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Russia Report: September 27, 2000

27 September 2000, Volume 2, Number 35
Speaking to an audience of the Baikal Economic Forum on the economic development of Siberia and the Far East in Irkutsk on 20 September, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin called on Russia to become a worthy economic partner for Asia and the Pacific Rim countries, Interfax reported. "If we don't do this," Kudrin cautioned, "China and the Southeast Asian countries will steamroll Siberia and the Far East." Russia "has to respond to these countries' economic attacks," he continued. Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev also addressed the conference. He declared that Russia is a "Eurasian power and the two main vectors of its foreign policy--the western and eastern--should be equally dynamic." Stroev complained that "the Siberian region had to search for partners who were not always reliable and often criminal." Stroev added that the dynamic developing "Asian dragons" pose a series of potential internal and external threats to the security and unity of the Russian government, according to "Novye izvestiya" on 23 September. Stroev also noted that over the last decade the population in the Far East and Siberia declined by almost 10 percent, adding that it is necessary to look for adequate socio-economic measures to address that problem. Otherwise, he cautions, the process will be irreversible. JAC

Participants at a conference in Tyumen on 25 September appealed to federal Media Minister Mikhail Lesin with proposals to examine the question of developing a concept for a single information space in the federal okrugs, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 25 September. Members of the office of the presidential envoy to the Urals district, representatives of the Media Ministry, the All Russia State Television and Radio Company, and executive organs of the regions located in the Urals district as well as officials from federal and regional mass media agencies formed a working group at the conference to draft the appeal. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 September, one comment by Tyumen Oblast Governor Leonid Roketskii set the tone of the conference: "We all went to the schools of the party organs. Their stamp, which was made on the media some 10-20 years ago, remains.... 'Why in Tyumen is the price of bread so high? The authorities are guilty of everything.'" Presidential envoy to the Urals District Petr Latyshev reportedly noted with pleasure one excerpt from the conference's proceedings: "How long must we endure the arbitrary rule of the oligarchs who through their control of the mass media are brainwashing our citizens? What are the legal means of [expressing our] opposition?" JAC

At least two Moscow-based publications claimed recently to have documents from the central government organs laying out a strategy for Moscow to follow with regard to the series of upcoming regional elections. "Novye izvestiya," which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii, claimed in its issue on 26 September to have a document drafted by the presidential administration, entitled "Election of heads of the executive branch in regions in 2000." In one column of the report, the Kremlin has reportedly put a checkmark next to candidate it wants to have elected. In certain regions, such as Kursk, Kamchatka, and Volgograd Oblasts, the Republics of Marii-El and Khakassia and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, the Kremlin is reportedly still deciding. In Ryazan, the presidential administration reportedly favors Markov, director of Ryazanregiongaz and in Voronezh General Kulikov, head of the regional Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate (The publication did not provide the candidates' first names). For Kulikov and other favored candidates, the Kremlin will deploy the financial resources of Gazprom, Unified Energy Systems, the Railroads Ministry, Sberbank, Mezhregiongaz, and Rosneft. LUKoil is also reportedly cooperating by backing Kremlin's candidates in certain unspecified regions. In its issue dated 19-25 September, "Versiya" claims to have a document written by the Federal Security Service (FSB) for the Security Council on regional elections, focusing mainly on the 24 December gubernatorial election in Chelyabinsk Oblast. With respect to the elections, the author of the analysis advises the council to "hand-pick a man of their own" and "elevate him" to the governor's seat rather than "make compromises with corrupt governors." In Chelyabinsk, the FSB suggests State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) and former FSB Chelyabinsk Regional Directorate official Mikhail Grishankov, who is "energetic and promising" and "known as a man of Putin's team" and who acted as Putin's envoy during the presidential campaign. JAC

Writing in "The Moscow Times" on 20 September, commentator Yulia Latynina reported that President Putin's effort to recentralize control over regional vodka production has been unsuccessful. Although Putin signed a decree establishing Rosspritprom, its officials have not yet registered its charter. Rosspritprom was supposed to receive all government shares in factories that produce alcohol, liqueurs, and vodka, but without its charter being registered, "regions have begun bankrupting factories that produced alcoholic beverages thereby taking them out of commission as state property." Rosspirtprom's charter should have been registered first with the Agriculture Ministry, which sets quotas for alcohol production, and then with the Tax Ministry, which issues licenses for vodka production. However, neither ministry reportedly wants some other entity to get a part of this lucrative industry. Latynina concludes that for all the talk about creeping authoritarianism, "Putin's actual successes with centralization are minimal to date." Rosspritprom employs a group of "security types" from St. Petersburg, but even this "tough group can't wage war simultaneously with the governors, the Tax Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, the police, and petty thugs." JAC

