On February 16, President Dmitry Medvedev fired Orel Oblast's long-serving Governor Yegor Stroyev.
Six days later in Moscow security guards found Aleksandr Rogachyov, a retired Federal Security Service officer, dead in his Toyota Land Cruiser. Police said Rogachyov, vice president of the industrial conglomerate Sistema, had been shot in the head -- execution-style -- with a 9 mm handgun at close range. Rogachyov was Stroyev's son-in-law.
And the governor's troubles didn't stop there. Last week, Stroyev faced hours of questioning by prosecutors in a corruption case against two of his first deputies, Igor Soshnikov and Vitaliy Kochuyev. The Russian media is already speculating that Stroyev himself could be implicated in the probe.
Not long ago, Stroyev was considered one of the Russia's more influential figures. He was a member of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's Politburo, speaker of the Federation Council from 1996-2001, and served as Orel's governor since 1993.
So what is the moral of his rapid, and rather spectacular, fall?
Writing in the online newspaper grani.ru, Vitaly Portnikov nails it:
For the long years he held power in Orel Oblast, Yegor Stroyev established a perfect example of modern Russia, only smaller. A 'family,' staunch allies, and the privatization of public property with the wave of a official's hand. And standing over all this -- a long-term governor, one who remembered Brezhnev and worked alongside Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin. With unquestioned authority, adept political skills, and a strong personality -- this was a man who knew what was in his own interests, and what interested the Kremlin.
Cloaked with such a holy vestment, the people on the sinful soil of Orel could do literally whatever they wanted. Only one thing was required of the governor, that he remain governor. As long as he never had to leave his post, everything would be all right.
Clarifying what happened with the irreplaceable Yegor Stroyev is not of interest here. Let us assume that at this stage the governor lost in the unending clan feud. Now what if he had not lost and remained governor for a few more years? In any case the former head of Orel is getting older and his health could have let him down. And there was no longer anybody to look after the interests of the big 'family' that had served for years in his oblast administration.
So the system collapsed like a house of cards. And everything immediately started to fall apart, tragically in fact. But how many such systems can be found in Russia? And is not Russia itself the same as Orel Oblast, but on a much bigger scale?
There's not much to add to that.
Stroyev's fall from grace dramatically illustrates why the Russian elite collectively freaks out whenever a transfer of power looms. It explains why officials fight like alley cats to keep themselves, and members of their respective clans, in office indefinitely. It clarifies why former President Boris Yeltsin's "family" battled so ferociously to hang on to power a decade ago, and why Vladimir Putin's "siloviki" are doing the same thing now.
And it demonstrates yet again that in a clan-based and personality-driven system like Russia's, political institutions and laws are mere tools for the victors to use against the vanquished.