A spokesman for Russia Today, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, told The Moscow Times on Thursday that the meeting between Pakhomov and Simonyan was "private" and "had nothing to do with the election campaign."

Sochi news outlets regularly refer to Pakhomov — a former Anapa mayor who was recruited to the post by Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachyov — as "citizen Pakhomov" or "Anatoly Pakhomov, candidate from the United Russia party." Local newspapers like the Novosti Sochi daily, which is backed by City Hall, make little attempt to conceal their support for Pakhomov. A front-page article in last Saturday's issue was dedicated to a meeting between Pakhomov and voters in Sochi's Khosta district. "He has a concrete, economically viable plan on most of the issues that require a solution," the article said. A small note at the bottom of the article said, "We inform you that other candidates did not provide information about their campaign activities."

Rival candidates said media outlets bluntly refuse to publish their campaign ads or other information about their activities. "This is Sochi's dirtiest election ever," Dzagania, the Communist candidate, told The Moscow Times. Dzagania, a Sochi native, ran for mayor in the previous election as well. A total of six candidates are running for mayor; the winner will get a say in how billions of dollars of government money are spent in preparing Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

It is impossible to campaign, Dzagania said, showing one of the few newspapers that have printed his campaign ad, the Communist Pravda. A special Sochi edition of the newspaper dated April 2009 invites people to "choose a protector of the people, not an invading predator" and quotes Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov as saying "Dzagania will bring the Sochi resort back to its former glory."

Sochi residents widely resent what they call the "Kubanization" of the greater Sochi region, which had the special status of being a resort that was financed directly by Moscow until Tkachev became governor in 2000.

Nemtsov, another Sochi native, is also trying to capitalize on residents' pride for their city. "Let's give Sochi its federal status back!" scream Nemtsov's flyers. "I am running for mayor to protect Sochi residents against the impunity of shameless Kuban bureaucrats."

Kuban, a name taken from the Kuban River, is widely used to refer to the entire Krasnodar region, which is perceived as different in culture and tradition from Sochi's Black Sea coast and the Caucasus Mountains.

Another article titled "Pure Truth About Impure Campaigns" in the same issue of Novosti Sochi contains a long interview with Oleg Rubezhansky, a Sochi native who claims to have helped Nemtsov in the early stages of his campaign. "Sochi residents are being fooled," he said in the interview, which takes up all of page 4. "He is not an independent figure, he is following orders. … There were not thousands of Sochi residents who invited Nemtsov to Sochi, it was me alone."

Nemtsov told The Moscow Times that Rubezhansky was a "provocateur" who had offered his services to his campaign for $50,000. "He did not work for me," Nemtsov said.

Rubezhansky could not be located for comment.

Novosti Sochi editor-in-chief Alexander Shapovalov declined to take repeated calls made to his work phone Thursday.

Although Pakhomov gets generous coverage on the local news, he proved difficult to locate for an interview. A City Hall spokesman said Thursday that the city administration couldn't comment on the election campaign and referred questions to Pakhomov's campaign headquarters, which is run by United Russia. The spokesman, who refused to provide his name, saying he wasn't authorized to talk to the media, said he didn't have contact information for the headquarters.

A representative for the local United Russia office, Alexander Agvyanov, said he could not comment on the campaign and referred a reporter to City Hall.

One of the things that irks Nemtsov's campaign team the most is a 20-minute film shown on four local television channels — NTK, Kuban's Channel Two, Efkate and Maks-TV. The film, broadcast last Friday, called Nemtsov an opportunist who was recruited by former Kremlin power broker Boris Berezovsky to the government after ruining the economy of the Nizhny Novgorod region, where he was once governor.

Two people interviewed in the film are former Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky and scandalous journalist Sergei Dorenko. "Midas turned everything he touched into gold, but everything touched by Nemtsov turned to [expletive]," Dorenko said at the conclusion of the film.

The film has no opening or closing credits and provides no indication of who made or ordered it.
During election campaigns, news outlets usually give the local election committee a price list for running candidates' campaign ads. During the Sochi campaign, only two radio stations and one cable television channel declared their prices for paid campaign ads. When Dzagania approached one radio station, Avtoradio, with a campaign recording, he was refused. "They told me they wouldn't run the recording, saying that they were no longer working with any candidates and that they had withdrawn their price list from the election committee," Dzagania said.

Candidates said Efkate television has made it difficult for them to run the 3-minute clips of free airtime granted to candidates by law. The law applies to channels partly owned by City Hall, and Efkate is the only such channel in Sochi. Efkate has required that the clips be recorded on special digital-camera cassettes instead of regular DVDs. To record in the right format, Dzagania approached the Sochi studios of Channel Two that provide such services on a commercial basis and paid to have his clip copied. But he never received the recording. "Referring to an internal memo, the channel's commercial director told me that they were not working with any candidates after April 6," Dzagania said, adding that he later got the clip copied elsewhere.

A spokeswoman for Channel Two said the channel never gives comments to the press.

Efkate director Oleg Burunin did not return a request for comment Thursday.

Attempts to obtain a comment from the other two channels were also unsuccessful. Maks-TV news editor Natalya Boiko said she had "no time" to comment Thursday, and repeated calls to NTK went unanswered.

Election officials have described the campaign as fair, and the courts have found no violations by Pakhomov.
Yevgeny Rashchepkin, a member of Dzagania's campaign, criticized the campaign as unfair, particularly the television coverage.

"Only one candidate is getting airtime right now, and it is being done through news programs rather than through the way outlined by election law," Rashchepkin said. "He is provided airtime 24 hours a day."

On Tuesday night, Pakhomov was featured in the audience attending a "Comedy Club" performance in Sochi. Comedian Mikhail Galustyan introduced Pakhomov from the stage as "the man who does so much for Sochi." After the show, Pakhomov was shown meeting comedians backstage and throwing out an idea to create a "center of laughter" in the city. Nemtsov, who said he was sitting in the audience that night as well, was not shown in the report.

Natalya Krainova contributed to this report from Moscow.