Tkachev and the Sochi Olympics: politics in the Krasnodar territory

Ever since President Putin himself expressed support for the Sochi Olympics bid, it could be counted as yet another national project. And it has had its own curator: Alexander Tkachev, governor of the Krasnodar territory, who is being called a potential successor.

Ever since President Vladimir Putin himself expressed support for the Sochi Olympics bid, it could be counted as yet another national project. And it has had its own curator: Alexander Nikolaevich Tkachev, governor of the Krasnodar territory (Kuban), who is being called a potential successor.

No one’s really sure how Tkachev’s name appeared on the list of potential successors. The most recent rumors arose after Putin mentioned that a regional leader might become the next president. The boldest analysts also started talking of Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Khloponin, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko, and Sergei Sobyanin, the former Tyumen governor who now heads the presidential administration.

Staff at the Krasnodar territory administration claim that Tkachev’s team is paying no attention to such rumors and has no idea where this information is coming from. Then they mention modestly that it’s all understandable enough: “Tkachev is active, youthful, successful” and “you won’t find a governor who’s better at economic management.” Communist opposition politicians cautiously explain that “there’s no specific information, but it’s assumed that the rumors are being spread by someone from Tkachev’s team.”

More practical considerations are being noted as well. Firstly, Tkachev is often seen on television alongside Putin, whenever Putin visits Bocharov Ruchei, the presidential residence in the Krasnodar territory.

Tkachev strictly observes all the political conditions and rules of courtier behavior, and he has all the accessories that a federal politician should have. A source from the Just Russia party says: “There are the image-related expenses – various festivals and forums. Yachts, helicopters… he might not own them, but he has access to the same kind of resources as the top political elite.”

Perhaps the most important attribute for a potential successor is loyalty to Putin’s policy course. Another source says: “Alexander Tkachev is a very talented politician. He has a tremendous gift for mimicry. In the past, he needed to resemble old Governor Kondratenko – and became practically indistinguishable from him. Now he needs to resemble Putin, so Tkachev is practically indistinguishable from the president.”

While Putin was meeting with the United Russia party’s federal leaders at his Novo-Ogarevo residence on June 28, Tkachev delivered the opening speech at United Russia’s regional conference in Krasnodar. He said: “United Russia is now the most powerful political force in the Krasnodar territory. Its Kuban branch has around 60,000 members. People’s lives have improved. These changes for the better are primarily associated with the name of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. In the forthcoming elections, it is important to maintain policy course continuity.”

Politics in the Krasnodar territory is a concentrated form of Putin’s ideology. While at the federal level there is still a semblance of opposition, in Krasnodar it has been reduced to an absolute minimum. Tkachev himself, once a zealous Communist, is now an equally zealous United Russia activist. The Communists viewed his decision to switch parties as betrayal, but the Communist faction in the Krasnodar legislature still voted to confirm Tkachev’s reappointment last April. Only one lawmaker voted against it – Nikolai Osadchii: “The others gave in. Lawmakers, including members of the Communist faction, were invited to private meetings and given to understand that if they voted against Tkachev, they would be in trouble.”

Just like Putin, Tkachev has made himself the center and cornerstone of government. The Krasnodar territory has 48 districts, and over 40 of the district leaders have been dismissed and replaced since Tkachev became governor.

There are few dissenters. Krasnodar Mayor Nikolai Priz, who refused to resign when requested to do so in 2004, was subsequently charged with exceeding his authority and dismissed by a court decision. Alexander Kiryushin, former speaker of the Krasnodar municipal legislature, spent several months in pre-trial detention; he says that the people he met in the detention center were more honest than people in the regional administration – they play by the rules, at least.

For others, any temptation to resist has faded away of its own accord. One hundred percent of the Krasnodar territory’s municipal leaders are members of the United Russia party.

Not everyone regards Winter Olympics preparations as “the way to the future.” For example, this view is not shared by business owners who don’t have close links with the regional administration. Total funding for Winter Olympics preparations (if Sochi’s bid wins) will be 327 billion rubles. If Sochi loses, a federal program will still provide 172 billion rubles to turn the city into a world-class resort.

Petr Fedin, head of the AlpikaServis company, is the only person to say openly that asset redistribution started even before the IOC’s vote on Sochi’s bid. AlpikaServis owns the only functioning ski lift at the Krasnaya Polyana resort, and a court has ordered the ski lift to suspend operations due to safety violations. Fedin cites an inspection report from the Federal Technology Inspectorate (RosTekhNadzor), showing that the AlpikaServis ski lift and ski runs do meet all safety requirements. He describes the conflict as “part of a raider campaign at the level of the Krasnodar governor.” Fedin says: “Big money is being allocated for the federal targeted program – and land prices have risen greatly, of course. A hundred square meters at Krasnaya Polyana now sells for up to $100,000, as compared to $5,000 or $10,000 five years ago. This court decision is part of an attempt to seize our land and hand it over to another company.”

We approached Sergei Krasnoperov, head of the planning and reporting department at a specially-established enterprise, Sochi Development Direction, to ask how investors are chosen – which companies are given or denied permission to invest. Krasnoperov replied: “The Economic Development and Trade Ministry is working on that – procedures, criteria.” But the chief investors are already known: the Interros Group (Roza Khutor skiing complex), Basic Element (renovating airports, Imertin Riviera), Gazprom (Psekhako skiing complex), Russian Railroads, Krasnaya Polyana (building the Gornaya Karusel complex). The plots of land for these facilities were acquired by these companies even before the federal targeted program was announced.

We asked Sochi Mayor Viktor Kolodyazhnyi why there are already rumors of good profits to be made from the Winter Olympics. He replied that there are two kinds of people: patriots who love their country, and people who ask questions like that.

Environmentalists maintain that since most of the Olympic facilities are to be built in the Sochi National Park, this will damage protected habitats in the Western Caucasus. Activists from the Save Sochi Committee are accusing the Sochi municipal government of failing to provide sufficient funding for social programs or solve problems with registering land ownership; they predict an explosion of public protest.

Proper patriotic education is supposed to neutralize any social upheaval. In the Krasnodar territory, state patriotism has some region-specific aspects. Tkachev has set about reviving Kuban Cossack traditions – not without some controversy. In 2006, a statue of Catherine the Great was unveiled in the square outside the Krasnodar regional legislature – opposite the old statue of Lenin (subsequently relocated to a different square). Experts predict that Tkachev himself, after ensuring that his region produces the proper outcome in December’s Duma election, will play his own card after the parliamentary and presidential elections.

The question is why Tkachev is being permitted to figure among the potential successors, even as an outside possibility, while also pursuing his own agenda. Is he really being held in reserve, or is he just imitating President Putin all too zealously?

Rostislav Turovsky, an analyst with the Political Techniques Center: “I don’t think Tkachev has any real chance of becoming the successor. But the resort factor has enabled him to establish informal contacts with senior officials and oligarchs, so he can permit himself to comment on the federal political agenda with no fear of being reprimanded. The Krasnodar territory’s leaders have a tradition of special relationships with our country’s leaders – always drinking vodka together.”

The Krasnodar territory is a wealthy region, and the federal development program for Sochi is just getting started. Tkachev’s reputation as a follower of Putin – almost a successor – is advantageous for him in the Krasnodar territory itself. Turovsky says: “Krasnodar’s media are perpetuating the myth that Tkachev is Putin’s successor. This has helped him to establish control over the regional elite. He has become a no-alternative governor, a leader.” Just like the president.