Bonnets into the air! Why are Krasnoyarsk Krai residents celebrating Tolokonsky’s resignation?
Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Viktor Tolokonsky did not follow the set order and announced his resignation prior to publication of an official document signed by Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin has yet to confirm or refute rumors of the governor of a Siberia region resigning. Tolokonsky did not want to sit there waiting and flew back to his home region of Novosibirsk. Why did local residents give a sigh of relief once they learned about it?
Viktor Tolokonsky’s upcoming resignation would be regularly discussed in the 3 years he was the Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor. In fact, there was a joke: “There is the French leave. Then, there is Tolokonsky who says goodbye but does not leave”. But it has finally happened. Tolokonsky said goodbye yet another time. This time for real, it seems. He began his sad speech in the local government poetically, saying “I am leaving, or rather driving away”. He shed a tear and warned: “it is not the first time I am saying goodbye to my colleagues. I would already be mentally prepared to work at another place. It is different this time”. He even apologized: “I am sorry if I offended anyone. I have an explosive temper. However, I have always loved my work. I am sorry if I was not as kind as I could have been to some people”.
Eyes of many public officials present there water as Tolokonsky left. However, it was not clear whether those were tears of sadness or relief. It is likely it was a little bit of both.
Tolokonsky got on a plane and flew to Novosibirsk on October 28. He did it before his resignation was officially announced. Ordinary local residents were not split in their opinion on the news. They were filled with joy; there were no signs of the Stockholm syndrome. Some people suggested holding an evening public festival to celebrate the long-awaited news. Even those who do not drink promised to have a glass. Others suggested installing a monument to Tolokonsky that any vandal would be welcome to violate. Someone even had an idea of making the public official the Novosibirsk Region Governor again while reinstating Gorodetsky as the Krasnoyarsk Kray one. However, Novosibirsk residents scared of the idea quickly rejected it and said they have a “no refunds policy”. These are just the most reserved suggestions voiced.
Krasnoyarsk Krai residents’ outcry is understandable. Tolokonsky decided to make a surprise for local residents once he moved to the Krasnoyarsk Krai capital. He got on a stage and sang few songs. Lack of enthusiasm set the new Governor back on his heels. He made a careless remark: “We went there and saw our audience was quite different already…they were covered in tattoos to the point their skin looked blue. I said: “Good heavens! This could only happen in Krasnoyarsk”… No one listened to me sing. Only few people danced. There was not anyone from the administration. They are afraid of going into these districts, I guess. I dared to sing there once but I will not do it again”. The new Krasnoyarsk Governor hailing from Novosibirsk did not change his opinion in the 3 years in office and managed to get locals to detest him as well.
“Viktor Tolokonsky was born in Novosibirsk in 1953. He worked as the Novosibirsk Mayor between 1993 and 2000. Tolokonsky was elected the administration head and Novosibirsk Region Governor with more than 42% of the votes on January 9, 2000. He was reelected with 57.57% of the votes on December 7, 2003. Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recommendation, the Novosibirsk Region Board of MPs approved him on July 12, 2007. He worked there until 2010. Tolokonsky worked as the Russian Plenipotentiary Presidential Envoy to the Siberian Federal District between September 9, 2010 and May 12, 2014. The Russian President appointed him the acting Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor on May 12, 2014. Tolokonsky won the Krasnoyarsk Krai gubernatorial elections with 63.28% of the votes on September 14, 2014”.
Krasnoyarsk residents have plenty of reasons to be happy about Tolokonsky stepping down: Krasnoyarsk mayoral elections cancelation; support for extremely unpopular Mayor Edkham Akbulatov who ruined the city economy; an ecological catastrophe causing the city to almost constantly be under “black sky”; decision to found an “aluminum valley” in Krasnoyarsk using Chinese investors’ money. The Governor is facing the criticism more and more often. What else is the outsider Governor being blamed for?
