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Russia Report: February 16, 2000


16 February 2000, Volume 2, Number 7
PAN-REGIONAL ISSUES: CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CHAIRMAN RULES OUT APPOINTING GOVERNORS...
In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 15 February, Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai appeared to dismiss the legality of appointing governors rather than electing them as has been suggested by some Russian officials. Baglai said that "article 11 of the constitution is explicit in its provision that every region establishes its governing bodies independently. In addition, why are voters allowed to elect the legislature [in their region] and not the executive power structure?" He added that rather than amending the constitution--which would be necessary in order to appoint regional heads--the Federation Council should be used to increase the efficiency of management of the federation. "This organ is comprised of the responsible people in the country with real power and is particularly interested in finding a compromise between the center and the regions," he said. Baglai's term as chairman of the court will expire on 20 February, but he is expected to be re-elected for another three year term, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

...AND FEDERATION COUNCIL CHAIR AGREES.
In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 8 February, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev said that although he thinks that the Russian president should intervene where the federal Constitution and laws are ignored, "we should be careful not to take the executive power structure to extremes, such as saying that governors should be appointed instead of elected." Stroev added that he favors a federative over a unitary structure in Russia and that history has taught Russia that changing territorial divisions "costs the country dearly." According to Stroev, there is an overabundance of structures in the regions which answer to the center and regional heads "may easily demand at least a ten-fold reduction of federal personnel in the regions." JAC

COMMUNISTS CLOSE UP SHOP IN REGIONS...
Despite the approach of 26 March presidential elections, the Communist Party has started demobilizing its regional party staff, "Segodnya" reported on 11 February. The reason, according to the daily, is a lack of money and lack of hope among Communists that its leader Gennadii Zyuganov can win. The newspaper reports that it is only a myth that Communist Party officials work only for free or for a symbolically small amount and that the party managed to attract some wealthy businessmen to its ranks for 19 December State Duma elections primarily because it could offer Duma seats and chairmanships of high profile committees. That is no longer the case. According to the daily, while the Putin team considers Zyuganov a comfortable sparring partner, it is unprepared to offer any financial support for his campaign because it wishes to ensure a "blitzkrieg" in the first round of elections. But rather than a blitzkrieg, Putin�s supporters may find that elections have to be held again because of low voter turnout. Three days later, Duma Credit Organizations and Financial Markets Committee head Aleksandr Shokhin told reporters that he does not exclude the possibility that elections will have to be declared invalid because of insufficient voter turn-out (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2000). JAC

...AS NDR DEPLOYS ITS STAFF FOR PUTIN.
Meanwhile, Segodnya" reported on 12 February that the executive committee of Our Home Is Russia (NDR) has sent more than 10,000 of the party's members to participate in 79 of Russia's 89 district election commissions. NDR members participating in 57 of the 79 commissions support Putin. JAC

PERMAFROST AREA CONTINUES TO SHRINK.
According to estimates by the Institute of the Earth's Cryosphere (a part of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences), the average annual temperature in Russia's north will increase by 2.5-3 degrees Celsius over the next 40-50 years, as a result of which the southern boundary of Russia's permafrost will move northward by as much as 600 kilometers in some regions, "Izvestiya" reported on 11 February. The impact on the country's economy could be "ruinous," the institute's experts argue, since whole regions would be flooded and the exploitation of natural resources endangered, not least because of the likely subsiding and collapse of engineering constructions whose foundations are sunk into the permafrost. JC

WORLD BANK TO STRENGTHEN FEDERAL CONTROLS OVER REGIONAL FINANCES?
The Russian government approved on 10 February a plan to borrow about $30 million from the World Bank to finance regional budget reforms, Reuters reported the next day. The bank itself approved the loan last December. According to information on the bank's web site: http://www.worldbank.org/pics/pid/ru58587.txt, the project aims to improve the legal framework of intergovernmental fiscal relations, create a system of incentives for regions to comply with existing federal regulations, strengthen the federal government's capacity to monitor sub-national fiscal performance and reform efforts and to strengthen regional government's ability to implement fiscal and structural economic reforms. The bank argues that the project is needed because in some cases the progress of economic reforms carried out at the federal level have been reserved "by increased allocation of subsidies to the housing sector and enterprises from regional and municipal budgets." JAC

