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Russia Report: June 20, 2001

20 June 2001, Volume 3, Number 18
The State Duma's Committee on Federation and Regional Policies will recommend that the Duma accept in its second reading a bill that would reduce the number of regional governors who are allowed to seek more than two terms in office from 69 to nine, Interfax reported on 18 June. Just before elections were held in Tatarstan for President Mintimer Shaimiev's third term earlier this year, President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that gave 69 of Russia's governors the chance to vie for three terms, but soon after Shaimiev's successful re-election, a new bill was introduced that limited this number. That new bill passed in its first reading on 17 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2001). However, the pro-Kremlin Unity and People's Deputy groups changed their positions and now plan to vote against the bill, at the request of the "Federation" group within the Federation Council, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 June. The Federation group has a pro-Kremlin orientation like Unity and People's Deputy, and the daily concluded that sudden reversal of position must have occurred at the Kremlin's bidding. The author of the new bill, deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Boris Nadezhdin, told the daily that he believes that the bill will still attract just enough votes to pass two more readings but it does not have enough supporters to overcome the likely veto from the Federation Council. At the same time, Nadezhdin does not rule out the possibility that the Kremlin might reverse its position yet again and order its deputies to vote in favor of overturning the upper chamber's veto. According to Interfax, the bill will be included on the Duma's agenda for 28 June. JAC

In an interview with NTV on 8 June, Chavash President Nikolai Fedorov, who earlier declared that he would not seek a second term and spoke out against third terms for governors, explained his recent reversal on both issues. Fedorov said that he "never said that he would never seek re-election." And, he added that in order to evaluate "the situation," it is first of all necessary to review the constitution. "If you read through the constitution it is clear that the question of limitation on the terms of the president is the exclusive prerogative of the people of the Russian Federation and the parliament of the Russian Federation," Fedorov continued, "and similar questions regarding the leaders of federation subjects is the exclusive prerogative of the people of Chuvashia, Tatarstan, Moscow, and the parliaments of these regions." On 12 June, President Putin signed a decree declaring the name of Chuvashia or the Chuvash republic is now the Chavash Republic, the website reported. JAC

During a trip to Kemerovo Oblast, presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Leonid Drachevskii called for concluding an agreement between coal companies, electricity suppliers, and other monopolists on stabilizing prices and rates over the course of the year, Interfax reported on 15 June. Drachevskii made his suggestion during the course of discussions of the problem of preparation for the coming winter. According to RTR on 17 June, Drachevskii visited the cities of Leninsk-Kuznetsk and Kemerovo. The head of Leninsk-Kuznetsk told the television station that even though the city has five working mines and coal deposits are located literally under the residents' feet, the town is able to buy coal only on an as-needed basis and does not purchase it in the summer when the price is lower. JAC

Within the context of the working group on developing nonstandard approaches to resolving the problems of Siberia and the Far East region, Zhanna Zaionchkovskaya, who heads a working group on migration issues at the Institute for National Economy, suggested that because of the acute demographic collapse and departure of the population from Eastern Siberia and the Far East, Russia cannot manage without immigrants, first of all from China, "Vremya MN" reported on 16 June. The working group was established by the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy and is headed by State Duma deputy (independent) Vladimir Ryzhkov, who was elected from a single-mandate district in Altai Krai. Zaionchkovskaya told the daily, "Usually it is suggested that the solution is the transfer of the Russians from the former Soviet republics to the East, but the repatriated Russians will hardly come there and prefer to settle in the central and southern regions of Russia; therefore, Chinese immigration objectively serves the interests of Russia. In modern conditions the Chinese have no competitors in the assimilation of our Eastern territory." She added that in the 21st century the Chinese will become the second largest ethnic group in Russia. According to Zaionchkovskaya, "It is more profitable to manufacture goods on our territory with the help of immigrants, than to import [goods]." Sergei Karaganov, deputy director of the Institute for Europe, echoed Zaionchkovskaya's argument, telling the daily that Russia should not "be afraid of immigrants from Asian countries" and that "immigration, as a rule, is hugely profitable for a country," judging by the experiences of the U.S. and Germany. Karaganov also pointed out that research is being done in the U.S. on a possible future for Russia without Siberia and the Far East. JAC

