Accessibility links

Russia Report: May 2, 2002

2 May 2002, Volume 4, Number 16

Please note that with this issue, the weekly "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report" has been subsumed under "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly." The latter will now offer regional news on a fortnightly basis along with continuing weekly coverage of central legislative organs, such as the State Duma.
In an interview with "Gazeta" on 24 April, Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Center said he believes that judging by his recent annual address, President Vladimir Putin has decided that the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts "should gradually become a new institution of power." He continued, "It is impossible for [Putin] to talk about this, because then it would be necessary to cancel the moratorium on changes to the constitution. Therefore, [we] must expect an attempt to legitimize the institution of the envoys in a rough manner, not completely officially." Ryabov also argued that by giving the envoys more power, Putin risks precipitating the disintegration of the Russian Federation. According Ryabov, Putin hopes to reduce the power of regional leaders, but while they have experienced "serious financial weakening," the "real power of governors in their regions remains." Ryabov added that, "The attempts by the envoys to somehow squeeze out the strong governors has not been successful," and concluded that if the "envoys are given more powers [in opposition to] the governors, then the probability of a breakup of Russia, without a doubt, grows." JAC

Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov has raised the question of the State Duma adopting a law regulating the activities of the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 April, citing RIA-Novosti. Ayatskov, who was speaking to legislators in Saratov, said such a law is long overdue. Meanwhile, presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii told reporters in Khabarovsk that he is not completely satisfied with the results of his work as envoy over the past two years, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Pulikovskii, his office has achieved only 70 percent of its objectives, although he noted that it controlled the course of election campaigns in his district, and as a result, the penetration of criminals' representatives into the power structures was prevented in practically all regions. JAC

On the 16th anniversary of the disaster at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant on 26 April, environmental activists organized protests in Russian cities against plans to import spent nuclear fuel into Russia, RFE/RL regional correspondents reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002). In Obninsk, the public organization Union of Chornobyl together with the local branch of Yabloko organized a picket and gathered signatures to send to the State Duma. In Sochi in Krasnodar Krai, protestors carried signs saying, "We don't need a new Chornobyl, we need a clean country." Last year, the krai's legislature expressed its opposition to plans by the Atomic Energy Ministry (Minatom) to use Novorossiisk as a transit port for nuclear waste from Bulgaria. And in Vladivostok, about 100 people gathered in the city's main square, despite not having received permission for the demonstration from the mayoral administration. Local environmental activist Boris Preobrazhenskii declared that in Primorskii Krai, several potential Chornobyls exist: Some 100 kilometers from Vladivostok there are dozens of nuclear submarines, and this year Minatom plans to construct two special terminals for receiving radioactive waste from Japan. JAC

On 25 April, the federal Supreme Court ruled that the government has the right to dispose of radioactive waste at the Siberian Chemical Complex located near the city of Tomsk, reported. The court was reacting to a complaint filed by Greenpeace and city residents. Greenpeace representatives told Interfax that research indicates that the underground disposal of waste will lead to water unsuitable for drinking within 10 years. Meanwhile, Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev told reporters in Tomsk on 25 April that a new nuclear power plant will be constructed in Tomsk within the next 10 years in the "closed" town of Seversk. According to Rumyantsev, a new nuclear power plant will make it possible to shut down the two operating reactors whose service life will end in the next decade. Two years ago, Western and Russian environmentalists charged that two rivers flowing near Seversk were the most polluted in the world in terms of radioactivity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 7 November 2000). JAC

Deputies in the legislature of the city of Magnitogorsk in Chelyabinsk Oblast adopted on 24 April a joint appeal to the oblast governor and oblast legislature to make the city "closed," reported the next day. The deputies declared that they consider their territory to be a border zone, and local law-enforcement officials told them that their city is "full" of foreigners, mainly people from neighboring Kazakhstan and other countries in Central Asia. For example, in the first three months of 2002, 2,500 foreign citizens received a temporary right to live in the city and another 3,500 foreign citizens were living in the city illegally, according to information of the city's local department of the Interior Ministry. However, authorities believe that the number of illegal aliens is much higher. JAC

Deputies in the city of Novyi Urengoi in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug made a similar appeal on 23 April to close the city to "the free flow of uninvited guests," according to on 25 April. Novyi Urengoi Mayor Viktor Kazarin said that many immigrants come in search of big salaries, not understanding all of the unique characteristics of the Far North. "We need people from specific professions and in limited numbers," he said. Meanwhile, deputy presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District Vladimir Ovchinnikov told Interfax-Eurasia that there is no basis for expanding the list of cities with tight regulations on the entry of foreign citizens. Both Magnitogorsk and Novyi Urengoi are located in the Urals Federal District. JAC

Marat Vakilov, the embattled chairman of Bashkortostan's Supreme Court, told a gathering of judges from across the republic in Ufa held from 26-27 April that the corruption allegations against him resulted from his support for Deputy Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Zvyaginstev's protest against amendments to the republic's constitution, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 29 April. Last March, the republic's Supreme Court annulled the majority of constitutional amendments to which Zvyagintsev had objected. Following that action, Vakilov said he was pressured to resign -- which he refused to do, according to (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 21 March 2002). Meanwhile, President Putin met with Bashkortostan's president, Murtaza Rakhimov, on 29 April to discuss, among other things, the process of harmonizing the republic's constitution and other laws with federal law, Interfax reported. JAC