IVANOVO: PAYING THE PRICE FOR KEEPING THEM IN THE DARK.
"Korrespondentskii chas" reported in its 5 February edition on how fines are being imposed on an energy provider for carrying out staggered electricity cuts in Ivanovo Oblast. Last September, a raion court fined the director of the Ivenergo company some 8,000 rubles ($278) for cutting off supplies to consumers "who conscientiously pay their energy bills"--a practice that the court deemed illegal. The Ivenergo director, who refused to pay that fine, was recently sent a reminder, while the city of Ivanovo's Prosecutor-General Office, at the request of its counterpart at oblast level, has launched a criminal investigation under Article 315 of the federal Penal Code (on the failure to observe a court ruling). Staggered power cuts take place routinely from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the oblast, where collecting payments for energy supplies has become increasingly difficult since prices were raised. JC

JEWISH AUTONOMOUS OBLAST: GOVERNOR'S RACE HEATS UP?
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 February that a third candidate will compete in gubernatorial elections on 26 March: Boris Korsunskii, the former first secretary of the Communist Party's obkom. According to the newspaper, local analysts conclude that as a result of Korsunskii's entrance into the race, the reelection of incumbent Governor Nikolai Volkov is no longer assured. Volkov had been considered a clear favorite and the only other candidate in the race before Korsunskii's entrance, Gennadii Sirotkin, the head of the Oktryabrsk raion, was considered a "prop" who was running merely so Volkov's reelection would be considered legitimate. Korsunskii, according to the daily, has sufficient experience at political battles in the oblast to have a chance of succeeding. "Interfax-Eurasia" reported on 14 February that according to the oblast's election commission a fourth candidate for governor managed to register at the last minute. Vasilii Nazarov, a former fire prevention instructor for the Khabarovsk department of the Far Eastern railway, will now seek the governor's office. JAC

KALMYKIA: REPUBLICAN GOVERNMENT PRESSURING OPPOSITION?
On January 28, a group of people from the movement "People against Ilyumzhinov's Regime" picketed Elista's central square, demanding the resignation of Kalmykia's President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, RFE/RL's Elista correspondent reported on 5 February. After the demonstration was over, RFE/RL's correspondent along with two members of the movement were detained by local police for 14 hours and fined 10 rubles (36 cents) each. However, the policemen refused to explain on what basis the fines were being levied or for what reason they had been detained. According to the report which aired on RFE/RL's "Korrespondentskii chas," police conducted a search of the apartment of a member of the local branch of Yabloko, Valerii Badnaev, on 2 February. Badnaev, who is also one of the leaders of Kalmykia's human rights center, called the search and the earlier detention acts of provocation by the republic's government, directed at eliminating its opposition. JAC

KALININGRAD: NEWSPAPER SAYS GORBENKO WANTS TO SELL OFF REGION'S MAIN ASSETS.
"The Moscow Times" on 15 February reported that early last month in Tel Aviv, Governor Leonid Gorbenko signed a memorandum that in effect would allow two companies to assume control over the exclave's oil and amber deposits and to have exclusive rights to set up a diamond business in the exclave and develop a coastal recreation and rehabilitation complex. The two companies are Israeli-based Euro Tek Industrial Securities and Kaliningrad-based Almazholding. After news of the memorandum leaked to the local press, Gorbenko reportedly fired an attache and the administration refused to hold a press conference to inform local residents about the details of the document. While questioning the logic of handing over all these diverse assets to just two companies, the author of the "Moscow Times" article suggests that Gorbenko, whose prospects for re-election this fall are becoming dimmer, is seeking to secure "a sort of golden parachute" for both himself and his cronies. JC

RUSSIA, EU TO DISCUSS EXCLAVE IN LATE SPRING.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Ivanov told journalists in Kaliningrad last week that late this spring, Russia and the EU will start talks on the problems that the exclave will face as a result of the union's eastward expansion. Interfax and the Baltic news agency BNS reported quoted Ivanov as saying on 11 February that the aim of those discussions will be to ensure that Kaliningrad's citizens continue to be able travel freely to neighboring Lithuania and Poland once the EU expands eastward to include those two countries. The Russian diplomat proposed that Kaliningrad be allowed to join the Schengen agreement, noting that while there are no precedents to date for "part of a country" being party to that accord, "the Schengen system allows some flexibility, and I think we will be able to agree." JC

KOSTROMA: GOVERNOR FAILS TO SHIFT BALLOT.
Unlike many of his counterparts elsewhere in the federation, Viktor Shershunov has failed to persuade deputies in the local legislature to bring forward the date of the gubernatorial ballot. Shershunov's term in office expires in December, but the regional head, who is considered one of the country's "red governors" (despite never having been a member of the Communist Party), proposed that the ballot take place at the same time as the 26 March presidential elections. The oblast deputies, however, refused to approve a change in the region's statutes that would have allowed an early vote to take place, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Regiony" reported on 8 February. Having rejected the suggestion that he resign his post instead, Shershunov must wait until the end of the year for a ballot in which his most serious challenger is likely to be Kostroma Mayor Boris Korobov (see also "Regional Voice" below). JC