However, legislators approached by the daily disagreed with Zaionchkovskaya's proposal. Aleksandr Uss, chairman of the legislative assembly in Krasnoyarsk Krai, declared that Russia "does not need the help of the Chinese in our demographic plans or to satisfy the personnel needs of our enterprises. The Chinese break up Russia -- they [go] to the Far East not to work in the Far East but to occupy territory." State Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Aleksandr Fomin, who heads the deputies group of Siberian Accord, did not comment on the idea of encouraging Chinese immigration, but said that he is concerned about efforts to resolve the problems of Siberia and the Far East that are not based within the regions themselves. For example, he doesn't hold out much hope that the central office of Norilsk Nickel, which is based in Moscow, can understand and effectively resolve the problems of the numerically small indigenous peoples of Siberia. JAC

The regional branches of both Unity and Fatherland have declared their support for incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov in the 15 July gubernatorial election, the website reported on 8 and 9 June. So far 12 candidates have been registered to compete in the ballot, according to TV-6. The oblast election commission rejected two other would-be candidates: National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov and Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Yurii Lebedev, both of whom are challenging the commission's decision in court. Lebedev's registration was rejected on the grounds that his administration used pressure to collect the signatures supporting his candidacy, while the commission found that the majority of signatures supporting Limonov's candidacy were faked. A deputy in the city Duma told TV-6 that city workers approached passers-by outside the city administration building and told them to sign their petition or needed repairs would not be performed. Other candidates are former Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor and felon Andrei Klimentev, his brother Sergei Klimentev, State Duma deputies Dmitrii Savelev (Union of Rightist Forces), Vadim Bulavinov (People's Deputy), and Gennadii Khodyrev (Communist). According to a recent opinion poll conducted by the local Institute for Sociology, Bulavinov has the strongest support followed by Andrei Klimentev and Sklyarov. But the percentage of undecided voters is increasing, reaching 24 percent during a survey conducted from 1-3 June, the weekly "Monitor" reported in its 11-17 July issue. The percentage of voters who would vote against all candidates is also rising and recently reached 10.4 percent. JAC

During a visit to Ufa in Bashkortostan on 10 June, President Putin proposed that a special agency should be established to help Russia solve its interethnic problems. According to Ekho Moskvy, Putin made the proposal during a meeting with representatives of the Assembly of Peoples of Baskhiria. "Russia has an absolutely unique place on the Earth with its enormous number of nations, nationalities, languages, and cultures," Putin declared. "But Russia's uniqueness consists in that over the centuries -- practically 1,000 years -- this mixture of peoples and different ethnicities have lived harmoniously." According to Interfax, Putin specified that the new agency should "perhaps" be set up "within presidential structures." According to the agency, during the meeting Bashkortostan's President Murtaza Rakhimov and Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev pressed Putin to appoint a special adviser on nationality questions. While in Ufa, Putin also participated in a celebration of the Sabantuy holiday, a traditional holiday marking the end of spring sowing. Last year, he celebrated that holiday in Kazan. Meanwhile, old tensions between the Tatars and Bashkirs may be reviving. RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 11 June that Tatar writer Aidar Halim has accused Bashkortostan media of launching a campaign to get its ethnic Tatar population to register as Bashkirs so that the Bashkir population will appear larger during the upcoming national census. JAC

Law enforcement officials in Irkutsk have confiscated all copies of the newspaper "Vostochnosibirskie vesti," the 19th such seizure, Radio Rossii reported on 8 June citing the agency Sibnovosti. According to the station, the newspaper, in contrast to other mass media organs in the oblast which are loyal to Irkutsk Governor Boris Govorin, reports "objectively" on the local situation and publishes articles critical of local bureaucrats. The next day the chairman of the oblast's committee on public utilities, Petr Boronin, told reporters that fake campaign pamphlets had been discovered which falsely report that Govorin is going to raise the rates on electricity and water by 100 percent in upcoming months, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Boronin, the governor has no such plans and the pamphlets were obviously prepared on the order of one of the governors' opponents in the upcoming 29 July gubernatorial elections. JAC

