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Russia Report: March 19, 2003

19 March 2003, Volume 3, Number 12
Rallies against a possible U.S.-led military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein were held in numerous locations across Russia last week. In Moscow on 14 March, more than 1,000 people took part in protests, according to ITAR-TASS. Greenpeace activists managed to hang large signs reading "Veto the War" and "Stop War" opposite the Kremlin in downtown Moscow. On the evening of 13 March, some unidentified young people threw red paint at the McDonald's restaurant on Moscow's Pushkin Square, reported. On a building adjoining the restaurant, the slogan "Peace in Iraq, War with McDonald's" appeared in red paint. In Vladivostok, about 100 students and environmentalists staged a picket outside the U.S. Consulate, ITAR-TASS reported. A similar action was held outside the U.S. Consulate in Yekaterinburg earlier in the month. On 18 March, State Duma deputies from Rostov Oblast discussed the pending war with Ekho Rostova. Duma Deputy Vladimir Averchenko (People's Deputy) expressed the view that the war is essentially a large commercial venture on the part of the United States. Deputy Mikhail Yemelyanov (Yabloko) said Russia could sustain large economic losses in the event of war against Iraq. JAC

In Chelyabinsk, the owners of a popular restaurant have stopped serving U.S. and British citizens to protest the policies of the governments of those countries vis-a-vis Iraq, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 15 March. The owners have posted a sign explaining the new policy on the door of the restaurant and have declared they are willing to suffer the consequent financial losses. Earlier in the month, the owners of a cafe in Taganrog in Rostov Oblast also announced they will not serve citizens of the United States or Great Britain in response to these countries' "aggressive policies" and "attempts to violate the UN Charter" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003). On 18 March, the presidium of the Union of Entrepreneurs in Taganrog issued a statement denouncing "the aggressive policies of the United States," reported. The entrepreneurs met to decide whether to support the anti-U.S. policy of the local cafe owners. JAC

Khazrat Sibgatulla Khadzha, chief mufti for the regional spiritual directorate of Muslims in Sverdlovsk Oblast, told reporters in Yekaterinburg on 13 March that the struggle against Islamic extremism in the central Urals is not sufficiently active, Novyi region reported. He said that the region is home to three large centers that represent a potential danger to people of all faiths. According to Khadzha, Islamic extremists are active in Yekaterinburg, Pervouralsk, and Krasnoufimsk. Arab emissaries are reportedly distributing Wahhabite literature that contains calls for an armed struggle against the nonbelievers. According to Khadzha, the Wahhabites have organized two youth camps in the region, and similar camps exist in Siberia and the Far East. JAC

Federal Security Service (FSB) officials and riot police in Yekaterinburg on 13 March arrested the organizers of a Wahhabite school in that city, NTV reported. The organizers are accused of distributing literature that inflames ethnic and religious hatred. However, Danis Davletov, the spiritual leader of the Rakhman Muslim community, which was targeted by the raid, asked: "What is Wahhabism and where is it banned? Is it banned in Russia? Is it a sect that is banned by the Russian Constitution?" According NTV, the "hundreds of extremists books" came from Central Asia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. JAC

Perm Oblast Governor Yurii Trutnev and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug Governor Gennadii Savelev met with President Vladimir Putin on 18 March to discuss the possible unification of their two regions, Russian media reported. According to RTR, Putin said that if the leaders believe the merger is needed to tackle the regions' economic problems and "to create a better environment for raising living standards, then, of course, I am willing to support [them]." According to ITAR-TASS, Putin noted that the Russian Constitution leaves this question to the competence of the subjects of the Russian Federation. Other legal scholars and legislators believe that it would be necessary to amend the constitution, since it enumerates the subjects of the Russian Federation by name (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 30 January 2003). Trutnev and Savelev said their first step will be the formation of a working group comprising representatives from both regions and from the federal government to consider the unification process in detail. JAC

About 100,000 residents of Voronezh found themselves on 18 March without heat or hot water, NTV reported. According to the station, this latest cutoff drove some residents to the streets in protest. At the same time, municipal authorities have accused the local power company, Voronezhenergo, of "terrorism." A high temperature of 1 degree Celsius was forecast for Voronezh for 19 March. Also on 18 March, hot-water supplies were turned off to all residents of Ulyanovsk, RosBalt reported on 18 March JAC

