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Russia Report: June 27, 2001

27 June 2001, Volume 3, Number 19
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on 26 June that establishes a commission which will draft proposals for defining the parameters of power between the federal and regional and municipal authorities, Russian agencies reported. The proposals, including a package of draft legislation, will be submitted to Putin by 1 June 2002. The commission will be headed by deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak, who has previously overseen judicial reforms. Kozak told reporters that the commission's legislation will render the power-sharing agreements previously negotiated between a number of regions, such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, and the federal center superfluous. According to ITAR-TASS, Kozak said that the treaties will not be discarded as such but they will occupy the last place in the hierarchy of the Russian Constitution, federal laws, and government edicts. JAC

"Novaya gazeta," no. 43, argues that with regard to recent plans to restructure the electricity monopoly, Unified Energy Systems (EES), "the cabinet of ministers has in fact ignored the point of view of regional leaders." On 6 June, the Federation Council adopted a resolution on the reform of electricity of the Russian Federation. In the resolution, the senators noted that when the government approved on 19 May a basic policy direction for reform of the electricity sector, the position of the Federation Council was not taken into account. The resolution also noted that the 600-page report prepared by Tomsk Governor Viktor Kress, who headed a working group on the subject under the auspices of the State Council, was also ignored. Kress has stated that he is categorically against the government's reform plan, which will lead to a doubling or tripling in electricity rates in the near future. Aleksei Lebed, head of Khakasia and chairman of the interregional association, Siberian Accord, also complains that Siberian leaders did not approve of the program restructuring EES. According to Lebed, Siberia lacks the surplus capacity that would allow it to create a free market for electricity. Another Siberian leader, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev, explains that it is necessary to stabilize the situation with the supply of coal and gas, before the electricity market can be liberalized. After detailing regional leaders' extensive objections to the government's plans, "Novaya gazeta" concludes that "without the agreement of the regions, any federal reform is doomed, and reform of the electricity sector and EES is no exception." JAC

Meanwhile, a number of regional leaders and legislators are raising their objections to the Land Code, which was passed by the State Duma in its first reading on 15 June (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 25 June 2001). For example, in Chita Oblast, local legislators have adopted a resolution recommending that the State Duma and the Federation Council reject the proposed Land Code, the website reported on 25 June. Chairman of Chita's legislature Aleksandr Epov told the website that article 5 of the Land Code would give equal rights to foreigners and would lead to massive purchases of Russian land by foreign firms. In another interview with, Nina Nikogda, chair of the legislative assembly of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, took a similar stance, noting that Birobidjan is located 500 kilometers from Russia's border with China, and that the sale of land to foreigners should not be allowed. However, she appeared confident that some kind of reasonable version of the code could be worked out during the two additional readings in the Duma and with the creation of a conciliatory commission in the Federation Council. JAC

On 21 June, the legislative assembly of Nizhnii Novgorod voted to reject the version of the Land Code currently under consideration by the State Duma, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 June. The previous day, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who was in Nizhnii Novgorod at the time, called on local legislatures across Russia to oppose the Land Code, Interfax reported. According to Zyuganov, some 200,000 signatures against the code have been gathered in Ryazan Oblast alone and an all-Russia protest action is planned for 4 July. According to "Izvestiya," if 30 regional legislatures vote against the code, a new coordination commission for the legislation would have to be convened, under the constitution. State Duma deputy (Communist) Ivan Melnikov told the agency on 19 June that the party has been forced to prepare a 20-minute television program explaining the nature of the Communist protest against the Land Code because the national media had provided distorted coverage of the 15 June Duma debate. The party's program is being sent to regional television outlets for distribution. Meanwhile, some regional leaders have expressed support for the legislation, such as Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, who told RTR on 15 June that "the sooner it is adopted, the better." On the same news program, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, and Samara Governor Konstantin Titov also expressed measured support. The newscast did not mention regional leaders opposed to the bill. JAC

In an article in "Vek" of 22 June, Valerii Fedorov and Vladislav Sakharchuk of the Political Situations Center argue that despite the Kremlin's efforts to trim the powers of the country's regional governors at the federal level, Moscow appears powerless to affect the political situation within regions, as was recently demonstrated with the gubernatorial election in Primorskii Krai (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 22 June 2001). According to Fedorov and Sakharchuk, although the center can "effectively pressure regional leaders at the federal level, it often cannot reach to the clans that define regional politics." Fedorov and Sakharchuk conclude that Putin's high popularity ratings have created unnecessarily high expectations and a belief "in the omnipotence of the Kremlin," and when the Kremlin fails to shape an election outcome to its liking, this prompts "reproaches that the administration is politically weak." The two commentators suggest that to get maximum value out of its influence in the regions, the center would be wise to form an alliance with "trans-regional business groups" in order to "introduce a new course to the regions." For example, in Sverdlovsk Oblast, a reform of the military-industrial sector there and a merging of the local defense enterprises into several large holdings could deprive the rebellious Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Rossel of key support. Rossel would then "lose his ability to dictate his conditions to both the plants and Moscow." According to Fedorov and Sakharchuk, the old model of political bargaining within the federation is "gradually becoming outdated," and on today's "agenda is the creation of a new system of relations, including not only the center and governors, but also the municipalities, the presidential envoys." JAC

