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Russia Report: June 2, 1999


2 June 1999, Volume 1, Number 14
PAN-REGIONAL: REGIONS MAKE MORE PROGRESS ON REDUCING PENSION ARREARS THAN WAGE BACKLOG.
The level of unpaid pensions as of 1 May--16.5 billion rubles--fell almost by half compared with the 30.5 billion rubles recorded on 1 October 1998, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko announced on 25 May. According to ITAR-TASS, Matvienko promised that all pension arrears will be paid by October 1999. In the meantime, 32 regions have eradicated their entire pension debts, while 34 regions are only one to two months behind. According to "Izvestiya" on 26 May, only 10 regions owed no back wages to state workers as of 1 May, and another 17, including Vologda, Murmansk, Leningrad, Bryansk, and Kaluga Oblasts, were experiencing delays of no more than a month. First Deputy Chairman of the Pension Fund Aleksandr Kutrin told reporters the same day that the regions with the largest pension backlogs are Altai Krai, the Republics of Buryatia and Khakassia, Tula Oblast, and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. "Izvestiya" reported that regions with wage delays ranging from three to seven months include Kemerovo, Omsk, Chita, Magadan and Sakhalin Oblasts, the Republics of Altai, Khakassia, and Buryatia, and the Koryak and Chukotka Autonomous Okrugs. JAC

TOP 20 REGIONAL LEADERS PICKED.
Vox Populi Public Opinion Research Center compiled a list of the 20 most influential regional leaders based on analysis from 11 of Russia's largest cities, "Rossiya" reported in its May issue. The top 20 leaders are Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed, Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Kondratenko, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, Chuvash President Nikolai Fedorov, Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, Kursk Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi, Tyumen Governor Leonid Roketskii, Kabardino-Balkariya President Valerii Kokov, and Tula Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev. The movement Vsya Rossiya can boast the largest group of "influential" regional members, tallying six in all, while Golos Rossii has only three and Otechestvo none. JAC

REGIONAL LEADERS PIN TENTATIVE HOPES ON NEWLY FORMED CABINET.
Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev commented on 26 May that the cabinet's smooth functioning may have been hampered by the appointment of another first deputy prime minister, since the existence of two such posts inevitably complicates decision-making, regardless of the personalities involved, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov expressed the hope that now vacancies have been filled the government might--finally--devote its full attention to economic questions. Vologda Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev predicted that Zadornov would not allow any lobbying groups to filch money from the federal budget. Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel said that the new cabinet will be "better" for the country's regions, adding that Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin accepted and approved practically all proposals by the Urals Economic Association connected with the strengthening of the ruble and the legalization of flight capital. The next day, "Segodnya" reported that Stepashin had also accepted the proposal of Rossel and St. Petersburg Governor Yakovlev to form a special government commission for defense industries. JAC

REGIONAL LEADERS ADVOCATE 'UNIFICATION OF THE NORTH.'
Speaking to "Nezavisimaya gazeta--Regiony" of 25 May following an international conference in his home city on developing the Arctic transport system in the 21st century, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev endorsed Republic of Sakha (Yakutiya) President Mikhail Nikolaev's proposal on creating a "single administrative formation" for Russia's North. In Yakovlev's view, such an arrangement should provide for decisions to be taken independently of the center and should involve the "partial transfer of land from federal to municipal ownership" to grant the Northern regions control over their "mineral wealth." The "unification of the North," according to Yakovlev, would be aimed at turning the vast, natural resources-rich area into a "powerful lever of economic progress" for the whole of Russia. In this context, the governor cited the example of Alaska, arguing that the U.S. "lost nothing" by giving the 49th state a "special status." And he stressed that St. Petersburg is ready to become the "center of cooperation among [Russia's] northern regions." JC

ARKHANGELSK: TOWARD STRONGER TIES WITH NORWAY.
On the way to Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Stepashin, and other Russian officials, Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik stopped off in Arkhangelsk in a bid, as he put it, to strengthen ties between the region and Norway, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 May. "I see great opportunities in such fields as nuclear security, ship-building, oil and gas industry, environmental protection," he told journalists upon arriving. On the agenda of his visit were trips to the military shipyard Zvezdochka and to the city of Severodvinsk, where Norwegian credits are being used to build fishing trawlers. According to the news agency, this was the first visit to the region by such a high-level Norwegian delegation. JC

BELGOROD: ZHIRINOVSKII BEATEN IN GUBERNATORIAL RACE.
According to preliminary results, incumbent Governor Yevgenii Savchenko won 53.45 percent of the vote in the 30 May gubernatorial elections, ITAR-TASS reported the next day, citing a member of the Belgorod Election Committee. Savchenko is an independent who has the backing of some local Agrarians and Communists (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 26 May 1999). The Communist Party candidate, Mikhail Beskhmelnitsyn, garnered 20 percent backing, while Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii was trailing with 18 percent. Turnout was reported at 70 percent. The news agency on 31 May quoted Zhirinovskii as saying he will challenge the election results "in court" because of numerous "irregularities" in the election campaign. JC