In an interview with "Vremya MN" on 9 June, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak elaborated on his previous statements criticizing the institution of presidential envoys, taking a few slams at presidential envoy to the Northwest federal district Viktor Cherkesov in the process (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 9 May 2001). The newspaper suggested that Cherkesov's recent statement that the economy of Novgorod Oblast is one of the most backward in the district might have been a reaction to Prusak�s recent criticisms of the office of the presidential envoys. Prusak responded that good bureaucrats cannot exist in a bad system, and that he has no doubts that "these people are professionals or otherwise they could not have reached the level of general. But the army, intelligence, and the economy are all different things." He added that "the only place in the Northwest where an envoy is needed is Kaliningrad Oblast" and that "is a completely special case." Prusak likened Putin's creation of the seven presidential envoys with other "great mistakes" of the last 40 years such as the creation of sovnarkhoz. Prusak also claimed that Cherkesov has recently published a book about governors-general during the Tsarist era. JAC

Three days after an appeal from presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Konstantin Puliikovskii to finish their work bringing the Sakha Constitution in line with the Russia's Federal Constitution, deputies in the Sakha republican parliament decided to hold their next session on 3 July at which they will consider amendments to the constitution, Interfax reported on 18 June. The deputies will consider some 13 bills that would amend the constitution, including one that would reword the controversial article 1 regarding the republic's sovereignty (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 9 May 2001). The next day, the Sakha government sent the federal Finance Ministry data on financial damage sustained in the wake of the severe floods that affected the region last month. According to Interfax-Eurasia, the damage totals 5.09 billion rubles ($180 million). JAC

On a visit to Kazan on 9 June, presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko brought the first 50 new passports for residents of Tatarstan. The new passports include an insert in the Tatar language with the symbol of Tatarstan. Farid Mukhametshin, chairman of Tatarstan's legislative assembly, declared that receipt of the new passport was a significant event, representing Tatarstan's successful effort to obtain for the national republics the right to write their names in their own languages. However, Mukhametshin noted that there are some people in the republic who remain dissatisfied, but the insert can be considered a compromise. According to tatnews, activists from the moderate nationalist Tatar Public Center organized a picket action on 9 June to protest the lack of a nationality entry in the new passports. Meanwhile, on 7 June the local Kazan newspaper "Zvezda povolzhya" reported that seven passenger trains that now run from Moscow to Yekaterinburg will be rerouted through Nizhnii Novgorod following a request from Kirienko, whose office is based in Nizhnii Novgorod. Shamil Ageev, the chairman of Tatarstan's Trade and Industry Chamber, told the weekly that the shift may be an indication that Moscow plans to move forcefully against any independence-minded behavior from Tatarstan since six months before federal troops invaded Chechnya, Moscow built a rail line bypassing that republic. JAC


By Julie A. Corwin

Russia's top election official, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, said in Vladivostok last month that the situation in the region on the eve of the 27 May gubernatorial ballot was entirely "normal." But the situation since than has been anything but normal, even though Veshnyakov again declared that the outcome of the second round on 17 June was normal -- or at least normal enough. He said on 18 June that the main requirements of Russian election law were fulfilled and it is therefore unlikely that the election's results will be canceled despite the numerous court actions pending (see also "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001).

In many ways, Veshnyakov is right. The vote there was indeed a "normal" election for Primorskii Krai with the usual reports of violence, murder threats, last-minute disqualifications, seized newspapers, surprise court decisions, selective enforcement of obscure election rules, and allegations of interference by Moscow. The dramatis personae were also familiar, and included Viktor Cherepkov, the current legislator for the region in the State Duma, who has tried to participate in just about every election held in the region since his short and stormy tenure as mayor of Vladivostok. Cherepkov has been stripped of his candidacy in a variety of races almost a half dozen times.

And true to form, on 14 June -- just three days before the second round for this race was scheduled to be held, a local court ordered that Cherepkov's name be removed from the ballot. Konstantin Tolstoshein, a deputy governor under former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, managed to assume the mantle of acting governor some weeks before the 27 May election, while Nazdratenko, himself, returned to the krai on the eve of the elections. Publicly, Nazdratenko declared his support for first deputy presidential envoy to the Far Eastern region Gennadii Apanasenko, but nevertheless he managed to convey to the local electorate that his real support was for the candidate who ultimately won -- local businessman Sergei Darkin.

