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Russia Report: August 4, 1999

4 August 1999, Volume 1, Number 23
Fatherland and All Russia appear to be close to an agreement in principle on the creation of a single election bloc, "Kommersant-Daily" and other Moscow papers are suggesting. All Russia's informal leader, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, told Interfax on 30 July that "consultations have brought our positions together in many respects." The next day, Fatherland leader and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov was similarly positive, saying that negotiations on forming a single election bloc are close to a conclusion and are proceeding successfully. All Russia member and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev told Ekho Moskvy on 2 August that the new alliance will be called "Our Fatherland--All Russia." JAC

A group of regional leaders have pledged their support for Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov's new election bloc, called For Victory. Along with State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, 16 such leaders signed a statement published in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" on 3 August. These leaders are the governors of Tula, Bryansk, Ryazan, Smolensk, Tambov, Volgograd, Voronezh and Vladimir oblasts and Krasnodar, Altai, and Stavropol krais as well as the chairman of legislative assemblies in Kaluga, Orel, Amur, and Bryansk oblasts and the Republic of Khakassia. JAC

"Izvestiya" reported on 30 July that "such a boring document as the law on the principle and order of the distribution of responsibilities of organs of the Russian Federation and subjects of the federation," which went into effect the same day, could have a profound effect on regions' relationship to the center. According to the newspaper, this law threatens to upset the order established by some regions, such as the republics of Tatarstan and Kabardino-Balkaria, which have concluded power-sharing agreements with the center. The new law stipulates that all agreements and treaties signed by local governments must not contradict the Russian Constitution. And now all agreements between the center and the regions must be approved by the Federation Council. Those concluded before this law took effect will be examined for their compliance with federal legislation. The Justice Ministry and presidential administration do not want to draw out this process--they are ready to begin their attack on "legal separatism," the newspaper reported. On 2 August, Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent his congratulations to Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov on the fifth anniversary of the power-sharing treaty between the federal center and the republic. JAC

At a recent press conference, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed appealed for regions to pool their collective strengths and talents to resist misguided policies emanating from Moscow, Interfax reported on 28 July. Lebed declared that he is worried by the Kremlin's efforts to harm Moscow Mayor Luzhkov. He argued that by engineering a default for Moscow, the center may bring about a default for the whole country, since 84 percent of the nation's financial resources are concentrated in its capital. According to "Vremya MN" on 28 July, Lebed will develop his ideas further on this theme at a 13 August meeting of the interregional association, Siberian Accord. "Izvestiya" concluded on 28 July that with this appeal Lebed has unofficially started his presidential campaign. Lebed himself recently hinted that he might not run in that ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 1999). JAC

Altai Krai Governor Aleksandr Surikov has accepted the resignation of his deputy, Nikolai Tarabaev, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 2 August. The krai administration's press service said that Tarabaev's resignation was motivated by health concerns, since Tarabaev had recently suffered a second stroke. However, that day Tarabaev was named deputy chairman of the krai's committee for "the social defense of the population." JAC

For the first time in almost 30 years, the Arkhangelsk thermal power station has been closed down, leaving homes in the city without hot water and heating, "Izvestiya" and "Vremya MN" reported on 28 July. The reason for the closure is that the station has run out of fuel oil and has no funds with which to purchase new supplies. The station owes fuel suppliers some 1.2 billion rubles ($50 million), while consumers' debts to the station exceed 3 billion rubles. JC

In another first in many years, there is no direct passenger service on the northern Dvina between Kotlas, located on the river's upper reaches, and Arkhangelsk, situated on the mouth of the river, RFE/RL's "Korrespondentskii chas" reported on 10 July. The 613-kilometer water route is the main passenger one in Arkhangelsk. Financial difficulties are largely to blame: passenger service companies are running at a loss but have refrained from charging higher prices, since these would be beyond the means of residents of the poor settlements along the Dvina. Also, those companies have lost many passengers to the newer, speedier, and cheaper bus services. But even if state subsidies for passenger and freight services were increased, the river has become too shallow to be negotiated by most vessels since work was halted on deepening the bed of the northern Dvina's navigation channel. JC

