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Russia Report: April 21, 1999

21 April 1999, Volume 1, Number 8
In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 April, Konstantin Titov, Samara Oblast governor and informal leader of Golos Rossii, said that he did not send a letter to Russian President Boris Yeltsin expressing his willingness to transform his movement into a pro-presidential party, as had been previously reported. Titov also confirmed his statement that if Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev forms his own regional bloc, then Golos Rossii would try to merge with it. That day, the newspaper also reported that Shaimiev, together with Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, Astrakhan Oblast Governor Anatolii Guzhvin, and Omsk Governor Leonid Polezhaev, have formed their own electoral bloc called Vsya Rossiya (All Russia). According to the newspaper, the bloc plans to form an alliance with Otechestvo and Golos Rossii. The daily also quoted a "high-ranking Kremlin official" who belittled Titov's group and praised Shaimiev's, calling it "a group of very serious governors." Titov earlier accused the presidential administration of trying to form the Vsya Rossiya bloc as a counterbalance to Golos Rossii, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 April. JAC

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 April that a U.S. representative of unspecified affiliation travelled to Primorskii Krai to verify that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) had really signed up volunteers who were truly willing to travel to Yugoslavia and fight. There he witnessed the registration of three volunteers within a half hour. According to the daily, the krai headquarters of LDPR have signed up more than 400 volunteers, including three women. Altai Krai and Tomsk Oblast have each signed up about 300 volunteers. On the opposite side of the front lines, the Congress of Peoples of Dagestan and Ichkeria are planning to send a volunteer battalion to help the Kosovar Albanians. JAC

Following on earlier remarks of Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev that "it is unacceptable to send volunteers from such a multiethnic country as Russia under any pretexts or mottos" (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 14 April 1999), Bashkortostan's President Murtaz Rakhimov expressed his indignation at Russian politicians' support for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 April. According to Rakhimov, the problem of Kosova can be solved only by giving the people who live there the right to self-determination. JAC

As an airplane loaded with humanitarian aid from his region headed for refugees in Macedonia on 18 April, Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov confirmed his proposal to "accommodate 50,000 refugees from Yugoslavia," Interfax reported. Ayatskov acknowledged that his proposal had aroused controversy, but he said that Saratov "has enough space to accomodate these people and find jobs for them." He added that after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the oblast took in 250,000 refugees and forced migrants from former Soviet republics, all of whom were given housing and jobs. "Izvestiya" noted on 16 April that Ayatskov "has not ruled out the possibility of running for president of Russia in 2000." The same day, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev offered to take in 10,000 refugees in his region. JAC

Before the Duma vote was held calling for Yugoslavia to be added to the Union of Belarus and Russia, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev said that the idea of the union "must be discussed in Russia's regions" and that a referendum was the only way to decide whether Yugoslavia could join the union. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, who opposes expansion of the union, characterized the vote as motivated by "passions and emotions" and suggested that "the deputies are capable of voting for much, especially when their terms of office are about to expire," NTV reported on 16 April. Although he also called the decision "emotional," Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov was less critical, saying only "it must not involve Russia in the Balkan conflict." Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov had earlier said that he is "categorically against any negotiations on unification with [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic," who is "one of those people responsible for the situation now unfolding in the center of Europe." Murmansk Governor Yurii Yevdokimov and Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed both seemed to welcome the idea of the union but only after peace breaks out, while Kaliningrad Governor Leonid Gorbenko and Komi Republic President Yurii Spiridonov suggested that the whole idea is an unlikely one. Gorbenko said that it is hard to imagine "how a union with Yugoslavia can be established, all the more since NATO members or countries that want to become part of NATO lie between Russia and Yugoslavia." JAC

The price of a basket of 25 food products in Amur Oblast increased 91 percent in March 1999, compared with the same month the previous year, according to the oblast's State Committee for Statistics, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 15 April. The committee also reported that Blagoveshchensk became one of the most expensive cities in Russia, rising to 18th place. JAC

Meeting with Lithuanian parliamentary deputies in the Lithuanian coastal resort of Nida on 16 April, representatives of the Kaliningrad Duma discussed the possibility of leasing land in the exclave to Lithuanian farmers, Baltic news agencies reported. The deputy chairman of the Lithuanian parliament, Romualdas Ozolas, stressed that legal guarantees were required if such an arrangement were to function. Noting that many Lithuanian agrarians are eager to have larger farms, he argued that Kaliningrad offers better opportunities to such farmers than does their native Lithuania owing to the oblast's vast areas of uncultivated land. Valerii Frolov, first deputy chairman of the Kaliningrad Duma, said that the exclave is keen to see Lithuanian farmers engaged in farming initiatives there. He pointed out that farms in Kaliningrad are currently unable to provide sufficient quantities of agricultural supplies for the local population. Members of the Kaliningrad delegation noted that the land bill currently under debate in the oblast Duma would allow foreigners to lease land, although it remains unclear whether they would be able to become landowners. JC

