Sergei Sokol, a well-known Krasnoyarsk-Irkutsk government official, is extending his reach. Unexpectedly for many, he was nominated in the primary election in the Republic of Khakassia. Analysts believe that this is a bad sign for the region’s incumbent leader Valentin Konovalov.
A year ago, Sergei Sokol resigned as Irkutsk region parliament speaker and became a State Duma deputy. Sokol, 50, the son of a diplomat and MGIMO graduate has been in politics for more than 20 years. In the late 1990s, he worked as deputy head of Norilskgazprom. It was there that he met Nornickel CEO Alexander Khloponin who later won the Taimyr Autonomous District gubernatorial election. In 2002, Khloponin was elected Governor of the Krasnoyarsk territory and invited Sokol to his team to supervise industry and the fuel and energy sector. However, Sokol clearly could not cope with the job. According to first-hand accounts of the local government session, a gloomy Khloponin heard Sokol’s report on the project to build two pulp-and-paper plants in the region in the near future. Visibly irritated, the governor asked: "Where's the money for that?"
After that journalists were asked to leave the conference room, and the conversation continued behind closed doors. Sokol was soon transferred from the post of deputy governor to the administration of the Krasnoyarsk Territory Council.
In 2008, Sergei Sokol was offered a position in the administration of the Irkutsk region. Then he worked for Rostec State Corporation companies. In the fall of 2018, he won a seat in the Irkutsk Legislative Assembly and was elected its chairman. Everybody thought that Sokol, well-versed in intrigues and political wars, was promoted to the post in a snub to Sergey Levchenko, governor of the Irkutsk region who represented the CPRF party. Sokol’s priority was to make life a nightmare for Levchenko whenever possible. In fact, it was exactly what Sergei Sokol did.
Wel.ru’s sources say that it was Sokol who was behind many media hypes such as the hunting episode involving Levchenko who shot and killed a hibernating bear. At the end of 2019, Levchenko was voluntold to resign. It became clear that regional politics could not offer any more big enough challenges to Sokol. It was not his level, so the ruling United Russia party moved the up-and-coming politician to the State Duma. In this year's primaries, Sokol initially ran for Irkutsk. Then he abruptly changed his mind and submitted his documents in Khakassia. According to the official version, Khakasia has long-standing strong ties with the Krasnoyarsk territory, and while working there, Sokol managed to get to know the area well.
"I made friends with the people who worked here. I want to help the republic," Sokol said.
Judging by social media reports, Sokol has already begun to help. At the moment, he is actively visiting Khakasia districts for first-hand assessment of the situation. Unsurprisingly, his actions were strongly resented by the local branch of the United Russia party. (Sokol remains head of the Irkutsk division of the United Russia party).
Abrek Cheltygmashev, head of the Askizsky district and a member of the United Russia party’s political council in Khakasia, bluntly called Sokol's appearance in the republic “disrespectful” to the locals. Observers saw an intrigue in this particular area that might have played into the hands of Sokol. A new coal deposit had been put up for auction there. The residents were strongly opposed to its possible development. Cheltygmashev was expected to come out against the project to secure voter support in the primaries. This is where Sergei Sokol, with more connections and political weight to fight with coal miners, stepped in. He wrecked the whole setup. At least, this is the version maintained by the CPRF Khakassia branch.
"Chances are Sokol will kill two birds with one stone. Firstly, he will make Abrek Vasilievich, his main rival in the primaries who is unable to protect his native Askiz from greedy coal miners, hit rock bottom. Secondly, he will act as a savior not only of the Askiz district but of the whole Khakassia. In other words, Khakass voters will only have to cast ballots for this strong and influential politician," the press service of the CPRF's republican committee told wek.ru.
Whether intentionally or not, this scheme was broken up, too. This time it was done by the government of Khakassia. The day before, it announced that it had cancelled the oilfield auction. The government had held consultations with the Federal Agency for Subsoil Use and persuaded it to reverse its decision because of the possible negative environmental and social consequences. “The Khakassia government’s arguments found support of the federal agency. “In resolving this issue, the opinion of the republic and its residents was taken into account," Khakassia leader Valentin Konovalov said..
Experts say that Konovalov is Sokol’s prime target as the situation is painfully similar to what happened with the Irkutsk region governor. Valentin Konovalov, who won the election in 2018, is head of the Republican Committee of the CPRF. It is highly unlikely that he will disgrace himself and leave. Although the inexperienced 30-year-old Konovalov did make a pathetic impression in the first months of his governorship, he has somehow managed to fit into the system since. Theoretically, Sokol might be considered as the future head of Khakassia. From this point of view, he does not even need to win the current primaries. The main thing is to show his connection with Khakassia, even if formal. In fact, that is precisely what Sokol is doing. "To my thinking, Sokol came to Khakassia to become its head," says Krasnoyarsk-based political analyst Sergei Komaritsyn.