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Russia Report: June 9, 1999


9 June 1999, Volume 1, Number 15
PAN-REGIONAL: STEPASHIN TO DIRECT WORK WITH REGIONS.
Addressing a 2 June meeting in Tula of the board of the Black Earth Regional Association for Economic Cooperation, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin stressed that he intends to assume responsibility within the government for work with the regions, Interfax reported. The premier enumerated three fundamental "mechanisms" of cooperation between the center and the federation subjects: weekly meetings between the government and regional leaderships, the creation of an Economic Council subordinated to the government, and regular contacts between the government and the eight regional associations. He added that it is essential to examine the question of reducing the number of federal officials working in the regions, who, as he noted, now number some two million. "It is necessary to have greater trust in the regional leaderships," he argued. And he also said it is imperative to improve the "process of inter-budgetary relations," stressing the need for a "transition from federal taxes to the regions' own taxes." Founded in October 1991, the Black Earth Association has 10 members: Belgorod, Bryansk, Kursk, Lipetsk, Novgorod, Orel, Smolensk, Tambov, Tula, and Voronezh Oblasts. Its head is Federation Council speaker and Orel Governor Yegor Stroev. JC

KEMEROVO GOVERNOR TO SEEK PRESIDENCY?
The newly formed Revival and Unity movement will participate in parliamentary and presidential elections, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev announced at the movement's founding congress on 5 June. Tuleev, who was elected chairman of the new group, may run for the presidency of Russia, Agrarian Party Chairman Mikhail Lapshin told reporters the same day. Lapshin, who attended the congress, also insisted that Tuleev's new movement does not represent an attempt to break away from the Communist Party or the People's Patriotic Union. However, Tuleev said in his address to the congress that "the People's Patriotic Union gave nothing to the people in the three years of its existence, nor did the Communist Party of Russia," Interfax reported. According to ITAR-TASS, delegates from 51 regions attended the party's congress. JAC

TWO "GOVERNORS" GROUPS MOVE CLOSER AHEAD OF ELECTIONS.
Meeting in Samara at a two-day seminar at the end of last month, oblast Governor and leader of Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia) Konstantin Titov and Novaya Sila (New Force) head Sergei Kirienko agreed to set up a joint working group on forming an election alliance that will include other political organizations, Interfax reported on 2 June, citing a joint press release by the two groups. Interfax-Eurasia on 28 May had quoted Titov and Kirienko as saying that the formation of such an alliance between the two groups had been hindered at the seminar by the "ambitions of various leaders." Representatives from the groups' branches throughout the federation took part in the Samara gathering. JC

NORTHERN SHIPPING ROUTE VOLUME TO INCREASE.
Vladimir Mikhailichenko, head of the Transport Ministry's department for the Northern Shipping Route, told Interfax on 3 June that the volume of cargo transport on the Arctic waterway could grow by 1.5 times this year to some 2 million tons. Mikhailichenko pointed to the expected increase in cargo transport between Asia and Europe as well as from oil and gas deposits along the Arctic coast. He noted that last year, two experimental tanker routes were opened along which 28,000 tons of gas condensate were transported from Yamal to Europe for export. In the near future, he said, such routes will become "regular." JC

ALTAI: DEPUTIES VOTE NO CONFIDENCE IN ZUBAKIN...
Deputies of the State Assembly (El Kurultai) on 4 June voted by 26 to six to express no confidence in Semen Zubakin, head of both the republican government and the republic, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The ministers for social protection and for science and education were also handed down no confidence votes. Lawmakers hold Zubakin's cabinet responsible for the "collapse" of the local economy and the "unsatisfactory use" of budget funds. According to government data cited by the news agency, state sector workers in the republic (which has a population of 200,000) are owed wage arrears totaling 150 million rubles ($6.1 million). Zubakin is not obliged to resign as a result of the confidence vote, having been elected by popular vote in December 1997 for a four-year term. However, at the same session, the deputies passed a law on recalling the head of the republic and government, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 June. JC

...PASS LAW ON 'COMBINATION OF POWERS.'
The previous day, the assembly passed a law providing for the directly elected head of an "administrative-territorial unit" to simultaneously hold the post of speaker of the local Council of Deputies, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 June. The agency noted that the assembly deputies endorsed the law--which contravenes the principles of the division of powers, enshrined in federal legislation and the Russian Federation Constitution--because of the republic's financial difficulties. They argue that the division of powers results in two parallel power structures, the growth in the number of officials, and an additional burden on the republican budget, two-thirds of which is guaranteed by the center. The first direct elections of raion heads and mayor of Gorno-Altaisk are scheduled for December. Four years ago, those officials were chosen from among local deputies and combined the posts of administration head and speaker of the local legislature. JC

ARKHANGELSK: PRICE HIKE TO GUARANTEE NORMAL GAS SUPPLIES?
Retail prices for natural and liquefied gas recently have gone up by an average of 20 percent, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 June, citing the regional administration press service. According to the joint-stock company Arkhangelskgaz, the price hikes will allow gas supplies to be maintained at a "sufficient" level. Last month, the company was able to resume supplies to all residential districts for the first time in almost six months. The reason for the interruption was unpaid bills, particularly among individuals. The disabled and low-income earners will receive financial assistance from the local budget to compensate for the hike. JC

LENINGRAD: ZHIRINOVSKII LOOKING TO THE NORTHWEST...
Following his decisive defeat in Russia's Red Belt last month (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 2 June 1999), leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovskii will try his hand in the Leningrad gubernatorial elections. Aleksei Mitrofanov, a fellow party member and head of the State Duma Committee on Geopolitics, told Interfax-Northwest on 6 June about Zhirinovskii's intentions to run there, saying that he, Mitrofanov, is personally in charge of the LDPR leader's election campaign. According to Mitrofanov, the oblast needs someone capable of attracting foreign investors. Former First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov is also planning to take part in the Leningrad ballot, which is scheduled for 19 September, the news agency noted. JC

...OR TO THE URALS?
Two days earlier, "Vremya MN" reported that Zhirinovskii had told a local TV channel in Sverdlovsk Oblast that he will run in gubernatorial elections there scheduled for August. Zhirinovskii reportedly told the television station that Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii, a chief rival of the incumbent governor Eduard Rossel, will be one of his key allies in the elections. Chernetskii said that he had only just learned of his alliance with Zhirinovskii from the television station. Prior to announcement of his plans to run in Belgorod, Zhirinovskii told a Yekaterinburg television station that he would take part in gubernatorial elections this summer and then run for the presidency in 2000 as Russia's most effective governor. JAC

MAGADAN: LAW SIGNED ON SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE.
President Boris Yeltsin has signed a law on setting up a special economic zone in Magadan Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 June. The zone, which is located within the city of Magadan, is aimed at creating favorable conditions for developing the region's rich natural resources and manufacturing sector. Under the law, those engaged in economic activities in the zone are freed from paying profits tax and are also subject to a "looser" customs regime. The law will be valid for 15 years. JC

NIZHNII NOVGOROD: NEW MOSQUE FOR REGIONAL CAPITAL.
The foundation stone has been laid for a new mosque in the Avtozavodskii district of Nizhnii Novgorod, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 May. This is the first mosque to be built in the city since the pre-Soviet era. According to the news agency, it is badly needed since Tatars, among whom the Islamic religion is widespread, constitute the region's second-largest ethnic group. JC

NOVGOROD: DATE SET FOR GUBERNATORIAL BALLOT.
Oblast lawmakers have set the date of the gubernatorial elections for 5 September 1999, "Novgorodskie vedomosti" reported on 21 May. JC

PRIMORYE: 10,000 NEW JOBS AT NAKHODKA.
Speaking at a press conference in Nakhodka two days after South Korean President Kim Dae-jung wrapped up his recent visit to Moscow, chairman of Primorye Duma Sergei Dudnik said the Russian-South Korean joint industrial complex within the Nakhodka free economic zone is expected to provide 10,000 new jobs (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 2 June 1999), ITAR-TASS reported on 1 June. An intergovernmental agreement on establishing the industrial complex was signed on 28 May, during Kim's stay in the capital. Dudnik said that former coal miners from Partizansk and ex-servicemen from Fokino are likely to benefit most from the new employment opportunities. Many coal miners, he explained, had lost their jobs when mines shut down in the Partizansk area, while a large number of servicemen have been discharged from the Russian army. JC

PERMISSION TO BUILD MOSQUE REVOKED.
The Vladivostok municipal authorities have revoked permission for a mosque to be built on one of the city's hills, arguing that the "technical specifications of the building did not have the necessary documentation," Reuters reported on 1 June. Former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov, who was ousted from that post last December by presidential decree, had given the go-ahead for the new place of worship. Orthodox priests protested the move, arguing that the mosque would tower over a nearby cathedral. Local Muslims, meanwhile, expressed skepticism over the authorities' promise to try to find an alternative site. They have sent a letter to the federal government expressing concern about discrimination against their community. JC

SAKHALIN: 1995 EARTHQUAKE VICTIMS STILL SEEK HOUSING.
Oblast Duma deputies have appealed to President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Stepashin to urgently resolve the question of constructing housing for 800 families who lost their homes as a result of the 1995 earthquake, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 June. Under a Russian-Canadian contract concluded in 1996, Canada has sent construction materials and provided the know-how to build earthquake-proof cottages for those families. But the materials have been held up at Russian customs because of a lack of funds with which to pay value-added tax exceeding 130 million rubles ($5.3 million). According to the deputies, the federal State Customs Committee has proposed "unacceptable conditions" for deferring payment of the levy, viewing the materials as "imported goods." Pointing to Yeltsin's 1996 decree on additional measures to help the victims of the Sakhalin earthquake, the local lawmakers are urging the customs authorities to carry out a check of the construction materials as soon as possible. The new housing for the 800 families, which is intended to withstand earth tremors measuring up to nine on the Richter scale, is due to be completed by this fall. JC

ST. PETERSBURG: SOBCHAK'S RETURN IMMINENT?
Former Mayor Anatolii Sobchak told Interfax on 2 June that when he returns to Russia from Paris, where he has spent the last 18 months, he intends to prepare to run in the fall State Duma elections from St. Petersburg. Asked when he plans to make the trip home, Sobchak said no precise date has been fixed but noted "it will be very soon." He added that he will run as an independent candidate but does not exclude the possibility of joining a party list. With regard to the criminal case opened against him last September on corruption charges, Sobchak said this will have no influence on his decision to return to Russia, stressing that he has always been convinced of his innocence. Sobchak left for Paris in November 1997 to undergo heart surgery. Shortly before, he had been hospitalized after falling ill while being interrogated. JC

ULYANOVSK: NEIGHBORS SHOW INTEREST IN 'FAVORABLE' ECONOMIC ZONE.
Following the recent passage of the oblast law "On Zones of Favorable Economic Conditions," the cities of Samara and Penza are showing interest in Ulyanovsk's Zavolzhskii district, the oblast's first such zone, "Ulyanovskaya pravda" reported on 20 May. The local newspaper predicts that by the end of this year, the number of companies operating in the zone will increase five-fold. JC

VORONEZH: PLANS ANNOUNCED FOR NEW-GENERATION REACTOR.
The federal Atomic Energy Ministry has announced plans to begin the construction of a new-generation, VVER-1000 reactor at the Novovoronezh nuclear power plant and to install an improved accident-prevention system at the facility, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 June. Because several of its reactors are to be decommissioned over the next decade, the plant, which provides 80 percent of the oblast's energy requirements, urgently needs a new reactor. However, implementing the project will cost an estimated $800 million, and the source of that funding remains unclear. According to AP, Russian officials have said they are hoping for EU credits to meet construction costs. JC

YAROSLAVL: POLITICAL GROUPS PLEDGE FAIR PLAY IN ELECTION CAMPAIGNING.
Responding to an appeal by Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn, some 20 local branches of political parties and organizations have signed an "agreement on mutual respect" during upcoming election campaigns in order to preserve political stability in the region, ITAR-TASS and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 2 and 3 June, respectively. The document prohibits actions aimed at discrediting candidates and members of their families or at discrediting individuals along national or religious lines. It also bans the "incorrect" use of the mass media. Among the groups that support the "non-aggression pact" are Our Home Is Russia, Russia's Choice, Otechestvo, Russian Youth, and Pravoe Delo. The local organizations of Yabloko and the Communist Party have not added their signatures to the pact. JC

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