Economic climate goes downhill
The Krasnoyarsk Krai was once a budget revenue generating region contributing to financial prosperity of the whole country; it is a debtor now. The Krasnoyarsk Krai’s federal debt went through the roof during Tolokonsky’s time in office. It grew more than threefold in the 3 and a half year period, going from 28.6 billion rubles to 98.4 billion rubles. The Krai became one of the five regions with the highest federal debt, ranking the fourth among them. It is worth noting that the region owes 70% of the debt to for-profit banks and only 30% to the Russian Federal Treasury, according to the Control and Accounts Chamber. It is vice versa in other Russian regions, meaning it is possible to make agreements on the federal level and restructure their debts if need be. Not in the Krasnoyarsk Krai.
The Krai ended up having the largest budget deficit in Russia last year. The Russian Accounts Chamber auditors estimated it at 11.6 billion rubles despite the Governor having promised to reduce it to 5 billion rubles the year before that.
Local production shows nearly no growth, being a testimony to the quality of taxes collection. While 673 billion rubles worth of taxes (including custom duties payments) were collected in the Krasnoyarsk Krai in 2014, the number went down to 538 and 477 billion rubles in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Almost 200 billion rubles of annual income were lost.
Big projects fail
Tolokonsky successfully caused the biggest local project launched during his time in office to fail; preparation for the 2019 Winter Collegiate Contest was halted. Federal money allocated for construction of necessary facilities was mostly distributed between cronies. Tolokonsky had direct connection to one of the companies that won the profitable tender, as crimerussia.com reported earlier. The media called the Krasnoyarsk Contest “Tolokonsky’s embezzlement” when City Hall MP Vadim Egorov’s company won the main tenders.
Scandals surrounding purchase of land for the Contest facilities construction pop up regularly. It turns out they had been bought by local MPs’ families or confidants. It is no surprise the Contest facilities construction funding resembles a bottomless pit more and more with every passing day; pit for millions of rubles worth of tax payers’ money to be dumped into. The initial 36.4 billion ruble budget keeps getting bigger. More than 60 billion rubles have already been spent on the project. There are no guarantees it will not require even more funding, too. However, even additional money does not help in meeting deadlines for the facilities commissioning. The Russian President visited Krasnoyarsk in March of 2017. He accused contractors of falling behind schedule at a meeting. Contractors of 12 out of 34 facilities had missed deadlines by 2-4 months by then. Russian Deputy PM Vitaly Mutko supervising sporting activities promised everything would get back on track soon and contractors would catch up. However, they failed to do catch up by September.
Creation of a transport hub in Krasnoyarsk is yet another project that failed during Tolokonsky’s time in office. The project had been launched back when Aleksandr Khloponin was the Krai Governor. It was decided to develop transit air carriage operation in Novosibirsk instead; the Krasnoyarsk Krai budget lost the opportunity to make billions of rubles.
Tolokonsky was bad even at implementing relatively small projects. Construction of housing for those whose housing burnt down is one such example. 138 apartment houses burnt down in the Krai in May of 2017. 620 people had nowhere to leave, including 110 children. The majority of housing has already been built. However, commissioning of housing in the Strelka village was put off; it is to be commissioned on October 10 instead of September 15 now. The temperature has already gone down yet people still have nowhere to live.
Krai’s property sale
Tolokonsky began selling Krai-owned enterprises in bulk a year after he was elected the Governor. The Emelyantsevo Krasnoyarsk Airport majority stake was sold to Oleg Deripaska’s companies in June of 2015. Emelyantsevo’s facilities used to be under the Krai government and bring 120 million rubles into its budget annually. Krasom stock was sold to oligarch Andrey Melnichenko’s Sibirskaya Generiruyashchays Kompaniya in October of 2016. Kraskom is one of the largest utility service providers in Krasnoyarsk. It owns the majority of city cold and hot water supply systems.
Tolokonsky hinted at selling the remaining Emelyantsevo stock in January of 2017. He then declared the enterprise unprofitable and suggested privatizing the largest local chain gas station. “My goal is to prepare Krasnoyarsknefteprodukt stock for sale this year. This stock is of no use for us and only causes us lots of problems. That is why it is to be sold”, the Governor said. Indeed, Krasnoyarsknefteprodukt profit dropped drastically since Tolokonsky took over the Krai. While the public enterprise brought 300.8 million rubles to the Krai budget in 2014, it only brought 103.3 and 9 million rubles in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
A public non-ferrous metals plant specializing in refining and jewelry manufacturing went downhill, too. Krastsvetmet made 2.3 billion rubles, 2.6 billion rubles, and 432 million rubles in 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively.