Before traveling to Primorskii Krai to investigate that region's energy situation, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov traveled to Cheboksary where he helped local residents celebrate the republic's 450th anniversary of its incorporation into the Russian empire. According to "The Moscow Times" on 25 June, some residents "saw the holiday as a sad reminder that the Chavash language and culture are vanishing." One resident, Vyacheslav Platonov, a consultant for a student exchange program, told the daily that he sees his language and culture "disappearing" despite the fact that ethnic Chavash make up 70 percent of the republic's population. Another resident told the daily that "if you don't speak Russian, you are a second-class citizen." He added that both he and his wife are fluent in Chavash but his two children do not speak the language. At the same time, the government is taking steps to boost the language. The local government recently helped publish the first Chavash-language bible, and the first Chavash encyclopedia was recently published. JAC

Meanwhile, local and national media continue to speculate on whether Chavash Republic President Nikolai Fedorov will seek a third term in gubernatorial elections planned for December 2001 (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 June 2001.) RTR in its broadcast on 23 June noted that presidential envoy to the Volga district Sergei Kirienko, who was also attending the anniversary celebrations, made a joke in public about a third term for Fedorov, which the station commented could be seen as an "almost political declaration." Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Cheboksary correspondent reported on 7 June that Fedorov appears to be actively preparing for the December elections by neutralizing any potential competitors. In addition, Fedorov is rarely absent from any local television or radio reports, as local journalists accredited to cover the president report that they have had to "pump" up their coverage. JAC

Irkutsk Oblast Governor Boris Govorin has officially registered as a candidate in the 29 July gubernatorial elections, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 26 July. Competing against Govorin will be State Duma deputy (Agro-Industrial Group) Sergei Levchenko, Aleksandr Balashov, a local hero who lead a battalion from Irkutsk in the Chechnya, leader of the local Communist branch Sergei Levchenko, and Federation Council member Valentin Mezhevich. According to one opinion poll conducted earlier in the month, Govorin was leading with 33 percent of respondents' support, RFE/RL's Irkutsk correspondent reported on 7 June. In second place was Levchenko with more than 10 percent and in third was Balashov with 6 percent. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 June, local analysts expect Govorin to easily win. Not only does Govorin control the oblast's local television and radio station, but also almost all large enterprises in the oblast support him. The pro-Kremlin Unity party, including its head, as well as presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Leonid Drachevskii, have all expressed their support for Govorin JAC

The government of Great Britain has earmarked money for ecological programs in Murmansk Oblast for the reprocessing of nuclear waste, RFE/RL's Murmansk correspondent reported. Prince Michael of Kent, who is visiting Murmansk, reportedly informed Murmansk Governor Yurii Yevdokimov about the planned funds. Part of the money will be used for the utilization of spent nuclear fuel, stored on the world's only floating storehouse for radioactive waste, according to the correspondent. In May, the Norwegian government announced that it is prepared to spend 10 million Norwegian crowns ($1.08 million) for improving security at three sites in Murmansk Oblast where nuclear wastes are being stored (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2001). Governor Yevdokimov told the Barents Sea/Arctic Council earlier in the year that Russia's Kola Peninsula has more nuclear reactors than anywhere else in Russia and that it represents a serious radiation hazard for all of Northern Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2001). JAC

Leader of the People's Deputy group in the State Duma Gennadii Raikov told the website on 25 June that in a recent discussion with Putin, the Russian president was "concerned about the situation with the [gubernatorial] elections in Nizhnii Novgorod." According to Raikov, the recent elections in Primorskii Krai were "dirty" and what it is happening now in Nizhnii Novgorod strongly resembles the situation in Primore (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 June 2001). Raikov spoke from Nizhnii Novgorod, where he was visiting to show his support for a fellow legislator from his group, Vadim Bulavinov, who is currently one of the top contenders in the 15 July race. On 26 June, the oblast's election commission rejected a complaint by Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Yurii Lebedev, whose registration they canceled on 30 May. Lebedev told Interfax-Eurasia that he will appeal to the Supreme Court. On the same day, the commission asked the federal Media Ministry to suspend the operating license of a private television station, Seti NN, for violating election law. According to RFE/RL's Nizhnii Novgorod correspondent on 7 June, incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov has stronger support outside of the region's capital than within. According to a recent poll, only 6.2 percent of voters in Nizhnii Novgorod supported him while his support outside of the capital rises to more 38 percent. JAC

