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Russia Report: March 10, 1999


10 March 1999, Volume 1, Number 2
PAN-REGIONAL AFFAIRS: URALS ASSOCIATION SENDS DELEGATION TO GERMANY.
Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel led a delegation of officials from the Association of Urals Regions to Germany in order to increase economic cooperation between the two areas, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 March. Rossel said that he was exploring having the Dresdner Bank open a branch in Yekaterinburg. The Russian officials visited Bonn, Hannover, and Hamburg. PG

REGIONAL LAWS MOVE CLOSER TO CONSTITUTION.
Russian Justice Minister Pavel Krashenninikov told the State Duma on 5 March that approximately 20 percent of the legal acts of localities contradict the federal constitution but that the regions have reduced the gap between their legislation and the country�s basic law, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that Moscow is compiling a register of all regional normative acts in order to improve compliance. PG

CLOSED CITY MAYORS VISIT U.S.
Mayors from closed cities in Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk, Tomsk, Nizhnii Novgorod, and Krasnoyarsk attended a two-day conference in Washington to discuss ways they can cooperate with Americans on "current problems," ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. PG

BURYATIA: SACRED BOOK OF BUDDHISM TO RETURN.
An atlas of Tibetan medicine that since May 1998 has been on exhibition in museums in the U.S. will likely return to the Republic of Buryatia on 8 May, the director of Buryatia's History Museum, Maria Romanov, told reporters on 2 March, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Last summer, news of the government's decision to allow the book to be sent abroad caused local police to clash with protesting Buddhists and triggered an open dispute between Buryatia's President Leonid Potapov and Buddhist leader Damba Ausheev, the "Moscow Times" reported on 16 January. Potapov maintains that the book is government property, while Ausheev says it is a sacred treasure belonging to the Buddhist community. The book is one of only two copies of a 17th century book that has been lost. The other copy is in Tibet, where the Chinese authorities do not permit it to be displayed. Buryatia is a stronghold for Buddhists in Russia, with roughly 300,000 Buddhists within its borders. JAC

CHITA: BACKLOG OF UNPAID WAGES GROWING?
According to the Chita Oblast's Statistics Committee, the number of enterprises that have not fully paid their workers' wages jumped by 10.1 percent in January, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 2 March. Unpaid wages to state workers increased by 24.5 percent during this period. JAC

KALININGRAD: EXPLOSION KILLS GIRL.
One girl died and another was seriously injured by a cartridge explosion in Kaliningrad, ITAR-Tass reported on 5 March. Investigators said they suspect the cartridge was a homemade bomb, but the death calls attention to the enormous number of shells left behind by the Soviet military in this region. PG

KEMEROVO: IS IT BANKRUPT?
Kemerovo Oblast is poised on the edge of a major default, "Vremya MN" reported on 2 March. Last year, the oblast passed a budget with a 50 percent deficit. This year, the deficit might be smaller, 20 percent to 40 percent, but there is no money available to finance a deficit of any size. The Budget Committee chairman of the oblast's legislative assembly, Aleksandr Borovikov, called the situation an "unsightly mess." The government's external debt--not including wage arrears to state workers--currently totals some 3 billion rubles ($130.3 million)--"a huge sum for a regional budget," the newspaper added. JAC

KHAKASSIA: THE OTHER LEBED WILL NOT JOIN GOVERNORS' BLOC.
Contrary to earlier press reports, President of the Republic of Khakassia Aleksei Lebed does not plan either to participate in or even to support the new regional movement Golos Rossii, launched by Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, Interfax reported on 1 March. Instead, "in every way possible he wants to support the movement of his beloved older brother [Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor] Aleksandr [Lebed], Honor and Motherland. Younger Lebed admitted that he signed a statement expressing support for the movement along with "thirty" other governors but "at the time no one said that signing the statement meant automatic membership." Lebed added that he does not think Titov's party will manage to overcome the 5 percent barrier for representation in the State Duma. JAC

KRASNODAR: LOCAL KURDS FALLING ON HARD TIMES?
Some members of the Krasnodar Krai's Kurdish diaspora of several thousand people believe that a burglary on 3 March at their local community's headquarters was politically motivated, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. According to the agency, ten Kurds from the krai have left for the Turkish border to join the Kurdistan Liberation Army. JAC

KURSK: GOVERNOR ELIMINATES POTENTIAL RIVAL?
Kursk Oblast Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi has dismissed the head of the oblast administration, Boris Suraev, Russian Television reported on 3 March. The official reason for the move was that Suraev had been neglecting implementation of the governor's recommendations and had harmed preparations for spring field work. Unofficially, local sources believe that Suraev got the sack for being too independent and too popular as a potential replacement for the current governor. JAC