The construction of a Roman Catholic church in Buryatia has been delayed by the recent refusal to allow Polish Bishop Jerzy Mazur to enter Russia, Interfax reported on 24 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 April 2002). Mazur heads the Catholic diocese in Irkutsk. He had been scheduled to conduct a consecration of the land that the church will be built on -- and without this consecration construction of the church cannot begin. The church would have been the first Catholic church in Buryatia. JAC

In an interview with "Gazeta" on 29 April, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich confirmed that he does not intend to seek a second term. Abramovich said he will leave the governor's office without regrets, but that he thinks "We could have done more." "Trud" reported on 26 April that Abramovich did not plan to seek a second term and that he might not even "sit out" the remainder of his first term. Abramovich and his team alternate between Anadyr and Moscow in two-week periods. According to the daily, few members of Abramovich's team have quit despite the rigors of the climate in the Far Northern region. JAC

Sergei Katanandov, head of the Karelia Republic, was re-elected in elections held on 28 April, RIA-Novosti reported the next day, citing preliminary results. According to the agency, Katanandov won 54.3 percent of the vote compared to 13.4 percent for his closest rival, State Duma Deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Artur Myaki. Katanandov needed to poll more than 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid a second round. "Against all candidates" was the third most-popular selection with 11 percent of the vote. According to "Izvestiya," the Unified Russia party backed Katanandov. RFE/RL's Petrozavodsk correspondent reported on 29 April that the new "party of power" also won more than half of the seats in the republic's legislature. And local observers predict that soon the legislature will be completely dependent on the executive. JAC

Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor and former Russian presidential candidate Aleksandr Lebed died in a helicopter accident in the morning of 28 April, Russian agencies reported (see "Profile" below). The helicopter crashed into a power line, killing eight of the 20 passengers on board. At the time, Lebed, 52, was visiting Khakasia, where his younger brother Aleksei is governor. Aleksei Volin, deputy head of the presidential administration, told Ekho Moskvy on 28 April that a detailed investigation of the accident will be conducted by a special commission ordered by President Putin. According to Volin, the investigation will be conducted at the highest level and it is "too early to speak about the reason for the accident." However, according to NTV and Interfax, the reason for the crash was poor visibility due to bad weather. Aleksei Lebed also told Ekho Moskvy that there was heavy fog. JAC

The date for gubernatorial elections in Krasnoyarsk Krai will be set by the krai's legislature within 14 days, reported on 29 April. Central Election Commission head Aleksandr Veshnyakov said the date will be set no later than within six months and no earlier than 65 days from the moment the head of the krai left his post. Veshnyakov predicted that the election will be "difficult," and that "one can already predict a fierce battle among the candidates for votes." According to on 28 April, local political analysts believed that Lebed had little chance of being re-elected in elections that were expected to take place in May 2003. And in the new race, the interests of Russian Aluminum and Norilsk Nickel will play a major role. Yabloko Deputy Aleksei Arbatov said Lebed's death will destabilize Krasnoyarsk and "will lead to the full criminalization of the situation in the region," reported. According to Arbatov, the run-up to the election of the next governor will be particularly tense as "passions will boil over" and huge sums of money will be present. JAC

First Deputy Governor Nikolai Ashlapov has become acting governor, reported on 28 April. Ashlapov, according to the website, is a former representative of Russian Aluminum in Krasnoyarsk, and was only appointed first deputy governor in early February of this year. JAC

The local branch of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party in Sverdlovsk Oblast intends to nominate Sergei Nosov, general director of Nizhnii Tagil Metallurgical Combine, as its candidate for 2003 gubernatorial elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 April. Nosov also heads the party's local branch. Meanwhile, the deputies recently elected to the oblast's legislature from Unified Russia have been shut out of any leadership posts in that body, including the offices of the speakers, deputy speakers, or committee heads, according to the newspaper. The new chairman of the legislature is Nikolai Voronin, who is a "true comrade in arms" of Governor Eduard Rossel. Rossel's party fared the best in recent legislative elections (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 April 2002). JAC

A group of activists from the moderate nationalist group the All-Tatar Public Center (VTOTs) demanded recently that a delegation from Israel leave the republic, reported on 29 April citing the Kazan-based newspaper "Vremya i Dengi." According to the newspaper, at the opening of the second All-Russia Festival of Jewish Culture in Kazan, the leaders of VTOTs asked the delegation to leave the republic quickly because, they said, their visit dishonors the memory of victims of "Israeli aggression against the people of Palestine." JAC

About 1,000 residents of Tula took part on 24 April in a protest meeting against higher rents -- a hike on average of 50 to 70 percent took effect that day, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, Tula Mayor Sergei Kazakov told the crowd that their rents are the lowest in Russia and if they were not raised the entire public-housing sector would face inevitable collapse. However, local specialists believe that two-thirds of local citizens will no longer be able to pay their rents. JAC


By Julie A. Corwin

While Russia's two presidents, Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, used their start in regional politics as a launching pad for a national career, Aleksandr Ivanovich Lebed, who perished late last month at the age of 52, had the opposite experience. His tenure as governor of Krasnoyarsk effectively put an end to his national political aspirations. When Lebed ran for governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai in 1998, he fully believed that he would be returning to Moscow and that his experience in the large Siberian krai would only be a stopover until he could again seek national office.

