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Grigory Pasko: Pooh Corner

The Land Where You Sit: Pooh Corner By Grigory Pasko, journalist The trial of the mayor continues in Vladivostok. To a Canadian or American reader, this phrase will only say that yet another mayor is on trial in Russia, but no more. Just ordinary everyday news. All the more so since this is already the 13th or maybe even the 14th mayor who has been put on trial in Putin’s Russia.

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Photo from the author’s archives: former mayor Nikolayev in handcuffs

What is amusing is that this phrase doesn’t say anything at all to a Russian reader. The fact is that there are currently TWO former mayors on trial at the same time in Vladivostok. It seems to be a unique form of recreation in Vladivostok – putting mayors on trial. Former mayor Yuri Kopylov is being tried for “committing actions that exceed the authority of the office and have entailed a substantial violation of the rights and lawful interests of citizens and organizations”. According to the data of the investigation, Mr. Kopylov had grossly violated a series of federal and local laws when he was head of administration of Vladivostok. He had arbitrarily entered into a contract with a Japanese company for the delivery of materials for the construction of a columbarium at a sum of around $4 million. The more-recently-former mayor, Vladimir Nikolayev, is being tried for practically the same thing: the Putinite power today isn’t very creative in its choice of Articles of the Criminal Code. All the more so since the system created under Putin allows many mayors and governors – if not all of them – to be thrown behind bars for “committing actions that exceed the authority of the office…”. The whole point of the system is that you can’t commit any actions at all – even for the benefit of the city – without exceeding your authority. A.A. Milne wrote a wonderful story about a teddy bear named Winnie-the-Pooh. Russia’s law-enforcement organs and professional criminals have a long-standing tradition of giving people nicknames – “pogonyala” in Russian. They say that Vladimir Nikolayev, the Vladivostok mayor who was just recently stripped of his powers and arrested, had a nickname too – Winnie-the-Pooh. After his arrest, the newspapers were suddenly brimming with references to this storybook character’s name, and were mentioning how Nikolayev, supposedly, was not only mayor, but also the kingpin of an organized criminal grouping. You would think that the procuracy of Primorsky Kray had suddenly awakened after a years-long hibernation, the way it’s suddenly spewing out charges left and right against Nikolayev himself and his assistants at city hall. It has been reported to the public that city hall officials had allowed numerous gross violations of the law to take place in the disposition of plots of land. The rules for the disposition of municipal property were violated. In particular, the city administration did not conduct auctions for the right to enter into leasing contracts. The procuracy also found violations of budget legislation. Nikolayev himself said shortly before his arrest: “Everything taking place in Vladivostok since February 12, 2007 is simply a full cynical ‘contract’. A contract on the part of highly-placed officials, who have given the law-enforcement organs an assignment to use any means whatsoever to decapitate the city of Vladivostok, under any fabricated circumstances whatsoever. Somebody wants to take everything away here and divide it up; somebody has apparently decided that the mayor of the city has become a liability; somebody wants very much to engage in spending the money for the upcoming summit of the APEC countries.” I had written that Nikolayev would be arrested right here in this blog long before he was actually arrested. Today, I will stick my neck out and make a conjecture about who will be the next mayor of Vladivostok. As I understand the situation in that city (and I’d lived there for 20 years), the man anointed to be the next mayor (after pretend elections) will be the son of an FSB general, Ruslan Kondratov. Daddy-the-general is at the present time representative of Primorsky Kray in the Federation Council.

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Photo from author’s archives: predicted future Mayor Kondratov, without handcuffs.