However, Tolokonsky failed to make several public enterprises unprofitable. For example, the Gebernskie Apteki Chaim Pharmacy’s profit doubled, going from 74.6 million rubles in 2015 to 150 million rubles in 2016. However, Tolokonsky supported an idea of privatizing the chain. A former medicine plant’s profit skyrocketed, too. It went from 66.8 million rubles in 2015to 188 million rubles in 2016. However, it did not stop Tolokonsky from discussing whether Krasfarma’s territory should be handed over for real estate development.
Even the Krai Legislative Assembly MPs protested the sale of once profitable enterprises. It was probably the first time local elite united to oppose against the outsider Governor. Needless to say it did not improve Tolokonsky’s image.
It is possible Tolokonsky lost his position due to this transaction. Both voters’ loyalty and engagement were vital for the Kremlin before elections. Meanwhile, voter turnout goes down with every election. For example, only 16.6% of voters voted in Norilsk on the national voting day. Political scientists concluded it was the first time it was made clear how disappointed with elections and existing one-party monopoly Krasnoyarsk voters are. Even the ruling party failed to persuade its supporters to vote.
United Russia’s opponents think the Krai authorities are the main reason for voters’ lack of confidence in elections. For example, Patriots of Russia representative in the Krai Legislative Assembly and MP Ivan Serebryakov said that “2016 Krasnoyarsk Krai Legislative Assembly and Duma elections featured violations and forgery in which Tolokonsky, his Deputy Sergey Ponomarenko, and Krai Electoral Committee Head Konstantin Bocharov were personally involved. 9 political parties refused to acknowledge the elections results and demanded the frauds were dismissed”.
Tolokonsky allowed removal of most popular Krai politician Anatoly Bykov from the Legislative Assembly elections last year. The local Patriots of Russia Arm Head was denied registration due to an unspent conviction. The “offended” dissident party was given an excellent opportunity to mobilize dissident voters after that.
Krai Electoral Committee Head Konstanin Bocharov was the first one to feel negative consequences of voters’ lack of confidence in elections, according to the MP. Bocharov filed for resignation “due to family matters” in August of 2017. Tolokonsky had to answer to Moscow for that later, too. Ponomarenko is next.
Governor’s team’s corrupt practices
The law enforcement began visiting the Krai Administration more often than not since Tolokonsky became the Governor. They would take one member of the Governor’s team after another with them. Former Krai Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Investment Policy, and Foreign Affairs Nadejda Marshalkina was the first to be pressed charged against. She was accused of violating part 6 of Art. 290 (Bribe-Taking on an Especially Large Scale) (2 bribes, 17 and 55 million rubles), part 1 of Art. 170.1 (Falsifying the Comprehensive State Register of Legal Entities) (2 instances), and part 1 of Art. 185.5 (Falsifying a Decision of a General Meeting of Shareholders (Stakeholders) of a Company) (2 instances) of the Russian Criminal Code. The case against her was investigated for 2 years. It has been referred to court.
Former Krai Minister of Ecology Elena Vavilova was suspected of violation of part 2 of Article 286 (Exceeding Official Powers Committed by a Person Holding a Government Post) of the Code in October of 2015. While in office, Vavilova ran a scheme to illegally transfer forests into private ownership, according to investigators. The right for 800 m2 of forest was transferred to the Krasles Company as a result.
Vavilova’s Deputy Yuri Panckuk was charged with violation of Article 286 of the Code. Panckuk signed a work acceptance protocol with Spetsialnoe Energeticheskoe Oborudovanie, according to investigators. 17 million rubles of public money was then transferred to the company. However, the bulk of the paid works had not actually been performed.