ORENBURG: ANOTHER LOCAL JOURNALIST TARGETED.
A local television anchorman from the Planeta television channel in Orenburg, Anatolii Koblov, was severely beaten near his home, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 February. Deputy head of the oblast's regional administration Vadim Rogozin told the agency that Koblov was likely attacked because of his professional activities. According to the agency, a similar incident occurred a year ago when another journalist, Tatyana Orlov, of the "Yuzhnii Ural" newspaper was severely beaten. JAC

MURMANSK: OBLAST HAS ALREADY LOST ONE LEGISLATOR.
The Central Election Commission decided on 13 February to hold another round of elections for the State Duma in the Monchegorsk district in Murmansk Oblast on 18 June 2000, Interfax reported. This decision arose because of the death of Gennadii Luzin (independent) who had been earlier elected from this district on 19 December. JAC

PRIMORYE: MAYORAL ELECTIONS SET FOR JUNE.
Elections for the head of Vladivostok's administration will be held on 18 June, according to the city administration, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 14 February. Mayoral elections were last held in Vladivostok on 27 September. The results were later declared invalid because more than half of the voters voted against all candidates as an act of protest against the exclusion of former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov from the ballot. JAC

STROEV CRITICIZES NAZDRATENKO...
In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 8 February, Stroev said that "the president does not have levers of direct influence on the state of affairs, say, in Vladivostok where the administration is too independent -- or is not too constructive." JAC

...AS CHUBAIS ADMITS GOVERNOR HAS WON.
"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 February that Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais openly acknowledged the failure of his efforts to alter energy policy in Primorskii Krai (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 8 December 1999). According to the daily, despite the fact that EES managed to stabilize fuel supplies to the krai's energy system, the energy situation in the region has become critical with supplies to households severely limited. Chubais said that the reason for the crisis is the "primitive character" of the governor, "who is trying to the maximum decree to harm his own region." The daily concluded that Primorye is "far from the only region [in Russia] where the interests of EES and local powers conflict" and the "possibility cannot be excluded that in the near future the governors will be able to dictate their terms to EES." JAC

ROSTOV: ENVIRONMENTALISTS RENEW OPPOSITION TO REOPENING POWER PLANT.
Greenpeace Russia told reporters on 10 February that opening the Rostov nuclear power plant could post a serious threat to the ecology of the region. The previous day, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported that the State Ecology Commission had approved the coming online of the Rostov nuclear power plant in 2000. According to the daily, the first reactor of the plant is 90 percent ready; however, 3 billion rubles ($104 million) is required to complete preparations. Construction on the plant was halted after environmentalists' protests eight years ago. According to Greenpeace, independent experts, who have studied the plant, believe that construction of the first reactor which took place from 1979 to 1990 was flawed and operating it could lead to disaster--particularly in the case of an earthquake or seismic activity. Specialists also believe that the plant isn't needed because since 1994 there has been a surplus energy supply in the region. According to Interfax, social organizations in the region are insisting that a referendum be held on restarting construction of the plant. JAC

ST. PETERSBURG: SHUTOV BARRED FROM REPEAT DUMA ELECTION.
Yurii Shutov, a local parliamentary deputy who is in detention on suspicion of organizing several contract killings, will not be able to run in the repeat election to the State Duma from St. Petersburg's district No. 210. Both the head of the detention center and the local Prosecutor's Office have refused to agree to Shutov's granting power of attorney in order to be able to open an election campaign account, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 February. Under federal law, a detainee wishing to take part in such elections can open such an account, which is necessary to register as a candidate, only by means of power of attorney. The election in District No. 210 is due to take place on 26 March, after a majority of the electorate voted against all the candidates on the ballot last December. The city prosecutor had sought--unsuccessfully--to prevent Shutov from running in the 19 December elections in St. Petersburg's District No. 211 (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 8 December 1999). The notorious detainee went on to finish last from bottom in that vote. JC

JOURNALIST NABBED FOR TAKING BRIBES FROM DUMA HOPEFULS.
Sergei Topchi, editor of "Sertolovo i Okrestnosti," has been arrested for accepting bribes from candidates in the 26 March repeat elections to the State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February, citing the press service of St. Petersburg's department for combating organized crime. According to the newspaper, Aleksandr Nevzorov and Olga Borisova had handed over some $2,000 to the 38-year-old Topchi in exchange for the pledge that the weekly would not publish materials "blackening their reputation and bringing dishonor upon their names." "Sertolovo i Okrestnosti" has a circulation of some 10,000. JC

