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Russia Report: December 11, 2002

11 December 2002, Volume 2, Number 42
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has reportedly urged the federal government to revive a Soviet-era project to divert water from northern Russian rivers to Central Asia. Interfax reported on 4 December that Luzhkov had sent President Vladimir Putin a proposal calling for approximately 6-7 percent of the water from the Ob River in northern Russia to be redirected and transported through a planned 2,550-kilometer-long canal to potential customers in drier southern climes, including southern Russia, former Soviet Central Asia, and even Afghanistan. According to a number of press accounts, Luzhkov in his proposal predicted that sales of water during this century would become more cost-effective and thus more profitable than sales of oil. The Moscow mayor also noted that the idea of diverting water from some western Siberian rivers to the southern Soviet republics had been carefully studied during the 1970s and 1980s but was ultimately rejected by the Soviet Politburo in 1986.

There were doubts in some quarters over whether Luzhkov had actually made this proposal. Some observers, including Institute for Political Studies Director Sergei Markov and analyst Dmitrii Bagiro, said that the reports about the initiative that appeared in the Russian media on 4 December might be part of an ongoing campaign to discredit the Moscow mayor. Other recent Luzhkov proposals, including his call earlier this year to restore the statue of Soviet secret-police founder Feliks Dzerzhinskii to Moscow's Lubyanka Square, have also received ample negative press coverage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002). Neither Luzhkov, who is heading an official Moscow city-government delegation on a tour of Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Yugoslavia, nor any of his spokesmen has confirmed or denied floating the river-redirection proposal. However, various media have reported that Putin received Luzhkov's proposal and sent it to the government for "study" (see, for example, "Vremya novostei" on 5 December), and their has been no denial from either the Kremlin or the Russian White House.

Meanwhile, Ivan Blokov, a campaign manager with Greenpeace Russia, said the plan was "not exactly" Luzhkov's; rather, it had come from the Natural Resources Ministry and, Luzhkov "simply supported it," "The Moscow Times" reported on 10 December.

Whatever the case, the proposal has triggered a significant amount of criticism, both from environmentalists and from politicos and other VIPs from the Far North and Siberia. Blokov was quoted by Germany's "Frankfurter Rundschau" on 9 December as saying: "In Russia, the construction of levees, bridges, and canals is always a good way to steal a lot of money. Inasmuch as the construction of the canal suggested by Luzhkov would cost at least several tens of billions of euros, it would be possible here to 'transfer' quite a bit."

Valentina Vityazeva, a Komi geographer who was involved in vetting the original Soviet-era river-diversion plan, warned that Luzhkov's plan could cause an environmental and economic "catastrophe."

Aleksandr Filipenko, governor of Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, which is where the proposed canal would start, said the idea was not bad in principle but essentially impossible to carry out. "The plans to build a canal have no prospects, given that there will be, in my view, huge losses of water in realizing them," quoted Filipenko as saying on 9 December.

Aleksandr Nazarov, chairman of the Federation Council's Committee for the North and Numerically Small Peoples, said it would be "completely irresponsible" not to see the "massive risks" entailed in Luzhkov's water-transfer plan, including negative "global ecological changes," reported on 4 December.

It is worth noting that Nazarov was governor of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug until December 2000, when he dropped his re-election bid just one week before the region's gubernatorial election took place. Sibneft's Roman Abramovich, who won the Chukotka governor's race with 92 percent of the vote, later picked Nazarov to represent the region in the Federation Council. In recent months, Sibneft has been locked in a power struggle with Luzhkov's administration for control over the Moscow Oil Refinery. Thus, it is possible to read a political subtext into Nazarov's criticism of Luzhkov's latest controversial proposal. (Jonas Bernstein)

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev's fears have turned to hopes of a third term as the results of the city's Legislative Assembly elections continue to come in. Preliminary results from the 8 December election had suggested that incumbents would be re-elected in two-thirds of St. Petersburg's 50 districts, suggesting that Yakovlev would be unable to garner the simple majority in the Legislative Assembly necessary to overturn the local rule limiting governors to two terms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002).

Some of the governor's liberal opponents fear that he may be able to get such a majority and thus change the legislation, paving the way for a run at a third term. Reuters quoted Yabloko spokeswoman Yekaterina Shuvalova on 9 December as saying that the anti-Yakovlev forces would garner only 17 seats in the assembly and described their mood as "somewhat pessimistic." Meanwhile, Irina Khakamada, a Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader and deputy speaker of the State Duma, said the Yakovlev administration had put great effort into ensuring that the turnout for the 8 December election would be low, which worked to Yakovlev's advantage, reported on 9 December.

The governor himself is apparently optimistic. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 December that after seeing preliminary results on election night, Yakovlev declared, "I'll sleep well tonight."

