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Russia Report: June 30, 1999


30 June 1999, Volume 1, Number 18
PAN REGIONAL: REGIONAL NEWSPAPERS BECOMING LESS INDEPENDENT.
Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Ivan Sklyarov signed a decree in early June providing local newspapers with paper but requiring them to "regularly publish material about the activities of the oblast's administration in stabilizing the social situation of the oblast and fulfilling the governor's election campaign program," "Izvestiya" reported on 25 June. The newspaper noted that since newsprint is expensive, hardly any of the oblast's newspapers will be able to refuse the governor's offer. Meanwhile, in Krasnoyarsk Krai, a new, sleekly produced newspaper, "Sibirskaya marka," openly "propagandizes" on behalf of Krasnoyarsk Mayor Petr Pimashkov, Kemerovo Govenor Aman Tuleev, and a number of large industrialists in the region, "Izvestiya" reports. Formally, the newspaper appears under the aegis of the Union of Industrialists and Enterprises; however it could soon become a publication of the interregional association "Siberian Accord," according to "Izvestiya." JAC

REGIONS STILL HAVING TROUBLE PAYING WAGES.
On 17 June, the government ordered the transfer of 1.96 billion rubles ($81 million) to the regions to pay teachers' wages over the summer holidays. However, according to Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, a number of regions, including Vologda and Kemerovo Oblasts, have not submitted the proper documents and will not receive money for teachers' wages, Interfax-Eurasia reported. "People should know the reason why teachers will not receive their wages," he said. The next day, the agency reported that teachers in Altai Krai received only 35-40 percent of their wages for the summer months. Sources in the krai administration report that under an agreement with the federal government, half of teachers' wages will be paid from federal monies and the other half from the krai's budget. Therefore, almost one half of their wages have been paid. But, according to Governor Aleksandr Surikov, there is no money in the krai's budget for the other half. JAC

AS POOR WEATHER SPREADS, CROP FORECASTS WORSEN.
Unusually hot weather combined with a lack of rain is causing agricultural experts to revise downward their expectations of Russia's crop yield this year. According to ITAR-TASS on 23 June, the situation is particularly alarming in the northern Caucasus and southern part of the Volga region, where temperatures have ranged from 31-37 degrees Celsius for two weeks. Areas affected by high temperatures and dry soil now account for 80 percent of the territory in Rostov Oblast and Kalmykia Republic, 40 percent of Saratov, Volgograd and Orenburg oblasts and Dagestan, and 30 percent of the Voronezh and Belgorod oblasts as well as the Republic of Bashkortostan. "Rossiiskaya Gazeta" reported on 29 June that drought has practically destroyed all crops in Kalmykia and the lower Volga region, so there will be little to harvest. Weather forecasters predicted that the dry and hot weather would continue in the European part of Russia for the remainder of June. At least one regional head remained optimistic: Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov said that good rains in May minimized the impact of the hot weather in June and the harvest forecast for 1999 remains good, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 June. JAC

ALTAI: LEGISLATORS, MOSCOW QUESTIONING REPUBLIC'S LEADERSHIP.
Deputies in the legislative assembly of the Altai Republic have voted no confidence in local government head Semen Zubakin, "Pravda" reported on 24 June. According to the daily, a backlog of unpaid wages to state sector employees in the region totals 150 million rubles ($6.2 million) and the leadership of the republic has proven "incompetent in handling economic problems." The previous day, Prime Minister Stepashin met with Zubakin and Agrarian party leader Mikhail Lapshin to discuss the republic's economic situation, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Lapshin was elected to the State Duma from the Altai Republic. The meeting focused on the urgent measures required to prepare for next year's harvest in light of the worsening weather forecast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 1999) as well as the region's chronic financial problems, which include a seven or eight month backlog of unpaid wages to state workers. The republic is among the country's worst performing regions in terms of paying wages on time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1999). In Altai Krai, Governor Aleksandr Surikov introduced the new presidential envoy to the region, Nikolai Shuba, to the krai's legislative assembly on 24 June, Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC

ALTAI: TENGE TROUBLES LEAD TO DOLLAR SCARCITY.
Barnaul's foreign-exchange markets have recently experienced a dramatic shortage of U.S. dollars, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 June. Specialists attribute the scarcity of dollars in the Altai Krai to the activities of hordes of currency speculators from Kazakhstan, where the dollar has been rising sharply against the local currency, the tenge. JAC

