Street demonstrations in the Far East city of Khabarovsk over the arrest of local governor Sergei Furgal show no sign of fading away. Moscow this week poured fuel on the fire when it appointed Mikhail Degtyarev, 39, as Furgal’s replacement. Like Furgal, Degtyarev is a member of the right wing populist LDPR party, which provides token opposition while remaining ultimately loyal to the Kremlin.
Degtyarev’s 10 years in Russian politics have been marked by a series of pointless, populist initiatives designed to increase his own media profile. For example, he suggested banning U.S. dollars from circulating in Russia, arguing that “they are candy wrappers, not secured by anything and printed by a private organization”. His other initiatives have included: an idea to paint the Kremlin white to contrast with “the moral decay in Western civilization” and for the state to fund consultations for gay men to ‘correct’ their sexual orientation.\
Degtyarev has been used several times by Kremlin officials to trial balloon controversial ideas: he suggested both online voting, and a huge apartment block renovation programme in Moscow. One theory is that he is being used as a sacrificial figure in Khabarovsk, and is being set-up to lose governor elections in 2021. Any appointee that was seen to have been ‘parachuted in’ by Moscow would be facing similar problems: outsiders are often seen as having little interest in local issues.
There is no evidence Degtyarev has ever had ambitions in the Far East. In 2013, he ran to be Moscow mayor, coming in fifth place with 3 percent of the vote (Sergei Sobyanin won 51 percent, and opposition leader Alexey Navaly got 27 percent). He ran again in 2018 and got less than 7 percent (Navalny was banned from running).
After almost a week in Khabarovsk, Degtyarev still hasn’t attended a single protest. He said he has not got time to speak to the people “under his window” and alleged that “foreigners” were organizing the demonstrations. His style is very different to that of Furgal, who liked talking to people and solving problems (for example, Furgal tackled unscrupulous developers and arranged for the repair (rus) of a morgue refrigerator).
Why the world should care
- The situation in Khabarovsk is highly unusual — there haven’t been any such large opposition demonstrations outside Moscow for at least a decade. It’s still unclear whether the Kremlin will be successful in putting out this fire, or whether it will spread to other Russian cities.