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Russia Report: October 11, 2000

11 October 2000, Volume 2, Number 37
Central Election Commission head Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters on 9 October that his commission has analyzed election laws in the regions and uncovered numerous conflicts with central legislation. "We want to remind our colleagues in the regions," he said, "that in the remaining time before elections, if these differences are not brought into line with federal law, our regional colleagues will have to implement federal law," Reuters reported. Veshnyakov criticized regional officials for tinkering with election dates as well as requiring candidates for local office to know the language of the titular nationality. He recently criticized the Tatarstan legislature for moving forward the date of presidential elections there (see item below). Aleksei Titov of the Moscow Carnegie Center told "The Moscow Times" on 10 October that the reason why the regional official's widespread practice of moving election dates has finally been criticized by Veshnyakov is because a legal precedent was set when early elections in the Marii El region were contested in court and the republican court ruled that the practice violated federal law (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 September 2000). JAC

In an interview with "Novye Izvestiya" on 3 October, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov denied rumors that, together with other donor regions, he plans a "revolt" against the 2001 draft budget. Titov stated that he "is not against the budget" as such. Rather, he said, he opposes that only part of it which is in violation of the federal constitution and other laws, namely, its stipulation "that the regions will receive only 40 percent of collected tax revenue instead of half." On 6 October, the budget narrowly passed the State Duma in its first reading (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2000). A consistent theme of the Putin administration's rhetoric on regional policy has been its desire to establish a single legal field in Russia, bringing regional laws into conformity with federal ones. JAC

During the first half of 2000, regional governments have been able to offset their declining tax revenue with revenue from the sale and rental of government properties, PlanEcon reported in its "Monthly Report" of 29 September. These revenues jumped to 2.3 percent of GDP at the end of the first half of this year compared with 1.8 percent of GDP at the same time last year. According to Washington-based PlanEcon, this growth in non-tax revenue helped staunch the decline in regional government spending which slipped to 12.1 percent of GDP at the end of first half of 2000 compared with 12.9 percent at the end of 1999. JAC

Lyudmila Alekseeva, chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group, declared on 5 October that there is not a single region in Russia where the observance of human rights would meet international requirements, Interfax reported. According to the report, the situation regarding human rights is worst in Bashkortostan and Kalmykia. In Bashkortostan, for example, "torture practiced by law enforcement agencies and the lack of efficient mechanisms to control such abuses pose a serious problem" (see In Kalmykia, local governments were formed not by direct ballots but at so-called public meetings in violation of federal law. Some of the republic's prosecutors have lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of these government, but even in districts "where the local governments have been declared illegitimate, they continue their activity." JAC

In its issue No. 40, "Vek" argues that the RFE/RL Russian Service's weekly program "Korrespondentskii chas" offers "more information about real life in the regions than a week's worth of broadcasts from Russian Public Television and Media-MOST." According to the publication, most television and radio stations are preoccupied with interpreting events in Moscow and are interested in what is happening in the regions only to the extent that developments in the regions reflect on the distribution of political power in the capital. Regarding coverage of the President Putin's federation reforms, the article notes that the "independent" media "did not so much as comment on his initiative establishing seven federal districts as compromise the opponents of this transformation, while the state channels could provide full explanation of the reforms." JAC

After rejecting one bid by the republic's prosecutor to bring the republic's constitution in line with the federal one, Buryatia's legislative assembly, known as the People's Hural, has appealed to Russian President Putin to create a special commission to create mechanisms for coordinating federal and regional legislation, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 October (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2000). According to the agency, the Hural adopted in the first reading a package of amendments to Buryatia's constitution that would remove many contradictions between the republican constitution and federal one. However, Hural Chairman Mikhail Semenov said that the unification of regional and federal laws should not be done automatically, since some regional laws are better than federal ones. JAC

The Kremlin is reportedly supporting the candidacies of a number of Federal Security Service (FSB) officials--past and present--in this fall's gubernatorial elections, but it appears to have declined to back a former FSB lieutenant-colonel in Chelyabinsk. The head of the oblast's FSB department, Aleksandr Bragin, has announced he will not throw his support behind Mikhail Grishankov, who worked in the Chelyabinsk branch of the FSB before being elected a member of the State Duma (People's Deputy faction) last December, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 September. Bragin explained his decision by pointing to Grishankov's alleged involvement in all kinds of scandals. Grishankov has referred to himself as "President Putin's man" in the 24 December ballot, and one Moscow-based publication recently claimed to have a document written by the FSB for the Security Council in which Grishankov is proposed as the candidate the council should back in the December ballot (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 September 2000). But as "Kommersant-Daily" points out, had Grishankov really succeeded in winning the support of President Putin, the local FSB department would hardly have decided not to back its former employee. In its tally of the number of the military or intelligence officers running in this fall's gubernatorial elections, "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 10 October put the total at eight, with officers running in Kaliningrad, Ulyanovsk, Voronezh, Chelyabinsk, Kamchatka, Chita, and Ryazan oblasts and the Marii El Republic. JC