MURMANSK: BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY VISITS.
Robin Cook, speaking in Murmansk on 3 March, announced aid worth $4.8 million to help deal with nuclear waste from the Northern Fleet's decommissioned submarines, ITAR-TASS reported. Most of the aid, Cook said, would be used to provide storage facilities for waste such as spent fuel rods currently stacked on vessels in the northern port. According to Reuters, environmental activists expect the fleet to accumulate 320 discarded nuclear reactor cores (some 20 percent of the world's total) and 75,000 spent fuel rods by next year. Norway and the EU have granted almost $100 million to help deal with the problem, but experts predict that billions are needed to clean up the region. JC

NIZHNII NOVGOROD: OBLAST SEEKING TO ATTRACT INVESTMENTS IN LOCAL INDUSTRY...
Stanislav Spitsyn, the Russian Central Bank's main representative in Nizhnii Novgorod, told Interfax-AFI on 2 March that plans are afoot to set up a club of creditors whose main task will be to finance projects in the oblast's industrial sector. Members of the club are likely to include commercial banks as well as investment and insurance companies from both Nizhnii and other Volga regions. According to Spitsyn, the Nizhnii authorities are prepared to offer tax concessions to those financial institutions investing in local industry. The oblast's commercial banks, he added, have reserves totaling 10 billion rubles ($434.2 million), of which 7 billion rubles are currently "not working." Spitsyn also revealed that Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Ivan Sklyarov is conducting talks with the leaders of 12 Volga regions that will be invited to take part in the club's work. JC

...WHILE HALF OF NIZHNII'S COMPANIES MAKING LOSSES.
According to the Nizhnii Novgorod Statistics Committee, more than half of the oblast's companies (52.1 percent) are unprofitable, Interfax-AFI reported on 1 March. The largest number of loss-making enterprises are in the timber, wood-processing, and cellulose-paper industries as well as in machine-building and metal-processing. That figure tallies with data recently released by the State Statistics Committee, according to which 55 percent of all large and medium-sized companies in Russia were unprofitable last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1999). JC

NOVOSIBIRSK: LOCAL LEGISLATORS FIGHT TV MONOPOLIZATION.
Members of the Novosibirsk Oblast legislature want the government to overturn a decision by All Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) head Mikhail Shvydkoi appointing local telecommunications magnate Yakov London head of VGTRK's local station, "Vremya MN" reported on 2 March. London, according to the daily, appears to control only two of Novosibirsk five television stations, but since he also oversees the activities of an interregional television company that broadcasts not only in Novosibirsk but elsewhere, all television channels with one exception are concentrated in his hands. London played a critical role in electing current Governor Vitalii Mukha during the last elections, and the fact that gubernatorial elections are approaching in the region has made the conflict particularly bitter, according to the newspaper. The legislators have decided to send a letter to Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, suggesting that the federal authorities create a special government commission to investigate the conflict between Novosibirsk Television and Radio Company with its parent, VGTRK. JAC

PROBE AGAINST BEREZOVSKII EXTENDED TO NOVOSIBIRSK?
"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 March that officers from Novosibirsk's regional Interior Ministry unit devoted to combating organized crime searched the local office of Novosibirsknefteprodukt, a subsidiary of Sibneft, the oil company close to financial magnate Boris Berezovskii. The main Moscow-based headquarters of Sibneft were searched earlier in the year in connection with the Prosecutor-General's investigation of Berezovskii's alleged involvement in illicit recording of President Boris Yeltsin. JAC

SYNAGOGUE IN NOVOSIBIRSK VANDALIZED.
Jewish leaders in Russia told Western agencies that vandals desecrated a newly rededicated synagogue in Novosibirsk on the night of 7-8 March. The attackers destroyed much of the interior and painted swastikas and the signature of the Russian National Unity movement on the walls. While no one was hurt, Rabbi Berel Lazar of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Moscow said the attack qualified as "a pogrom," Reuters reported. But local Russian officials played down the attack. A Novosibirsk police official said that "nothing terrible happened here," suggesting that "this is just some kids having hi-jinks," AP reported. The official added that he is not sure whether the authorities will launch criminal proceedings. PG

SAKHALIN: RESIDENTS CAUGHT IN EYE OF CYCLONE.
A cyclone swept the island of Sakhalin on 28 February, causing at least 60 million rubles ($2.6 million) worth of damage in more than half of the oblast's raions, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 March. The cyclone paralyzed railroad traffic and knocked down more than 90 kilometers of power lines. JAC

TATARSTAN: SHAIMIEV EQUIVOCAL ON CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM.
Interviewed by Interfax on 3 March, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev attributed Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's proposal that in future regional governors and republic presidents should be appointed, rather than elected, to Primakov's desire to strengthen the vertical power structure. "It will be extremely difficult to overcome the crisis without such measures," Shaimiev added. As for Primakov's related proposal on merging the existing 89 federation subjects to create fewer and larger territorial entities, Shaimiev said any such mergers should be purely voluntary. He made clear that Tatarstan would not agree to be subsumed into a larger entity. But he added that the republic's leadership would be willing to consider requests from other federation subjects to be incorporated into Tatarstan. LF

VORONEZH: RNE RALLY BANNED.
"Izvestiya" reported on 2 March that the Voronezh authorities refused to give permission to members of the local branch of Russian National Unity to hold a rally intended as a show of solidarity with their "beleaguered" colleagues in Moscow. The newspaper suggested that the decision was most likely influenced by the recent moves in Moscow, spearheaded by Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, to restrict the activities of the RNE. Until now, the daily asserted, the authorities in Voronezh, which is considered an RNE stronghold, had adopted a tolerant attitude toward extremist groups. JC

LOOKING WEST FOR HELP FROM THE EAST.
In a bid to solve pressing economic problems, the Krasnogorskii Raion authorities (Bryansk Oblast) last summer sent a letter to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka requesting that the raion come under his patronage (shefstvo). Pointing out that they could expect no assistance from Moscow, the Krasnogorskii authorities stressed they were seeking not "alms" but "a little bit of support, a little bit of attention" from the Belarusian head of state. "We hope that with your help, we can make a Little Belarus out of Krasnogorskii Raion," Belarusian Television, in a special report from the raion, quoted the letter as saying.

Lukashenka responded by sending delegations from Homel and Mohilev Oblasts to Krasnaya Gora, the raion center, to assess the economic potential of local enterprises. There they found little, other than the local brewery, that could be deemed "promising." Not surprisingly. The kolkhozes and sovkhozes in the raion, which is mainly dependent on agriculture, are virtually all loss-making, while only a handful of the private farms are solvent. Moreover, the raion is able to provide only 7 percent of its budget and therefore looks to the oblast authorities to make up the remainder in subsidies. Judging from the accumulated wage arrears--local officials got their last wage in March 1998, while some workers at the raion's agricultural enterprises have received no pay since 1993--such subsidies are few and far between.

Nonetheless, the Belarusian oblasts did not disappoint the residents of Krasnogorskii Raion, which until the mid-1920s was part of the Byelorussian SSR and has maintained close contacts with its western neighbor ever since. Belarusian specialists helped put the finishing touches to the brewery, which had been constructed some six years previously. Others provided equipment and fodder, while still others sent tractors and combines to help with last year's harvest.

While Belarusian Television has clearly sought to make propaganda capital out of the letter, portraying the Krasnogorskii Raion residents as dreaming of Lukashenka as their president, raion officials are adamant that they want the region to remain part of Russia. Speaking to a local newspaper, I. Kirchenko, the Krasnogorskii administration chief, professed to have been surprised to hear that the attempt to solve the raion's economic problems could be interpreted as a "political demarche." He argues that there are geographical reasons for looking to Belarus for economic support. First, Bryansk is some 250 kilometers from the raion center and Homel only 90 kilometers. Second, Krasnogorskii Raion is surrounded by six raions, of which four are in Belarus. "We are simply asking [Belarus] to turn [its] attention toward us," he said.

That claim is reinforced at the oblast level. N. Sarviro, the Bryansk administration deputy head for relations with territorial and municipal formations, stresses that there has been no request from the Krasnogorskii authorities to become part of Belarus, adding that "there is nothing new in our supporting good-neighborly relations." JC

(Sources: "Bryanskie Izvestiya," 24 February 1999; "Vremya MN," 3 March 1999.)

ON THE WEB TATARSTAN'S HARD WORKING PRESIDENT.
On this site, which was reportedly created in honor of Tatarstan Republic President Mintimer Shaimiev's birthday, visitors can see photos of Shaimiev during his "minutes of relaxation" petting a horse, cross-country skiing, and playing chess. They can also read Shaimiev's pithy, articulate responses to journalist's questions on policy matters of the day. Also accessible are photos of Shaimiev and family and a detailed biography. (http://www.tatar.ru/president) JAC

BY THE NUMBERS: 1998 Economic Data for selected regions

Consumer price index, percentage change

Average monthly wage, rubles

Altai

171.0

971*

Bashkiria

178.8

n/a

Chelyabinsk

189.2

1012

Chuvashia

167.9

567*

Krasnoyarsk

160.4

1662

Kurgan

173.0

748*

Magadan

153.7

n/a

Murmansk

179.3

1739

Omsk

172.2

907

Orlov

167.9

719*

Sverdlovsk

194.5

n/a

Tyumen

164.5

3559

Vologda

163.5

1171

Voronezh

175.0

n/a

*median wage

Sources: "Altaiskaya pravda," "Sovetskaya Bashkiria," Chelyabinsk rabochii," "Sovetskaya Chuvashia," "Krasnoyarskii rabochii," "Novii Mir" (Kurgan), "Magadanskaya Pravda," "Murmanskii vestnik," "Kommercheskie vesti" (Omsk), "Orlovskaya pravda," "Uralskii rabochii," "Tyumenskaya pravda," "Krasnii Sever," and "Kommuna" (Voronezh)

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