Staunton, Aug. 12 – Khakassia, a small federal subject between the Altai and Krasnoyarsk Kray four-fifths of whose population of 500,000 consists of ethnic Russians, has seldom attracted much attention. But now that may change because as Andrey Pertsev argues, its elites are behaving in ways that show how the Putin regime might in fact collapse.
The Russian political analyst says that members of the regional elite are rapidly moving away from the Kremlin and its preferred outside candidate for governor to back the current incumbent whom they know and with whom they have worked for some time. They are also dropping their United Russia party affiliation (ridl.io/ru/hakasskoe-obnulenie-vertikali-putina/).
The incumbent governor, Valentin Konovalov, a member of the KPRF, now leads the Kremlin’s candidate, Sergey Sokol, as a result; and the Kremlin appears likely to lose that election and elections to the regional parliament unless it can pull a rabbit out of the hat through a combination of carrots and sticks.
The Kremlin, afraid of such an outcome, has sent a clear message to local elites: “let us win this election the easy way, or we will punish you.” But “the shift to explicit public threats is an extreme measure, one that shows despite the war and the rising tide of repression, the Kremlin’s political bloc is at risk of losing … and is beginning to play hardball.”
According to Pertsev, “local elites have sensed this weakness” and aren’t backing down. And that makes Khakassia “noteworthy because it illustrates one of the scenarios of a possible collapse of Putin’s power vertical.” Elites who have played along with the Kremlin leader want some reciprocity. They aren’t getting it. And now they are standing up to the center.
“In the case of Khakassia,” the political analyst says, “influential politicians want to see Konovalov, who they understand and have worked with rather than Sokol who is an outsider imposed by Moscow. They prefer the ‘local and honest’ Konovalov as he calls himself to a carpetbagger lobbyist.”
Pertsev says that “Khakass elites and residents want the Kremlin to leave them alone and are stubbornly pursuing their own agenda. The political bloc of the presidential administration has no good way out of this situation.” If it falsifies the election so Sokol can win, there will be protests and the falsification will be taken as proof of weakness.
But if the Kremlin doesn’t take that step, Sokol will lose, and both the people of Khakassia and residents of other regions and republics will see that they can stand up to Moscow and win, the last message that Putin can possibly want because it could herald the end of the regime he has built.