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Russia Report: March 21, 2001

21 March 2001, Volume 3, Number 11
The Ministry for Federation, Nationality, and Migration Policy has prepared new draft legislation which attempts to finally settle any remaining border disputes between federation subjects, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 March. Deputy Federation Minister Talia Khabrieva told reporters on 15 March that the majority of borders between regions in Russia have still not been precisely defined. For example, according to Khabrieva, the borders between Chechnya and Ingushetia and between Kalmykia Republic and Astrakhan Oblast have not been set for many years. Under the federal Constitution, the administrative borders between subjects can be changed by their mutual agreement, however, this has only happened on two occasions. The new draft law will establish a clear procedure for defining territorial boundaries. The regions will have a six-month period to agree on their borders. If they cannot reach agreement by that deadline, then the issue will be resolved by presidential decree. The daily concluded, however, that the law has "elements of democracy" because if a border in question runs through a population settlement, then a poll will be conducted of residents asking them which region they would like to be in. However, this poll won't be legally binding and will merely inform the president's decision. Last January, Federation Minister Aleksandr Blokhin said that while most regions have regulated their borders courtesy of bilateral agreements, there remain about 20 places where there are no such agreements. JAC

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 20 March, presidential envoy to the Central federal district Georgii Poltavchenko defends the regional envoys' role, giving them partial credit for making the disintegration of Russia no longer a serious concern. According to Poltavchenko, the seven envoys are an integral part of President Vladimir Putin's domestic policy, which is bringing about changes "every day." In the future, the envoys will work on achieving a better division of powers between the center and regions. For example, Poltavchenko said that "in my view it is not effective to resolve ecological questions in Moscow, since no governor would want to harm his electorate or his own family." When asked whether the creation of district structures is a precursor to reducing the number of regions, he said that "we may come to that at a future date but not right away." He continued, "For the time being we should develop the least developed regions within the existing federation structure. If we succeed, then the issue of enlargement may be brought up." JAC

Two Russian publications this month have addressed the recent trend of oligarchs becoming regional leaders, such as in Chukotka and Taimyr Autonomous Okrugs. "Literaturnaya gazeta" in its issue dated 14 March argues that by "choosing the regions and the oligarchs as a target," the Kremlin has provoked a "merger" of the two forces. The weekly, which receives funding from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, asserts that most regional leaders are either figureheads supported by financial or business groups, or they are themselves the heads of these financial and/or business groups. Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich, for example, is the former head of Sibneft. The weekly suggests that corporations have changed not only their tactics in the regions but also their goals. They are no longer content just to take profits out of the regions, they now want to carve them up into spheres of influence. During last year's round of gubernatorial elections, financial groups and their contacts in the cabinet and the presidential administration actively competed against each other and promoted their own people in the regions; "There were times when the president was asked to step in -- but he always refused." JAC

"Novoye Vremya" in its issue no. 10 takes a different tack: It argues that the new regional governor/oligarchs' real goal is to break into national politics and they are merely using the regions as a launching pad for their future political careers. The monthly argues that since 1998 it has become "impossible" for companies to install their own people in top government circles in Moscow. And therefore, they are trying a new tactic "to get closer to state assets" by "starting from the top, that is, the Far North." The monthly also suggests that by becoming governors themselves, the "young tycoons" save money and time. According to the monthly, Abramovich gave each family in Chukotka a sack of sugar, but "it is impossible to buy any official, even the most minor, for a sack of sugar -- unlike the electorate....It is very profitable to come to power themselves, rather than buying the bureaucrats from Anadyr to Dudinka all the way up to the Kremlin later." JAC

The "Federation" group in the Federation Council is attracting more and more members: according to "Segodnya" on 16 March, as of the previous day it had 100 members including Samara Governor Konstantin Titov. One member, North Ossetia's President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, declared that "before the end of the year 90 percent of the chamber will be advocating the group's position," "Izvestiya" reported on 15 March. In an interview with the website on 14 March, one of the group's coordinators, Ivan Starikov of Kostroma Oblast, explained that the group has two chief characteristics: it does not have any political slant, and its members wish to work on a purely professional basis. Federation "is open for everyone, left, right and center," according to Starikov. And, it cannot "in any way" be considered a political faction. At a press conference on 15 March, Mikhail Margelov of Pskov Oblast, representative for the group's external relations, said that another task of the group is to ease the transition to 1 January 2002, when all members of the Federation Council will have been selected on the new basis, that is appointed by regional leaders and legislatures. After that time, Margelov doesn't rule out that the group will be disbanded. JAC

