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Russia Report: January 19, 2000

19 January 2000, Volume 2, Number 3
Following moves by legislators in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug and Kirov Oblast to hold gubernatorial elections simultaneous with national presidential elections, legislators in Saratov Oblast, Altai Krai and Yamalo-Nenets and the Jewish Autonomous Okrugs have also approved shifting their election dates. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 14 January that the rescheduling should strengthen the chances of incumbent Saratov governor Dmitrii Ayatskov because it gives his potential opponents less time to prepare for elections that should have been held in September. The head of the local branch of the Union of Rightist Forces in Altai Krai, Konstantin Emeshin, told Interfax-Eurasia on 18 January that he plans to file a legal complaint about the decision to move up elections. He said that not a single local politician will have enough time to prepare a campaign against incumbent Governor Aleksandr Surikov who has already stated that he will seek re-election. JAC

Legislators in Tyumen Oblast resisted moving up elections for governor of that region from January 2001 to March 2000 as did deputies in St. Petersburg's legislature. This marks the second failure for incumbent St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev to move elections forward (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 October 1999). In Sverdlovsk Oblast, legislators rejected on 12 January a proposal to hold their own reelections on 26 March in order to save some 20 million rubles ($620,000), "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. JAC

An outbreak of AIDS has been recorded in Chelyabinsk Oblast and the city of Nakhodka in Primorskii Krai. According to ITAR-TASS on 12 January, as many as 20 cases of AIDS have been uncovered in Chelyabinsk within a 24-hour period. A regional AIDS prevention center said that about 370 people with HIV are registered in the region; almost all of them are intravenous drug users. Meanwhile, in Nakhodka, 35 people have tested positive for HIV within the last two months in the city compared with just 145 carriers in the entire krai over the last ten years, according to the agency on 14 January. As is the case in Chelyabinsk, almost all of the HIV carriers are or were intravenous drug users. Murray Feshback of Georgetown University predicted in "The Moscow Times" on 14 January that "the skyrocketing number of deaths from AIDS by the year 2010 will only accelerate the decline in [Russia's] population, closer to my projection of 80 miilion to 100 million by 2050." JAC

Mikhail Shakhramanyan, head of the departmental agency for monitoring and prognoses at the federal Emergencies Ministry, told "Segodnya" on 17 January that Russia's regions can expect a host of natural disasters in 2000. The greatest danger of seismic activity exists in the Northern Caucausus area, particularly Daghestan, and the island of Kamchatka. Forest fires may be particularly severe this year in the republic of Buryatia, Chita, Irkutsk and Amur Oblasts, and Altai and Krasnoyarsk Krai. Spring flooding will be most severe along the North Dvina, Pechora, Yenisei, Lena and Kolyma rivers. Residents in Arkhangelsk and Vologda Oblasts, the republic of Komi, Krasnoyarsk Krai, and Nenets and Chukotka Autonomous Okrugs are the most vulnerable. Overall, the regions with highest degree of risk of human catastrophes this year are the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Moscow, Leningrad, Irkutsk, Kamchatka, Kemerovo, Magadan, Perm, Sverdlovsk and Chita Oblasts, the republic of Sakha and Krasnoyarsk Krai. JAC

At a meeting in Petrozavodsk last week, the 12 members of the Northwest interregional association came up with a 20-year plan for improving Russia's highway network, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 January. In order to meet increased volumes of traffic on Russia's roads, the members argued, it will be necessary to build or modernize some 3,000 kilometers of federal roads, 10,400 kilometers of regional roads, and more than 20 kilometers of bridges. The plan calls for the following highway links: Murmansk-St. Petersburg-Moscow-Sochi; St. Petersburg-Pskov-Smolensk-Rostov-na-Donu; Arkhangelsk-Moscow-Astrakhan-Makhachkala; St. Petersburg-Syktyvkar-Perm-state border; St. Petersburg-Vologda-Perm-Yekaterinburg; and Syktyvkar-Cheboksary-Volgograd. Association members estimate that the modernization of highways in the Northwest will cost some 334 billion rubles ($11 billion). Currently, a ringroad is being built around St. Petersburg and bridges across the Kola Bay and Severnaya Dvina in Kotlas. The Northern Transport Corridor, running from the Finnish border to the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, is a major project in Russia's Northwest. JC

Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok told reporters in Moscow on 18 January that Tatneft and Bashneft have paid their taxes due as of December 1999 in full and that the company's future access to oil export pipelines will be "considered by a special commission of the Russian government," RFE/RL's Tatar/Bashkir service reported. Pochinok had said earlier that the companies might lose their access to the pipeline because of unpaid tax bills. Pochinok added that in his opinion the power-sharing treaty between the federal government and Bashkortostan "is not operating" and that there should not be "any special relations between the center and some regions." He suggested that relations between the center and the regions should be brought into line with existing federal legislation. JAC