KEMEROVO: RESIDENTS HOARDING BREAD.
Kemerovo oblast authorities are trying to prevent a "bread crisis," which has been looming since a recent increase in the price of bread, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 June. According to the daily, the population has been buying up bread for fear of another increase and making dry, crisp bread for longer-term storage. After 15 June, when the price of bread rose 30 percent, the oblast government started sending 208,000 of the region's poorer residents "bread chervonets" or 10 rubles (41 cents) in monthly compensation. JAC

KEMOROVO: MAYORAL ELECTIONS TO COINCIDE WITH STATE DUMA VOTE.
Members of the legislative assembly for the city of Kemerovo decided on 25 June to move up the date of mayoral elections from February 2000 to December 1999, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to the agency, changing the date should save the local taxpayers more than 1 million rubles ($41,000). JAC

KRASNOYARSK: LEBED SACKS TOP DEPUTY.
Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed dismissed his deputy, Aleksandra Kulenkova, for absenteeism, Channel 9 television in Krasnoyarsk reported on 25 June. Kulenkova told the station that she had been responsible for arranging payment from Ukraine for storage of spent nuclear fuel and had finally managed to get that country to pay cash, which has agitated "certain people in the krai's administration." She added that she had not been informed of Lebed's decision in advance and claimed that she had received a phone call threatening her life if she initiated legal proceedings challenging the decision to dismiss her. Lebed's staff has frequently been accused by regional and central media of spending more time outside the region than in it. JAC

LENINGRAD: FORD INTENDS TO OPEN PLANT IN VSEVOLOZHSK.
The Ford Motor Company and Banking House-St. Petersburg plan to open a joint venture in Vsevolozhsk, which would begin production of Ford Focus automobiles in the first half of 2001, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported on 21 June. The announcement came following a meeting in Moscow between Ford CEO Jacques Nasser and Russian Prime Minister Stepashin, at which agreement was reached on signing an investment contract. The plant would be located on the former premises of Russkii Diesel and would have an initial annual capacity of 25,000 cars, although that figure could eventually rise to 100,000 depending on demand. The initial investment in the project is reported to total $150 million. JC

NIZHNII NOVGOROD: YUGOSLAV OIL REFINERY APPEALS FOR RECONSTRUCTION HELP.
The management of the Novi Sad oil refinery, which was extensively damaged during the NATO bombings, has asked the governor of Nizhnii Novgorod and local companies experienced in the construction of oil refineries to help production resume in the Yugoslav city as soon as possible, Interfax-ANI reported on 27 June. One of those companies had carried out design work for the refinery in the 1970s and 1980s. A group of specialists from the oblast are to visit Novi Sad in the near future to assess the extent of the bomb damage. A request for financial aid to assist in the refinery's reconstruction will be sent to the EU. JC

NOVOSIBIRSK: SALES TAX APPROVED.
Deputies of the oblast legislature have approved a sales tax that is expected to boost the region's budget by 183 million rubles ($7.6 million), Interfax-Eurasia reported on 23 June. Those funds will be used to pay child benefits to low-income families and to subsidize some medical prescriptions. The report did not say when the tax would be introduced. JC

OMSK: LEADERSHIP OPTS FOR STATUS QUO.
The Omsk Oblast legislative assembly decided against scheduling mayoral and gubernatorial elections in the region to coincide with elections for the State Duma, as had been proposed earlier, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 25 June. "Vremya MN" reported the same day that Mayor Valerii Roshchupkin no longer wants to participate in the Omsk gubernatorial elections, scheduled for 5 September. According to the daily, a delegation of officials from the federal Ministry for Regional Policy oversaw secret negotiations between Roshchupkin and incumbent Governor Leonid Polezhaev on 23 June at which both regional officials agreed to preserve the status quo in the oblast. JAC

TATARSTAN: MOSCOW DELIVERS BAD NEWS FOR TATNEFT'S CREDITORS.
The federal Fuel and Energy Ministry rejected a request from Tatarstan's Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Kokogin for a 25 percent higher export quota for the Tatneft oil company, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 June. Kokogin, who is also the republic's economics minister, said that he had asked for a larger quota so that the company could repay its foreign loans in a timely fashion. According to Kokogin, almost all the company's oil export proceeds go towards debt repayment. Tatarstan, Nizhnii Novgorod, and Sverdlovsk are three regions in Russia that have announced defaults on foreign loans since the August 1998 devaluation of the ruble, "Segodnya" reported on 17 June. JAC