"Izvestiya" reported on 10 October that Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Kondratenko has confirmed his earlier announcement that he will not seek re-election as governor of his territory (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 October 2000). Instead, Kondratenko has dubbed one candidate in the race, State Duma Deputy (Agro-Industrial Group) Aleksandr Tkachev, as his desired successor. According to the daily, a number of regional branches of Kondratenko's Otechestvo party have joined an initiative group to support the 40-year-old Tkachev. JAC

A criminal investigation has been launched into the head of the republican election commission, Yurii Petrov, who is suspected of taking bribes, Interfax reported on 6 October. According to the news agency, Petrov accepted a GAZ-3110 automobile from the owner of the private local firm Veresk. He is currently in the hospital receiving treatment for high blood pressure. The announcement of the investigation against Petrov was made just two days before parliamentary elections in the republic. JC

Meanwhile, Interfax reported that a team of representatives of power structures at both the federal and regional level are investigating allegations in the local media that the republican leadership has ties to criminal organizations. Heading that investigation is Valentin Stepankov, the deputy presidential representative to the Volga District. Earlier this year, local leaders complained to President Vladimir Putin about the governor and the sorry state of the republic's economy under his rule. They even asked that the region be put under Moscow's direct rule (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 29 March and 14 June 2000). Presidential elections are scheduled for 26 November. JC

Perm Governor Gennadii Igumnov has withdrawn his candidacy for the 3 December gubernatorial elections, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Speaking on local television on 6 October, Igumnov asked his supporters to vote for Perm Mayor Yurii Trutnev instead. Trutnev announced his plans to run that day. According to the agency, deputy presidential envoy to the Volga district Stepankov denied reports that he was planning to run for Igumnov's seat. In September, the website, claimed that President Putin had decided to support Stepankov in upcoming elections rather than Igumnov. That site was reportedly created with money from Boris Berezovskii and is considered primarily a vehicle for disseminating "kompromat." Previously, the pro-Kremlin party Unity had announced its support for Igumnov (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 23 August 2000). According to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 10 October, Igumnov also had the support of the Union of Rightist Forces. Last month, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo dismissed Vladimir Sikerin, the head of Perm's Interior Ministry Directorate. Sikerin was reportedly also Igumnov's "right-hand man," according to "Tribuna" on 6 October. Following Sikerin's dismissal, Perm Oblast Prosecutor Vladimir Semenov announced his resignation. In an interview with Perm-based "Zvezda" on 12 September, Igumnov said that Semonov's resignation does "not provide any basis for accusing higher authorities in Perm of corruption." He added that Semenov's resignation was connected with questions regarding the use of a fund set up to provide housing for law enforcement officers. JAC

Igor Sobolevskii, the former vice governor of the St. Petersburg Legal Committee, has resigned his post as a member of the newly-founded Charter Court even before that body could begin its work. "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 6 October that Sobolevskii, who had been proposed as a member of the court by Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, handed in his resignation after finding out that he would not be elected the court's chairman. That position went instead to Nikolai Kropachev, the dean of St. Petersburg State University's Law Faculty, who is known to back President Putin. Three of the court's seven members were nominated by the Legislative Assembly, three by the city court system, and one by the governor, prompting local administration representatives to claim that there was no balance of political forces in the court. The Charter Court has been established to ensure that local legislation and gubernatorial decrees do not violate the City Charter, which is a kind of local constitution passed by deputies in 1998 in order to increase the Legislative Assembly's powers while limiting the right of the governor to rule by decree (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 September 2000). JC

Meeting in extraordinary session on 9 October, Tatarstan's State Council voted by 106 to four with three abstentions to support President Mintimer Shaimiev's 3 October proposal to reschedule the upcoming presidential poll, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Deputies had voted last month to bring forward the date of the ballot from March 2001 to 24 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 25 September 2000). Shaimiev told deputies that his proposal to revert to the original date was prompted by "friendly advice" from Moscow and not by "complaints" from the federal center that pre-term elections would violate federal legislation. Also on 9 October, activists of the moderate nationalist Tatar Public Center picketed the parliament building to protest what they termed "Moscow's dictatorship" (in allegedly insisting that the poll be held in March 2001), while the opposition Round Table called for Shaimiev to retire, rather than seek a third presidential term as observers anticipate he will do. LF

While Central Election Committee head Aleksandr Veshnyakov had deemed moving up the election date a violation of the federal election law, he appears to think that it would not necessarily be illegal for Shaimiev to seek a third term in office. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 October, Veshnyakov said that it is up to Russia's lawmakers to decide how the controversy over third terms for some regional officials should be resolved. He suggested that since the law limiting governors to two terms came into effect in October 1999, governors' terms that begin from October 1999 may be considered their first terms. According to Veshnyakov, the Central Election Commission is "just an executive body, and it will follow the lawmakers' decision." JAC