Local journalists in Ulan Ude have discovered that a secret tunnel exists to evacuate the republic's leadership in the case of an emergency, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 18 January. The tunnel was constructed in the late 1940s and begins at the government building on a central square in the city and opens out a high bank of the Selengi river. The local directorate of the Federal Security Service would neither confirm nor deny the existence of the tunnel. JAC

Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev told reporters on 18 January that the structure of foreign investment in his region should be re-examined and priviledges for investors should be outlined. He said that in his opinion, investment should in the first place create new jobs and spark economic growth. He suggested that in the 21st century growth sectors will include forestry, mining and energy. JAC

In its 8 January edition, the RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" described how the oblast press loyal to Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) aided and abetted Mikhail Kuznetsov's successful bid for a State Duma seat from the oblast's single-mandate district. An LDPR deputy in the former Duma, Kuznetsov had the support of local media outlets long before the election campaign got under way. When one of his main rivals, Our Home Is Russia member Boris Polozov, stepped down in favor of prominent businessman Igor Savitskii, a democrat, just two days before the elections, Deputy Governor Mikhail Gavonos directly intervened to prevent a city newpaper from publishing a joint address to voters by the two candidates. As a result, according to "Korrespondentskii chas," very few voters knew about Polozov's decision. One day later, Deputy Mayor Vladimir Ivchenko, who had opposed Gavonos, was badly beaten in the entrance to his apartment. Mikhailov's protege went on to win the elections with 35 percent of the vote, followed by the Communist candidate Vladimir Nikitin (20 percent) and Savitskii (12+ percent). JC

Samara Oblast's administration has decided to create a mortgage fund for its residents, "Vremya MN" reported on 18 January. During the first stage of establishing the fund, the some 30 million rubles ($1 million) will be set aside in the oblast budget. After that the fund will increase its resources in other ways, possibly through the transfer of overdue tax debts of local enterprises to the fund. Another possibility is to attract foreign investment with the oblast's administration providing a guarantee. According to the head of the fund, Danii Vagapovaya, a number of banks who might be official partners of the fund will be identified in the near future. On 15 January, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that Acting President Vladimir Putin had signed a decree approving a development strategy for mortgage lending in Russia. According to the daily, the scheme envisages the government provide subsidies for people wishing to buy residential property. JAC

The public association "Omet" (Hope), whose membership does not exceed several dozens, has addressed an appeal to acting President Vladimir Putin alleging that the outcome of the 19 December State Duma elections in Tatarstan was falsified, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 January. Omet's chairman Gabdulla Galiullin claimed that the majority of voters in Tatarstan cast their votes for the Communist Party, "Unity," or the Union of Rightist Forces. Galiullin claimed that just 10 percent voted for OVR, and not 41 percent as stated in the official poll returns. According to the official data, the KPRF was second with 18.24 percent, while Unity polled 16.59 percent. Galiullin said that many voters were so disillusioned by the scale of the falsification that they did not bother to participate in the runoff vote. Galiullin appealed to Putin, in the interests of preserving Russia's territorial integrity, to nominate a presidential representative to Tatarstan, arguing that since 1990, Tatarstan and its population have been "the hostage of the authoritarian regime of President Mintimer Shaimiev." Representatives of four other parties and movements have similarly written to Putin to protest alleged falsification of voting procedures in Tatarstan. LF

Also on 18 January, the radical nationalist Tatar Public Center declared that it will boycott the 26 March Russian Presidential election, according to Interfax. The TPC had called last week for a boycott of the poll to protest Acting President Putin's Chechnya policy. It has also called for an immediate end to the fighting in Chechnya and for talks between Moscow and the Chechen leadership. LF

The director general of Tomskgazstroi, Artur Fritsler, was killed in his home on 17 January in an apparent contract killing, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, Tomskgastroi recently won a contract to build a gas pipeline in the oblast. Its past clients include Gazprom and Yukos. JAC

Discussing the results of the second round of gubernatorial elections held on 9 January in the oblast, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" concluded on 14 January that the main reason incumbent Governor Vladimir Platov's prestige has been suffering lately is because of recent revelations of corruption within his administration. According to the daily, just before the elections one of Platov's deputies Valerii Rumantsev was arrested on suspicion of embezzling 2.4 million rubles ($90,000). Platov won over his opponent Vladimir Bayunov with just 3411 votes, according to the newspaper. JAC

Leading timber exporters from the Northwest announced at a recent meeting in Vologda that they will oppose last month's government resolution imposing on timber exports a duty of 5 euros ($5) per cubic meter, "Izvestiya" reported on 11 January. Some of those companies sell more than half of their output abroad, and a large share of that output is accounted for by birch pulpwood, for which there is virtually no market within Russia. As a result, the exporters argue, the existence of such companies is threatened by the new duty. Similarly under threat is a German-Russian joint venture that is intended to produce first birch panels and later furniture. With up to 25 percent of export revenues ending up in Moscow rather than being re-invested in the plant, local timber merchants fear that plans to develop the new joint venture will be hindered. Meanwhile, the Vologda administration has appealed to acting President Vladimir Putin to revoke the resolution. JC