Whatever the final results of the St. Petersburg legislative election turn out to be, Yurii Solonin, who heads the political council of the St. Petersburg branch of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, said the party would insist on Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov retaining his seat in the Russian parliament's upper chamber "for all subsequent time, for a century," reported 9 December. The new St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly must confirm Mironov, a close ally of President Putin, as the region's representative in the Federation Council. This seems likely whether or not Yakovlev looks set to get his third term.

Perhaps the most sensational result of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly election is that Yurii Shutov, the Legislative Assembly deputy who was jailed in February 1999 on charges of running a criminal group that carried out a series of contract killings and other serious crimes, once again won a seat in the city's legislature. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated on 10 December that Shutov won because his current residence, Kresty Prison, is located in the district where he ran and that the turnout among the 6,000 inmates at the facility was "practically 100 percent." Shutov defeated 12 other candidates. (Jonas Bernstein)

The ongoing saga of Boris Berezovskii's relationship with Liberal Russia took another unexpected turn on 7 December, when more than 200 party members -- or putative party members -- attended an extraordinary congress in St. Petersburg. The delegates voted to reinstate the self-exiled oligarch into the party's ranks as its sole chairman while voting to rob three other co-chairmen -- Sergei Yushenkov, Viktor Pokhmelkin, and Boris Zolotukhin -- of their leadership positions, though not their party membership.

In October, Liberal Russia's leadership expelled Berezovskii after he gave an interview to the "national-patriotic" newspaper "Zavtra" calling for an alliance with the Communist Party. Given that Berezovskii has been Liberal Russia's main source of funding, he has remained popular among many of the party's regional members, so much so that the party's anti-Berezovskii leadership decided it was better to dissolve its St. Petersburg branch rather than let it hold an extraordinary congress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002).

But, while the pro-Berezovskii forces finally managed to convene an extraordinary congress, the ousted co-chairmen are denying its legitimacy, arguing, among other things, that a majority of Liberal Russia's regional branches did not participate in it. Zolotukhin denounced the extraordinary congress as "a gathering of political vagrants" and refused to recognize its decisions. Even on 5 December, two days before the extraordinary congress took place, 21 of the 27 members of Liberal Russia's political council, along with the heads of some of the party's regional branches, signed a document charging that in preparation for the extraordinary congress, Berezovskii had paid off various provincial party members. (The document provided the initials of some of the alleged bribe takers, along with the regions they came from, the amount of the bribes they received -- ranging from $3,000 to $12,000 -- and unflattering descriptions of their moral character.) The document's signatories also alleged that Berezovskii had "concocted" a communique supporting the extraordinary congress, ostensibly signed by representatives of 42 regional Liberal Russia branches. Berezovskii's aim, they charged, was to "create parallel organs of control" and "to appropriate the leadership's authority," reported.

The charges leveled against Berezovskii by Yushenkov and the other Liberal Russia leaders received some governmental backing prior to the extraordinary congress, when Deputy Justice Minister Yevgenii Sidorenko said that holding it would be illegal. The Berezovskii-owned daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" denounced Sidorenko's comments as unprecedented interference in an "intra-party dispute" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002). On 9 December, two days after the congress was held, another Berezovskii daily, "Kommersant," ran a long, almost hagiographic piece about the congress, replete with descriptions of how Berezovskii participated in it "virtually" -- via a satellite link -- and paeans to the oligarch from various attendees. One of these, Viktor Shmakov, head of the Bashkir chapter of Liberal Russia, declared, "Berezovskii is our banner!"

Meanwhile, Yushenkov said on 9 December that he planned to hold a meeting the following day of the working group for forming a congress of democratic forces. Yushenkov said representatives from a majority of Russia's democratic organizations, including SPS, the Democratic Union, and the Party of Economic Freedom would attend, and that. Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko had also been invited. The congress is set to hold its first assembly in March 2003, during which Russia's disparate democratic groups will try to come up with a unified list of candidates for single-mandate districts in the December 2003 parliamentary election and a single candidate for the presidential elections the following year. Yushenkov denied that his decision to convene a meeting of the working group was connected with the 7 December extraordinary congress of Liberal Russia. He insisted yet again that the congress had been illegitimate, saying this time that a majority of those who had attended were not party members. (Jonas Bernstein)

State Duma deputies and officials from the office of Vladimir Zorin, the Russian minister in charge of nationalities policy, met on 9 December to hammer out a draft state policy toward legal and illegal migrants. Officials from Zorin's office brought along data indicating that more than 7 million people had come into Russia over the last decade while only 3 million had left the country, with one in four Russians moving within the country during the same period. According to official estimates, around 3 million foreigners live in Russia illegally, costing the state 8 billion rubles (more than $250 million) per year. "We have migrants and will always have them," Zorin said. "The main thing is that the state must do everything it can to make migration in Russia controlled and orderly." Andrei Chernenko, head of the Interior Ministry's Federal Migration Service, called for increasing fines on employers who hire illegal immigrants. The working conditions for migrants, he said, are "horrible," with employers feeding them "kitchen waste." When caught, the illegal immigrants themselves, Chernenko said, should be deported according to the legally stipulated procedure.