Former Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant head Anatolii Bykov announced on 21 September that he is planning to create a new political bloc that will take part in local elections, Russian agencies reported. Bykov cited as one example upcoming mayoral elections in Krasnoyarsk; he said that he himself will not run for mayor but he intends to make every possible effort so that "people of business come into power." Bykov, who is the former chairman of Krasnoyarsk's legislative assembly, is currently under investigation on charges of money-laundering and conspiracy to commit murder. According to Interfax-Eurasia, Bykov did not hide the fact that his group will actively oppose the new movement recently organized by Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor and Bykov opponent Aleksandr Lebed, called the Union of Krasnoyarsk (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 September 2000). JAC

Of the nine candidates registered to take part in the 22 October gubernatorial elections, five are in opposition to the incumbent and current frontrunner in that ballot, Aleksandr Rutskoi. Among the five are Kursk Mayor Sergei Maltsev, who was elected to that post last year with Rutskoi's support but later fell out with the governor when the latter suspected him of gubernatorial ambitions, and Viktor Surzhikov, the former KGB agent who was recently appointed main federal inspector in the oblast. Maltsev and Surzhikov are considered to be close associates, while the latter is regarded by many as the Kremlin's favored candidate. State Duma deputy and local Communist Party boss Aleksandr Mikhailov is the other main opposition candidate; he supported Rutskoi at the last gubernatorial election but later changed allegiance. Public opinion polls suggest that Mikhailov will be Rutskoi's strongest challenger. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 September that in the event of a second round of voting, the opposition candidates intend to support whoever is pitted against Rutskoi. At the same time, the Moscow newspaper cites rumors that Rutskoi's re-election bid will be thwarted even if he wins at the ballot box: the federal administration is said to have collected enough incriminating materials to launch a criminal case against Rutskoi and have him removed from office. JC

During a visit to Vladivostok on 21 September, China's Ambassador to Russia Yu Tao confirmed his country's intention to open a general consulate in that city. During Chinese parliamentary leader Li Peng's visit to that city on 18 September, Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko called on Li to create a Russian-Chinese Bank in Primorskii Krai. According to the governor, the creation of such a bank "would allow the resolution of the problems associated with the development of crossborder trade and the financing joint cooperation projects." According to Interfax, almost every third joint venture in the krai involves Chinese capital, and Chinese investment totaled $7 million by the start of 2000. JAC

During this trip to Vladivostok, Li suggested that direct trade links be established between Russia's regions and China in order to reduce the number of poor-quality Chinese products on the market, "The Moscow Times" reported on 26 September. According to that newspaper, local residents in the Russian Far East tend to resent China in part because it has flooded its markets with worthless imports, such as shoes that fall apart quickly and phones whose 0 button doesn't work. Also added to the tension is the flood of illegal immigrants--a topic which Li did not comment on in his speech. During the last two years, 5,500 illegal aliens were deported from Primorskii Krai, the majority of whom were Chinese, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 June 2000. In June 1999, according to the daily, Primorskii authorities, fearing the uncontrolled growth of the Asian diaspora in the krai and its effect on the local labor market, tightened the restrictions for foreigners entering and residing in the krai. JAC

Sakhalin Oblast's legislative assembly has set aside $5000 of its extrabudgetary funds for the restoration of an 11-meter statue of Vladimir Lenin in the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 21 September. Local media reported earlier that the bronze sculpture of the leader of the proletariat would be cleaned and restored in time for the 7 November holiday. JAC

The 18th century Constantine Palace in St. Petersburg will be restored for use as a second presidential residence, London's "The Times" reported on 25 September. Restoration will reportedly cost $25 million. According to the daily, the palace dates back to 1720 and was designed mainly by Italian architects Niccolo Michetti and Bartolomeo Rastrelli. JAC

