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Saturday, July 21, 2007

How Putin Beats His Rivals . . . and We do Mean Beat

The Moscow Times reports:

Law enforcement officers stormed the apartment of Arkhangelsk Mayor Alexander Donskoi on Wednesday and took him to a detention facility, sharply escalating an ongoing battle between him and the region's governor.

The officers forced their way into Donskoi's apartment Wednesday afternoon and carried him out to a waiting police car despite protests by doctors present that his blood pressure was dangerously high, Donskoi's aide, Eduard Gainutdinov, said by telephone. Gainutdinov said he was speaking from the apartment. A woman could be heard wailing in the background. Regional prosecutors said in a statement that Donskoi, 37, was detained on suspicion of illegally dipping into city coffers to pay for bodyguards for himself and his family. Prosecutors are now deciding whether to charge him formally with abuse of office, the statement said. If charged and convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison.

Donskoi was formally charged in February with faking his university diploma and participating in illegal business activities while in office, but he had been free on condition that he not leave the city. He has said repeatedly that he is innocent.

Donskoi's legal problems began shortly after his November announcement that he planned to run for president next year. He has said the Kremlin tried to pressure him into staying out of the race.

But he has also been embroiled in a dispute with Arkhangelsk Governor Nikolai Kiselyov. On July 11, Donskoi posted a video on the City Hall-connected showing a man resembling Kiselyov puportedly accepting a bribe. Kiselyov said in a statement posted on the regional administration's web site the following day that the video was a fake and part of a "dirty" campaign connected with the upcoming election season. "I have already gone to the authorities [in connection with the video]," Kiselyov said in the statement. Donskoi's 16-year-old son, Alexander, said Wednesday's detention was Kiselyov's "revenge" for the video. A woman who answered the phone at Kiselyov's press office declined to comment and referred all questions to the regional prosecutor's office.

Donskoi's son said he came home Wednesday afternoon and saw his apartment building barricaded by OMON riot police. "They didn't let me inside, and when I said I'm his son, they let me through but were cursing at me as I went by," he said in a telephone interview. The front door to the apartment had been broken down, and the Arkhangelsk mayor was lying on the bed, his son said. After doctors gave him a shot to wake him up, the arresting officers handcuffed him behind his back and "dragged him down the stairs," Donskoi's son said. The criminal investigation into Donskoi came up at President Vladimir Putin's annual news conference Feb. 1 in the Kremlin. Putin suggested, at the time, that Donskoi's troubles were related to squabbling between him and Kiselyov. There are dozens of criminal cases being conducted against deputy mayors, small-town mayors and former mayors across the country in what political analysts see as a campaign by the Kremlin and governors to instill greater loyalty in mayors.

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