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Russia Report: May 19, 1999


19 May 1999, Volume 1, Number 12
PAN REGIONAL: STEPASHIN WOOS REGIONAL LEADERS.
After meeting Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev and other governors on 16 May, acting Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin told reporters that the "implementation of government decisions is doomed to failure without the approval of regional leaders and without joint efforts" with them. According to Interfax, Stepashin told the governors that his new cabinet will include a deputy prime minister in charge of working with the regions. At least some governors are enthusiastic about working with Stepashin, Russian Public Television reported on 15 May. It quoted Nikolai Fedorov, president of the Republic of Chuvashia, as saying that he couldn't "imagine a more worthy candidate than Sergei Vadimovich Stepashin in the Russian political elite today." According to the network, governors like the fact that Stepashin immediately started tackling specific problems, such as how to help agricultural areas whose crops were damaged by May frosts. Stroev said that he supports Stepashin in the same way he would back a champion show horse. He said he would like "this draft horse to succeed, and not only to haul our authorities out of the crisis but the entire economy, to help people to unite, stop fussing and fighting and put an end to weeks of passion." JAC

PAN REGIONAL: STREET PROTESTS ORGANIZED IN SUPPORT OF PRIMAKOV.
As promised by Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov, regional branches of the KPRF organized actions around Russia protesting the dismissal of Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. In Khabarovsk, around 200 residents participated in a protest meeting on 14 May, Interfax-Eurasia reported. At the same time in Vladivostok, the KPRF organized its own meeting in the city's central square in defiance of the city administration's attempt to ban such a demonstration, according to the agency. RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported the same day that residents in the Far Eastern city expressed everything from nonchalance to exasperation--but not support--for President Boris Yeltsin's decision to dismiss Primakov. The speaker of Primorskii Krai's legislative assembly, Sergei Dudnik, accused Yeltsin of trying "to seize absolute power in Russia." Elsewhere, Altai Krai Governor Aleksandr Surikov called Primakov's resignation the "most tragic mistake of a president in Russia in recent history," Interfax-Eurasia reported on 13 May. Kamchatka Oblast offered not only sympathy and outrage for Primakov but a job: the regional branch of Our Home Is Russia has decided to extend an invitation to the recently deposed prime minister to run as a candidate for the State Duma from Kamchatka Oblast, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 14 May. JAC

INTERREGIONAL ASSOCIATION ASKS THAT DEFENSE PLANT SKIP PRIVATIZATION.
Members of the assembly of the Far East and Trans-Baikal interregional association approved on 15 May an appeal to the State Duma and the Yeltsin administration and Security Council, calling on them to exclude Komsomolsk na Amure aircraft building plant from the list of enterprises to be privatized, ITAR-TASS reported. The plant was already included in a list of enterprises to be privatized drafted by the federal government in August 1998. According to the agency, the city of Komsomolsk na Amure, the administration of the Khabarovsk Krai, and staff of the plant all oppose the breakup of the region's leading defense enterprise. JAC

ARKHANGELSK: BAKERS DON'T WANT EU LOW-GRADE GRAIN.
Arkhangelsk Governor Anatolii Yefremov is refusing to accept any more EU humanitarian aid, after difficulties were encountered finding buyers for grain that arrived earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 12 May 1999), "Vremya MN" reported on 14 May. Bakeries in the oblast do not want to buy wheat included in those shipments because its inferior quality means they would have to combine it with a higher-grade grain in order to make bread. A shipment of rye scheduled to arrive on 16 May is the last that the oblast is prepared to accept. Under conditions set by the EU, all humanitarian aid must be sold within 70 days of its receipt and the revenues transferred to the Pension Fund. JC

BRYANSK: RUMOR MILL GRINDING OVER LODKIN'S POSSIBLE EXIT.
A new draft law recently introduced into the oblast legislature has reignited rumors over the possible resignation of Governor Yurii Lodkin, "Bryanskoe Vremya" reported in its 21-27 April issue. That bill, proposed by Lodkin supporters, foresees changes in the oblast statutes that would allow one of the governor's deputies to assume the duties of regional head in the event that the latter leaves his post before his term in office expires. That arrangement would persist until a new governor is elected. The proposal, however, met with opposition among deputies insofar as it would affect the legitimacy of incumbent deputy premiers, whose own term in office, according to the oblast statutes, is to conclude simultaneously with that of the elected governor. JC

CHELYABINSK: EARLY WEDDINGS SET TO BECOME LEGAL.
A bill that would allow those under 16 years of age to marry has passed in the second reading, "Vremya MN" reported on 7 May. According to its authors, such legislation is necessary because of the steady increase in the number of parents who have not yet celebrated their 16th birthday. A similar law has already been adopted in regions as far apart as Vladimir and Kamchatka, according to a member of the State Duma Committee for Women, Family, and Youth Affairs, who noted that in parts of the federation there is a tradition of early weddings and pregnancies. JC

