18 April 2002, Volume
PROBLEM OF REGIONAL SEPARATISM REPLACED BY MERGER MANIA...
"Vremya MN" reported on 16 April that while the federal center once had to struggle against regional separatism, it now has to try to "freeze" the process of joining regions. According to the daily, the adoption last year of a bill amending the law on the order of forming federation subjects has sparked an "avalanche of proposals for joining regions such as Pskov Oblast with Novgorod Oblast, Yaroslavl Oblast with Kostroma Oblast, Krasnoyarsk Krai with Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs, the city of Moscow with Moscow Oblast, St. Petersburg with Leningrad Oblast, etc." However, Vladimir Lysenko, deputy chairman of the Duma's Committee for Federation and Regional Affairs, told the daily that "it is very difficult to imagine that this law will be realized in the near future." And, Yurii Sharandin, chairman of the Federation Council's Committee on Constitutional Legislation, added that "the law precisely explains the creation of a new federation subject but not the merger" of two or more existing regions. JAC
...AS REGIONAL OFFICIAL SUGGESTS SOLUTION TO LACK OF FINANCING FOR LOCAL ORGANS OF SELF-RULE.
The deputy prosecutor for the Urals federal district, Yurii Zolotov, said on 16 April that he favors reducing the number of municipalities in the districts so that "expenditures for maintaining the [bureaucratic] apparatuses can be kept to a minimum," Interfax reported. According to Zolotov, Kurgan Oblast has 459 municipal formations compared with 290 for Chelyabinsk Oblast and 72 in Sverdlovsk Oblast. On the same day, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko suggested to a group of regional reporters that a bankruptcy procedure needs to be introduced for insolvent regions, Interfax reported. According to Khristenko, the transition to "direct financial administration" in the bankrupt regions would not concern the people who live there but those regional authorities who haven't been able to cope with their responsibilities. JAC
DEADLINES LOOM FOR POWER-SHARING TREATIES.
Presidential envoy to the Ural federal district Petr Latyshev told Uralinform on 16 April that President Vladimir Putin will receive a draft law demarcating responsibilities between the various levels of government by 1 June, regions.ru reported. The law is current being prepared by the presidential commission formed for this task headed by Dmitrii Kozak. The decree establishing the commission had required that such a law be prepared by 1 June (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 June 2001). On 8 April, President Putin signed a resolution canceling existing power-sharing treaties between the federal center and St. Petersburg, Orenburg, and Nizhnii Novgorod (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). Previously, Kozak's commission established a date of 28 July for regions to bring their power-sharing treaties into conformity with federal law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2001). JAC
ANALYST SUGGESTS MORE MASS PROTESTS AGAINST HIGHER RENTS POSSIBLE IN FUTURE...
Igor Bunin of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technology argued on the center's website (http://www.politcom.ru) on 15 April that the recent protest that took place in Voronezh over higher rents could be repeated in other cities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2002). According to Bunin, the protest in Voronezh was the "first significant act of protest against the reform of the housing and communal-services sector." Estimates of the number of persons participating in the protest range from 7,000 to 20,000 -- either of which would mark a significant turnout even for Moscow, let alone Voronezh. According to Bunin, the Voronezh protest showed that the population has not only a pained reaction to higher rents but could even be provoked to take radical actions. He also noted that it is not simply a matter of the amount of the increase in rent or utility payments, but that the heart of the matter is the reaction to the potential loss of "one of the most important...legacies of socialism," which the population had taken for granted. JAC
...AS FINANCE MINISTER PROMISES TO FIX PROBLEM OF WAGE ARREARS BY END OF YEAR...
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told reporters in Moscow on 15 April that the situation with the payment of wages in the regions will stabilize by the middle of the year and will be solved completely by the end of the year, ITAR-TASS reported. Kudrin explained that problems cropped up after the government decided to raise the base salary rate by 89 percent; however, he said salaries are delayed by one month only in two or three regions, including Krasnoyarsk Krai. The same day, 700 workers in the public-utilities sector picketed the office of the municipal administration in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatka, demanding back wages owed since December, RIA-Novosti reported. And in Primorskii Krai, 15 city drivers ended their hunger strike after back wages owed since August were paid to them in full, the agency reported. JAC
...AND MATVIENKO PROMISES SOLUTION TO PROBLEM OF RISING RENTS.
Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko told reporters on 12 April that the problem of rising rents will be brought under control by local and federal authorities, ITAR-TASS reported. Commenting on a protest in Voronezh held the previous day to fight rent increases, Matvienko suggested that local authorities had not studied the situation properly. Under existing norms, he said, if rent is higher than 22 percent of a family's total income, then the family is eligible for subsidies. Last year, Voronezh Mayor Aleksandr Kovalev asked that his city be declared bankrupt since it could not pay for heat or energy, blaming the oblast's legislature, which had recently passed a budget providing only 35 percent of the city's financing needs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). JAC
DUMA TINKERS WITH RULES ELECTING REGIONAL LEGISLATURES.
State Duma deputies voted on 12 April to approve a bill in the first reading that would introduce a new system for electing regional legislatures, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the bill, regional legislators would be elected according to a method similar to that used to elect the State Duma: One-half of deputies to regional legislatures would be selected according to party lists. The bill was initiated by the Union of Rightist Forces and the Agro-Industrial group. State Duma deputies also voted the same day to recommend that the Russian government extend its ban on the shipment of U.S. poultry to Russia, Interfax reported. The vote was 281 in favor. JAC
TV CREW CAPTURES FOOTAGE OF SVERDLOVSK CAMPAIGN TACTICS.
A local television crew was attacked in Yekaterinburg on 14 April, the day that elections were being held to the oblast's legislative assembly, ITAR-TASS reported. The crew was filming a representative of a candidate, whom the agency did not identify, who was offering voters money to make the "correct" choice. The candidate's campaign workers then tried to seize the TV crew's camera and broke a window on the crew's vehicle. The election was declared valid after it was determined that more than 25 percent of registered voters participated. According to preliminary results the following day, the bloc supported by Governor Eduard Rossel, For a Native Urals, "won" with 29.5 percent of the vote, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service. The bloc captured six seats in comparison with four for Unity and Fatherland, which had 17.6 percent of the vote, while the Communist Party wound up in third place with more than 7 percent and only two seats, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 April. Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces were shut out -- having failed to surpass the 5 percent barrier. JAC
LIPETSK INCUMBENT WINS SECOND TERM...
According to preliminary results, Lipetsk Oblast Governor Oleg Korolev won more than 73 percent of the vote in gubernatorial elections held on 14 April, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 April. According to local law, the victor of the first round wins by a simple majority. The deputy head of Lipetsk City Council, Igor Polosin, was Korolev's closest competitor with only 5 percent of the vote, according to the daily. Voter turnout was low with no more than one-third of registered voters. Korolev's victory was expected, as his main competitor reached a public agreement with Korolev prior to the race to not run (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002). And local observers, according to the daily, believe that Polosin participated in the race only to give the appearance that there was an alternative to Korolev. Voters perhaps sensed this, since more than 13 percent voted against all candidates. JAC
...AS PENZA GOVERNOR STAVES OFF LEFT CHALLENGER.
Meanwhile, in Penza Oblast, incumbent Governor Vasilii Bochkarev, who was supported by Unified Russia, won with around 45.5 percent of the vote, compared with 41 percent for State Duma Deputy (Communist) Viktor Ilyukhin, according to preliminary results, the daily reported. About 6 percent of voters voted against all candidates. As in Lipetsk, local law does not require a second round, even though Bochkarev got less than 50 percent of the vote. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Ilyukhin won in practically all city raions; however, Bochkarev's support in rural areas was strong enough to compensate. Communist candidates in election to the oblast legislature, which was held at the same time, lost support. One-fourth of them were not re-elected, prompting Bochkarev to state that the legislature should now work "more effectively," "Izvestiya" reported on 15 April. JAC
REPUBLIC GIVES UP SOVEREIGNTY DECLARATION.
The parliament of Buryatia decided on 15 April to cancel that republic's declaration of state sovereignty, Russian agencies reported. Two previous attempts to vote on canceling the declaration failed, but this time Buryatia's president, Leonid Potapov, warned legislators that the chamber would be disbanded if they failed to resolve the issue, according to Interfax-Eurasia. After a "brief but heated discussion," the vote was 46 in favor to three against, with three abstentions. According to ITAR-TASS, the republic's Supreme Court adopted the sovereignty declaration in October 1990. JAC
KRAI EXPELS KURDS TO NEIGHBORING REGION.
The first people to be deported from Krasnodar Krai following the enactment of a new law restricting immigration were two families of ethnic Kurds, RFE/RL's Krasnodar correspondent reported on 13 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). The families, who had lived in a village in the krai for several years, were sent by escort to Rostov Oblast. According to the correspondent, the expulsion of several dozen more families is expected when the registration of a number of immigrants expires on 15 April. The leader of the local Kurdish community, Ishkhan Khudoryan, has said that he intends to appeal to the Russian Supreme Court and international human rights workers to defend the rights of his community. According to ITAR-TASS on 13 April, more than 1 million people who have fled wars and economic hardship have settled in the krai, and every fifth resident is a migrant. JAC
GOVERNOR COULD FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR IGNORING COURT ORDER.
Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov has placed under his personal control the criminal investigation against Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Vladimir Butov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 April. Butov is accused of not fulfilling an order by a Moscow arbitration court to sign a license to develop the Musyurshorskii oil field. Severnaya Siyanie, in which high-profile entrepreneur Lev Chernoi is a shareholder, won a tender to develop the field last March. But Butov has refused to grant the company its license to exploit the oil field, arguing that numerous violations occurred during the tender process. Unofficial sources told the daily that Butov had hoped the Nenets Oil Company, which he is reportedly close to, would win the competition. According to the newspaper, the criminal case against Butov was opened as soon as he lost his immunity from criminal prosecution when he ceased to be a member of the Federation Council. JAC
YOUTH GROUP PROTESTS ATTACKS ON FOREIGN STUDENTS.
Activists from the pro-Kremlin youth group Moving Together held a protest in Rostov-na-Donu on 14 April to demand that local police protect foreign students from attacks by members of pro-fascist organizations, RFE/RL's Rostov correspondent reported the next day. Around 200 youths, carrying signs demanding that the mayor bring order to the city, blocked traffic for two hours on a central street in Rostov. Students from Latin America and Africa have recently been attacked in the city. According to the correspondent, the protest ended 10 minutes after the police took away three leaders of the organization. JAC
IS REPUBLIC SEEN AS NEW SPAWNING GROUND FOR TERRORISM?
Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office is preparing a request to U.S. authorities for their assistance in investigating the case of three Russian citizens who are accused of being members of the Taliban and are currently incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ntvru.com reported on 15 April. The three men are Almaz Sharipov of Chally, Tatarstan; Ravil Gumarov of Ufa, Bashkortostan; and Rasul Kudaev of Kabardino-Balkaria. According to the site, the three men were involved in Islamic groups before they left Russia. Both Sharipov and Gumarov are ethnic Tatars. Meanwhile, the Kazan-based "Zvezda povolzhya" reported on 11 April that, inspired by the news reports about the two Tatars, Moscow-based media have launched an information war against Tatarstan, which as a result is constantly being featured by federal television channels as a seat of terrorism, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. JAC
OFFICIAL PROFFERS BROAD CRITIQUE OF PUTIN'S POLICIES.
Rafail Khakimov, an adviser on political issues to Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev, told a Tatar-American seminar in Kazan that President Putin's policies have led to a variety of negative outcomes, such as wage arrears of as long as three months, the creation of a parallel authority structure, and growing bureaucracy and bureaucratic incompetence, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 12 April, citing "Zvezda povolzhya." Khakimov asserted that centralization of management bodies, financial structures, and the judicial system has not led to any improvement in their functioning, and the establishment of federal districts was a political mistake. Khakimov added that the only body that is developing successfully is the FSB. Foreign policy is chaotic, health care and education sectors are neglected, and the reform of municipal services has been unsuccessful, he charged. JAC
TO MERGE OR NOT TO MERGE?
As the topic of joining regions together is increasingly discussed in media, RFE/RL's correspondent in Kostroma asked residents at random in his city their attitudes about the prospect of joining neighboring Yaroslavl Oblast. Their responses follow:
"It's all the same to me. It won't be worse."
"Nothing will change, probably the [bureaucracy] will get bigger. It is all a mess [bardak] and it will continue to be. In Yaroslavl, of course, they have it better than we have it here. There at least the authorities follow up on things. I was there recently, and here [in comparison] the authorities do nothing -- because [our authorities] won't be reformed it's all the same."
"It seems to be that it will not be worse. Because there they have very good leaders who think about their region, about their people. It seems to me that we will not be hurt [by such a thing]."
"It's such a mess that it is time for a smart person to set things right as if for a younger brother who has again taken off."
"It will be worse precisely because we will be on the edge of Yaroslavl Oblast. And it seems to me that this is purely a political step."
"I think that all these reorganizations will not have a positive result for us in Kostroma. This is, after all, an oblast; and to be a raion, somehow secondary to Yaroslavl -- no."
"I figure that Kostroma will not be the oblast's capital, but will simply be a raion center. [We] already have the experience of joining the North-East -- all industry was reduced to nothing."
"Larger for nothing. Larger organizations work less well."
(Source: RFE/RL Russian Services Korrespondentskii chas, 13 April 2002)