What do we know about daddy? In his day, Viktor Kondratov was the head of the FSB Administration for Primorsky Kray (on a personal note, I might add that he played a role in my own criminal persecution and ludicrous accusations of having spied for Japanese journalists). Then he was Putin’s plenipotentiary representative in the district. Then he was transferred to Moscow. Summing up the activities of the FSB general in the post of Putin’s representative in Primorsky Kray, the head of the administrative department of the Primorsky Kray administration, German Zverev, wrote: “Mister Kondratov turned out to be unequipped to manage the socium. After all, resolving tasks associated with the activities of the FSB is one thing. But managing the economic process, seeking compromise with local authorities, striving for a way out of a crisis – this is something completely different… Mister Kondratov has already exceeded his limit of mistakes”. It turns out that he didn’t, inasmuch as in the year 2006, he was appointed to represent the interests of Primorsky Kray in the Federation Council. Kondratov’s son Ruslan did not follow the path of serving the fatherland in the gallant ranks of the secret police. But his ascent, as the local press wrote, began in 1997, when his father became the plenipotentiary representative of the president in the district. As the regional mass media of that time reported, Viktor Kondratov enjoyed the broadest of powers and could make use of the power resource for improving material well-being – his own and his family’s. Ruslan Kondratov and the general’s son-in-law Dmitry Dremlyuga undertook to cobble together a family fisheries empire from the remnants of the Primorsky Kray industry. As the press reported, a sufficiently simple scheme was used: functioning enterprises were artificially brought to bankruptcy, and then the assets were distributed among a narrow circle of creditors, one of whom was often OOO “Akvaresursy” or “Ogni Vostoka” – enterprises close to Kondratov and Dremlyuga. (It is noteworthy that the same kind of (apparently chekist) scheme is in place now with respect to the company YUKOS as well—G.P.) Gradually, the “Akvaresursy” group of companies “privatized” a significant proportion of the Primorsky Kray fish (and not only fish) industry and was coming within striking distance of its most significant acquisition – the company “Dalmoreprodukt”, symbol of the fish industry in the far East of Russia. In August 2004, Kondratov finally got the remnants of «Dalmoreprodukt» firmly in his grasp. The workers of the enterprise had their own take on Kondratov’s intervention. From a letter from the members of the OAO “Dalmoreprodukt” board of directors to the procurator-general of the RF: “A group of affiliated parties headed by the entrepreneur Kondratov R.V. conducted a machination unprecedented in the scales of the country – they bankrupted the largest company in the fish-catching industry on the basis of fictitious debts. …On the remnants of «Dalmoreprodukt» they organized several subsidiary enterprises, including the ‘Dalmoreprodukt’ Management company’. A short time later thousands of fishermen remained without work.” In 2002-2003, running for deputy in the Legislative assembly of Primorsky Krai from Khasansky Rayon, Ruslan Kondratov thrice suffered a crushing defeat. Nevertheless, he still became a deputy. At the present time, Ruslan Kondratov occupies the post of chairman of the committee for social policy and protection of the rights of citizens of the Krai’s Legislative Assembly. His constituent receiving office recently opened up on Oleg Koshevoy street in Vladivostok. Before this, reports about various kinds of good works by this personage of regional politics had begun to appear often in the local press. Even earlier, it was reported about how nearly 800 fishermen from the factory ships “Sodruzhestvo” and “Grigory Didenko” had decided to transfer their single-day earning to the Fund of Social Support of the Population of Ruslan Kondratov. Answering the questions of a local newspaper, Ruslan Kondratov said: “Well, in the political life of Primorsky Krai I have already participated, true, nobody had asked about my desire to play political games. But seriously… Vladivostok is not an unfamiliar city to me, I do not plan to leave here, and its problems concern me in the same way as they do the other townspeople… – in the realm of finances and in the realm of fuel, I think, I have already achieved some kind of significant level.” And another conjecture. 100 billion rubles will most likely be allocated by the government of Russia for the development of Primorsky Kray. This will not happen soon. But it will be Putin’s people who will be dividing up (or, in the modern Russian lexicon, “sawing up”) this money, not Nikolayev’s people or even those of today’s governor Sergey Darkin. What I’m trying to say here is that Darkin’s days are also numbered. Okay, maybe months – no difference. It is entirely possible that he won’t be locked up in jail, but merely moved, like a pawn, to another place on the political chessboard in Putin’s Russia.