25 heads of Russian regions will go through the election procedure in September. Somewhere a new person will come to the post of governor, somewhere the old one will be re-elected. But in any case, every new election is a renegotiation of an unspoken agreement between the federal center, the people and local elites. And the alignment of forces in each region changes from time to time. Our Version begins a series of publications to show what kind of legacy the next wave of governors leaves behind.
Our first hero is Oleg Kozhemyako, Governor of Primorsky Krai.
Oleg Kozhemyako is the only politician in the history of modern Russia who managed to be the head of four regions. In addition to Primorye, Kozhemyako headed the executive branch in the Koryak Autonomous Okrug, in the Amur Region and on Sakhalin. Kozhemyako himself, in front of television cameras, asking President Putin to support his nomination for the post of Primorye governor, said that his childhood, youth and early career were connected with this region. However, it cannot be said that the inhabitants of Primorye in 2018 perceived the return of Oleg Kozhemyako to the region with great enthusiasm.
In fairness, it must be said that Kozhemyako was landed in Primorye from Sakhalin in the midst of a political crisis. Then the CEC canceled the results of the just-past gubernatorial elections, in which the representative of the United Russia, Andrei Tarasenko, sent from Moscow, and the local communist deputy, Andrei Ishchenko, competed. Formally, United Russia won with a margin of 1.5%, but due to numerous violations, the election commission declared the elections invalid. As a result, Kozhemyako was sent to lead the troubled region. For the sake of his victory in the elections, political technologists did everything possible and impossible. In particular, Andrei Ishchenko, the main competitor, was not allowed to compete for the governor’s chair (the electoral committee rejected the signatures of municipal deputies collected for him). Also, only competitors “convenient” for Kozhemyako turned out to be registered. And even under these conditions, he won only 61.88% of the vote with a turnout of 46.35%. Will Oleg Kozhemyako, after five years of ruling in the region, be able to get more impressive voter support?
The media agenda of the Kozhemyako team is now focusing on social policy. Measures to support doctors, teachers and families with many children are widely covered, and a program for the improvement of yards is presented as an initiative of the governor. Although, in fact, this is just a part of a federal project funded through the Ministry for the Development of the Far East. In 2022, Primorye received 1.6 billion rubles for these purposes from the center.
At the same time, Kozhemyako tries to be closer to the people: he distributes puppies of his dog to families with children, inspects school canteens, and personally answers complaints about housing and communal services on social networks. Whether this leads to systemic changes is difficult to say. One thing is clear: the outflow of the population from the Far East “to the mainland” continues. In 2022, the population of Primorye decreased by about 30 thousand people. And this is an even sharper drop than during the pandemic years. However, maintaining the population and its well-being, although it is an important strategic task, is hardly taken into account in momentary political alignments. Here, the governor’s relationship with the business elites is much more significant. And in this direction, everything is rather ambiguous.
Forbes magazine estimated the fortune of Irina Gerasimenko in 2018 at $180 million. Thus, she ranked 24th in the ranking of the richest women in Russia. Oleg Kozhemyako has been declaring a personal income of more than 20 million rubles since 2015.
Three pillars of the economy of Primorye are fishing, logging and mining. The most acute situation is in the fishing industry. Kozhemyako himself took up fishing back in the 90s, when he was elected deputy chairman of the board of directors of OJSC Preobrazhenskaya Base of the Trawl Fleet (PBTF). The company is located in Primorsky Krai. Soon Kozhemyako began to control the base, which was engaged in catching and canning fish. Rumor has it that this happened not without the assistance of the then governor of Primorsky Krai, Yevgeny Nazdratenko, who, according to rumors, continued to support the PBTF, becoming the head of the State Committee for Fisheries. The Preobrazhensky base fed the family of Oleg Kozhemyako both when he was a deputy in Primorye, and when he became a senator in Moscow, and when he was governor in Kamchatka and Sakhalin. The common-law wife of Oleg Kozhemyako Irina Gerasimenko, his son Nikita and sister Olga Kravchenko got rid of their shares in the enterprise only immediately before the return of the head of the family to the region in the status of governor. The buyer was Senator Alexander Verkhovsky, who does business in partnership with longtime associates of Roman Abramovich Efim Malkin and Irina Panchenko.
However, having sold the business in Primorye, the family of Governor Kozhemyako did not leave the fishing industry. The main official asset of the relatives of the head of the region is Tymlatsky Fish Processing Plant LLC in Kamchatka. In the meantime, another person from the Kozhemyako clan – Alexander Evdokimov – took on the largest fish asset in Primorye – the Vladivostok Sea Fishing Port. Evdokimov acquired a stake in the company that controlled him, which until now was considered the patrimony of the people of Sergei Darkin. Last year, Evdokimov filed a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against structures associated with Darkin. And then the other day I received a message that the claim was withdrawn. One of the probable reasons is that Oleg Kozhemyako does not need extra noise in the region on the eve of the gubernatorial elections. Because someone, but the “fish kings” could pour out tubs of compromising information on the family of Oleg Kozhemyako. And there were already sighting shots.
For example, the media leaked a story about how the Gems company, registered to Irina Gerasimenko and Olga Kravchenko, did not pay almost 7 million rubles to the municipality of Vladivostok for a plot intended to create a market. The ill-wishers look at the business empire of the governor’s son Nikita under a magnifying glass, who most clearly shows his entrepreneurial talents precisely in those regions in which his father ruled. In some projects, there is also a conflict of interest. For example, structures that are attributed to the son of the governor Kozhemyako were seen in greenhouse projects in Primorye that are claiming state support. In general, the business interests of the Kozhemyako clan cause scandals, and this harms politics.
Gold and wood
If the echoes of the fish redistribution with the participation of the Kozhemyako clan have already spilled over into the media environment, then scandals with gold mining are just on the way. Large mines in the region are owned by the Petropavlovsk group, which is experiencing a shareholder conflict. Its founder, Pavel Maslovsky, went to the colony at the end of last year, and, apparently, the London-registered company will be looking for new owners for its Russian assets. The governor may well “woo” them into the right hands. By the way, another major player in the gold market, Nordgold, which belongs to the family of billionaire Alexei Mordashov, has interests in the region. The fact that the “metal tycoon” moved his Nord superyacht to the port of Vladivostok last year indicates that he feels comfortable in Primorye. The question now is whether the “golden redistribution” will do without scandals and what will be the role of Governor Kozhemyako in this process.
But Oleg Kozhemyako has already got involved in the redistribution of the forest, however, rather in words. It is known that more than 77% of the territory of Primorsky Krai is occupied by forests. Harvesting timber for export to China is considered a super-profitable business here. In 2020, the governor suddenly declared war on black lumberjacks – however, little effect is yet to be seen: news about illegal logging continues to come in. However, the situation here is more complicated. “Illegal logging is far from the most terrible problem of the region’s timber industry,” notes the specialized forest portal Forest.ru, “no more than 10% are cut down by black loggers. The greatest damage to coastal forests is caused by enterprises operating formally, on completely legal grounds. The local “forest kings” divided their spheres of influence even under Governor Darkin, and the renewed government willy-nilly have to rake these Augean stables. Whether it will be Governor Oleg Kozhemyako or someone else is still unknown.
By the way
Last spring, Andrei Ishchenko, who almost became governor in 2018, was detained in Vladivostok. As the beneficiary of the Avrora-Stroy construction company, the investigation suspects him of fraud in the construction of an apartment building in the regional center. He is accused of stealing 105 million rubles from 187 equity holders.