Russian governor barred from election over 'undeclared Volga'

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The Independent Online

One of Russia's most famous provincial governors, Alexander Rutskoi, was blocked from running for re-election yesterday because of his failure todeclare ownership of an elderly Volga car.

One of Russia's most famous provincial governors, Alexander Rutskoi, was blocked from running for re-election yesterday because of his failure todeclare ownership of an elderly Volga car.

Mr Rutskoi, governor of the Kursk region, is a former Russian vice-president who was briefly jailed in 1993 after he joined the defence of the Russian parliament when President Boris Yeltsin assaulted it with tanks.

Up until Saturday he seemed likely to stay in office. Then a local court decided to ban him from the poll. Mr Rutskoi said: "Police supposedly found a car registered to me, a 1994 Volga sedan, which they alleged I did not include in my declaration as a candidate." He added that he no longer owned the car.

Mr Rutskoi was careful to state that he did not believe the Kremlin was behind this last-minute sabotage of his candidacy, the decision to ban him evidently delayed until the moment when he would have no time to appeal to the Supreme Court. "The whole of the Kursk region is up in arms," he said. "I have many supporters."

As governor of the Kursk region, south of Moscow, Mr Rutskoi was one of the 40 regional chief executives - often all-powerful figures in the Russian provinces - running for re-election in the next few months. The decision by the court in Kursk to ban him because of his failure to declare a six-year-old car is unlikely to be taken seriously by an electorate who often suspect their leaders of purloining millions of roubles.

Mr Rutskoi claimed he was the victim of a carefully prepared conspiracy, because before the court announced its decision "the police ringed off the court building, the television centre and the radio building during the day".

The leaders of Russia's 89 regions are among the most powerful political figures in the country. They have come under heavy pressure this year as the President, Vladimir Putin, has tried to curtail their powers. Mr Putin has appointed seven envoys to oversee the governors and is keen for more tax money to go to central government. The Kremlin also wants to limit governors to two terms in office.

Yegor Stroyev, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament, which is made up of provincial leaders, said yesterday that Russia had always entered "a time of troubles" when there was a conflict between central authority and regional governors.

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