At a news conference on 18 March, Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Vladimir Shamanov called the decision by city authorities to turn off the supply of hot water "unpopular, but correct." He said that maintaining hot-water supplies could lead to "irreparable technological consequences." According to the oblast administration, gas suppliers have cut the city's supplies of fuel by 30 percent because of unpaid debts. In Ulyanovsk, the high temperature on 18 March was -1 degree Celsius. Last summer, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov rejected a proposal by a Unified Energy Systems official to introduce federal rule in Ulyanovsk because of the continuing problem of unpaid energy debts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2002). In July, President Putin visited Ulyanovsk and reviewed the energy crisis there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2002). JAC

Some 377 candidates competed in 16 March parliamentary elections in Bashkortostan, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 17 March. The elections were declared valid in all 120 electoral districts, and an estimated 60 percent of registered voters participated. Representatives of the local Unified Russia party won 91 of the 120 seats available, while a combined Communist Party/Yabloko bloc won three seats, the service reported. Candidates supported by President Murtaza Rakhimov --- including his son, Ural Rakhimov -- ran as Unified Russia candidates, reported. "Kommersant-Daily" concluded on 17 March that the new parliament will be just as loyal to Rakhimov as the old one. On 5 March, members of Bashkortostan's legislature voted unanimously to extend President Rakhimov's term as president, reported, citing UralPressInform. Rakhimov's current term was originally scheduled to end in June, but now the election for republican president will be held at the same time as Duma elections in December. According to the agency, legislators said that combining the elections will save money. JAC

Chelyabinsk Deputy Mayor Tatyana Kharisova has resigned, allegedly because she had been working as an "informant" for Chelyabinsk Oblast Deputy Governor Andrei Kosilov, reported, citing a 4 March UralInformBuro report that relied on unidentified sources close to the Chelyabinsk city administration. According to the municipal source, Kharisova received a "dividend" each time the oblast administration was informed about a city project. The agency noted that relations between the mayor and the oblast administration have become strained recently. The agency also claimed that Kharisova and Kosilov are former classmates who founded a publishing business together in 1999. JAC

Kamchatskenergo, the local power company in Kamchatka Oblast, has turned off the streetlights in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii because of unpaid electricity bills, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. Only thoroughfares of federal importance have lighting, and the city's traffic department has called upon motorists to exercise extreme caution. According to the agency, the company is also limiting heating supplies to city residents. The city has been plagued recently by protests by municipal workers who say they are owed back wages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). JAC

Local and federal officials have earmarked 360 million rubles ($11.5 million) of budgetary funds for the restoration of the Russian Orthodox cathedral and other religious sites in the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast city of Sarov in time for the 250th anniversary of the birth of St. Serafim Sarovskii next year, reported on 6 March. Preparations for the holiday were discussed at a meeting in Sarov of the organizing committee for the holiday. Presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko, government minister overseeing nationalities policy Vladimir Zorin, and Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk participated in the meeting. JAC

"Serious opposition" to Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak has appeared for the first time in the 10 years that he has been governor, "Vremya-MN" reported on 15 March. According to the daily, local oligarchs are dissatisfied with Prusak's policies, and they tried to elect their own candidate as mayor of Novgorod in December. However, the candidate supported by Prusak, Nikolai Grazhdankin, won (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 9 December 2002). This fall, Prusak will be up for re-election seeking his third term, and in anticipation of this event, local oligarchs sponsored the recent founding congress of the public-political regional movement People's Will (Volya naroda). The head of the new movement is State Duma Deputy Yevgenii Zelenov (Russian Regions), who also heads the regional branch of Unified Russia. The movement also reportedly includes members of the oblast and city dumas, as well as the chief federal inspector for Novgorod Oblast, Lyubov Andreeva. According to the daily, the local press has also carried reports that Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii is considering running for governor. JAC

Residents of Primorskii Krai are increasingly deciding that they would rather live on unemployment benefits than take low-paying jobs, such as milkmaids or boiler stokers, ORT reported on 6 March. An unidentified man told the station that stokers get 1,500 rubles ($48) a month for very hard work, while he gets 1,440 rubles for two months' unemployment. According to the station, a new law came into effect last month that will tighten the requirements for receiving such benefits. However, the "unemployed say that the new laws will make them work for kopecks," ORT reported. The previous day, "Trud" reported that Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin has allowed more than 10,000 new foreign workers into the krai this year. According to the daily, krai officials explain that the migrants are needed for work in fields, construction sites, and factories, work that few local residents want to do. However, the daily commented that "the main reason is not that [our people] disdain hard work, but that our people are simply refusing to slave away for meager wages, which the Chinese will accept." JAC

Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov has ordered all members of the oblast government to observe Lent, reported on 12 March, citing RTR. In addition, he decreed that all meat dishes be taken off the menu at the government cafeteria. According to a recent poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 77 percent of respondents said they will not alter their diets in any way for Lent. Two years ago, Ayatskov's government issued a document outlining the proper clothing for local bureaucrats. Male bureaucrats were advised to wear gray, blue, or beige suits with white or pastel-colored shirts and silk ties (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 1 August 2001). Last November, "Gazeta" noted that Ayatskov long had poor relations with church officials, but that the two sides patched things up recently. The newspaper argued that the Saratov eparchy needed additional funding, and Ayatskov needed the authority of the church (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2002). JAC

During a visit to Tyumen Oblast on 6 March, President Putin raised the issues of local-government reform and the restructuring of the public-housing and communal-services sector, Radio Rossii reported. Putin also attended a meeting to discuss the Urals Federal District, which was attended by the governors of all six regions in that district, as well as by its presidential envoy, Petr Latyshev; Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev; and Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov. National oligarchs -- including LUKoil's Vagit Alekperov, Surgutneftegaz's Vladimir Bogdanov, Sergei Nosov of YevrazHolding, and Andrei Kozitsyn of UGMK -- were also expected to attend, RosBalt reported on 4 March. According to on 6 March, demand for portraits of Putin shot up sharply at the local bookstore Znanie in Tyumen prior to the visit. As a result of the run, it is now difficult to find a portrait of Putin in any of the city's major bookstores. In Sverdlovsk Oblast, local political analysts were all buzzing over the fact that Governor Eduard Rossel cut short a trip to Italy in order to attend the meeting with Putin, concluding that Rossel had not been informed in advance of the president's visit, Novyi region reported on 4 March. JAC

The State Duma on 12 March approved in its second reading a bill that defines economically depressed regions and the formula for setting the level of federal financial support they receive, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill passed in its first reading more than a year ago (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 15 October 2001). According to RBK, the bill received 236 votes in favor -- only 10 more than it needed, with one against and no abstentions. The government has opposed the bill from the beginning, in part because the criteria by which a region qualifies as economically depressed are too broad and would require that almost 70 of Russia's 89 regions be granted financial assistance. According to ITAR-TASS, the bill stipulates that a region is economically depressed if output in the basic sectors of the economy has slumped by more than two-thirds during the past 12 years. JAC

On 14 March, legislators approved in its first reading a government-sponsored bill on the regulation and control of foreign currency. The vote was 287 in favor of the bill which, if adopted, will liberalize the regulation of hard currency. The Communist faction voted against the bill and argued that such a law would encourage capital flight, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 March. Two other bills were considered, one that was more liberal than the government's and one that was more conservative, and deputies chose the government version. Under the government bill, citizens will be allowed to open bank accounts in foreign countries that are members in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Trade in precious metals and gems will be regulated by separate legislation, according to JAC

Several political analysts discussed in the 13 March issue of "Rossiiskaya gazeta" how the Duma will behave in the run-up to the December elections. Merkator Institute head Dmitrii Oreshkin commented that during the year before elections no productive work will occur in the Duma and that this is the same in legislatures all over the world. But, he added, populism will take different forms, including wise measures such as the law on pensions, and measures that are clearly unwise, such as the law on Russian as the state language. Political analyst Viktor Kuvaldin commented that now the Duma is more interested in socioeconomic issues and has become more careful regarding radical reforms. "But in this populism, there is also a kernel of rationality," he said. "The main problem before the country today is massive poverty, and the legislature should somehow struggle against this." JAC


Name of law______________Date approved____________No. of reading

Basics of federal____________12 March__________________2nd
support for economically
depressed territories

On the regulation and________14 March___________________1st
control of hard currency

