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St. Petersburg Fishes for Federal Funds

  • Brian Whitmore

St. Petersburg, June 24 (RFE/RL) -- During St Petersburg's gubernatorial election campaign, one of the charges opponents levied against the eventual victor, Vladimir Yakovlev, was that he was a tool of Moscow. Now, it appears that, Yakovlev, as governor, is attempting to use Moscow as a tool.

The new governor has promised that at least two stations on the city's fourth metro line will be finished by the end of the year. The project is estimated to cost the equivalent of 9.9 million U.S. dollars, of which the city has received less than half.

Yakovlev says has given the the metro question top priority in his talks with federal authorities. He says he personally will secure the remaining funding needed to finish the new metro line. Yakovlev said Saturday, after a visit Friday to Moscow, that he already has secured nearly 200,000 dollars in talks with Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin.

But how much influence the new governor will have in the capital and how many tangible benefits St Petersburg will see from his lobbying remains unclear. His predecessor's relationship with Moscow was complex and contentious, often costing the city favor when budgetary questions were decided.

According to one of St Petersburg's two representatives to the Federation Council from 1993 to 1995, Alexander Belyayev, former Mayor Anatoly Sobchak had access at the highest levels in Moscow but was unable to work the federal bureaucracy at the middle level. He said he expected Yakovlev to have better personal relations at the mid-level. Belyayev added, though, that objective economic factors will inhibit Yakovlev's ability to draw federal funds; the federal budget is in a crisis.

Belyayev pointed out that the city pays about 45 percent of its revenues to the federal government and that much of these funds return to the city for federal projects, but that the city loses in the interim due to inflation. He said the city needs an arrangement with the federal government where local tax revenues can be applied directly. An agreement signed on June 14 between Yakovlev and President Boris Yeltsin provides for such an arrangement but the details are yet to be worked out, the deputy said.

The former chair of the city's finance committee, Alexei Kydrin, agrees with qualification. He said in an interview that the agreement could open a way to a clearer division of economic control. But, he said, he doubts that the federal government will be willing to give up much authority.