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Tatar-Bashkir Report: August 4, 2004

4 August 2004
President Expects Return Of Famous Kazan Icon By Late August...
President Mintimer Shaimiev said the people of Tatarstan hope the copy of the Mother of God of Kazan (Our Lady of Kazan) icon that is currently in the possession of the Vatican will be returned by the end of August, according to Interfax on 3 August. "This icon is an Orthodox object of worship, and its significance was confirmed by the fact that it was kept in the room of the head of the Vatican, John Paul II," Shaimiev said. Shaimiev said the icon is believed to have repeatedly saved Russia from being captured by foreigners. The president also said work on the return of the icon was on hold for a long time through diplomatic channels but that the "decisive role in the process...was played by a meeting the previous year between President Vladimir Putin and the Roman pope." Shaimiev called the decision by the Vatican to return the relic to its home without preconditions an act of goodwill and a signal of hope for dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches to settle long-running disagreements. The Tatar leader expressed his hope that those controversies will be eliminated as "the entire Christian world is waiting for the time when reconciliation of the two churches happens."

...But Weekly Suggests It Might Not Be Returned To Kazan
Meanwhile, the Tatar Public Center's (BTIU) presidium issued an appeal on 22 July under the title "Naught to the Symbol of Colonial Yoke" to protest the planned return of the Mother of God of Kazan icon to the Tatar capital, "NG-Religii" reported on 4 August. The appeal, signed by BTIU Chairman Reshit Jegeferov, condemns efforts by the Kazan administration, which it says is spending time and money on "affairs insulting the religious sensibilities of Muslims."

The weekly noted that the Russian Orthodox Church still has not made any official statement saying specifically that the Vatican will return the icon to Kazan. The fact that the relic is not the original icon but a copy provides grounds for returning it to claimants other than Kazan, according to the publication. The report quoted the head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Foreign Religious Relations Department, Metropolitan Kirill, as saying the icon "belongs to the entire Russian Orthodox Church and country, not to any city," so "it is not Kazan that should resolve the issue on where it will be kept."

Tataneft Sets Up Joint Venture With Iranian Fund
Tatneft and an Iranian fund for veterans will establish a joint venture within a month for developing oil deposits in Iran and elsewhere, Tatarstan's Trade and Foreign Economic Relations Minister Khefiz Salikhov said on 3 August, according to The project was agreed during a visit by Tatar Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov to Iran on 26-28 July and approved by the Tatneft board of directors on 30 July. Salikhov said the fund shows an annual trade turnover of $5 billion and is a "strong partner" for Tatarstan, adding that the joint venture will allow exponential growth in bilateral trade, which currently totals $3 million-$4 million annually. The Iranian side was interested in Tatar-made aircraft, Salikhov continued, adding that the Kazan Helicopter Plant will deliver three Mi-17 helicopters to Iran in the near future. The Gorbunov Aircraft Plant plans to participate in a tender on deliveries of jets to Iran due to be held by Iranian Airlines in 2005.

New Refinery Planned At NNPZ
Tatneft and Nizhnekamskneftekhim will co-finance in equal shares the construction of a plant for the preliminary refining of oil ELOU-AVT-7 at the Tuben Kama oil refinery (NNPZ), AK&M,, and other news agencies reported on 3 August. The $140 million project is to be finished within 38 months, while its first stage will be completed by September 2005. TAIF has meanwhile prolonged for NNPZ an agreement on the lease of the controversial ELOU-AVT-7 that is still in use (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 1 October 2003). The new facility should be designed to process up to 7 million tons of high-sulfur and mixed oils a year and will become the first stage of the petrochemical and oil-processing complex to be constructed in Tuben Kama by the Tatar-Korean Petrochemical Company.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Criticism Arises Over Conclusions Of Probe Into Midair Collision
Valentin Dudin, a military pilot and reputed expert in the investigation of air collisions, examines in "Vremya novostei" on 3 August the recent report by a German commission investigating the midair collision involving a Bashkir Airlines Tu-154 and a Boeing-757 over Lake Constance in Germany in July 2002. Most of the victims were children from Bashkortostan en route to Spain. The report asserts that the document is full of inexactitudes and contradictions. The causes of the accident presented in the document are inadequate, Dudin claims, adding that the conclusions qualify the cause as the fact that "crossing echelons [of jets] was not noticed in time at the managing point." In fact, Dudin says, eight minutes before the collision the Skyguide dispatcher who was guiding the aircraft permitted the Boeing crew to ascend to the same altitude as the Bashkir jet, resulting in a "tremendous difference in conclusions."

Dudin claims that the report veils the disorder that was reigning that night at the Skyguide Zurich-South sector. The air-traffic controller was reportedly working alone in two working functions, controlling airspace and landings, while a colleague had gone on break, Dudin adds. Two warning systems were out of order as well, along with telephone communications with neighboring zones of airspace.

Bashkir-Spanish Joint Venture Runs Into Trouble
An audit by the Bashkir Audit Chamber of the Bashkelme footwear factory suggest mismanagement or possible embezzlement of a portion of an $11 million credit facility given to the Bashkir government in 1997 by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, "Trud" reported on 3 August. The loan was earmarked for completion of the factory's construction. Bashkelme was established in 1987 by the Soviet government and Spain's Kelme International, the daily reported. Auditors now suggest the whole sum was transferred to Spain, the daily claimed, and suspect that prices between the Bashkir company and the Spanish shoe maker were manipulated along with other questionable activities. Russian officials have turned to Interpol in the case.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova