The year of 2019 was quite scandalous for the Rostov region. In terms of the number of criminal cases against officials, this region has practically broken all the records. Did the law enforcers really start to finally expose the corrupt system? Or is it a political order aimed at discrediting the incumbent governor?
The town of Novocherkassk was the most unfortunate. It has practically been left without top officials. Igor Zyuzin, head of the administration, and Sergei Basakevich, his first deputy were arrested on charges of taking bribes. However, the criminal cases are not connected with each other.
In January last year, Basakevich was caught red-handed illegally receiving 1 mln rubles. And Zyuzin was detained in October. His former deputy Albina Poroshina, convicted under the same article, testified against him. For cooperation with the investigation the court mitigated her sentence to six years from the initial eight years.
Shakhty is another town in the Rostov region that lost its mayor in the wake of efforts by law enforcement officials. In February, Mayor Denis Stanislavov was charged with abuse of office in two counts: the illegal allotting of a land plot for development and coercion of a local businessman to restoring the town’s cultural facilities. Stanislavov spent more than six months in a pre-trial detention center. After that, he was cleared of the charge in the first case but fined 100,000 rubles in the second one.
By the way, there was another detention connected with Stanislavov – that of Irina Aleksandrova, head of the Federal Tax Service in the Rostov region. According to investigators, she had signed documents on an illegal VAT refund in the amount of 21 million rubles to the mayor of Shakhty. In February, Roman Ilyugin, Aleksey Polyansky and Alexander Korchiga, chief architects of Rostov-on-Don, the Rostov region and Martynovski district respectively, were detained and charged with abuse of office associated with fraud in the construction industry.
A bit later in spring, law enforcement agencies started to check another major construction project in the region -- the Rostov Arena stadium. On the basis of the same article on abuse of office, two more defendants were detained: Nikolai Bezuglov, former minister of regional development, architecture and urban planning of the Rostov region, and Sergei Sidash, deputy governor of the region in charge of housing, communal services, construction, and architecture.
However, this is not a complete list of high-ranking officials of the Rostov region, against whom criminal cases were initiated last year. In total, there are about two dozen of them. Vicious tongues claim that what happened is a consistent attack on Vasily Golubev, the Governor of the Rostov region, on the eve of elections due in 2020.
A Political Order? Experts’ Opinions
We asked Sergey Smirnov, CEO of the Applied Political Science Foundation, to comment on the situation:
"It’s not the first year on end that the Rostov governor is said to be on the verge of dismissal. Some "experts" say that he is going to retire. Others say that he is offered various positions in Moscow. Similarly, there's no consensus on who is the "customer" of the strong-arm politics continuing for almost a year against the Rostov authorities in general and against Gov. Vasily Golubev in particular.
“Some are hinting at Rostekh that has its parochial interests in the region and allegedly wants to “appoint” a man of its own to the governor’s position. Others believe that different state corporations may be involved. Still others assume that the law enforcers may be acting on their own initiative.
“In any case, Vasily Golubev still remains the governor of the Rostov region and is even ready to run for a third term if the voters and the president trust him. And while voters show their trust or distrust on the day of voting, the president usually does it long before that.
“If the president had a claim against the governor of Rostov-on-Don, the latter would have already got an offer which is hard to refuse. I am confident that in this case Vasily Golubev would have demonstrated unnecessary persistence and headed for dismissal due to the loss of confidence. And therefore, either there are no such claims or there are no worthier candidates for the leadership of the Rostov region (which is not only one of the largest in the country, but also – and this is a very important moment -- a border region).
“Along with it, the Rostov region has no special sore spots either in the economy, or in the social and political sphere which are typical for other regions or the country in general. These are the "aftertaste" of pension reform, the costs of garbage recycling reform, bankruptcy of some previously successful enterprises, etc. At the same time, many conflict situations (for example, payment of wage arrears to employees of the KingCoal coal company) have already been practically resolved, while others (for instance, the pulling-down of illegally built residential houses) are in the process of being resolved.”
Olga Cherkezova, a lawyer specializing in electoral law, also disclosed her thoughts in an interview with wek.ru:
"Attacks by law enforcement officials" is not a legal formulation which does not clarify at all what kind of actions was committed and who exactly did it. Certainly, there were detentions and searches. But only the case of Stanislavov who is pleading not guilty and appealing against the verdict, has resulted in the court acts. By the way, this sentence got ambiguous reactions of the public. If the fine for the crime is only 100,000 rubles why was the person deprived of freedom for so long?
“The Rostov region is a strategically interesting region. There are enough people willing to lead it, both in inside and outside of it. Given the coincidence that the elections of the Rostov-on-Don municipal Duma and several other major towns in the region will be held at the same time, the gubernatorial election campaign promises to be interesting. Though in recent years, no thrilling events have happened in the political life there.”
And Sergei Tarakanov, a political technologist, said there was no political order in this case.
"It seems to me that there was no "anti-governor attack" in the Rostov region. More likely, there is the daily work of law enforcement agencies, carried out on a regular basis, and this work is in progress far beyond the Rostov region. In some regions, this work is somewhat more visible, primarily thanks to the media and Telegram channels -- in other regions, a little less. In my opinion, if there is no attack, no one is behind it.
Tarakanov said that despite the high-profile criminal cases, Vasily Golubev has every chance of being elected for a third term:
"Golubev's popularity rating is quite strong. Chances are the president will support Vasily Golubev's candidacy for a new term of office. Compared to many other regions of Russia, the situation in the Rostov region is quite stable in many ratings of socio-economic development of the Russian regions.
“The region shows fair performance as regards the index of industrial production development (about 103% in 2019 as compared to 2018), the index of agricultural production development (about 103%), the index of investment volume, and the rate of housing commissioning (about 110%). The unemployment rate is lower than in Russia on the average. There are no “failures” in almost any of the indexes that are meaningful for assessing the activity of the head of a region.
In my opinion, given the fair indicators of socio-economic development of the Rostov region, the president may support Golubev unless any unexpected circumstances surface -- of course, no one is immune to them.
Meanwhile, one should not brush off the negative background around criminal cases related to certain representatives of the Rostov region authorities that was mostly created by the media and Telegram channels. This topic will be exaggerated by opposition candidates in the forthcoming elections of both the governor and deputies of various levels, which is likely to affect both the turnout and the protest voting in a certain way.
The governor’s election in the Rostov region will be held in September. The election campaign will start very soon. Therefore, a lot of interesting things are expected to happen. And the imprisonment of officials from Vasily Golubev's team may turn out to be just the beginning of what awaits the region in fierce struggle.