TATARSTAN: REPUBLIC MAKES SUPPORT FOR PUTIN CONDITIONAL...
The political council of the social-political movement, "Tatarstan--New Century" decided on 8 February to support acting President Putin's candidacy--provided that he acts to preserve existing relations between the federation center and the regions, Interfax-Eurasia reported the next day. New Century is comprised of 22 political and social organizations in the republic, including Fatherland and Our Home is Russia. New Century is headed by Farid Mikhametshin, the speaker of Tatarstan's legislative assembly, which is known as the State Council. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev is a member of Fatherland-All Russia. Shaimiev told RFE/RL's Kazan bureau on 15 February that New Century's main wish is that Putin "respect the [power-sharing] treaty which brought Tatar society to a national reconciliation and [achieved] a positive development of Tatarstan after the tense political situation during the first years of perestroika." The 15th marked the sixth anniversary of the power-sharing agreement between Tatarstan and the federal government. Shaimiev also said on the same day that while the constitution of Tatarstan and the federation may contradict each other, both are based on common sense. He added that Article 5 of the Russian federal constitution establishes the right of asymmetric federalism. JAC

...AS MOSCOW PAPER SAYS SHAIMIEV IS PLAYING THE RELIGION CARD.
"Vremya MN" reported on 10 February that President Shaimiev has said that "federal authorities do not pay appropriate attention to the issues of Islam" and that "the negligence of the federal center has caused a split among the faithful and consequently many Muslim clergy who enjoy the support of various Islamic centers have appeared in Russia." Shaimiev added that "we have specific examples that [extremists] are starting to teach the basics of radical Islamic fundamentalism in [Islamic schools.] The newspaper, which is close to Russia's Central Bank, concluded that Shaimiev is "directly threatening the federal center with Islamic extremism and "if the federal center continues exerting pressure on sovereign Tatarstan, the number of such men will increase." JAC

VOLOGDA: CONSTRUCTION OF CITY'S FIRST MOSQUE DRAWS PROTESTS.
Work has begun on the construction of the first-ever mosque in the 853-year-old city of Vologda, "Izvestiya" reported on 11 February. A two-story house in the city's historical center is being converted into a place of worship, which will also include a 30-meter-high minaret. The city's Orthodox population has responded negatively to the construction: "Izvestiya" quoted a representative of the Vologda Eparchy as saying the mosque is totally out of place in "our Orthodox city." That point of view appears to be shared by the city Directorate for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments, which has called for the construction to be halted, claiming that not all legal requirements have been met. Before 1917, the city of Vologda had more than 50 Orthodox churches. Today, there are some 5,000 Muslims out of a total population of 300,000. JC

REGIONAL VOICES: What's Good For Them Is Good For Us
In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Regiony" on 8 February, Kostroma Governor Viktor Shershunov explained his motives for supporting the candidacy of acting President Vladimir Putin in the 26 March presidential elections:

"I joined the initiative group that nominated Vladimir Putin's candidacy as Russian president. There's no doubt that if I didn't like this person, I wouldn't link him with certain hopes for the recovery of the Russian economy. Today we stand before a difficult challenge--not to disappoint the hopes of the population. [Those hopes] are tied to social stability in society, to the improvement in the welfare of the country's residents, not just that of the oligarchs. And what is good for the population is good for the governors." (JC)

REGIONAL INDEX Far Eastern Consumers Face Higher Prices.
The State Committee on Statistics reported on 9 February that Lipetsk and Kaliningrad Oblasts and Krasnoyarsk Krai led Russia's regions in terms of inflation in January, with 4.6 percent, 4.5 percent and 4.0 percent respectively, compared with 2.3 percent inflation nationwide. In January, inflation in Moscow and St. Petersburg were closer to the nationwide trend with 2.3 percent and 2.4 percent respectively. The committee also released data on the price of basket of 25 basic foods. By the end of January the price of the basked had grown 1.9 percent nationwide to total 574 rubles and 37 kopeks ($20). In some remote areas of the Far East, consumers must pay 65-70 percent more. Cities in Siberia and the Far East also experienced higher growth in prices of their food basket in January. For example, in Ulan Ude the price of the basket grew 8.1 percent, 7.6 percent in Vladivostok and 5.1 percent in Magadan. Consumers in Moscow and St. Petersburg and central Russian cities such as Ryazan and Kirov witnessed only small increases in the price of their food basket of 1.4 percent, 2.0 percent, 2.8 and 5.1 percent. JAC

City________Food Basket, in rubles (27.88 rubles/$)
Magadan___________________986.30

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatka______946.40

Yakutsk_____________________897.50

Ulyanovsk___________________433.20

Kazan______________________452.70

Saransk_____________________455.70

Moscow_____________________755.10

St. Petersburg________________611.80

Source: State Statistics Committee via Interfax
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