VLADIMIR KUZNETSOV came out to this hilly port city in 1973 as a member of the Soviet Navy. ``I fell in love with this territory and my future wife, very beautiful like the city,'' he recalls with a smile.
The handsome, dark-haired Kuznetsov went on to Moscow, where he carved out his niche as a researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (Imemo), a powerful Moscow think tank.
Several years ago, he returned here to work as deputy director of the economic development institute of the Far Eastern branch of the Academy of Sciences.
Then, this spring, his life took an unexpected turn when the legislature of the Maritime Territory asked him to become its chairman, in effect the governor of the region.
``I'm just a phenomenon of perestroika,'' he says, referring to Soviet restructuring. ``When the deputies presented the idea to me, I thought it was a joke. Now I'm very glad. I like this job.... I'm a scholar and it's interesting to carry out my dreams.''
Mr. Kuznetsov is only one of several ``scholars'' who have come east, far from the controls of Moscow, in a bid to introduce liberal ideas for reform.
Valeri Lifshits was an oil and gas expert at Imemo when he came out to head the Nakhodka branch of the same academy institute. There he wrote the first comprehensive plan to form a ``free-enterprise zone'' in the Soviet Union.
Over on Sakhalin Island, economist Valentin Fyodorov was elected a deputy and became governor earlier this year on a program of making the island a model of private enterprise, with tight links to Japan, South Korea, and the United States.
Mr. Fyodorov started his career, too, at Imemo, moving over to the Plekhanov Institute of National Economy. About two years ago, says Harvard researcher Boris Rumer, Fyodorov began frequently visiting Sakhalin, where he developed a plan to set up a free-enterprise zone.
Rafik Aliyev, who was Kuznetsov's boss, jokingly refers to these people as ``the Primakov mafia,'' referring to Yevgeny Primakov, the former head of Imemo who is now a member of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's Presidential Council.
Mr. Aliyev, who also came east from Imemo two years ago, praises Kuznetsov. ``He's young, he understands the advantages of a market economy, and he knows the international economy.''
But Aliyev jokingly says that only a twist of fate made his deputy the governor.
``We were supposed to go to Japan together, but he couldn't get a ticket. If I hadn't gone, I would be governor,'' he says.