TULA: FORMER GOVERNOR HAS HIS DAY IN COURT.
A court in Tula Oblast resumed hearings on 23 June in the bribery and embezzlement trial of former Governor Nikolai Sevryugin, Russian Television reported. Sevryugin is accused of accepting a bribe of $150,000 and embezzling 170 million old rubles for the construction of a private summer house. According to the station, Sevryugin's lawyers are claiming that the charges against their client were fabricated as revenge by members of the former ruling elite, including the local police head and regional prosecutor, who were ousted during Sevryugin's rule. The prosecutor in the case is asking the court to sentence Sevryugin to 7-12 years in jail; however, the former governor has already had two heart attacks during his two years in a detention cell and the court may decide to suspend any sentence. Meanwhile, the current governor, Vasilii Starodubtsev, is planning to seek a seat in the State Duma partly because he will be given immunity from criminal prosecution. He is suspected of tax evasion (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 24 March 1999). JAC

ON THE WEB: REGIONAL RESIDENTS EXPLAIN WHY THEY DISLIKE MOSCOW.
According to "Segodnya" on 24 June, a web site created recently by Sergei Teterin offers some new insights into provincial residents' attitudes toward the country's capital. Teterin asked visitors to his site to say "Why we don't like Moscow." The answers, according to the daily, display a range of negative emotions from irritation to hatred about everything in the capital from the metro to its militia, its residents, and government officials. Despite their apparent dislike for Moscow, respondents appeared to particularly resent rules limiting the amount of time non-Muscovites are allowed to stay in the city (see http://www.teterin.raid.ru/maskva/). JAC

FAR EAST BOASTS BEST SITE IN THE WORLD?
The U.S. Geological Service named the web site on Primorskii Krai created by the Far Eastern Department of the Russian Academy of Science the best in the world, "Izvestiya" reported on 26 June. According to the service, the site has no peer in terms of the breadth and completeness of the geological information presented about its region. Vera Naumova, candidate of geological-mineral sciences, won a grant in 1997 to create the web pages about the krai. After two years of work involving scholars from seven institutes in the Far East, the site includes some new scientific data that has so far not been published (see http://www.fegi.ru/PRIMORYE/index.htm). JAC

REGIONAL TRAVELLER:
Come to Tver Since the mid-August economic crisis last year, Russia's domestic tourist industry has started showing some signs of recovery from a slump that has persisted since the break-up of the Soviet Union and the opening up of its borders for citizens to travel abroad freely. In an effort to make tighter budgets stretch further, Russian citizens are rediscovering some local destinations whose popularity had all but faded. One example is the Seliger Lake in Tver Oblast, where some 100,000 tourists traveled annually during Soviet times. However, by the mid-1990s, this figure had dropped to about 1,000, "Kommersant-Daily" reported recently. Last year, that number rose to 15,000, owing in part to efforts by the local tourism committee to develop a new mechanism for selling spa packages. Other increasingly popular destinations are sanatoriums in Ryazan, Ivanovo, and Saratov. Regions such as Pskov, Smolensk, Kamchatka, and the area around Lake Baikal are making improvements to their tourist infrastructure. Industry experts are predicting that other locations around Russia will be rediscovered and that the domestic industry's growth prospects are good provided that the quality of the tourist products on offer--spas, cruises, eco-tourism, excursions, and so forth--is upgraded, according to the daily.

Top Five Excursion Destinations in Russia
1. St. Petersburg

2. Vladimir-Suzdal

3. Novgorod

4. Kostroma-Yaroslavl

5. Pskov

Top Five Spas and Sanatoriums*

1. Podmoskove

2. Sochi (Krasnodar Krai)

3. Anapa (Krasnodar Krai)

4. Mineralnye Vody (Stavropol Krai)

5. Tver Oblast

* (Crimea in Ukraine was ranked third, because according to the newspaper, "By tradition, it is still considered a domestic destination.")

Source: "Kommersant-Daily," 24 June 1999

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