27 March 2002, Volume
IS PUTIN CHALLENGING THE OLIGARCHS IN KRASNOYARSK...
"Vremya novostei" reported on 25 March that President Vladimir Putin sent a clear message to authorities in Taimyr Autonomous Okrug during a visit there on 21 March that Moscow will not tolerate "an administrative, much less territorial revision of the country." Top officials in Taimyr have been asking that the economic administration of the city of Norilsk, which is located within its borders, be transferred from Krasnoyarsk Krai to Taimyr (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 March 2002). Putin reportedly said that, once started, the process of revising budget powers would never end. At the same time, the daily said Putin called on Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed to try to make the region less dependent on Norilsk by improving tax collections from other large enterprises in the region. Lebed's supporters interpreted that call to mean that the oblast administration can toughen financial controls on a number of large local companies such as Russian Aluminum and Yukos. The daily concluded that Lebed and Taimyr Governor and former Norilsk Nickel head Aleksandr Khloponin will now likely sign an agreement on sharing tax revenue from Norilsk Nickel. JAC
...OR MEDIATING THEIR DISPUTES?
Unidentified sources told "Izvestiya" and "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 March that regional leaders would very much like to involve Putin in the conflict between Krasnoyarsk Krai and the okrug as an arbiter; however, he does not intend to get very deeply involved but may "stress this or that aspect" of this issue. Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Lebed will face re-election this year should he choose to run again. Meanwhile, strana.ru notes that Norilsk's problem is not unique. Moscow and Moscow Oblast have been arguing over Sheremetevo, while Astrakhan Oblast and Kalmykia also have similar conflicts. JAC
PUTIN MEETS WITH REGIONAL BUSINESSMEN IN IRKUTSK...
Although he was officially on a skiing vacation in Irkutsk Oblast, Putin found time on 25 March to meet with Irkutsk Oblast Governor Boris Govorin. According to Interfax, the two officials discussed the socioeconomic situation in the oblast, particularly regarding state workers' wages. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day that according to its unidentified sources, Putin also plans to conduct a series of unofficial meetings with representatives of the region's largest companies. According to the Center for Political Technology's website (http://www.politcom.ru), companies such as Russian Aluminum and Sual Holding together with Govorin orchestrated the removal of the Irkutsk Oblast legislature's speaker, Viktor Borovskii, on 20 March. Borovskii had been the leader of the opposition to Govorin. JAC
...AND PROMISES TO INTERVENE WITH WORLD BANK FOR LOCAL PLANT.
The website concluded that the Kremlin's control over the pro-presidential party Unified Russia is apparently a little shaky in Irkutsk, since its faction initiated the action against Borovskii. Unified Russia's central apparatus has been trying to set up regional counterparts that are independent of the local governors (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 14 March 2002). Putin also met with the head of Baikalskii pulp and paper plant, Valerii Glazyrin. The plant is infamous in the region for its dumping of waste into nearby Lake Baikal. RTR reported that Putin promised Glazyrin to ask the World Bank to extend a $22 million loan to modernize the plant. JAC
REGIONAL, BUSINESS INTERESTS MERGE.
"Parlamentskaya gazeta" argues in an article on 21 March that as regional economies are improving and Russian business decision-making becomes concentrated not just in Moscow, industrialists are becoming politicians. According to the daily, there is an active rotation of staff between the economic and political "circles" of power. It notes that the head of the Taimyr Autonomous Okrug is former Norilsk Nickel head Kholoponin, while the head of Evenk Autonomous Okrug is a former Yukos executive. In addition, politics in many regions is becoming focused on questions of economic interaction between the top financial industrial groups. For example, Irkutsk Oblast politicians have to try to find a balance between the interests of Yukos, Russian Aluminum, MDM-Group, and Tyumen Oil Company. In Krasnoyarsk Krai, the competing forces are Norilsk Nickel, Russian Aluminum, MDM-Group, Rusneft, and Mezhprombank. JAC
LEGISLATION BEING DRAFTED TO CREATE LARGER REGIONS...
Legislation is being prepared in Russia's Federal Assembly that would create an association of two-four regions in central Russia, Interfax reported on 21 March, citing unidentified sources in Yaroslavl Oblast. The legislation is based on a proposal by Yaroslavl Oblast Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn to create such a group based on the principle of "strong plus the weak." Lisitsyn said the idea is to assist economically weak regions in the central district. The governor does not believe his idea should be extended to the very large territories in Siberia or the Far East or to the ethnic republics. On 25 March, Yabloko Party leader Grigorii Yavlinsky told reporters in Pskov that he considers proposals to merge certain Russian regions "correct, but premature because of the instability of the economic situation in the country," Interfax-Northwest reported. Commenting on news reports of a possible merger of Novgorod and Pskov oblasts, Yavlinsky said Pskov has "sufficient potential to develop independently." JAC
...AS KOZAK PROMISES TO TAKE UP ISSUE OF RUSSIA'S SMALLEST REGIONS.
