April 1, 2010｜Russia
Researcher, Institute for Russian & NIS Economic Studies, Japan Association for Trade with Russia & NIS
In February 2010 Governor Sergei Darkin began his third term in Primorsky Krai in the Russian Far East. He continues in office amid the ongoing large-scale development for the 2012 APEC summit.
Governor Darkin built up a fortune from business dealings in marine products and soybeans, and in June 2001, as the successor to Yevgeny Nazdratenko who was effectively removed from office because of his conflict with the federal government over an energy crisis, defeated the candidate supported by the federal center, and was elected governor at the youthful age of 37. In 2005 governors became presidential appointees, and six months before the end of his term in office he submitted a request for reappointment to (then) President Putin, and became the first governor to be appointed to their post.
When he first took office, language and behavior inappropriate for a governor was observed, including his displaying an impolite attitude at a meeting with an economic mission from Japan, and when he visited Japan stating, at a meeting with parties involved in economics, that investment from Japan was not necessary. Entering his second term, whereas his language and behavior as governor calmed down, he was hit by a string of arrests and prosecutions of his inner circle, including deputy governors. The governor himself was also linked to a scandal where his house was searched and he was forced into a one-month “exile” in Moscow. A rumor went round that, abandoning the governorship, he would get transferred to being an ambassador.
In this period, the energy problem which was the direct cause of the resignation of the previous governor did not occur, and while there were superficial results in having raised the public’s standard of living, this was not due to his political skill, but due to high economic growth continuing, accompanying the influx of oil money. There was no sign that Governor Darkin had sincerely investigated the future of Primorsky Krai, and of him having implemented policy that had taken public welfare into consideration.
From the impact of the global downturn, Russia’s GDP was down 8–9% on the previous year, with that for the Far Eastern region also falling 5–6%, whereas conversely for Primorsky Krai there was an increase. Thanks to the large-scale investment projects, such as the development of APEC-related infrastructure and the pipeline for transporting crude oil from Eastern Siberia to the Pacific coast, today Primorsky Krai has become one of the small number of places within Russia where the economy is good. The major APEC-related development is attracting enterprises from different countries, including Japan. The rise in the astuteness and voice of Governor Darkin as the official responsible on the ground is also marked. This is a far cry from his scandal-ridden second term where the rumors of his resignation didn’t cease.
That does not mean, however, that there are no concerns. With the huge amount of development funding that has been flowing in from Moscow, he has lost interest in foreign capital. He even takes the position that foreign capital is not necessary. That is not limited to Primorsky Krai. It is something that can be said of Russia as a whole, but in Darkin’s case it is pronounced. With the funds being sent from Moscow, he is interested only in undertaking the projects that the federal center has planned. Although his past self would throw up dreamy plans that have zero possibility of realization and he was one to listen to proposals from foreign capital, today he has come to only carry out Moscow’s directives.
The continued exodus of human resources has long made the administrative organs into lame ducks. The acquaintances that the author had when he worked in Vladivostok from 2003 to 2006 have all left the administrative organs. While the tyrannical and willful character of the governor exists in large part, it contrasts with the neighboring Khabarovsk Krai, which practically hasn’t changed. Compared with Khabarovsk with its perfect handling of VIPs and conference content, even for one international conference, in Vladivostok’s case everything is poor, from the conference content to the interpreting and the conference progression. The exodus of human resources doesn’t have to be a cause of unease for the APEC summit.
With it widely held that he will probably be given another term in office in order to make him take responsibility for when the infrastructure development is not on time for the summit, the Darkin era will continue for 10 or 11 years, regardless of whether Japan likes him or not. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for Japan to attempt a rethink as to how it will deal with Governor Darkin?