Tuva is becoming a "second Colombia," where the local narco-business is becoming the republic's primary concern, RFE/RL's Kyzyl correspondent reported in "Korrespondentskii chas" on 30 September. According to Interior Ministry figures, each day local police detain five or six people who are associated with the collection, processing, or sale of narcotics. Among those persons frequently detained are women who cultivate fields of wild cannabis. The revenues from the sales of their crop are reportedly their only means of survival. One young woman was recently arrested traveling by bus from Kyzyl to Abakan, the capital of Khakasia, with 135 matchboxes full of hashish in her suitcase. She claimed that she is a student and that selling the matchboxes, which go for 200 rubles each ($8), is the only way she has to finance her training. One of the primary reasons the local population is turning to the sale of drugs is that year after year the amount of arable land in the republic is shrinking and in the last five years it fell by almost a third. Another reason is the difficult conditions of life in the villages. The rate of unemployment in Tuva is reportedly second-highest in Russia, after Ingushetia. According to the program, Tuva also has one of the highest rates of infection for diseases related to drug use. JAC


By Jan Cleave

Residents of Udmurtiya are to elect their first president this weekend in what will be the first of more than 30 elections of Russian regional heads scheduled to take place before the end of the year. State Council Chairman Aleksandr Volkov, who has occupied the top post in Udmurtiya for some five years, is looking to consolidate his hold over the republic. Volkov is considered the favorite in the 15 October ballot, but mounting questions about his pre-election tactics could result in a post-victory scandal.

Volkov, in fact, has been angling for sometime to introduce a presidential form of government in Udmurtiya. The republic declared its sovereignty in 1990, but its constitution was not adopted until December 1994. The constitution made the republic's parliament, the State Council, the supreme body in the republic and its chairman served as the region's executive. Soon after he became State Council chairman, Volkov tried to gain support for a plebiscite introducing a presidential form of government, but he was unable to muster sufficient backing among deputies. It was not until March 2000 that he got his wish: in response to pressure from the center, Udmurtiya held a referendum on establishing a presidential form of government. The vote was almost 70 percent in favor.

The referendum's success meant that the republic's election legislation had to be amended; however, passage of the necessary changes did not go smoothly. Volkov's opponents claimed that the amended legislation was aimed at facilitating his election as Udmurtiya's first president. During the run-up to this weekend's ballot, Volkov's opponents have brought additional charges against him. Among others, members of the local branch of the pro-Kremlin Unity have accused Volkov of "dirty" election tactics, including a smear campaign against fellow candidate Prime Minister Nikolai Ganza (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 4 October 2000).

Despite Volkov's attempts to ally himself with Unity and his claims that he has President Vladimir Putin's support, the local Unity branch announced it is backing Prime Minister Ganza, who has helped reform the republic's economy since Volkov appointed him to that post in April 1999 and whom some observers consider to be Volkov's main rival.

Last week, Ganza fired Press and Information Minister Sergei Vasilev over the latter's use of a republican electronic distribution system to disseminate materials promoting Volkov's candidacy. According to the website and the news agency RIA, journalists in the republic frequently have come under pressure from Vasilev, while there have been several reports that the former minister used budget funds to campaign in favor of Volkov.

Meanwhile, issues of the Moscow newspapers such as "Komsomolskaya pravda," "Argumenty i fakty," and "Trud" that contained articles critical of Volkov have been blocked from entering the republic, according to Radio Mayak. The radio station quoted sources in Udmurtiya as saying that members of Volkov's election team were responsible for ensuring that the republic's voters were "protected from undesirable information" about the parliamentary speaker. One of those newspapers, "Komsomolskaya pravda," had questioned the very legitimacy of the upcoming ballot by revealing Volkov's involvement in his former lawyer's appointment as the head of the republican Election Commission (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 September 2000).

It remains unclear whether Volkov's pre-election tactics have been effective. According to a poll conducted by the National Experts Institute of Udmurtiya on 8 October, Volkov enjoys some 46 percent backing--more than double that of his nearest rival, State Council Deputy Chairman Pavel Vershinin. But another agency, the Center for Independent Political Surveys, conducted a poll around the same time that suggested Volkov will not gather even the necessary 25 percent of the vote to be elected. The center also noted that the State Council chairman's backing has been rapidly eroding during the past few weeks.

Should Volkov manage to squeeze a victory, he appears likely to face a new battle soon thereafter. Lacking support from Moscow, Volkov might find it difficult to withstand pressure to acknowledge foul play during the election. And Udmurtiya, having just concluded its first presidential elections, might find itself mired in its first presidential scandal.