The Duma deputies agreed on the need to bring migration under control. Dmitrii Rogozin, chairman of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, called for toughening the law on citizenship. "Do you have any idea what people will do to get citizenship? I heard of a girl born in 1986 who ostensibly fell in love with and married young Chinese men 27 times," Rogozin said. "Today, you can enter Russia using 18 different types of documents. How would you like, for example, the passport of a Tajik sailor? I was in Tajikistan. I saw mountains, but no sea." Rogozin and his colleagues called for a legal mechanism for deportation, for interstate treaties to prevent illegal immigration, and for clearly defined procedures and rules for applying for Russian citizenship, as well as for registering and giving work permits to migrants who have already lived in Russia for a long time. Oleg Mironov, Russia's human rights ombudsman, said that any official migration policy must specifically discuss Chechnya and the North Caucasus, which "engender the main migration processes in the country," reported on 9 December.

Meanwhile, a migration expert with the Russian Academy of Sciences, Zhanna Zaionchkovskaya, told "Izvestiya" that 3 million to 4 million illegal immigrants from CIS countries are currently living in Russia. Last year, she said, 300,000 people from CIS countries, a third of them Ukrainians, entered Russia legally. At the same time, some 4 million ethnic Russian are living in other CIS countries, mainly Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

The issue of migration is also a hot topic in Primorskii Krai. The region's governor, Sergei Darkin, said on 5 December that Russia's Far East was ready to take 5 million people from other parts of the country over the next five years, reported. Specialists in the region are working on a project to create 5 million new jobs for the newcomers. The issue, Darkin said, has been discussed with the Kremlin's Security Council, and the federal government has allocated 300 million rubles (nearly $10 million) to finance a program in Primorskii Krai to build low-cost housing for young families with children. (Jonas Bernstein)

With President Putin approaching the end of his third year as Russia's head of state, one would have thought that rumors about the ongoing influence of Yeltsin-era insiders, the so-called "Family," would have faded into history. All the more so, given that his approval rating recently broke the 80 percent barrier for the first time -- a rating that would give most leaders the feeling they had a free hand in personnel and other key areas. Yet a recent journalistic account purports to detail the various ways in which post-Soviet Russia's second president continues to cohabit with the first. This is all the more noteworthy given the frequent stories in the Russian press that Putin, upon his accession as head of state at the end of 1999, gave the Family a guarantee that he would make no drastic changes in his government and administration only during his first two years in office. If Putin indeed gave such a guarantee, it inevitably raises the question as to why he has made no major changes at the top in his third year in power.

The account referred to above appeared in the 3 December edition of "Moskovskii komsomolets" and was written by Mikhail Rostovskii, one of the paper's veteran Kremlin watchers. According to Rostovskii, Yeltsin, despite his official status as a pensioner, "remains the main 'transmitter' of the political will of his clan" and has virtually unlimited access to the man who succeeded him. Thus, while it is "rather problematic" for leading members of the Yeltsin clan to communicate directly with Putin, Yeltsin uses his direct telephone line to his successor and makes his wishes known "without hesitation." (Even Valentin Yumashev, the former Kremlin chief of staff who is Yeltsin's ghostwriter and is married to Yeltsin's younger daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, has trouble getting an audience with Putin, Rostovskii reports, though Yumashev still has a Kremlin office.)

What is more, Rostovskii writes that Yeltsin's requests are met in most cases, which means that "a great number of top officials" are obliged to the former president for keeping their posts. "For example, not long ago he pleaded for one of the members of the Constitutional Court," Rostovskii claims. "Even earlier, they say, Yeltsin interceded on behalf of Prosecutor-General [Vladimir] Ustinov. At one time, Russia's chief legal expert was treated in the Kremlin with pointed coldness. Ustinov even began to consider the possibility of imminent resignation. After Boris Nikolaevich's [Yeltsin's] intervention, everything instantly changed. The prosecutor-general was made to understand that, in principle, the president was satisfied with him." Ustinov was reportedly made prosecutor-general at the insistence of the Family.

It is worth noting that back in May 2000, when Ustinov was appointed prosecutor-general, various Russian media reported that Putin wanted Dmitrii Kozak -- who is today deputy chief of the presidential staff -- for the post, but he was reportedly overruled by Aleksandr Voloshin, the presidential chief of staff who was named to that post during the late Yeltsin period.