Instead, Krasnoyarsk's problems proved insolvable for Lebed, and at the time of his death he was facing very uncertain prospects for even getting re-elected in Krasnoyarsk. After hearing news of his death in a helicopter accident on 28 April, Duma International Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) noted that Lebed had been "in a difficult period of his life. He understood that he was left without friends and like-minded comrades." And according to Rogozin, Lebed "understood very well that he had not achieved serious results as governor and was facing tough gubernatorial elections in the future."

Rogozin had been with Lebed during one of the peaks of Lebed's national political influence, the 1996 presidential campaign in which Lebed finished third with almost 15 percent of the vote. Rogozin headed the Congress of Russian Communities, which backed Lebed as its presidential candidate. After the first round, Lebed told his supporters to vote for the incumbent President Yeltsin. And two days before the second round was held, Yeltsin responded in kind by naming Lebed as secretary of the Security Council and his national security adviser. Repeating a pattern that pre-existed his turn in the Kremlin, Lebed was dismissed four months later, after a public clash with the then-Internal Affairs Minister Anatolii Kulikov. Previously, Lebed had been pulled from Moldova where he was the popular leader of the 14th army corps after an open conflict with then-Defense Minister Pavel Grachev -- although Lebed had been working closely with the Kremlin and Yeltsin during this time. Lebed had also accused the leadership of the breakaway "Transdniester Republic" of corruption. Lebed would continue to wage a battle against corruption -- at least at the verbal level -- throughout his career.

While known for his wit and talent for snappy aphorisms such as, "A democrat-general is like a Jewish reindeer breeder," Lebed was lacking tact or subtlety. He spoke his mind bluntly not only about his political enemies and their plans, but also the defects of his superiors and allies. In October 1996, after having earlier recommended Igor Rodionov as a candidate for defense minister, Lebed called Defense Minister Rodionov's military reform plan "a criminal document." The previous month he had criticized President Yeltsin for leaving others in charge of the country during his long illnesses.

But even during short stints before he was fired, Lebed was effective. As national security adviser he managed to negotiate the Khasavyurt Agreement in 1996 that ended the first Chechen war. And in Moldova, some analysts credited him with minimizing the ethnic violence there. However, in Krasnoyarsk, Lebed appeared to be stymied by his long-running battle with former Krasnoyarsk Aluminum head Anatolii Bykov. Lebed was elected governor in May 1998 with Bykov's help, but by the end of that year the two men were openly fighting. Even Bykov's incarceration in prison on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder didn't end the battle. In elections to the krai's legislature last December, Bykov's party finished ahead of Lebed's.

In many press commentaries written since Lebed's death, analysts link the demise of Lebed's chances to win the 2000 presidential elections with Yeltsin's selection of Putin as his "successor" in 1999. However, Lebed had been written off as a viable candidate long before Putin had even become prime minister, when his problems with Bykov first arose. And the impression that Lebed could not manage his region was only strengthened when he took on another foe, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, over control of Krasugol, the region's coal company. In that incident in the winter of 1999, Lebed appeared to have initially read too much into Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's artfully worded phrases of qualified support following a meeting in Moscow.

That type of "misunderstanding" appeared to be eerily repeated just this year, when Lebed announced that President Putin had suggested that Krasnoyarsk Krai merge with the neighboring Evenk and Taimyr autonomous okrugs. Putin visited Krasnoyarsk following a long public conflict between Lebed and the krai legislature and the leadership of Taimyr Autonomous Okrug over the tax revenues of metals giant Norilsk Nickel. Evenk Autonomous Okrug Governor Boris Zolatarev, who had been present at a meeting with Lebed and Putin, flatly denied that Putin made such a suggestion, while Putin himself never subsequently confirmed or denied Lebed's claim.

Primakov subsequently came to support Lebed's bid to save Krasugol from bankruptcy and there are reasons to assume that Putin or the presidential administration would have eventually assisted Lebed's effort to consolidate the administration of the okrugs and krai. The presidential administration and the pro-Kremlin political parties have, after all, shown a positive interest in reducing the number of regions. What seems less likely, though, is that Lebed's bluntness and failure to make and keep alliances could ever have been curbed long enough for him to wage a comeback on the national political stage.


"A democrat-general is like a Jewish reindeer breeder."

"The Americans will conduct themselves in Macedonia like drunken hooligans in kindergarten."

"Pinochet -- that's a Chilean problem. Or to be more exact, this is not a problem, but this is Chile's good fortune."

Source: "Kommersant-Daily," 29 April 2002