As Russia awoke from its Christmas-New Years slumber this week, President Dmitry Medvedev raised some eyebrows with reappointment of two scandal-tainted governors: Sergei Darkin in Primorsky Krai and Aleksandr Berdnikov of the Altai Republic.
Russian media have accused Berdnikov of organizing illegal hunting trips. In January 2009, a helicopter crash revealed that government officials were shooting endangered sheep in the region. Seven people died in the accident, including Medvedev's representative to the State Duma, Aleksandr Kosopkin, and Viktor Kaimin, chairman of the Altai Republic's Committee on the Preservation and Exploitation of Natural Resources.
Darkin, for his part, has been linked to illegal business practices. In May 2008, Darkin was questioned and his house and office were searched as part of an investigation into alleged abuses during the privatization of state property. Political analysts Vladimir Pribylovsky told RFE/RL's Russian Service that despite a lack of evidence, "Darkin has a reputation as a criminal authority."
So bad was Darkin's reputation that, as The Moscow Times reports, he felt the need to initiate a public relations campaign in national newspapers highlighting Primorsky Krai's economic achievements.
So what motivated Medvedev to reappoint two tainted regional leaders?
We're still looking for material about the motivations behind the Darkin appointment.
As far as Berdnikov goes, my fellow Power Verticalhead Robert Coalson points out here, that his close ties to Gazprom haven't exactly harmed his prospects.
And in a column in Yezhdnevny Zhurnal this week, the irrepressible Yulia Latynina provides some more context about how Berdnikov managed to keep his job (you can read a shorter English-language version here, courtesy of The Moscow Times).
Here's the money quote:
The answer is very simple. On December 24, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered the construction of a 22-kilometer road near the Ursul River in the Altai republic. This project will cost 3.5 billion rubles ($119 million) to complete. The road will lead to the residence of a high-ranking official, and that residence will be located in a nature reserve that was established after Putin circled the area in a helicopter during a visit to Altai.
The moral of the story is clear: If our national leader decides to build an elaborate country home in Altai, then the Altai governor can basically do anything that he wants.
-- Brian Whitmore