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Analysis: Battle Fatigue In Russia's Ulyanovsk Oblast

Last week was a bad week for Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Vladimir Shamanov. An estimated 2,000 striking workers from a local defense plant blocked traffic to the center of Ulyanovsk, and yet another federal agency appealed to the federal government to introduce external administration in the oblast.

Unfortunately for Shamanov, who will be seeking reelection in December, last week was not a unique experience. His four years in office have been roiled by one crisis after another, and Moscow-based newspapers have frequently characterized his administration as an illustration that success in the battlefield does not necessarily translate to success in managing local government. Lieutenant-General Shamanov is a former commander of federal forces in Chechnya. "Novoe Vremya," No. 32, noted this month that Ulyanovsk has found itself in an even worse crisis than it was experiencing before Shamanov was elected.

Shamanov easily defeated long-time Communist Governor Yurii Goryachev in December 2000 with the financial backing of local business interests. Four years later, one of the entrepreneurs who financed Shamanov's run, Opora construction firm head Khamza Yambaev, has accused people working for Shamanov of beating him up and causing him serious injuries. The alleged attack, according to Yambaev, was prompted by a letter Yambaev sent to Shamanov suggesting that he not seek reelection.

Yambaev is known in the oblast as the head of a local business association, and he was an active member of the local branch of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) before it fell apart. Following Yambaev's accusations, the leaders of several local political parties and public organizations, including the Communist Party and Yabloko, sent an appeal to President Vladimir Putin asking him to introduce direct presidential rule in the oblast, VolgaInform reported on 17 August. They claimed that it has become too risky for anyone to challenge Shamanov politically in the wake of the alleged attack on Yambaev.
Local analysts believe the greatest threat to Shamanov is the option "against all" candidates.

Few challengers to Shamanov in the December election have so far materialized, despite polls indicating that the governor cannot win reelection in one round of voting. The names of local businessmen Sergei Gerasimov and Aleksandr Polyakov have been floated, but neither is considered a serious threat because they have failed to perform well in past races. Polyakov, a member of the board of directors of Aviastar, won less than 2 percent of the vote in a single-mandate district in last December's State Duma elections. Gerasimov has twice run unsuccessfully for the Duma, and he polled only 7 percent in the December elections. The respected local newspaper "Simbirskii kurer," No. 123-4, reported that the possible candidacy of Dmitrovgrad Mayor Sergei Morozov is also being discussed.

Local and national media have also speculated about the possible candidacies of national figures such as Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, State Duma Deputy and former presidential candidate Sergei Glazev, and Russia-Belarus Union Secretary Pavel Borodin.

But local analysts so far believe the greatest threat to Shamanov is the option "against all" candidates, according to RosBalt on 12 August. Two attempts to elect a State Duma deputy from a single-mandate district in the city of Ulyanovsk -- first last December 2003 and then again in March -- have failed because "none of the above" was the most popular choice. Local voters, according to analysts, do not trust local or regional officials.

Shamanov and Putin blame Shamanov's predecessor for the energy crises that have plagued the region during Shamanov's first term. During a visit to Ulyanovsk last July, Putin noted that electricity rates and the number of people working on problems with public utilities have soared in the region, but effectiveness has declined. "It is the result of the neglect of the oblast leadership in past years," he declared. In an interview with REN-TV the following month, Shamanov sounded a similar note, saying that problems "had been piling up for the previous 10 years" and the federal center has neglected to provide "systematic aid" to the region.

However, the interviewer, commentator Yuliya Latynina, asked Shamanov to explain some of his more questionable decisions. She asked him why -- when statistics showed that the area under cultivation in the oblast had declined by 21 percent -- he imposed a ban on the private sale of agricultural land and why he, as a member of the board of directors of the UAZ automotive factory, he interfered in its marketing policy. "Being an army general, do you think you are good at economics?" she asked. Shamanov replied that he will not be a "puppet" in the governor's chair.

"I have a good name," he replied. "Shamanov is the head of the Ulyanovsk Oblast administration. The administration will control everything that is going on in the region at present."

However, if Yambaev's example is any indicator, the interregional business groups that backed Shamanov during his first campaign -- and the local electorate -- might now be thinking that it is time to cut the strings.