BURYATIA: REPUBLIC'S INDUSTRIAL SECTOR FIRMLY IN THE RED.
The indebtedness of Buryatia's enterprises--10.6 billion rubles (some $433 million) -- now equals the republic's GDP, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 May. Meanwhile, overall industrial production dipped 6 percent in 1998, with the engineering sector reporting a plunge of 45 percent and light industry 38 percent. The percentage of unprofitable factories reached 75 percent, with overall losses totaling 740 million rubles. To address the situation the republican government has called on certain ministries and departments to submit proposals on restructuring or liquidating unprofitable enterprises. JAC

KALMYKIA: ANOTHER REGION COMPLAINS TO FEDERAL AUTHORITIES ABOUT CHECHEN BORDER.
Kalmykia Prime Minister Rafail Metrikin reported that the republic's Interior Ministry is engaged in a struggle to remove illegal oil refining operations on the region's territory and that in the previous few days, eight mini-refineries that were processing oil transported from Chechnya were closed down, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 27 May. Metrikin appealed to federal authorities to more effectively monitor the border between Dagestan and Chechnya because, he claimed, 50-100 Chechen fuel tankers cross it daily carrying supplies to Kalmykia, Astrakhan, and Volgograd through Dagestan. More effective border control would not only reduce the illegal cross-border traffic but "strike a blow to the criminal groups" that have formed around the mini-refineries. JAC

KARELIA: INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES ENDANGERED...
In its 22 May edition, the RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" reported that in the northwestern republic, the Karelian and Vepsian languages are in danger of dying out, despite an official program on promoting Finno-Ugric languages. Fewer and fewer people reportedly wish to learn Karelian and Vepsian, the number of schools where those languages are taught has fallen, and the circulations of minority-language publications have shrunk. Local groups representing the republic's minorities believe the authorities are not doing enough to ensure that minorities retain their national identities, as those groups informed Ole Jesperson of Denmark, the Council of the Baltic Sea States' commissioner for human rights, who was recently in Petrozavodsk. Above all, the groups want republican legislation amended to guarantee that minorities have sufficient representation in republican power structures and in local government. At a press conference at the end of his visit, Jesperson announced that the post of "ombudsman" for human rights will soon be introduced in the republic and is expected to contribute to resolving the issue. Some 79,000 Karelians, 13,000 Finns, and 6,000 Vepsians constitute 13 percent of Karelia's total population. However, there are only four representatives of national minorities in the republic's 61-strong legislative assembly, while just one Karelian is a member of the regional government and only one is a local government head. JC

...RNE YOUTH ORGANIZATION REGISTERED.
In early April, the republican Justice Ministry registered the regional youth organization Russian Knights (Russkie Vityazi), which is a "subdivision" of the Russian National Unity (RNE) group, "Nezavisimaya gazeta--Regiony" reported on 25 May. The organization strives to bring together "Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian" teenagers and lists among its main tasks preparing youths for conscription into the army and organizing "para-military sports camps." According to "Uchitelskaya gazeta" in its May issue, 74 teenagers have already joined the organization and another 1,000 want to do so. JC

KEMEROVO: TOXIC WASTE LITTERING THE LANDSCAPE.
Participants at a recent roundtable of ecological organizations in Kemerovo Oblast learned that their region's territory contains about 200 million tons of waste, 35 tons of which are considered toxic, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Regiony" reported on 25 May. The toxic waste is a byproduct of the area's coal-mining, coal-processing, and metallurgical industries. On 26 May, the State Committee for Environmental Protection reported that every year Russia produces 85-90 million tons of hazardous industrial waste, about 45 percent of which is buried or stored, according to Interfax. According to the committee chairman, hazardous waste covers about 5,600 acres of land. JAC

KRASNOYARSK: LEBED CHOOSES WAGES OVER WORK.
On 22 May, RFE/RL's "Korrespondentskii chas" reviewed Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed's performance after more than 12 months in office. RFE/RL's Krasnoyarsk correspondent concluded that while the governor's administration has managed to reduce debts to state workers, the establishments at which they work are almost dysfunctional as the result of a severe shortfall of funds to cover operating expenses. Almost all medical, education and social establishments funded from the krai's budget are experiencing shortages of key supplies, such as textbooks, medicine, and clothes, making it hard for them to perform basic tasks. The shortages started to occur after the krai government spent more than a third of budget revenues to reduce its debt to state workers. The backlog of unpaid wages to state sector workers remains almost 530 million rubles (some $21.6 million). In addition, regional enterprises owe about 1 billion rubles to several of the krai's extra-budgetary funds. JAC