At the same time, Rostovskii notes, Yeltsin sometimes fails to get his way. Perhaps the best-known instance was at the start of this year, when Putin removed a key member of Yeltsin's inner circle, Nikolai Aksenenko, as railways minister. In addition, the rival "Petersburg clan," which includes many long-time Putin associates from Russia's second city, many of them from the state security services, has tried to use some of Yeltsin's postpresidential actions against him. A recent example was Yeltsin's indirect criticism of Putin this past June for cooling on the idea of a Russia-Belarus union, which led to a rare public rebuke by Putin of his predecessor. "But in general," Rostovskii writes, "all the attempts to split the two presidents' alliance have thus far been unsuccessful." It should also be noted that Yeltsin, according to Rostovskii's account, is in better health than he has been in a long time, once again playing tennis and swimming (according to the article, he still enjoys the occasional drink but has it under control), and reasonably good mental form.

Like Yeltsin, the Family businessmen remain highly influential, despite Putin's vow to keep Russia's competing oligarchs at an equal arm's length from the state. Citing unidentified "international bankers," Rostovskii claims that the Yeltsin clan controls up to 20 percent of Russia's gross domestic product, playing "first violin" in the oil business, metallurgy, and auto manufacturing, among other sectors. Meanwhile, Family-connected politicians continue to hold key positions in various agencies, including the State Customs Committee and the Pension Fund. (One could also mention the Russian White House. Indeed, despite constant rumors over the last few years that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, another reputed Family man, was facing imminent dismissal, he has not only survived but has even contradicted the head of state publicly on various issues, including economic growth rates and tariffs on foreign-made automobiles.)

Still, by Rostovskii's account, some things have changed for the Family, for instance, in the way that the oligarchs interact with top state officials. "Before, each business clan fed its protege in the corridors of power," he writes. "Now, a new procedure has been established in some state departments. All the oligarchs pay tribute into one common 'black' cash box, so that the bureaucrats receive the money already 'depersonalized.' There's your 'equidistant from power!'"

More significantly, the Yeltsin clan can no longer treat the halls of federal power in Moscow as a kind of private preserve. Instead, some key Family members have set up what amount to fiefdoms in the regions. The most notable among these, of course, is Roman Abramovich. According to Rostovskii, Abramovich has not only de facto substituted himself for federal power in Chukotka, where he is governor, but he also holds "practically limitless" power in Omsk Oblast, the home base of Sibneft, the oil major that, by all accounts, he continues to control.

Another major change for the Yeltsin clan, of course, is the eclipse of the man who was once perhaps its most powerful member, Boris Berezovskii, who continues to attack Putin from self-imposed exile in Britain. Still, while the other Family members understand that maintaining an open friendship with "presidential enemy No. 1" would be "a demonstration of glaring disloyalty," Rostovskii says some observers are convinced that the Yeltsin clan, and specifically Yumashev, maintains contact with the exiled tycoon "under conditions of deep secrecy."

Similar points about the ongoing influence of the Yeltsin-era Family were made by Dzhalol Khaidarov, former general director of the Kachkanar vanadium-mining complex (GOK), in an interview with investigative journalist Vladimir Ivanidze published in France's "Le Monde" on 28 November. In the interview, Khaidarov, who was close to Family-connected metals kingpins Mikhail Chernoi and Iskander Makhmudov before being ousted as GOK chief in a January 2000 armed takeover, describes the leading roles that Abramovich and Voloshin play in the affairs of the Family, which he describes as the group "that holds the real power." Khaidarov mentions other key Family members, including Chernoi and Oleg Deripaska, who owns the giant Russian Aluminum holding jointly with Abramovich. Khaidarov describes how kinship ties, in the literal sense, have become increasingly salient inside the Family. Not only did Dyachenko and Yumashev marry, Deripaska recently married Yumashev's daughter. This latter pairing, according to Khaidarov, was no accident: Deripaska's marriage was an issue inside "the Chernoi group" as early as 1998, he claims. "They first wanted to marry him to the daughter of an FSB general, then to Boris Berezovskii's daughter," Khaidarov says. "They finally settled on the Yumashev option." Unlike Rostovskii, however, Khaidarov says that Yeltsin was long ago "thrown out" of the Family. Concerning Putin's power, Khaidarov asserts, "In theory, the president of Russia can do anything, but that is only a theory."

It would be incautious -- putting it mildly -- to take everything stated in these two articles at face value, given the fact that they contradict one another in key areas and given the degree to which the Russian media are still used as a weapon in internecine power struggles. The same caution applies -- and even more so -- to's 21 November interview with State Duma Deputy Sergei Shashurin, in which he claimed, among other things, that many members of Russia's elite, including leading politicians and entertainers, belong to a secret society called "the Order of the White Eagle" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2002). But even if only a fraction of the claims made in these media items are true, they nonetheless suggest that a giant gulf remains between the public face of Russian politics and the real decision-making processes that go on behind closed doors. (Jonas Bernstein)