The Federation Council approved on 12 March five of six bills in the legislative package to reform the electricity sector, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Senators rejected the bill to amend the law on energy conservation, arguing that they believe the measure would encroach on the rights of regions. Valentin Mezhevich, representative for Irkutsk Oblast, explained earlier that the regions oppose the consolidation of funds for energy conservation at the federal level and believe the funds should remain at the regional level, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 5 March. Only 85 of the necessary 90 representatives voted in favor of the bill, RosBalt reported. The bills that were passed establish 1 July 2005 as the deadline for completing the reforms. The bill on energy conservation will now go to a conciliatory commission. JAC

The Federation Council on 12 March rejected a bill to amend the Criminal Code to impose harsher penalties for poaching, Russian media reported. According to RosBalt, the bill received only 14 votes in favor and 85 against. The bill would have increased the punishment for illegally harvesting fish and sea products from 200 to 500 minimum monthly wages and a jail term of six, rather than four, months. JAC


Name of law_____________________________________Date approved

On natural monopolies______________________________12 March

On state regulations of tariffs for electricity and heat_______12 March

Civil Code________________________________________12 March

On electrical energy________________________________12 March

On enactment of the law on electrical energy____________12 March

OUT: TVS Information Broadcasting Service Director Grigorii Krichevskii will resign, reported on 17 March, citing TVS Press Secretary Tatyana Blinova.

RUNNING: Self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii told Ekho Moskvy on 18 March that he plans to run for a seat in the State Duma in December elections.

ARRESTED: Viktoriya Tikhacheva, a former adviser to slain Magadan Oblast Governor Valentin Tsvetkov, was arrested on 12 March on suspicion of embezzlement, Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov told Interfax on 14 March.

21 March: State Duma will consider legislation reforming the communal-housing sector in its second reading

21 March: A working group of representatives from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan will meet in Astana to prepare a concept for the creation of a single economic space by June of this year

22 March: Party of Life will hold a party congress

22 March: Congress of Democratic Forces will be held in Moscow

23 March: Mayoral elections will be held in Novorossiisk

23 March: A referendum will be held in Chechnya on the republic's draft constitution and draft laws on the election of the president and parliament

25 March: The Leningrad Oblast legislature is scheduled to select a new representative to the Federation Council

26 March: Central Election Commission will hold a meeting at which it will select a new chief and secretary

29 March: Unified Russia party will hold a congress

April: Financial Action Task Force to visit Russia, according to Financial Monitoring Committee Chairman Viktor Zubkov on 11 March

1 April: Date by which the State Duma would like the government to submit legislation amending the Budget and Tax codes in line with proposed legislation to reform local government, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February

7-10 April: Russian-Mongolian Forum on Economic Cooperation to be held in Ulan Bator

15 April: Court hearing in the trial of writer and National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov will reconvene

20 April: Mayoral elections will be held in Norilsk

22-25 April: The Sixth General Assembly of the Northern Forum will be held in St. Petersburg. Governors from 28 countries are expected to attend, and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov will head the Russian delegation, ITAR-TASS reported

29 April: Deadline for completion of the first stage of Russia's chemical-weapons disarmament

30 April: Russian government will consider a financial plan for 2003-05, according to RosBalt on 12 March

May: St. Petersburg will celebrate the 300th anniversary of its founding

1 May: Deadline by which the government is expected to finish preparing a package of legislation establishing a mortgage system, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 February

11 May: Parliamentary elections will be held in North Ossetia

18 May: New law on railway transportation will come into force

25-27 May: Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit Russia

31 May: Russia-European Union summit will take place in St. Petersburg

15 June: Karachaevo-Cherkessia will hold presidential elections

16-22 June: A meeting on the topic of "Science and the Progress of Humanity" of 25 Nobel Prize winners will be held in St. Petersburg

17-21 June: Seventh International Economic Forum will be held in St. Petersburg

27 June: Gazprom will hold annual shareholders meeting

July: Month by which a working group of European and Russian legislators wants to create a "road map" for implementation of the joint Russian-EU accord on Kaliningrad of 11 November 2002, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 March

14 September: Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel's second term officially expires

23 September: The first European-Pacific Ocean Conference will take place in Vladivostok devoted to improving dialogue among intellectuals in European countries and the Pacific region, reported on 6 March

October: Days of Bulgarian Culture will be held in Russia

29 October: 85th anniversary of the founding of the Komsomol.