A split within the ranks of the St. Petersburg branch of the pro-Kremlin Unity is looming several months after Boris Gryzlov, the group's first leader, left the northern city to become head of the party's Political Council and its State Duma faction. Since then, the branch has failed to find a "worthy" successor to Gryzlov, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 September. The current aspirant for that post, Viktor Yurakov, who is acting head of Unity's St. Petersburg Political Council, is facing strong opposition from within the branch: several Unity heads at the raion level recently sent a letter to Gryzlov and Unity leader Sergei Shoigu complaining about the new St. Petersburg leadership, which they claim is putting its own interests above those of the organization and thereby threatening to precipitate the organization's "total disintegration." The Moscow daily quotes several senior Unity members as saying that if Yurakov becomes head of the St. Petersburg branch, they will form their own, parallel Unity group. JC

A plenary session of Tatarstan's State Council on 23 September scheduled presidential elections for 24 December, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Parliamentary speaker Farid Mukhametshin told the session that the law on the presidential elections passed by the parliament the previous day makes provision for bringing forward or postponing the poll by up to three months. Incumbent President Mintimer Shaimiev's five-year term expires in March 2001. Therefore, Mukhametshin argued, the 24 December date does not constitute a pre-term election. Mukhametshin last week had denied media reports that the poll date would be brought forward from March 2001 to December 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2000). Rashid Akhmetov, who is editor of the independent newspaper "Zvezda Povolzhya," told Tatar Television on 24 September that Shaimiev has approved the early poll date and considers the ballot to be a referendum on the success of the policies he has implemented over the past decade. LF

The Udmurtiya Election Commission has registered 11 candidates for the republic's first-ever presidential elections, scheduled to take place on 15 October, Interfax reported on 20 September. They are parliamentary speaker Aleksandr Volkov, deputy parliamentary speaker Pavel Vershinin, Prime Minister Nikolai Ganza, chairman of the parliamentary legal commission Mikhail Kokorin, senior research associate at the Physics-Technology Institute of the local branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladimir Zabilskii. head of the local bankruptcy agency Sergei Shuklin, general director of Udmurtprodkontrakt Vyacheslav Anufriev, war veteran Sergei Rudchuk, senior controller at the Izhevsk tram and trolleybus department Leonid Goloviznin, senior engineer with Aksion-kholding Vladimir Timofeev, and chief editor of Radio Front Andrei Yedigarev. A 12th candidate, Andrei Soluyanov, who is a manager at the Kupol company, was stripped of his registration after the commission found that a large percentage of the signatures supporting his candidacy had been forged. Soluyanov is contesting that decision in the republican Supreme Court. JC

The legitimacy of the upcoming presidential elections is queried by "Komsomolskaya pravda," which reported on 21 September that the head of the republican Election Commission was appointed to that post under forged documents. According to the Moscow daily, last April Udmurtiya State Council chairman and presidential candidate Aleksandr Volkov put pressure on the leadership of the local branch of the pro-Kremlin Unity to ensure that it recommended a candidate for the Election Commission (six of the commission's members are appointed by the government and the other six by the State Council at the suggestion of those parties or social organizations that have factions in the State Duma). Citing the head of the local Unity's executive committee, Envil Kasimov, the newspaper reported that the party leadership complied and recommended Dmitrii Talantov, a lawyer who in the past had represented Volkov. But since the candidates for membership in the commission were about to be discussed by a State Council committee, Unity leaders were compelled to forge documents to suggest that Talantov's candidacy had been discussed at a meeting of the local Unity branch's political council a couple of days earlier. Talantov was duly appointed a member of the commission and went on to become its head. "Komsomolskaya pravda" argues that Talantov's appointment would have been illegal even if no document had been forged. Under the federal law on social organizations and parties that have factions in the State Duma, the Udmurtiya branch of Unity did not qualify to name its candidate for the local election commission because Unity was not registered as a party until the end of May, more than a month after the commission was formed. JC

Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov, a Russian army commander in Chechnya who recently announced his intention to run in the upcoming gubernatorial ballot, told "Segodnya" in an interview published on 21 September that the post-Soviet postulate that the army should stay away from politics is false. "As a political instrument, the army cannot be outside [politics]," he argued, noting that generals have understood that and are now seeking to actively to take part in the country's political life. Should he be elected governor, Shamanov said, he would remain in the army reserve. He confirmed that he had consulted with the Ministry of Defense before announcing his intention to take part in the upcoming ballot and had received its blessing. And he indicated that he does not rule out cooperating with the Communists: "Above all, people want the life they deserve, as well as access to health care and education. These are values for which the Communists are also fighting. That means there is a basis for discussions." Shamanov made the headlines last November when he announced that he and many other senior military officers would resign in protest if the Russian leadership decided to end the war in Chechnya before the Chechen resistance is totally destroyed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1999). JC