The commission for federal reforms headed by Dmitrii Kozak will make proposals by 1 June for improving the status of autonomous okrugs, Kozak announced in an interview published in "Trud" on 26 March. He added, "If decisive action is taken, without bureaucratic delays, then priority legislation can be introduced to the parliament before the end of the year." Kozak's commission has also been occupied with power-sharing agreements between the federal center and regions. "Today, of the 42 such agreements, 28 have effectively been annulled," according to Kozak. JAC
REGIONS VIEW BEREZOVSKY FILM WITH SOME CONSEQUENCES.
"Assault on Russia," the film financed by embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky to prove the Federal Security Service's (FSB) role in the bombing of four apartment buildings in Russia in the fall of 1999, was shown in Novosibirsk, Perm, Irkutsk, and St. Petersburg from 19-20 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 18 March 2002). Liberal Russia official Arkadii Yankovskii told reporters in Moscow on 20 March that "Assault on Russia" will eventually be screened throughout Siberia, and that he already has agreements to show it in the cities of Tomsk and Barnaul. After its screening in Perm, Aleksandr Kostarev, a member of the political council of Liberal Russia and one of the organizers for the local showing of the film, was severely beaten, RFE/RL's Perm correspondent reported on 20 March. Three unknown men attacked him in the hallway of his apartment building in Perm with a metal rod. Kostarev sustained a concussion and is hospitalized. The Perm branch of Liberal Russia believes that the attack was politically motivated. On the same day, State Duma deputy and Liberal Russia member Yulii Rybakov told reporters in Moscow that unidentified men beat up three of his employees and also attacked a fellow faction member, AP reported on 20 March. Rybakov also said two criminal groups in St. Petersburg have orders to kill him. Also in St. Petersburg, the director of the city's branch of the human rights group Memorial, Veniamin Iofe, was attacked on the afternoon of 18 March following the showing of the film there, RFE/RL's St. Petersburg correspondent reported. Iofe was struck on the back of the head after leaving the building where the film was being shown. JAC
POLICE ROUND UP HOMELESS CHILDREN IN SIBERIAN REGION.
Police in Barnaul in Altai Krai conducted a raid on local train stations, trams, and heating pipes and collected around 200 homeless or neglected children, RFE/RL's Barnaul correspondent reported on 26 March. The majority were returned to their parents, but several were sent to orphanages and children's homes. In the region, one in seven children is abandoned by their parents, and many of these youngsters turn to begging, theft, and selling narcotics. In response, the city has decided to open a department for the prevention of homelessness in the center for social assistance of Leninskii Raion. JAC
ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS PROTEST LOGGING IN THE NORTH.
Twenty Greenpeace activists from Germany, Austria, and Russia chained themselves to the gates of the Solombalskii sawmill/wood-processing plant in Arkhangelsk Oblast, RFE/RL's Arkhangelsk correspondent reported on 25 March. Greenpeace Russia spokeswoman Yelena Surovikina said the factory was targeted because its representatives refuse to discuss measures to protect Russia's surviving forests in the Far North. The protest action did not stop the plant's work, since only one entrance was blocked. JAC
KREMLIN 'FIXER' STOPS BY UFA...
Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov met a high-level delegation headed by deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov at the airport in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, on 21 March, "Izvestiya" reported that day. Surkov, who was accompanied by Unified Russia General Council Chairman Aleksandr Bespalov, had just visited Kazan (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 March 2002). According to the daily, Rakhimov and Surkov discussed the process of harmonizing the republic's legislation and constitution with federal laws, and it concluded that the likely intention of Surkov's visit was to persuade Bashkortostan's leaders to give up their claims to sovereignty and to renounce the earlier-negotiated power-sharing agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2002). However, Surkov said his visit had only one purpose: "I want to discuss the State Duma elections in 2003." JAC
...AS PRESIDENT MULLS THIRD TERM...
Speaking to Interfax-Eurasia on 19 March, Bashkortostan President Rakhimov said he has "theoretically and practically considered" the possibility of running for a third term, which he said is "permitted by the present legislation," RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir service reported the next day. Rakhimov added that he will "support the decision" of republican legislators if they vote to move the June 2003 balloting and hold republican presidential elections on the same date as elections to the republican parliament and Russian State Duma in December 2003. RFE/RL's Ufa correspondents have quoted Central Election Commission Chairman Barii Kizyangulov as saying such a decision would be "advisable" for voter convenience. JAC
...AND PROSECUTOR PROMISES TO CHALLENGE CONSTITUTION AGAIN.
The deputy prosecutor-general in the Volga federal district, Aleksandr Zvyagintsev, told Interfax on 19 March that Bashkortostan's Supreme Court acknowledged that 20 articles in the republican constitution contradict federal legislation and confirmed that 13 other articles containing similar provisions are invalid. However, the prosecutor added that the court left provisions on Bashkortostan's sovereignty and a number of others unchanged, despite his challenge. Meanwhile, the republic's leadership is categorically defending its position on the question of Bashkortostan's sovereignty, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 March. JAC
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.