Darkin is a smoother, more photogenic stand-in for Nazdratenko, and consequently the only genuinely new players in this season's election drama were Gennadii Apanasenko, and his boss, presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Konstantin Pulikovskii. Pulikovskii -- along with his fellow envoys -- had been appointed some months earlier by President Putin to look out for the interests of the federal center in Russia's far-flung regions and ensure that federal laws are enforced (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 17 May 2000). However, Pulikovskii, a general and former military commander in Chechnya, had little experience with regional politics and quickly earned the nickname "Tank" for the subtlety with which he approached his task in the krai and elsewhere.

Following Nazdratenko's resignation as governor, Pulikovskii pushed forward his first deputy, Apanasenko, a man with little experience running for office and someone totally lacking in charisma, as the best candidate to rule the krai. And later, after complaining about slanted media coverage, Pulikovskii publicly challenged both Vladivostok's mayor and a local media executive to a duel (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 March 2001).

But by May, when favorable stories about Apanasenko were clogging the airwaves, Pulikovskii had stopped complaining. With the subtlety of a military assault, Apanasenko's campaign team imposed on krai residents a media blitz in favor of their candidate. No expense was apparently too great, as Apanasenko's image and slogans were unavoidable -- on television, radio, on the streets, and billboards. Apanasenko's team even tried to exploit fears of the "yellow menace," flashing across the television screen during one commercial the projected declining population figures for Russia as China's figure rises. But all the effort and expense was for nought. Despite having hired the usually successful campaign guru Aleksei Koshmarov, the so-called king of "black PR," to head Apanasenko's campaign effort, on the eve of the first round Apanasenko was fighting for fourth place in independent opinion polls.

Koshmarov apparently couldn't sell local voters on an "outsider": hobbled by a less-than-winning public persona, Apanasenko was also hurt by the perception among voters that he was being foisted upon them by Moscow. This perception was only reinforced by the mid-May visit of Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration. According to local legislators, Surkov ordered them to support Apanasenko in the race for governor or the Kremlin would impose elements of external rule (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 9 May 2001). Surkov himself did not comment on his meetings, but regardless of what was in fact said, his visit did little to boost local support for Apanasenko. Apanasenko managed to find his name on the ballot for the election's second round on 17 June only due to the last-minute ouster of Cherepkov. And even then Apanasenko again finished third, as more voters (some 33.5 percent) voted against all candidates, compared with just 24.3 percent for Apanasenko and 40.3 percent for Darkin.

When the last governor of the krai, Yevgenii Nazdratenko, stepped down following a phone call from President Putin, some observers hailed the development, noting that Putin -- unlike his predecessor President Boris Yeltsin -- had finally managed to rid the krai of the one of the most notoriously corrupt leaders in the country. And later, when news broke that Putin had in fact lured Nazdratenko to Moscow with a plum assignment as head of the State Fishing Commission, some observers argued that this was in fact a clever move by Putin to get Nazdratenko out of the krai so that fair elections could be held. But now that the candidate whom Nazdratenko supported -- and more importantly, whom the local business circles which once supported Nazdratenko supported -- has won, it's difficult to detect the logic behind the Kremlin's actions in Primorskii Krai.

It's also unclear how respect for democratic institutions has been advanced by the conduct of the election in Primorskii Krai. In an informal poll conducted on the Internet by "Kommersant-Vlast," almost 93 percent of respondents said they believe that the election in the krai was conducted illegally. More than 76 percent said that they believed that laws were violated on the order of Moscow. Of course, those respondents, as users of the Internet, are hardly representative of Russia as whole, but the low level of voter participation in the second round of the election combined with the high percentage of voters voting against all candidates suggests that Primore residents are at least to some extent disaffected and unhappy with the way in which this race was staged.

That elections at all levels are held so frequently in Russia has been hailed by some observers as a sign that the country has come a long way since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But the recent vote in Primorskii Krai suggests that at least some domestic political actors are having difficulty observing even the forms of democracy -- let alone preserving their content. And this election was one on which the Kremlin, or at least some parts of it, lavished much attention and money. At a cabinet meeting on 18 June, President Putin, who has made the call for law and order a constant theme in his speeches, reportedly commented only, "Thank God the electoral saga in Primorskii Krai is over."

Many in Primore would be happy to agree with him. But unfortunately, they know better: A host of lawsuits challenging the elections results are pending, and Cherepkov has claimed that members of Darkin's entourage are planning to murder him.