PERM: STRIVING FOR SELF-SUFFICIENCY IN AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION.
This year, the administration of Perm Oblast has decided to cut a large part of its imports of agricultural products from abroad, according to the oblast's deputy governor Vladimir Bykov, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Regiony" reported on 25 May. Local authorities have come to the conclusion that Perm's own market in foodstuffs provides goods of a better quality and a cheaper price than what is imported. But perhaps more important, the newspaper noted, is that there is not enough money to pay for imports. JAC

TULA: DEPUTIES REJECT STARODUBTSEV PROPOSAL.
For the first time in the two years of its existence, the current oblast Duma has decisively rejected a proposal by Vasilii Starodubtsev, the local newspaper "Molodoi Kommunar" and "Izvestiya" reported on 15 May and 19 May, respectively. The governor had asked deputies to approve amendments to the 1999 oblast budget that would increase the budget deficit from 33 percent to 41 percent. At the same time, the governor announced his refusal to implement a government resolution increasing the wages of state sector employees. While deputies over the past two years have obediently "rubberstamped" his most "ruinous projects" financed from the state budget, this time they declined to endorse Starodubtsev's proposal. Reportedly, some of his closest ideological associates suggested that rather than increasing the budget deficit, the administration should sell off officials' "elite apartments" and use the funds to pay teachers' wages. Starodubtsev plans to run in the upcoming elections to the State Duma on the ticket of the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Federation Report," 24 March 1999). JC

UDMURTIA: WILL PUSH FOR MORE AUTONOMY.
Aleksandr Volkov, chairman of Udmurtia's legislative assembly, said that republic officials have Russian President Boris Yeltsin's "preliminary" support for a revision of the existing power-sharing treaty between the republic and the federal center, "Izvestiya" reported on 27 May. The public relations department of the assembly told the daily that the specific areas Volkov wants addressed are inter-budget relations, property issues, procedures for the appointment of federal officials in Udmurtia, and the adoption of republican laws in the sphere neglected by federal legislation. JAC

TATARSTAN: STATE WORKING TO AMEND ELECTION LAWS.
Tatarstan's State Council has passed in the first reading amendments to the republic's constitution and election laws to provide for elections to the Russian State Duma and to Tatarstan's parliament and local councils to be held simultaneously in December, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 26 May. The mandate of the present parliament does not expire until April 2000. Several dozen members of the Communist Party and Liberal Democratic Party picketed the parliament building to protest holding elections to the Duma and to the republican parliament simultaneously. They argued that two separate polls would mean that candidates who did not win election to the Duma would have a chance to run in the republican elections. Tatarstan's President Shaimiev said the decision to hold national and republican polls simultaneously was based on economic considerations and would entail less "stress" for the electorate. LF

TATARSTAN: PARLIAMENT DEBATES SWITCH TO LATIN ALPHABET.
The State Council has passed in the first reading a law on introducing a Latin-based alphabet for the Tatar language, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 27 May. According to the draft, the transition to the Latin alphabet in educational institutions will be made gradually and will be finished by September 2011. The cost of implementing the law is estimated at 115 million rubles (some $4.7 million.) The Latin alphabet for written Tatar was replaced by Cyrillic in 1939. In an interview with TatarInform earlier this month, parliamentary deputy Renat Kharisov rejected the protests of some members of the Tatar intelligentsia who argue that the planned reversion to the Latin script will mean that future generations will not have access to the last six decades of literature printed in Cyrillic. Kharisov pointed out that future generations will retain their familiarity with the Cyrillic alphabet as Russian will continue to be a compulsory subject in schools. LF

YAMAL-NENETS: CHERNOMYRDIN TO RUN FOR STATE DUMA FROM OKRUG.
Former Premier and current special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin will run for the State Duma this fall in Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Yurii Neelov, governor of the region, told journalists on 28 May, according TO ITAR-TASS. Neelov pointed out that Chernomyrdin is well acquainted with the gas-rich okrug since his days as head of Gazprom. Last year, Chernomyrdin had said he would not take part in parliamentary elections because he did not want to work with his old foes in the Duma. JC

REGIONAL VOICES.
From an interview with Aleksandr Filipenko, governor of the Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug, in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Regiony" on 25 May:

"Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug is one of the most important sources of financing for the federal budget. Every tenth ruble that goes to the budget comes directly from here. But why has Khanty-Mansii not received any investment monies from the federal budget for several years already? Why are we excluded from the program for gasification? How is this just?"

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