The Russian FSB searched Krai Minister of Construction and Utility Services Nikolay Glushkov and his Deputy Sergey Kozupitsa’s houses and offices last April. The public officials were suspected of having something to do with a Krai Legislative Assembly MP’s case. The MP had been arrested on suspicion of violation of Article 290 of the Code.
The Krai Accounts Chamber demanded the police investigated Vice PM Yuri Lapshin this September. Auditors accused him of negligence.
July’s biggest news was Krai Legislative Assembly MPs’ decision to double their and Krai public officials’ salaries. The amount of so called “reward” public officials are paid for their hard work was raised from 100 000 to 200 000 rubles a month. The news of the unanimous decision caused a nation-wide scandal once the media got hold of it.
The MPs that came up with the bill were presented as the scapegoats. However, many people agreed the Governor was to be blamed for it. First, it was Tolokonsky who quickly signed the dubious bill. Second, he made a public mistake by stating he does not think there is anything wrong with doubling the salaries. Moreover, he believes it is called for. Here is what Tolokonsky had to say on the matter when interviewed by local TV channels: “To be honest, Krai public officials have one of the lowest salaries in Russia. Almost no one has such salaries anymore. They have not been changed in a decade or more. So, there are definitely reasons and arguments (in favor of the raise)”. Third, the MPs doubled salaries not only for themselves, but for all public officials, including the Governor.
The salary scandal irreparably tarnished the Governor’s public image. It is possible the Kremlin’s opinion of him was damaged just as badly.
Deceived investors crisis
The Krai has some of the worst problems when it comes to deceived housing investors. 10 criminal cases have already been opened due to the situation, according to the Russian MIA Krasnoyarsk Krai Department’s data. 6 people were pressed charges against, 2 people have been put in jail, and there are more than 1 000 victims. However, the situation still cannot be helped.
For example, Gruntovaya Street 28a residents have not been able to move into their housing for 12 years. They set up a tent camp near their future housing in June. They moved the camp near a public garden next to the Krai Administration in September. They believe their problems are due to local authorities’ incompetence.
The investors went on a hunger strike on September 20. One woman has already been taken to hospital. However, the investors’ problems still have not been dealt with. This draws attention to the region and raises social tension; federal authorities are not happy about it.
Tolokonsky has become the main target after he refused to discuss the deceived investors’ problems. He suggested banning co-funded construction projects instead, as crimerussia.com reported earlier.
Governor and his wife’s inappropriate statements
Tolokonsky managed to win residents of his home region of Novosibirsk with public concerts, questionable jokes, and promenades with his wife. However, Krasnoyarsk residents did not appreciate such behavior and were irritated by it.
Many of the Governor’s inappropriate statements were turned into Internet memes. For example, Tolokonsky said “poplars are not trees” when Krai residents protested destruction of yet another public garden. He ‘calmed people down’ by saying “everything will get back to normal once the wind blows” when commenting on yet another “black sky emergency”. The public official suggested people “wrecked tires” of those who keep driving through a bridge closed for reconstruction. Krai residents held rallies and began raising money for a ticket to Novosibirsk for Tolokonsky after he suggested scaling down public transport to get rid of traffic.
However, Tolokonsky’s wife Nataliya managed to irritate people even more than her husband. The alternative medicine advocate appeared on the local TV and announced having flu is good for one’s health. The Governor’s wife recommended the viewers developed affection for fever since it “cleans one’s body from toxins”. She then opened a medical center affiliated with the Russian Federal Biomedical Agency and hired homotoxicologiests. Homotoxicology is an alternative medicine akin to homeopathy. She cynically recommended developing affection for Croatian cheese when her husband imposed sanctions. But it was Nataliya Tolokonskaya’s remark on the “black sky” regime that led to the biggest public outcry. “Contaminated air will no longer be harmful once there are more clean thoughts in your heads! I can teach you, I am a doctor! That is what I am responsible for!” she said. The Governor’s wife rating plummeted after that, simultaneously damaging Tolokonsky’s one. Krasnoyarsk Krai residents are afraid of just one thing now: what if Moscow decides to keep Tolokonsky and he returns to the Krai?