According to "Segodnya," the group is also not ruling out the possibility that current Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev will be retained in the council and as speaker. An unidentified source in Federation told the daily that Stroev "suits everybody and [we] have no plans to replace him." JAC

In an interview with "Krasnaya zvezda" on 15 March, State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) and member of the Committee on Problems of the North and Far East Valerii Markov complains that there is an absence of systematic and consistent policy with regard to northern and far eastern regions. He said that attention to the North is "seasonal," focusing on the "Northern Delivery" and the heating season. According to Markov, 64 percent of Russian territory is in the north and it contributes about one-fourth of the nation's tax and around 60 percent of its hard currency revenues. But only 8 percent of its population resides there. Markov noted that in Canada there is an entire ministry devoted to the affairs of northern territories, while in Russia the problems of ethnic communities of the North are taken care of by the Ministry for Nationality Affairs and its economic problems by the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade. He declared that in Canada "they understand that the North must be a constant preoccupation." An Arctic specialist with the Institute for Canada-USA Studies, Arkadii Cherkassov, told the "Christian Science Monitor" last month that the population density in Russia's Arctic region is 50 times greater than in Canada. Mkrtych Kazaryan of the Duma's Committee on Problems of the North told the daily that "there is a creeping catastrophe which can only be averted by regularizing and stabilizing supplies to Northern communities and by withdrawing masses of people from those places." JAC

As the 25 March gubernatorial election drew closer, mass media continued to predict the likely victory of Incumbent Governor Anatolii Belonogov. "Kommersant-Vlast" reported on 20 March that last month a poll showed that Belonogov had 25 percent of support compared with 10 percent each for his likely closest competitors, State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Leonid Korotkov and federal inspector for Amur Oblast Valerii Voshchevoz, who is supported by the local Unity branch. "Izvestiya" on the same day also predicted a Belonogov victory but suggested his chief competition will come from Korotkov and Bureiskii raion head and Communist Pavel Shtein. Voshchevoz's boss, presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Konstantin Pulikovskii, is attributing the fact that his underling is completely out of the running in part to what he has alleged is Chinese support for the incumbent governor. According to the daily, Pulikovskii has publicly accused Chinese interests of backing Belonogov in order to protect their economic interests in the oblast. According to "Kommersant-Vlast," the Kremlin also supports Belonogov despite the fact that they consider him to be a representative of the "old guard," because they think he can preserve stability in the oblast. "Segodnya" earlier in the month suggested that the Kremlin has no choice but to support Belonogov, since no one else appears to have a chance at winning (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 March 2001). JAC

Ambulances in Chkalovskii raion in Nizhnii Novgorod are out of gasoline, RFE/RL's Nizhnii Novgorod correspondent reported on 17 March. The service is asking callers to either buy gas for the ambulance or to call and order a taxi to pick the medical assistant up. The callers, of course, have to pick up the cab fare. According to the correspondent, the daily supply of gasoline has been lowered from 50 to 30 liters a day, a sum which is simply not enough for the ambulances to make several trips. And at the end of last month, doctors were late in arriving to assist a woman who had a heart attack simply because their supply of gas had been used up. One of the chief doctors at the raion's hospital, Lev Terentev, told RFE/RL that in the last 30 years of his employment there, there has never before been such a dearth of funds as there is today. He himself had to buy gas for the ambulance the previous week for three days in a row out of his modest wages. (Medical workers are among the lowest paid in Russia.) Another doctor who preferred not to be identified told the correspondent that the oblast administration's apparatus has been financed at the level of 118 percent from the oblast's 2000 budget, while the raion's hospital received only 28 percent of the funds earmarked for it. JAC

Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Pulikovskii has challenged Vladivostok Mayor Yurii Kopylov and Vladivostok State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) Chairman Valerii Bakshin to duels, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 16 March. Pulikovskii issued the challenge at a press conference in Vladivostok that day. Pulikovskii advised Kopylov, "Choose your weapon and if we fight, I will not miss." According to "Segodnya" the next day, Pulikovskii was speaking in jest, but the words express his dissatisfaction with the conduct of the gubernatorial campaign in the krai. According to Pulikovskii, since the departure of former Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, little has changed in terms of campaign tactics and the media is "pouring out filth" about various candidates. Pulikovskii was also reacting to placards that appeared on the streets of Vladivostok in early January bearing the slogan, "Pulikovskii -- hands off Primore!" On 20 March, Kopylov denied that he was personally responsible for the signs. Meanwhile, an opinion poll conducted in five cities and two villages in the krai from 9-13 March found that around one-third of the 1,200 respondents plan to vote against all candidates in the upcoming 27 May gubernatorial elections. JAC

"Kommersant-Vlast" predicted in its issue no. 11 that incumbent Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev will no doubt win the 25 March presidential elections there but that result will "sooner or later be challenged in court." This is because the amendments to the law that allow Shaimiev to seek a third term did not come into force until 13 February, but Shaimiev had to hand in the signatures supporting his candidacy earlier. The legality of Shaimiev's participation in the election has already been challenged earlier by State Duma deputy (Communist) Aleksandr Salii in an appeal to the prosecutor-general (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2001). According to the weekly, Shaimiev's candidacy is supported not only by the Kremlin but also by majority of the largest enterprises within the republic. That Shaimiev's victory will be questioned might make the republic's leader more controllable by the Kremlin, thus enabling it to strip the republic of the privileges it won under former President Boris Yeltsin, the weekly concluded. JAC

Presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko will open an office in Kazan on 20 March with three or four full-time staff members, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported citing Tatarstan television. Three days earlier, the Federal Treasury also officially opened a branch in Kazan. Tatarstan did not have an official treasury presence under the conditions of the power-sharing agreement that it had signed earlier with the federal government. According to ITAR-TASS, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who attended the ceremony celebrating the branch's opening, declared "The opening of this division -- the 89th -- completes the creation of a single centralized system for implementing the federal budget for all Russian territory." JAC

John Tobin, the U.S. Fulbright scholar currently incarcerated in a jail in Voronezh on drug charges, is not the only foreign student unhappy with his reception in the region. On 7 March, more than 150 Chinese students of Voronezh State University began a strike and stopped attending classes to protest physical and verbal attacks against them, RFE/RL's Voronezh correspondent reported on the 17 March program of "Korrespondentskii chas." According to the correspondent, foreign students have been attending the university for the last 40 years, and Voronezh has had the reputation for being a hospitable and warm city. But that situation changed. Last year, foreign students started receiving declarations filled with ethnic and racist slurs, which frequently carried the letters RNE, for Russian National Unity, the ultra-nationalist group. During this school year not one day has gone by in which someone has not robbed or beaten a foreign student. In the most recent incident, a Vietnamese student was severely beaten, his money and watch stolen at 4:00 in the afternoon, and no one walking by the incident tried to help him, according to the correspondent. Earlier, a Chinese student sustained such a sharp blow to the head that he required stitches. The response from local law enforcement officials has been indifference and at times even hostility, which prompted some of the students to organize the strike. Some 2000 foreigners reside in Voronezh, and the students have threatened that if their complaints are not satisfied they will attempt to close down one of the city's main streets. JAC


Regional Economic Trends, 2000 compared with 1999

Geographic_____________Growth in______________Consumer
Unit__________________ Real Income,____________Price Index*
______________________% change_______________% change

Russian Federation__________12.7%_____________20.2%

Central District______________14.7_____________21.7
Belgorod Oblast_______________17.4______________20.9
Bryansk Oblast________________27.0______________18.6
Vladimir Oblast_________________1.9______________18.1
Voronezh Oblast________________8.7______________22.7
Ivanovo Oblast_________________9.6______________16.6
Kaluga Oblast_________________13.3______________18.6
Kostroma Oblast________________3.7______________21.4
Kursk Oblast____________________1.4_____________19.1
Lipetsk Oblast__________________15.4______________21.9
Moscow Oblast_________________10.1______________21.8
Orel Oblast_____________________2.8______________19.0
Ryazan Oblast_________________17.5_______________18.1
Smolensk Oblast________________15.1_______________22.5
Tambov Oblast__________________14.8_______________20.3
Tver Oblast_____________________36.2_______________21.9
Tula Oblast______________________8.2_______________21.7
Yaroslavl Oblast__________________8.5_______________20.1
Moscow City_____________________22.1______________15.9

