Reasons to dismiss Governor of ‘embezzlement capital’
Resignation of the St. Petersburg Governor is a popular topic in the St. Petersburg society and political circles of the city. However, with regards to Georgy Poltavchenko, it pops-up not as frequently as during the rule of his predecessor, while reasons for his possible resignation are not as outrageous as it may seem at the first glance.
Romance about finance
Rumors about the possible resignation of the Governor started circulating back in April 2016. However, the wave of publications dedicated to this subject has quickly receded to resume again in August 2017. The political circles of St. Petersburg are not shocked with such rumors and evaluate the situation soberly. There are several versions explaining why Georgy Poltavchenko may leave the Governor’s office. Back in 2012, Aleksei Kudrin, ex-Minister of Finance, had predicted the resignation of Poltavchenko after 2016. “I am sure that the current Governor is to finish his term,” – Kudrin told in a comment to his possible gubernatorial nomination. Today, many well-aware people add to this statement: “Until the elections”.
However, every Governor has his/her own reasons for resignation, and Poltavchenko is not an exception.
First version: Conflict between elites
Back in 2011, experts had foretold that Poltavchenko won’t be able to establish a common understanding with large businesses of St. Petersburg. At that time, many people had called him “a timeserver in strips” and predicted that “he won’t stay for long”. But several years later, the city dwellers dislike the current Governor not as intensely as they had disliked Valentina Matvienko and don’t write nasty lampoons to him. The ‘Orthodox security officer’ has established relations with everybody on the Neva River shores – except for the business. During his rule, the city was nicknamed ‘embezzlement capital’. A high-profile scandal with the construction of Zenit Arena and the criminal past of Vice Governor Marat Oganesyan responsible for that project had hit the headlines worldwide. The European partners had likely laughed at the level of the Russian football and quality of the new stadium.
The second ‘construction scandal’ had escalated with regards to notorious Kresty-2 (Crosses-2) – a penitentiary center supposed to become the largest in Europe. In fact, this facility has nothing to do with the Governor – but it is located in St. Petersburg, its construction was marred by murders of high-ranked officials, and its adverse effect on the city reputation was pretty strong.
Amid the above-mentioned construction-criminal scandals and numerous arrests of prominent businessmen (like Mikhalchenko), two major groups currently oppose the Governor. The first group unites billionaires with shady past. The pressure from law enforcement authorities in St. Petersburg sends a clear message: not only is it unprofitable to invest money into federal projects here but also unsafe.
The second opposition group consists of businessmen who have recently come across Governor’s son Aleksei who specializes in logistics and construction.
Recently Aleksei Poltavchenko became a co-owner of two St. Petersburg companies specializing in logistics and construction. Experts estimate their value at 14 billion rubles ($239.2 million), while the cost of the share of the Governor’s son is 4.2 billion rubles ($71.8 million).
The reason behind the animus toward the Governor’s descendant is the policy of his father. In the very beginning of his rule, Georgy Poltavchenko put on hold many major construction projects launched by the previous administration. The Novo-Admiralteisky Bridge, Arts Palace on Vasilievsky Island, Orlovsky Tunnel, and high-speed streetcar line to Pulkovo Airport have been sequestered. The list of persons aggrieved by these actions includes Deputy of the State Duma Vitaly Yuzhin (Orlovsky Tunnel was promised to him during the rule of Valentina Matvienko) and Oleg Deripaska, owner of Glavstroy-SPb.
It is necessary to note that it is normal for the municipal authorities to ask money for various city events, including elections, from the same businesses. No one can predict the financial situation at the upcoming elections, taking the number of hidden combatants – representatives of the big business.
Second version: Denunciation
Officials reporting each other to the authorities are an integral part of the political life in St. Petersburg. In the context of the expected resignation of Governor Poltavchenko, there are two prominent figures able to ‘ascend to the heights’ – Igor Albin, current Vice Governor of St. Petersburg, and ex-Vice Governor Vasily Kichedzhi.
Igor Albin and Vasily Kichedzhi
According to some information, in 2016, Albin had reported corrupt practices of his boss to the Kremlin on a regular basis. The Governor was repeatedly asked about the possibility that his deputy goes over his head and had always responded that he could recommend Albin for this post. However, at some point, the amount of denunciations has likely exceeded the certain level and the national leadership decided that Albin should not attend the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup on the newly-opened Zenit Arena.
Another high-ranked rival of Poltavchenko – ex-Vice Governor Vasily Kichedzhi – has recently promised to launch a full-scale and uncompromising struggle against the Governor and continue it until his resignation. The reason behind this decision was the termination of Kichedzhi from the post of the Rector of Saint Petersburg Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design. Kichedzhi blames his former boss for this dismissal.
Above mentioned Igor Albin has recently added additional fuel to the fire by putting blame for the leaking roof of the stadium on Oleg Deripaska – thus, worsening the relations between the Governor’s team and the billionaire further.
Vladimir Garyugin, Head of the St. Petersburg Subway, has also joined the Governor’s rivals – the criminal case was a cold shot for him. As the CrimeRussia wrote earlier, the ill-fated contracts had to be signed by the Governor. Smolny Palace has, in fact, washed its hands of this case by supporting neither the investigation team nor Garyugin – who had strongly relied on this support. As a result, the sources believe that the claim for rehabilitation and compensation of moral damages is not the ‘last say’ of Garyugin. The launch of new subway stations desperately needed by the city is at stake – and Garyugin can procrastinate their commissioning until the Governor’s resignation or transfer to another appointment.
Third version: One versus all
St. Petersburg residents had rebelled more than once against certain actions of Poltavchenko. The active part of the public call for the dismissal of the Governor for three reasons: amalgamation of the Russian National and Russian State Libraries; scandalous development of the area surrounding the Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory; and transfer of the Saint Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. Political experts call the last an “enormous political mistake”: the actions of Poltavchenko had put Vladimir Putin in an awkward spot because the decision was not agreed with the Kremlin. This has caused a new wave of public outcry amid the situation with Zenit Arena.
In addition, people blame Poltavchenko for cutting the infrastructural and social costs: during his rule, the amount of funds allocated for housing, school, and kindergarten construction and road maintenance and cleaning has been considerably reduced.
The budget of the construction committee has been reduced from 43 to 27 billion rubles ($734.8–461.4 million), while the budget of the road service – from 25 to 22.5 billion rubles ($427.2–384.5 million).
The political experts believe that the current Governor has no real merits to the residents. All the major projects, including Zenit Arena, Western High-Speed Diameter, and Bukharestskaya and Mezhdunarodnaya subway stations were launched prior to his appointment and completed during his rule with significant infusions of federal funds. However, the city dwellers remember very well the stalled resettlement program for people living in shared multifamily apartments and pedestrian improvement program in the historical city center.
The sources state that the predicted resignation won’t occur before 2018 – i.e. prior to the elections. Some old familiar names are mentioned in this regard. Experts believe that should Dmitry Kozak solve the development issues of Crimea and Sevastopol, the Governor’s chair is to become his reward. The sources also name Maksim Sokolov, Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation, and Aleksei Kudrin among the potential contenders for that post.
The Governor does not comment these rumors. According to some information, this may be, in fact, not a resignation, but scheduled transfer to another appointment with an enforcement agency. The Federal Protection Service and the chair of Aleksander Bastrykin are mentioned in that regards. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation has been recently marred by numerous scandals, while former security officer Poltavchenko used to be in charge of the tax authority and knows how to exercise the governmental service. In any event, Poltavchenko is not going to fall into oblivion.