Furgal Case: ‘The folder with materials simply bided its time’

What Russian political experts think about Khabarovsk Governor Sergey Furgal’s arrest

Furgal Case: ‘The folder with materials simply bided its time’
Photo: kremlin.ru

Khabarovsk Governor Sergey Furgal was arrested on 9 July night on suspicion of organisation of killings of entrepreneurs in the 2004-2005s. Furgal is a representative of the LDPR. He has been chairing the post since 2018 when he unexpectedly won the second round of the election over ruling head of the region from United Russia Vyacheslav Shport. The governor was arrested for a case on an organised criminal group, which is implicated in the organisation and crimes against entrepreneurs’ life and health in Khabarovsk Krai and neighbouring Amur Oblast in the 2004-2005s. Realnoe Vremya asked experts about the meaning of Sergey Furgal’s arrest right now, what a signal is hidden behind it and whom Khabarovsk will have after him.

“I don’t know who will be sent there now, but I sympathise this person very much”

Sergey Shakhov, a political expert from the Centre for Regional Politics Development doesn’t see anything new and unusual in the story about Furgal:

“I think that it is a logical process in Sergey Furgal’s all history of the rule. I don’t see anything new and unusual in these events. I think the centre already had a lot of opportunities to show who was stronger here.

As for Furgal’s performance as governor, I haven’t seen great victories or performance of some super-tasks in his rule. Moreover, Khabarovsk stopped being the capital of the Far East during his rule — while it is a critical moment. Functions of the capital switched to Vladivostok, demonstrated Furgal’s weakness. Neither have I seen a crazy economic growth during his rule, and there hasn’t happened anything supernatural.

But in the region, he is quite a popular politician because he personified animus against Central Russia, the idea of “you are there in Moscow, while we are here”. And he met the population’s demand for a local authoritarian, cool man, fit this and, of course, took advantage of the people’s love. And this allowed him to be elected in the second round.

I don’t know who will be sent there now, but I sympathise this person very much. It takes a lot of courage to deal with Khabarovsk Krai now because people are tough there, the region is tough, the economy is tough. Moreover, the love for the previous governor has remained. This is why a new person on this post will have to show off interestingly to prove people he is cool, he is really cool.”

“It became clear the more they waited, the more Furgal would get stronger”

Ilya Graschenkov, director general of the Centre for Regional Politics Development, thinks that the issue was resolved a long time ago — as early as 2018, while they have been waiting for two years “for the sake of decency” and to avoid risks:

“The criminal case Furgal was arrested for is 15 years old, which means it has many ‘surprises’. The folder with materials simply bided its time. It was in September 2018 when Furgal was elected governor of Khabarovsk Krai going ahead of Shport. But it would be risky and ugly to remove him immediately.

Then in 2019, Furgal won the election in the Legislative Assembly and urban councils of the region for the LDPR, got the majority thus turning United Russian into an opposition party — against the LDPR. This became the last straw for the federal centre, it became clear the more they waited, the more Furgal would get stronger. And here is the logical outcome — an arrest.

However, Furgal still has great support from the population, this is why the people can dislike the arrest. In this case, it will be hard to elect a new “pro-Moscow” acting governor like in neighbouring Primorye in 2018.

As for Furgal’s performance, it isn’t bad, in general he satisfied the population’s needs, implemented a series of programmes that allowed shifting costs from Khabarovsk residents to businesses. So as a governor he wasn’t the worst, this is why the next head of the region must be a bigger populist to somehow be in line with Furgal in the rating.”

“It was decided to put it off after the voting”

Head of Political Expert Group Konstantin Kalachev calls the turnout in the region and Furgal’s other failures just catalysts of the events in the eyes of the federal centre — the political expert thinks the plan was ready a long time ago, it was just postponed.

Kalachev believes that an outsider from Moscow as acting governor will soon replace Furgal. And he will have this status for at least a year — we will unlikely see governor elections in Khabarovsk Krai in September 2020.

“Furgal’s arrest now doesn’t provide foundation to hold the election this year. In contrast, the acting governor will have a year to establish a new electoral machine, settle down. So we see the fulfilment of the postponed plan for Furgal. The plan seems to have existed for long, it was decided to put it off after the voting and the coronavirus peak. The turnout in Khabarovsk Krai was 44%, and though Furgal made all necessary statements, the 44% isn’t what the Kremlin dreamed about. The triumph of his team in last year’s election when they simply walloped United Russia worsened the situation for him.

The signal is clear here as well: there aren’t untouchables, one should try to have less personality. The system determined the horizon of possibilities — don’t cross it!”

“Intimidation of residents who showed the fig sign”

Politician and journalist Maksim Shevchenko thinks that by arresting the favourite governor the federal centre punishes, first of all, residents of Khabarovsk Krai for their disloyalty:

“I consider it as intimidation of Khabarovsk Krai and its residents who steadily supported Furgal, voted for the LDPR in elections and showed the federal centre the fig sing in different ways. I don’t know if Furgal is guilty or innocent — I don’t have an opinion about it. But it is clear that it is intimidation of the residents.

It is obvious that campaign managers, acting officials, functionaries will be sent there who will “break” the region and falsify different election procedures. They assume now people will be horrified and they can do whatever they want there.

Furgal has been in politics for 16 years: he has been a deputy twice, participated in elections — nobody charged him for his alleged actions in 2004 or 2006 for some reason. And now he has been charged. This is why nobody believes that Furgal was arrested for some committed crimes. Everybody will anyway think that it is a crackdown on the disobedient region that every time and after foiled all plans of Moscow, Kremlin campaign managers.”

“Furgal’s rating in the region was much higher than Putin’s rating”

Director of the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements Boris Kagarlitsky pays attention to the fact that Furgal is suspected of the acts in the early 2000s — and they never came up either when he was elected a governor or to the State Duma:

“It means he is punished for something else,” the expert concludes. “Everybody says шт unison: two factors were the last straw for the Kremlin. Firstly, Furgal’s rating in the region was much higher than Putin’s rating. Secondly, he didn’t manage or didn’t want to provide results of the recent all people’s voting the Kremlin needs.

Kagarlitsky adds that Furgal was quite a good governor:

“At least it didn’t get worse when the United Russia governor was replaced by the opposition governor who doesn’t have management experience. It got better in some areas. Furgal is quite good at medicine, while the main challenge earlier this year was medical. He is really competent as organiser of medicine, and everything in his region was in order regarding the epidemic.”

By Lyudmila Gubayeva, Aleksandr Artemyev