Odd Men Out
By Julie A. Corwin

Now that the State Duma elections are over and Russian presidential elections are scheduled for 26 March, national leaders' courtship of their regional counterparts has skidded to an abrupt halt, a development which has caused the presidents and governors of Russia's 89 regions to try to establish good relations with the likely winner of presidential elections, acting President Vladimir Putin. So far, leaders in the Bashkortostan and Tatarstan republics, Khabarovosk and Altai krais, as well as Nizhnii Novgorod and Novgorod oblasts have declared their support for Putin. All those leaders are--or were--members of groups that competed against the Putin-backed bloc, Unity, in Duma elections. Those regional leaders in the most awkward position vis-a-vis Moscow may not be the ones who backed the losing parties, but those whose verbal endorsements fell on deaf ears.

Overall, regional leaders who supported Unity had better success winning their populations' votes than Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) or Communist leaders, raising the possibility that the success of Unity in the elections had more to do with Putin's rising popularity than the governors' backing. Certain leaders who supported former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's OVR, such as the presidents of Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Ingushetia, and Mordovia, managed to swing a plurality of voters in their region to the party. However, others backing OVR, such as Moscow Oblast Governor Anatolii Tyazhlov and Novosibirsk Governor Vitalii Mukha, couldn't even manage to get themselves re-elected let alone muster significant support for OVR. Similarly, in regions such as the republic of Karelia, Nizhnii Novgorod, Murmansk, Kirov, Irkutsk and Perm oblasts, and Khabarovsk Krai, the local governors' endorsements for OVR failed to generate more than 8 percent of support for that group.

The lesson that national officials preparing for presidential elections may draw is to be more discriminating in their pursuit of regional officials' support and concentrate their resources on regional leaders with a proven election track record. Such a strategy may rule out wooing Yaroslavl, where Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov managed to arrange millions of dollars worth of financing from the Moscow city government for the area to construct an international hockey venue. In that oblast, Unity, the Communist Party, and Union of Rightist Forces each captured more votes than OVR (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 May 1999). And it may also exclude Udmurtia, where the Moscow government agreed to buy electricity meters, medical equipment, and an experimental shipment of batteries for Moskvich car manufacturers from local factories seven months before elections. There, Unity attracted four times as many votes as OVR.

With the discretion to disburse federal money and enforce tax laws, federal authorities are in a much better position than any opposition figure--such as Luzhkov--to pursue a policy of providing not just "carrots" but also wielding "sticks" against regional leaders. Although federal law establishes certain procedures for distributing revenues, in practice Finance Ministry officials appear to distribute monies to regions at will. For example, in 1996, when tax revenues fell significantly below projections, Russian regions received only about 60 percent of what was allocated to them by the federal budget but these cuts were not made across the board, according to Daniel Triesman, a political scientist at UCLA. Triesman found that some regions received exactly the amount budgeted, while others received hundreds or thousands of rubles per capita less and some even received a little bit more. He also discovered that regions whose leaders opposed or chose not to support the incumbent central politicians during the government crisis in 1993 and in elections in 1995 were rewarded or "appeased" with more budget money.

If this pattern continues to hold, then leaders in Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Ingushetia, and Mordovia may find Moscow presenting them with inducements for their loyalty or "carrots" in the form of higher federal transfers. On the other hand, federal officials may find that Putin's impressive lead in public opinion surveys and continuing control over national media outlets, such as Russian Public Television, gives them the leeway to brandish the stick more than the carrot. Shortly after Duma elections results were tallied, Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok announced that the two oil companies in the republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, Tatneft and Bashneft, were in danger of losing their access to crude export pipelines because of their overdue tax debts. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, both founding members of All Russia, were among the most effective in delivering the vote in their regions. In Tatarstan, 3 of 5 seats in single-mandate districts went to OVR candidates. In Bashkortostan, the rate was even better with 4 of the 5 seats going to the OVR. After Pochinok's announcement, Tatarstan's president, Mintimer Shaimiev, accused federal officials of engaging in "political pressure" Acknowledging another area where his region is vulnerable to even more pressure, Shaimiev noted that revision of the power-sharing agreement between Tatarstan and the center would not be conducive to "stability" (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 January 1999).

With oil reserves and large, politically docile populations, the leaders of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan are likely to find some kind of mutually agreeable arrangement with the center despite their "disloyalty." Perhaps the real odd men out may be those regional leaders who were disloyal to the center but whose voters still backed the Kremlin--such as Karelia and Yaroslavl. Those governors may scramble to support Putin now but will find that they are offering the center much too little much too late.