Members of the movement My City have begun collecting signatures calling for a referendum on banning the Communist Party (KPRF), Interfax-Eurasia reported on 28 July. According to the organization's deputy secretary, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Khabarovsk residents believe that the activities of the local branch of the Communist Party destabilize the social and economic life of the city. The group, which supports Khabarovsk Mayor Pavel Filippov, will need to gather 15,000 signatures in order to hold the referendum, according to "Izvestiya" on 31 July. The daily reported that My City's effort to ban the Communist Party follows a recent appeal by the Communist members of the city's legislative assembly to their fellow legislators requesting that a krai-level court determine whether Filippov's actions violate the constitution. If the court agrees with the Communists, Filippov could be removed from office without holding a referendum. Last February, the city's Communist Party unsuccessfully sought to impeach Filippov. "Kommersant Daily" reported on 31 July that the krai's Justice Department has ordered the Khabarovsk branch of the KPRF to register with tax agencies as well as with the pension, social, and other funds as a legal entity. According to Khabarovsk Justice Department Deputy Director Viktor Basov, "If the KPRF branch does not fulfill the demands on time, it will be given a written order, after which the Justice Department will be able to appeal to a court about the cessation of the activities of the KPRF branch." JAC

Some 300 workers from the Vyborgskii Pulp and Paper Combine blocked the St. Petersburg-Helsinki highway on 29 July to protest the "secret deal" that the regional government has allegedly struck with foreign companies and what they described as the "attempted seizure by force" of the combine, "Izvestiya" reported. Earlier in July, the new owners of the combine--the British company Alsem--had sought to assume their responsibilities but were thwarted in that bid when a "people's director," named by the work force, locked himself in the combine's office and workers' representatives refused to obey a court ruling that control over the company be ceded to Alsem. The combine's previous owner, the British company Nimonor, had experienced similar problems last year when workers, apparently anxious about rumors of impending lay-offs and personnel changes, seized control of the combine and declared it a "people's company." Nimonor sold its controlling stake in the combine to Alsem some six weeks ago. JC

High flooding in the Susuman Raion of Magadan Oblast eroded dirt above a mass grave containing the bodies of victims of a nearby Gulag, "Izvestiya" reported on 31 July. Thirty-five bodies with bullet holes in their skulls were found. Fragments of clothing and the grave's proximity to the Malzdyak settlement, where one of the largest gold mines during Soviet times operated, suggest that they were likely convicts who worked as slave laborers. According to the daily, large-scale mass executions took place in 1938 along the Kolyma River, which crosses the raion. JAC

Citing the Omsk department of the Federal Security Service, "Vremya MN" reported on 2 August that 36-year-old Andrei Mandrik, leader of the local branch of the Russian Officers' Union, has been arrested under an article of the penal code dealing with "calls for the organization of mass actions representing a threat to political stability and aimed at the forcible overthrow of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation." In a bid to acquire arms for branch members, Mandrik is suspected of having planned at least two robberies at various military installations. He was recently apprehended in Moscow and transported back to Omsk. JC

Tatyana Loktionova, chairwoman of Primorskii Krai's arbitration court, told reporters on 29 July that Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko has been interfering with the activities of the court for the past two years and that she and her colleagues now fear for their own safety, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 July. According to "The Moscow Times," Loktionova claims that the local police, acting under orders from Nazdratenko, are fabricating criminal cases against her and her family. Nazdratenko has accused the court of destroying the krai's economy because of its role in bankrupting local enterprises. Loktionova says her court has only been following the letter of the law and that the reason for the attacks against her "is to pass the responsibility for the collapse of the local economy during the past few years to the arbitration court." JAC

Almost 40 percent of the krai's local population have incomes below subsistence level, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 July. According to the krai statistics committee, the average monthly wage adjusted for inflation dropped by 27 percent during the first six months of 1999, compared with the same period the previous year. Primorskii Krai ranks sixth out of eight regions in the Far East in terms of the monthly wages. The population also declined by 8,500 persons during the period as deaths outstripped births. JAC