Top officials in Kamchatka Oblast and the Koryak Autonomous Okrug signed an agreement on 18 April creating a joint legal space and eliminating duplicative structures in the two regions' administrations, ITAR-TASS reported. For example, federal agencies that have an office in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii and Palana will now have just one. According to Lev Boitsov, head of Kamchatka's legislative assembly, the legislatures of Kamchatka and Koryak will take into account each other's interest when drafting local legislative acts. JAC

The electoral bloc led by Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev swept regional elections on 18 April, winning 34 of 35 electoral seats in the oblast legislature, ITAR-TASS reported. The bloc's nominees also scored well in mayoral and rural administration head races. According to the agency, 44 percent of eligible voters participated. The largest number of voters were found in rural areas, where Tuleev is extremely popular, "The Moscow Times" reported on 20 April. Losing candidates charged that the election had been rife with irregularities, such as Tuleev's host of appearances on the behalf of his bloc's candidates, according to the daily. The election law stipulates that the governor cannot participate in local campaigns. The head of the election commission defended Tuleev by noting that Tuleev had officially been on vacation when he made his appearances. Earlier, more than 60 candidates had charged that Tuleev's bloc had committed serious violations of the election law, "Izvestiya" reported on 10 April. Legislative assembly chairman Aleksandr Filatov was perhaps the most outraged, declaring on television that "if he had a gun, he would shoot Tuleev," "Trud-7" reported on 16 April. Tuleev, in turn, accused Filatov of illicitly acquiring a luxurious apartment and paying for its reconstruction out of state funds, according to the daily. JAC

The homestead of a family of Old Believers and a 140,000 hectare area adjoining it will be converted into a new nature preserve, "The Moscow Times" reported on 20 April. The area in the Tashtyp Raion along the Abakan River contains hundreds of rare animal species such as tigers, snow leopards, and red wolves. Regional authorities, together with the Dutch division of the World Wildlife Fund, will develop the project. The Lkov family who settled in the area in the 1930s belonged to a smaller sect within the Old Believers called beguny (runners), who believe that God commands them to be totally isolated from the world. JAC

Distribution of humanitarian assistance packages from Magadan's sister city, Anchorage, Alaska, began on 19 April, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 March 1999). Sixteen-kilogram food parcels are being distributed among children from low-income and large families, the disabled, pensioners, and other needy recipients. The parcels contain macaroni, sugar, flour, rice, and powdered milk. JAC

The local administration of Kuzhenerskii Raion in the Republic of Marii El is experiencing difficulties disposing of the 1,500 land ownership certificates it has drawn up to distribute among local agricultural workers, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 April. The apparent reason is a reluctance among local workers to become landowners, preferring instead to continue to farm land on the local kolkhozes and thereby avoid the additional responsibilities and costs of becoming a landowner. Even when representatives of the local Committee for Land Resources travelled to villages and kolkhozes to hand over the certificates in person, many locals refused to accept them. To date, only one-third of the 1,500 certificates have been claimed by their rightful owners. JC

The Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast paid the $4.4 million coupon maturing on its $100 million Eurobond debt on 15 April, narrowly missing a default. Governor Ivan Sklarov had earlier warned creditors that the oblast was having problems raising sufficient funds, announcing at one point that the oblast could pay only about half of the amount due, "Vremya MN" reported on 13 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 1999). However, the region managed to raise enough cash at the last moment by squeezing interest payments out of several local companies that owed money to the regional administration, "The Moscow Times" reported on 16 April. Despite having made good on its coupon payment, the oblast government is still hoping to arrange a restructuring of its remaining payments, according to "Vremya MN" on 16 April. JAC

Nizhnii Mayor Yurii Lebedev told Interfax-Eurasia on 16 April that his administration intends to ensure that companies that received loans from previous city leaderships pay off their debts. According to Lebedev, some 35 companies and organizations owe his administration a total of some 40 million rubles ($1.6 million). He said that the debtors will first be given the chance to pay off their loans voluntarily; alternatively, some will be able to offer the administration shares in lieu of cash. At the same time, the administration is prepared to launch bankruptcy proceedings against those companies that do not meet their debts. JC

The Orel administration is working to establish a new tax regime that will encourage investments throughout the oblast, the local newspaper "Pokolenie" reported on 30 March. Under that regime, companies will be able to sign agreements with the administration specifying, among other things, reinvestment levels over at least five years. Above all, the administration is interested in projects that will create new jobs for local workers. Limited companies and joint-stock companies must have an authorized capital of at least $25,000 and $250,000, respectively, converted into rubles at the official exchange rate at the time of registration. Those companies may receive tax breaks, temporary exemptions from paying oblast corporation taxes, favorable loans and guarantees, as well as other privileges. In the event that a company attracts investments totaling at least $1 million, it will pay no oblast corporation tax for the first two years and will subsequently pay taxes on only 25 percent of its profits in the third year, 50 percent in the fourth year, and 75 percent in the fifth year. The activities of the companies participating in the scheme will be coordinated by the oblast Center for Market Relations "Development." JC

Vladivostok's embattled former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov has filed papers with the local election commission so that he may run in upcoming elections for the city's legislative assembly, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 April. Currently, there are 64 candidates registered to run in 10 districts in the 16 May elections. Previous election results were declared invalid, and the current assembly has only six of the 24 deputies required (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1999). Cherepkov earlier told reporters in St. Petersburg that he is also planning to run in gubernatorial elections scheduled for December in Primorskii Krai, "Nezavisimaya Gazeta-Regiony" reported on 13 April. JAC

Police have stumbled upon a Satanist cult in the city of Gus Khrustalnii numbering some 50 people aged 15 to 25, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 April. Members of the cult indulge in, among other things, eating meat stripped from cats and dogs and drinking one another's blood. According to the local police, similar cults have been discovered in the nearby cities of Murom and Vladimir. The news agency reports that police and security agencies are examining the cult's activities within the framework of the federal law on religious organizations. JC

Around 400 trade union members in Ulyanovsk gathered in front of the mayor's office on 14 April to protest an increase in rents from 1 April and demand that they be rollbacked until back wages are paid, Interfax-Eurasia reported. � CHITA. Only four of a fleet of 25 ambulances in Chita are responding to emergency calls because drivers are on strike to protest unpaid wages, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 14 April. � SVERDLOVSK. Teachers in 10 cities and villages in the Sverdlovsk Oblast stayed away from classes on 13 April to protest unpaid wages, ITAR-TASS reported. In Kushva, angry teachers seized the office of the head of the local administration and have so far resisted attempts by adminstration and police officials to leave. Also in Sverdlovsk, 200 construction workers building the subway system in Yekaterinburg on 16 April resumed their hunger strike to protest an 11-month backlog of unpaid wages (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 March 1999), ITAR-TASS reported ... KAMCHATKA. In Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii in Kamchatka Oblast, teachers continued on 13 April the second week of their strike called to demand the payment of six months of back wages. JAC

The former speaker of St. Petersburg's legislative assembly and former member of the Federation Council, Yurii Kravtsov, was officially charged on 16 April with abuse of power while he served as a local and federal official, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the city's Prosecutor Office, Kravtsov granted loans with easy terms to a company that he founded and alloted 350 million rubles ($14 million) to renovate an apartment of another local city official.

by Julie A. Corwin

Initially, at least, NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia appeared to unify Russia's political elite. That action pushed both the scandal involving Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov and speculation about Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's dismissal off the front pages of the Russian press. In addition, the rhetoric of groups along the political spectrum suddenly became remarkably similiar as they all condemned NATO and the U.S.

But just a few weeks later, there were signs that the fragile political peace was fraying and that the Balkan conflict has been absorbed into a variety of domestic political battles, such as the effort of political parties and their candidates to raise their profile in the regions before State Duma elections and the effort to forge a pan-Slavic union. So far, the results of this absorption suggest that the Yugoslav conflict may negatively affect the cohesion of the Russian Federation.

Already, proponents of expanding the Union of Belarus and Russia to include Yugoslavia have raised concerns among the leadership of Russia's Muslim population. Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov declared that he has no interest in joining any union with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whom he holds personally responsible for the tragedy in the Balkans. The president of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, suggested that if Yugoslavia is going to join the union, then the issue of upgrading the status of his republic and that of Tatarstan should be examined.

Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev himself raised objections to the recruitment of volunteers in his republic to fight in the conflict on the side of the Kosovar Albanians. He noted that since Russia is a multiethnic state, there should be no question of sending any volunteers since they could wind up on different sides. But perhaps sensing an opportunity to generate publicity for their parties and movements in the regions, members of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), Spiritual Heritage, and the Popular Patriotic Front, among others, have reportedly compiled long lists of volunteers throughout Russia ready to fight in Yugoslavia. By the first week of April, the LDPR claimed it had 70,000 volunteers signed up across Russia.

In addition to the possibility that volunteers from Russia could wind up shooting at one another, there is also the possibility that refugees from opposing sides of the war could confront one another on Russian territory. While a long list of regions have expressed their willingness to shelter Serbian "victims of NATO air strikes," the Adygei Republic recently offered to take in a second batch of Kosova residents of Adygei origin.

In the meantime, Russian President Boris Yeltsin continues to encourage the foreign policy aspirations of regional leaders, telling them on 19 April that "everything must originate in the regions, including proposals on foreign policy." The result of such encouragement may be a splintering of the nation's single foreign policy into competing sub-components, the beginning of which we may now be witnessing.

Iskander Galimov, deputy head of special brigade of the Interior Ministry, who was recently assigned to fight economic crimes in the port city of Nakhodka (from "Kommersant-Daily," 13 April 1999): "I've worked in St. Petersburg, Novorossiisk, and it seems to me that each port has its own riddles. In Nahkodka, I am sure that a mass of problems have arisen connected with privatization, customs, and taxes. We arrived on 5 April and that day we detained a ship with truck tires from Japan. According to its documents, there were ten times less tires than on board."