Northwest District_____________8.6%_____________21.7%
Karelia Republic_________________5.0________________19.3
Komi Republic__________________6.0_______________19.8
Arkhangelsk Oblast______________20.5_______________21.0
Nenets Aut. Okrug_______________47.9_______________25.1
Vologda Oblast__________________17.1_______________19.7
Kaliningrad Oblast________________26.8_______________17.5
Leningrad Oblast__________________0.8_______________23.5
Murmansk Oblast__________________8.9_______________21.9
Novgorod Oblast__________________-17.0______________20.5
Pskov Oblast_____________________16.9______________18.6
St. Petersburg City_________________6.4________________23.5

South District________________12.3%_____________16.6%
Adygei Republic_________________16.9_______________19.9
Daghestan Republic______________11.5_______________12.2
Ingushetia Republic_______________31.1_______________22.7
Kabardino-Balkaria Rep.___________16.1_______________16.8
Kalmykia Republic________________ 35.4_______________16.9
Karachaevo-Cherkessia Rep.________43.2_______________13.4
North Ossetia Rep._________________2.1_______________16.3
Chechnya Republic_________________n/a________________n/a
Krasnodar Krai___________________10.2_______________18.2
Stavropol Krai____________________18.2_______________18.8
Astrakhan Oblast__________________33.5_______________16.6
Volgograd Oblast___________________2.7_______________19.2
Rostov Oblast_____________________12.1_______________16.1

Volga District__________________8.9%____________21.9%
Bashkortostan Republic____________-0.2______________21.6
Marii El Repubic___________________3.0______________21.7
Mordovia Republic_________________11.7______________28.0
Tatarstan Republic_________________2.2______________24.2
Udmurtia Republic_________________16.7______________22.2
Chuvashiya Republic_______________9.8_______________26.2
Kirov Oblast______________________13.0______________22.6
Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast_____________32.4______________21.7
Orenburg Oblast__________________-0.2_______________18.7
Penza Oblast_____________________4.0________________20.6
Perm Oblast______________________8.2________________24.5
Komi-Permyak Aut. Okrug__________52.3_______________19.9
Samara Oblast___________________6.8_________________19.9
Saratov Oblast___________________15.2________________19.0
Ulyanovsk Oblast_________________0.1_________________23.5

Ural District__________________10.6%____________22.3%
Kurgan Oblast__________________19.2_______________19.3
Sverdlovsk Oblast_______________-7.0________________23.9
Tyumen Oblast_________________21.7________________20.8
Khanty-Mansii Aut. Okrug_________26.4________________21.3
Yamalo-Nenets Aut. Okrug_________12.0________________18.7
Chelyabinsk Okrug_______________15.5_________________23.1

Siberia District_________________9.2%_____________21.4%
Altai Republic___________________19.2_______________23.6
Buryatia Republic________________10.4_______________20.3
Tuva Republic___________________12.9_______________22.2
Khakasia Republic________________11.4_______________25.0
Altai Krai________________________22.0_______________22.6
Krasnoyarsk Krai_________________7.1_________________21.1
Taimyr Aut. Okrug_______________28.0_________________22.0
Evenk Aut. Okrug_______________27.4_________________18.1
Irkutsk Oblast____________________7.8________________21.8
Ust-Ordinskii Aut. Okrug___________18.4_______________18.7
Kemerovo Oblast_________________15.2_______________20.3
Novosibirsk Oblast_______________-3.3_________________22.7
Omsk Oblast____________________6.2__________________21.3
Tomsk Oblast___________________15.7_________________19.2
Chita Oblast____________________13.6_________________17.5
Aginsk Buryat Aut. Okrug__________85.4________________19.9

Far East

Sakha Republic________________-5.0_________________17.4
Primorskii Krai_________________10.6_________________19.0
Khabarovsk Krai________________-2.4_________________19.9
Amur Oblast___________________17.7__________________18.0
Kamchatka Oblast______________-19.0__________________24.3
Koryak Aut. Okrug______________38.2__________________31.3
Magadan Oblast_________________-8.8__________________18.3
Sakhalin Oblast_________________15.3_________________15.6
Jewish Aut. Oblast_______________36.4________________16.9
Chukotka Aut. Okrug_____________14.4_________________19.7

*End of the year

Source: PlanEcon, Washington, D.C.