Arrests leave Komi in crisis

Komi Republic wakes up in a new political landscape as Governor Vyacheslav Gaizer and 13 other regional leaders are locked up in Moscow prison cells

Prosecutors say Governor Vyacheslav Gaizer and 13 other high-ranking politicians are detained on suspicions of serious fraud. Experts believe the arrests rather are linked with political intrigues and controversies between powerful economic interests.


The Russian federal Investigative Committee on Sunday detained Governor Gaizer along with his deputy Aleksey Chenov, speaker of the regional Parliament Igor Kovzel and a string of other powerful politicians and officials in the region.

According to Investigative Committee representative Vladimir Markov, the arrests follow more than 80 house searches in Komi, St. Petersburg and Moscow, during which discoveries were made of more than 60 kg of jewelleries, 150 valuable watches and financial document which prove massive whitewashing of stolen goods, newspaper Kommersant reports.

Governor Gaizer has headed an organized crime group which since 2006 has sought to take control of state assets, Markov told the press.

Newspaper Vedomosti calls the arrests «an unprecedented move against a regional ruling elite». It comes as a major surprise to experts. Vyacheslav Gaizer is one of the most popular regional leaders in Russia. In last year’s governor’s elections he won as much as 79 percent of the votes.

A source close to the Kremlin says to Vedomosti that the Russian President must have given his approval of the arrests and that the motive behind the regional mop-up could be linked with the conflicting interests of a powerful economic stakeholder.

According to opposition politician Vladimir Milov, that powerful stakeholder could be Igor Sechin and his Rosneft company. The state-owned oil company has reportedly long wanted to strengthen its position in Komi, a region traditionally dominated by competitor company Lukoil, the Moscow Times reports.

Governor Gaizer will be under pre-trail detention for the next two months. Meanwhile, the region will be headed by republican government chairman Vladimir Tukmakov. In a statement on Monday, Tukmakov stressed that «all regional power organs work as normal» and that «the situation is in no way affecting  daily life in the region».

The clamp-down on the Komi power elite has however set an example not only for the Komi Republic but also for the neighboring regions and Russia as a whole.

Gaizer has been governor in the Komi Republic since late 2009 when he took over the governor’s office from Vladimir Torlopov. Gaizer is a native from Komi and previously served as deputy governor under Mr Torlopov.

The Komi Republic is a northwest Russian federal district located west of the Ural Mountains. The raw material-rich region is part of the Barents Euro-Arctic Region.