KRASNOYARSK. Law enforcement officers have detained several officials from the regional forensic examination bureau for misappropriating 1.5 million rubles ($54,000), and for illegal trade in human organs and coffins, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 September...KURSK. The head of the Shigry district in Kursk Oblast is facing criminal proceedings on suspicion of accepting a bribe of 40,000 rubles ($1,400) from a Moscow firm for accepting terms favorable to the firm on a grain purchase agreement, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 September...PERM. The head of the regional directorate of the Interior Ministry Vladimir Sikerina resigned following accusations that he illegally used a significant part of the revenues from excise duties on alcohol production, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 September....PRIMORE. Vladivostok's city prosecutor has accused two members of the department of municipal property of abuse of power regarding the privatization of non-residential buildings from 1999-2000, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 8 September. JAC


By Paul Goble

A group of toughs broke up a Jewish Sunday school last week in the central Russian city of Ryazan and intimidated a local official into denying that city's Jewish community any further use of school facilities there.

The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, which released the first reports detailing these events, said that 15 men armed with metal chains burst into the Jewish Sunday school on 17 September, smashed windows and furniture, and shouted fascist slogans and death threats at the 25 Jewish children and teachers there. The children and their teachers fled and thus avoided injury.

But the next day, the UCSJ reports, two neo-Nazis attacked the local school director, beating her on the legs and demanding to know why she "deals with Jews." She then told the city's Jewish community that she would no longer rent it a room for Sunday classes because she fears for her life.

Local police announced earlier this week that they have identified four of the people involved in the attack. But sources at the oblast Interior Department were quoted as saying that even though those identified pose "some social danger, there is no need to take them into custody."

Andrei Blinushov, a Ryazan human rights activist, told UCSJ that "we feel shame and hurt on behalf of our town. Once again, as it was 50 years ago, fascist scum, having taken up arms, have let loose a pogrom."

Moreover, he said, some media outlets there have "inflated the themes of 'the uniqueness of the Russian people,' 'zionist violence' and similar topics," while others have even issued calls for "violent actions against members of various ethnic groups."

At the very time these events were taking place in Ryazan, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at the opening of a new Jewish community center in Moscow, a widely-covered event that some Jewish leaders there suggested "herald a new era for religious democracy in Russia."

The events in Ryazan are far from unique. Elsewhere in Russia and in other post-communist countries, including the eastern regions of Germany, extreme nationalist, anti-Semitic and even explicitly neo-Nazi groups have emerged and sought to use violence to harass and intimidate those whom they have identified as "enemies" of their own people.

Most senior officials in these countries have denounced such groups, with Russian leaders like Boris Yeltsin and now Vladimir Putin condemning their activities as incompatible with the building of Russian democracy. But for three reasons, such statements have failed as yet to stem the growth of these groups. Indeed, some observers have suggested that the gap between what these leaders say and what is happening may help to prepare the ground for further outrages.

First, despite their repeated denunciations of such actions, officials in this region often have been unable--or unwilling--to bring those responsible to justice. That failure primarily reflects the weaknesses of the law enforcement agencies in these states. But the lack of successful prosecutions has encouraged some hate groups to conclude that they can act with impunity.

Second, many officials and even more writers in this region have increasingly sounded a nationalist theme, praising the dominant group and condemning its presumed enemies at home and abroad. Few of these statements have been anti-Semitic, but they have helped to create a climate in which some are prepared to act against those they believe are to blame for their problems.

And third, officials in some of the countries of this region have demonized non-Jewish minorities, thus opening the way to the demonization of Jews as well. In the Russian Federation, Russian officials have repeatedly attacked "persons of Caucasus nationality" and even sought to expel them from some Russian cities. These actions, in turn, have led some officials, such as the governors of certain southern Russian regions, to attack Jews as well as North Caucasians.

Concerned about the possibilities of such developments, Russian officials, including Putin, have explicitly warned against holding the entire Chechen nation responsible for the actions of only some of its members or blaming any other people as a whole. And they have criticized those who have gone further and attacked other groups, including Jews.

But unless the authorities move quickly and arrest those responsible for events like those in Ryazan last week, the history of this region suggests there are likely to be more such outrages in the future, a development that could threaten not only the Jewish community but the prospects for democracy as a whole.