KOMI: COAL MINERS WON�T RULE OUT RENEWED PROTESTS.
Fearing a continuation of the "new Russian tradition" whereby a "new government is not responsible for the obligations of its predecessors," coal mining trade unionists say a "railroad war" may erupt again in the wake of the dismissal of Primakov's government, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 May. Viktor Semenov, the head of the Independent Komi and Vorkuta Coal Mining Trade Union, told the newspaper that the Primakov government had begun to solve the industry's problems and transfers from the state budget had been regular. If transfers cease under the new government, disruptions such as those staged last year by miners in the republic can be expected, Semenov warned. JC

IRKUTSK: AIDS CASES SPREADING.
The number of new cases of AIDS in the oblast soared in April, increasing by 82 percent to a total of 175 people afflicted, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 10 May. More than two-thirds of these patients live in the city of Irkutsk; more than half of them are drug addicts. JAC

KAMCHATKA: LIGHTS OUT IN FAR EASTERN OBLAST.
Authorities in Kamchatka Oblast announced rationing of electricity on 14 May, RFE/RL's correspondent in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii reported. Beginning on 15 May, electricity supplies would be turned off for 14 to 20 hours with the exception of hospitals and kindergartens. The temperature in the region on 14 May was hovering around 8 degrees Celsius. But even under such strict economizing measures, the deputy governor of the oblast told Interfax-Eurasia that the region will have enough fuel to last only until 5 to 7 June. JAC

KHAKASSIA: LEGAL RECOURSE SOUGHT FOR PROBLEM OF SPACE WASTE.
Local authorities in the Republic of Khakassia are looking to Russian courts to address the problem of space waste littering its taiga and bodies of water, RFE/RL's "Korrespondentskii chac" reported on 1 May. Ecological specialists believe that the region would be one of the cleanest in Russia were it not for 30 tons of waste that has fallen on the region from rockets and satellites launched at Baikonur space complex in neighboring Kazakhstan. Khakassian authorities have prepared an appeal for a local court seeking compensation for material damage caused by the pollution of the republic's environment. In addition, a letter signed by the republic's president, Aleksei Lebed, has been sent to Russia's Constitutional Court protesting the unconstitutional use of territories of the Russian Federation by commercial rocket launches. Ecologists from Khakassia and other regions facing the same problem, such as Altai Krai and the Republic of Tuva, recently met in Abakan with representatives of the Russian Space Agency to discuss the issue. JAC

MAGADAN: REGION LOSES ALMOST ONE-THIRD OF ITS POPULATION.
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 May that the population of Magadan Oblast dropped by more than 100,000 since the country's economic crisis began in August 1998. Leaders in Russia's northern regions have warned that massive outmigration will continue unless measures are taken to secure a steady flow of energy and food stuffs to the population all year long (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 April 1999). JAC

MURMANSK: GOVERNOR STRESSES STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF ARCTIC ARCHIPELAGO.
In an interview with "Krasnaya Zvezda" published on 6 May, Yurii Yevdokimov warned that any weakening of Russia's presence in the Arctic region would quickly be exploited by Western states to promote their own interests. With regard to the Norwegian island group Spitsbergen, Yevdokimov explained that Russia is allowed to maintain a presence there only on condition that it engages in "economic activities." However, the mining of coal on the islands is unprofitable because that coal is subject to customs duties on entering Russia, like any other "imports." But if Russia were to "give up the archipelago," he argued, it would have to "bid farewell to its free exit" from the Barents Sea. This, in itself, would offer NATO the "unprecedented opportunity to draw closer to Russia's borders," he commented. The governor also argued that it is important to "retain Russian jurisdiction" over the northern shipping route, which he predicted will become a serious competitor for the existing transport corridors from Europe to Asia in the 21st century. He bemoaned the fact that owing to scant funds, in recent years mainly "foreign tankers" have been delivering fuel to the Arctic region. And he stressed the importance of maintaining border guards on Russia's archipelago Zemlya Frantsa-Iosifa, describing those officials as the "sole defenders of our fishermen." During the next two years, Yevdokimov is slated to head the council of the Barents Euro-Arctic Region. JC

NOVOSIBIRSK: THE HIGH COST OF RUNNING FOR OFFICE.
Some 50 candidates in Novosibirsk Oblast have already emerged for four seats in the State Duma elections scheduled for December 1999, "Novaya Sibir" reported on 9 May. And, according to the weekly, political analysts reckon that to have a realistic chance of being elected in the single mandate districts in the oblast, a candidate will need to spend at least $400,000 on his campaign. The newspaper also notes that despite the country's current economic crisis, no one doubts that more money will be spent on this round of State Duma elections in all regions of Russia than the last. JAC

ST. PETERSBURG: BREAD PRICES RISE; GAS GOUGERS TO BE PUNISHED.
The prices of various types of bread have risen in St. Petersburg by 5 to 8 percent, "Izvestiya" reported on 12 May. Since the beginning of May, the price of flour has risen 5-10 percent. At the end of April, 12,000 tons of grain sent as humanitarian assistance arrived in the city, but it was unsuitable for use in bread-making because of its low quality, according to the newspaper. The daily also attributes the rising cost of bread to the soaring gasoline costs. The same day, St. Petersburg's first deputy governor Ilya Klebanov told ITAR-TASS that the rise in fuel costs has not affected the consumer market. He added that city police chief Viktor Vlasov has ordered the economic crimes department to establish a hot line for city residents to report unjustified price rises at shops or gasoline stations. In one of his first actions as acting prime minster, Sergei Stepashin announced on 14 May that his government is prepared to take tough measures against those parties responsible for inflated gasoline prices in a number of Russian regions, "The Moscow Times" reported on 15 May. JAC

STAVROPOL: LOCAL ETHNIC GROUP CLAIMS DISCRIMINATION.
Around one thousand Nogais, the modern descendants of the Turkic-Mongolic nomads who moved into the steppe areas of the northern Caucasus, recently held an unauthorized meeting in the village of Tuku-Mekteb in Stavropol Krai and demanded the resignation of the regional and educational administration of the Nogai okrug, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 May. The meeting was called because of the killing of two Nogai, aged 30, by a local police officer, according to the daily. Murat Auvesov, chairman of the executive committee of the interregional association of Nogais, "Birlik," told the newspaper that Nogais in Neftekumsk Raion do not have equal rights with other ethnic groups. According to Auvesov, there are no Nogais in the raion's administration or in any of the local law enforcement agencies. He concluded that unless the problem of providing equal rights to the Nogai people is resolved, "sad consequences" could ensue. JAC

TULA: TAXING THE PATIENCE OF THE TAX-PAYER.
Citing the local newspaper "Molodoi Kommunar," the RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chac" reported on 1 May that the ruling Communists are gradually turning the oblast executive and city legislature into their own election campaign headquarters. According to that publication, the party is using those facilities, among other things, to hold meetings, print leaflets, make use of telephones for so-called organizational work--all at the cost of the local taxpayer. A Tula municipal deputy told an RFE/RL correspondent that he believes the Communists are intending to divert funds--exceeding 2 million rubles ($80,320)--allocated for a city rescue service to finance their electioneering activities. Under civil law, buildings, organizations, and enterprises of the Russian Federation may not be used by the organizational structures of political parties and mass social movements, the correspondent noted. JC

TULA: TURNING A PROFIT WITH HUNTING RIFLES.
Proving that with the right products and the right management the conversion from military to civilian production can be successful, the Tula Weapons Factory (TOZ) registered a 35 million ruble (some $1.4 million) profit and a threefold increase in output last year, "Izvestiya" reported on 7 May. Dubbed the flagship of the "weapons capital," TOZ has experienced difficult times since the loss of state orders at the beginning of the 1990s and the end of the production of the anti-tank rocket "Konkurs" and the Kalashnikov automatic machine gun. When new management took over and managed to attract Western investments, things took a turn for the better. TOZ is now producing new models of sport and hunting weapons as well as nail guns, which reportedly sell well abroad. JC

VOLGOGRAD: PATRIOTISM BEFORE HUMANITARIANISM?
Members of the Volgograd city council have been demanding that U.S. humanitarian aid be rejected in the wake of NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia, according to the local newspaper "Gorodskie Vesti" on 14 May 1999. Mayor Yurii Chekhov is reported to be facing the dilemma of whether to meet those demands or help feed an already impoverished population. Arguing that he himself would never be in favor of accepting wheat from "accursed imperialism," he pointed out that such grain is "two or so times" cheaper than its local counterpart. "If the advice of these blind-patriots is heeded, the price of bread will soar,� he commented, adding that this will only exacerbate the situation in the oblast. The U.S. humanitarian aid is expected to arrive in Volgograd this month and would meet the city's needs until this year's harvest. JC

VORONEZH: VIMPELCOM 'TESTING THE WATERS'.
Following the conclusion of a framework agreement with the Finnish company Nokia, the cellular communications provider VimpelCom is preparing to expand its operations to Voronezh Oblast, "The Moscow Times" reported on 15 May. The deal provides for Nokia to supply GSM-900 and GSM-1800 equipment, such as mobile switching centers and base stations, through 2003; the first batch of that equipment will go to Voronezh. VimpelCom, which currently has only four regional subsidiaries, has been lagging behind its main competitor, Mobile Telesystems, in expanding to the provinces. The newspaper quoted an analyst as saying that it was logical to pick Voronezh to "test the waters" because it is one of the most densely populated regions. JC

REGIONAL INDEX:
Like Center, Like Regions. -- 1999 federal budget deficit as a percentage of expenditure: 18 percent

-- Jewish Autonomous Oblast's 1999 budget deficit: 48 percent

-- Ulyanovsk Oblast: 27.5 percent

-- Marii El Republic: 24 percent

-- Udmurt Republic: 23.9 percent

-- Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast: 15 percent

-- Bryansk Oblast: 11 percent

Sources: Interfax-Eurasia, "EWI's Russian Regional Report."

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