A competition for the best babushka began on 21 March in Kalmykia, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Seven grandmothers along with their grandsons and granddaughters are participating in the contest, which was initiated by Kalmykia's president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. The grandchildren had sent in essays to local newspapers about their grandmothers. The winning babushka will be named at a festival in which artists, musicians, and the runners-up babushkas will participate. According to the agency, each kindergarten and middle school in the republic has a staff babushka, who helps children with schoolwork, tells stories, and explains the traditions and customs of the Kalmyk people. JAC
FAR NORTHERN NEWSPAPER SEIZED AS ELECTION NEARS...
On the eve of legislative elections in Murmansk Oblast, the entire print run of the opposition newspaper "Nord Vest Kurer" has been seized, RFE/RL's Russian service reported on 20 March. The newspaper contained a story accusing one candidate, Sergei Gabrielyan, of corruption and illegal campaign practices. This is the second seizure that the newspaper has experienced. According to pravda.ru, Gabrielyan is suspected of buying votes for 200 rubles ($6.41) each. Renata Karchaa, the newspaper's editor in chief, told the website that authorities do not object so much to the fact that the newspaper reported about the unscrupulousness of one of the candidates, but to the way in which this was done. "Our newspaper tries to analyze what is happening in the oblast," and this is what the authorities don't like, she said. JAC
...AS FAR EASTERN TV STATION FORCED TO RELOCATE.
The TV company Alfa-Channel was forced to leave its office in Blagoveshchensk on 11 March, strana.ru reported on 21 March. Amur Oblast Governor Leonid Korotkov told local reporters that while he is not delighted that such methods were used, he believes that this company's forced relocation was merely the result of an economic dispute. However, local journalists in Amur Oblast believe that while it appears to be an economic dispute, it was really an attempt by oblast authorities to give short shrift to an authoritative, independent mass media company, and should be considered an infringement of free speech. JAC
GOVERNOR MAINTAINS CONTROL OF LEGISLATURE.
Supporters of Omsk Governor Leonid Polezhaev won in elections for Omsk Oblast's legislature on 24 March, RFE/RL's Russian service reported the next day. Members of the Unity party won the majority of seats, while the Communist Party won five seats, and the Union of Rightist Forces only one. JAC
ENVOY WAXES LYRICAL ABOUT NORTH KOREAN LEADER.
The local newspaper "Vladivostok" has published the first chapter of a book by Konstantin Pulikovskii, presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, detailing his trip across Russia by train with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, presscenter.ru reported on 26 March. The website noted that while the book is intended to be a "technological" discussion of his trip, there are several "lyrical passages" in the chapter. In one, Pulikovskii confesses that, "After a dialogue with [the Korean leader], I would [find] myself feeling very tired. I think this was a consequence of the strong energy of Kim Jong-Il. I constantly sensed his strong aura." JAC
TOP MUSLIM OFFICIAL SAYS RADICAL ISLAM SPREADING IN TATARSTAN...
The Muslim leader for Kirov Oblast, Mufti Gabdelnur Kamaletdin, told reporters that Wahhabism, a radical branch of Islam, is spreading in Tatarstan, endangering other regions of Russia including Kirov Oblast, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 25 March. Kamaletdin is subordinate to the Ufa-based Central Muslim Religious Board chaired by Talgat Tadjuddin, who previously made a number of statements accusing Tatarstan's Muslim Religious Board of encouraging extremist branches of Islam. However, it has been reported that Tadjuddin himself personally met one of Osama bin Laden's brothers during a visit to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2001). JAC
...AS WAGE ARREARS RISE BY ALMOST ONE-QUARTER...
According to Tatarstan's State Statistics Committee on 25 March, wage arrears to employees of state-owned and private companies has reached 935.7 million rubles ($30.2 million), while in January they were owed 761.7 million rubles in back wages, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 26 March. The major portion of this debt is reportedly owed by companies which are not funded by the republican or federal budgets. Also on 26 March, presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko said the problem of fully raising budget-sector employees' wages in the district has not yet been resolved, and in certain regions of the district the backlog of wages to those workers has increased, Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC
...AND HOUSING, UTILITY PRICES SET TO JUMP 5-10 PERCENT.
Marat Khusnullin, Tatarstan's minister for construction and the housing/public utilities sector, has announced that as of 1 April the prices for housing and public utilities in the republic will rise by 5-10 percent, Interfax-Eurasia reported. He also noted that a large number of enterprises in the sector appear to be bankrupt, and that last year the branch lost about 600 million rubles. JAC
FOREIGN MINISTRY IRKED OVER KUCHMA'S TREATMENT OF SHAIMIEV.
Kazan's "Zvezda Povolzhya" recently reported that the Russian Foreign Ministry was irked by protocol that put Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev side-by-side with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma at Odesa airport, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 25 March. Shaimiev took part at the recent summit of presidents of Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova in that city. Shaimiev was invited to discuss how Tatarstan's experience could be used in resolving the Transdniester issue. Kuchma demonstrated that he considers Shaimiev a state president, the paper commented, while the Russian Foreign Ministry views Shaimiev as the head of a federation entity. The ministry ordered all television channels to cut a scene of Putin's arrival at the airport, according to the paper. JAC