Newly elected Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin was sworn in in his official capacity at a session of the regional legislature on 25 June. After the ceremony, Darkin told journalists that his chief tasks will be to prepare the krai for winter, attract investment to the local economy, reorient local industry from raw materials to reprocessing, and restore local residents' trust in local authorities. Darkin also promised to cut the staff of the krai's administration by 25-30 percent. In an article in "Novye izvestiya" on 23 June, local analyst Andrei Kalachinskii noted that it is now effectively too late to challenge the results of the gubernatorial elections, since the region must prepare for winter and "not play at democracy." One judge at the krai court, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, explained to Kalachinskii why Cherepkov's registration was canceled for giving an unpaid interview with Ekho Moskvy, while Darkin, who did the same thing, remained as a candidate. "Cherepkov was a 'candidate,' while Darkin was already 'governor.' And for what [would have been] all this [fuss]? To postpone elections again?" JAC

On 27 June, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that news of one of Darkin's first appointments has created a "sensation." Darkin has reportedly named former Ussuriisk Mayor Vladimir Vedernikov, a prominent foe of former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, as one of his deputy governors. The daily concludes that with this appointment Darkin may be trying to show that rumors of his close association with Nazdratenko have been greatly exaggerated. JAC

An oblast court recently decided to ban the activities of the Pskov region's most active ultranationalist group, the Union of the Venedy of Pskov, RFE/RL's Pskov correspondent reported on 16 June. Last year, a group of young people from Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party and the Union of Venedy attacked a local Baptist and a Christian Evangelical church as well as the Latvian Consulate with rocks and eggs decorated with swastikas and insulting slogans. In addition, Latvia's state flag was torn down. All of the activities were captured on videotape by one of the organizers of the raids, Georgii Pavlov, the leader of the union, who was sentenced by the court to five and a half years in prison. The oblast court also ruled that the group's name will be removed from a list of public organizations maintained by the local Justice Ministry department. JAC

The Ministry of Finance transferred on 26 June some 300 million rubles ($10 million) from the federal budget to the government of Sakha (Yakutia) for coping with the aftereffects of the floods last month, Interfax-AFI reported. The previous day, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters that the damage caused by the floods has been estimated at 3.35 billion rubles. Meanwhile, the presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, Konstantin Pulikovskii, told RTR on 24 June that there are "great expectations that the parliament of Sakha (Yakutia) on 3 July will be ready to bring the republic's constitution into compliance with the federal constitution." According to Pulikovskii, some 57 articles in the Sakha Constitution do not correspond to the Russian Federal Constitution, and Pulikovskii admitted that the process of bringing the local constitution into compliance has been "difficult." Legislators in Sakha have so far resisted making certain changes to the constitution and earlier in the month postponed consideration of new amendments until 3 July (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 11 April and 20 June 2001). JAC

Two Islamic members of the local group, the Council of Veterans, were in the tenth day of a hunger strike as of 26 June to protest the construction of a Russian Orthodox church, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to the agency, the strikers collected some 1,500 signatures in support of their action. Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported citing Tatar-Inform the previous day that some Chally residents picketed the city administration to demand the construction of a drama theater and a library rather than an Orthodox church. JAC

The Northwestern Federal District by the Numbers
[The Northwestern federal district is comprised of 11 regions including St. Petersburg, the republics of Karelia and Komi, Leningrad, Kaliningrad, Novgorod, Vologda, Pskov, Murmansk, and Arkhangelsk oblasts, and Nenets Autonomous Okrug.]

Percentage of Russian territory within district: 10 percent
Percentage of Russian population: 10 percent
Percentage of all foreign investment attracted to Russia in 2000: 18 percent
In 1999: 16 percent

Increase in industrial production in 2000 within district: 16.5 percent
In Russia overall: 9 percent
Decline in the number of registered unemployment in 2000 within the district: 50 percent
Decline in Russia overall: 26 percent

Share of profits of large and medium-sized businesses within the district that come from St. Petersburg and Vologda Oblast: Almost 50 percent
Percentage of tax revenues collected within the district by St. Petersburg: 40 percent
Percentage collected by the Komi Republic: 12 percent
Percentage collected by Vologda Oblast: 11 percent

Source: "Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony," 19 June 2001