Russian newspapers are devoting more attention to Governor Nazdratenko's relations with foreign investors following accusations by unhappy U.S. investors in the U.S. press that the governor is a "crook," "a thug" and the "godfather of Vladivostok" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 1999). "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 30 July that the governor's "peculiar understanding of his role in attracting foreign investment to Primorye ended up wrecking certain projects," such as the construction of a Canada Business Center and a new highway that would have been partly funded by Canadians. "Vremya MN" reported the previous day that Russian authorities recently handed over the trawlers of a Vladivostok company that owes U.S. firms millions of dollars for supplies to another firm, whose main shareholder and chairman is allegedly a partner of Nazdratenko. "Tribuna," a national daily widely read in Russian regions, on the other hand, credits Nazdratenko with saving the Far East Sea Navigation company from one British investor, Andrew Fox, who is described as "an agent of British special services" and who "privatized what ought to have been privatized by Russian citizens." In an interview with "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 3 August, Nazdratenko told a similar tale, prefacing it with the observation that "so-called investors frequently drive enterprises to disaster." Nazdratenko also declared that "we are ready to welcome foreign capital to participate in the krai's economy, but within the parameters of our national interests and not to the detriment of our territorial integrity--and without allowing any form of economic, ethnic, or other type of expansion." JAC

A new political grouping calling itself the Regional Bloc of the Urals and Siberia emerged in Yekaterinburg on 30 July, "Izvestiya" reported on 3 August. The group is composed of members of All Russia (VR), Our Home is Russia (NDR), Russian Regions, and For Equality and Justice. State Duma Deputy Valerii Yazev, a member of the NDR faction, was elected chairman of the group's political council. The daily concluded that while this group may at first glance look like a "broad centrist coalition, in reality, it is little more than an attempt by some regional leaders to establish a regional party for Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel. According to the newspaper, Yazev, who is the head of NDR's coordinating council on the Urals and Western Siberia, established a local branch of VR only on 22 July. In addition, at the group's founding meeting, all members voted to support Rossel for governor. Talking to reporters on 30 July, Yazev said does not exclude that his group might eventually include the regional branch of Fatherland. However, this is unlikely, since the head of Fatherland's Sverdlovsk branch is Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii, who himself is running for governor. JAC

Five other candidates are running in that election scheduled for 29 August in addition to Chernetskii and Rossel, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 30 July. They are State Duma deputy Andrei Selivanov (Right Cause), Sverdlovsk Oblast legislative assembly deputy Aleksandr Burkov, supermarket chain head Igor Kovpak, Communist Party Oblast Committee Secretary Vladimir Kadochnikov, and the leader of the local branch of Social Help and Support Irina Belkova. Burkov, the leader of a local workers' group called May, recently appealed to former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov to run in the race. JAC

Vyacheslav Nazarenko has been re-elected chairman of the oblast Election Commission, following his nomination for a second term in that post by Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev, "Izvestiya" reported on 27 July. Like his mentor, who is suspected of tax evasion (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 24 March 1999), Nazarenko is currently the subject of a criminal investigation. Six years ago, in his former capacity as head of the Donskoi town administration, Nazarenko was allegedly behind a fraudulent scheme that caused losses to the taxpayer totaling some 56 million rubles. His colleagues on the commission--most of whom were appointed by Starodubtsev--seemed little concerned about those allegations, voting by nine to two for his re-election. JC

Accompanied by a group of men wielding submachine guns, municipal deputy Vasilii Kochergin forced his way into the Voronezh Mayor's Office on 28 July in a bid to seize power in the oblast capital, ITAR-TASS and "Izvestiya" reported. The incident ended without violence later the same day, and Mayor Aleksandr Tsapin broke off a tour of the raions to return to the capital. According to "Izvestiya" on 31 July, the armed men who helped Kochergin force his way into the building were dressed in uniforms of the Interior Ministry special reaction force. However, they turned out to be drivers working for the Moscow municipal police who at the time of the incident were on vacation. An investigation into the incident is being overseen by federal Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo and Federal Security Service head Vladimir Putin. Earlier this year, Kochergin had been proclaimed mayor by his mostly Communist supporters in the city council but was "deposed" one day later pending a ruling by the federal Supreme Court (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 28 April 1999). Tsapin had recently won over two Kochergin supporters, giving him and his supporters a quorum in the council with which to enact legislation. JC

Housing sector workers picketed the republic's main government building in Ulan Ude on 3 August demanding payment of more than 400 million rubles ($17 million) worth of back wages, ITAR-TASS reported. ... PRIMORE. Eighteen workers at a power plant in Vladivostok declared a hunger strike on 2 August to demand unpaid wages. Thousands of their fellow workers at Dalenergo also went out on strike the same day asking for immediate payment of more than five months of back pay. ... SVERDLOVSK. Municipal bus drivers and conductors in Serov declared a strike on 2 August, demanding 1 million rubles worth of wage arrears, Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC