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Tatar-Bashkir Report: April 26, 2005

26 April 2005
WBRD Official Inspects Kazan Tourist Facilities To Verify Its Readiness For Millennium Anniversary
Christer Carlsson, head of annual meetings and event management at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), arrived in Kazan on 18 April to inspect the city's tourism facilities for its millennium anniversary celebrations in August 2005, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. During the visit, Carlsson reportedly scheduled a meeting with acting Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov and Minister of Trade Khefiz Salikhov.

Cuban Sportsman Wins Tatar Wrestling Championship
Cuban wrestler Revera Alfino has defeated German rival Kalina Ingolf in the final rounds of international competition in "Koresh" Tatar national belt wrestling, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 19 April. The tournament last weekend in Moscow was joined by wrestlers from Tatarstan Republic, who took prizes in weight categories from 66 to 90 kilograms. A total of 165 wrestlers from all over the world took part in the contest.

Progress On New Power-Sharing Treaty Between Kazan and Moscow
The draft of a new power-sharing treaty between the Russian federal government and the government of the republic of Tatarstan is likely to be offered to the republic's State Council this month for consideration, parliamentary speaker Farid Mukhametshin told Tatar-inform on 15 April. Mukhametshin co-chairs the working group in charge of drafting the document, which is to replace the power-sharing treaty signed in 1994 but suspended by the government of Vladimir Putin in 2000. The other co-chair of the working group is the Russian presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, Sergei Kirienko.

The chairman of Tatarstan's parliament has said that republican and federal representatives within the working group are divided over legal issues including the official status of the Tatar language. Parliamentary speaker Mukhametshin said Tatar legislators so far have rejected the definitions of the status of the Tatar language proposed by the federal legislators. He also said there is currently a "stall" in negotiations as federal prosecutors resume questioning the legality of the requirement that a candidate for Tatar president know the Tatar language.

Since 1994, the treaty has been the major instrument regulating Tatarstan's relations with the federal government.

Federal Legislators Said To Favor Federal Regulation Of Tatar Language Status
Tatar State Council deputy Razil Weliev, who is a member of the intergovernmental working group on amending the Kazan-Moscow power-sharing treaty, told RFE/RL's Kazan bureau after the group's latest meeting on 19 April that there was a "misunderstanding" between the republican and federal legislators over the treaty's articles on the official status of Tatar in Tatarstan (see "RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Report," 19 April 2005). The federal officials reportedly considered the article declaring Tatar a state language in Tatarstan subject to regulation by republican authorities, which could lead them to reintroduce the law on Latin Tatar script reform, which was already halted by federal law.

To prevent such legal collisions, federal legislators proposed that the Kazan-Moscow treaty should mention that Tatarstan defines its official language according to Russian laws. Weliev commented that by doing so, they are failing to acknowledge the article of the Russian Constitution saying that republics of the Russian Federation possess statehood within federal laws. In its previous version, the power-sharing treaty mentioned that both the Russian and Tatar constitutions were to be used for regulating the language issue.

EBRD Considers Holding Shareholders Meeting In Kazan
Christer Carlsson, head of the protocol department of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), met with Tatar Minister of Trade and Foreign Economic Cooperation Khefiz Salikhov to discuss the possibility of holding the annual EBRD shareholders meeting in Kazan in May 2007, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 19 April 2005).

Ukratatnafta, Other Companies Ask Moscow To Discuss Gas Price Affair With Ukraine
Top officials at major Russian oil industries operating in Ukraine, including TNK-PB, LUKoil, and the joint Tatar-Ukrainian company Ukrtatnafta, appealed to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to secure their rights in that country's gas market after the Ukrainian government set put caps on retail gasoline prices, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 20 April. TNK -BP and LUKoil had previously declared that the new regulations prevented them from making a profit and warned that they will halt their production in order to prevent further losses. The oil companies that have extensive gas-station networks in Ukraine asked Fradkov to include the pricing issue on the agenda of his next meeting with Ukrainian Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko.

Microsoft To Offer Tatar Windows Interface
Olga Dergunova, head of Microsoft Russia and CIS, met with Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov on 21 April to resume talks on a long-term bilateral cooperation agreement in the field of information technologies, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. The agreement will provide for comprehensive cooperation between the IT company and the Tatar government, including creation of a Tatar interface for the Windows operating system and creating a governmental information system.

Dergunova told reporters after the meeting that she believes the new software product will be successful on the market. She cited the example of the Russian language pack for the operating system, which currently is installed in 97 percent of all official copies of Windows in Russia. She said, "The use of Tatar language in software products is a question of evolution, including the evolution of needs."

Tatar Speaker Opposes Ideological Platforms Within Unified Russia
Tatar State Council Chairman and Unified Russia's Tatarstan branch secretary Farid Mukhametshin told reporters on 23 April that he called on party members not to divide into "wings" or other structures based on different ideological platforms, since this would result in a split that will be harmful for the party, Tatarinform reported. Mukhametshin took part in a meeting of Unified Russia's General Council in Moscow the same day. Speaking at the gathering, Mukhametshin along with the majority of other speakers stressed the necessity of taking into account opinions of party's regional organizations, specifically regarding legislation on natural resources. It is necessary to discuss the party's position before passing legislation affecting most of the population, Mukhametshin said.

Sons Of Tatar, Bashkir Presidents Among Russia's 100 Richest
The Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine published its latest list of the country's 100 richest people on 22 April, which included the sons of the Tatar president, Radik Shaimiev, and of the Bashkir president, Ural Rakhimov.

Former Guantanamo Prisoners Accused Of Pipeline Explosion
The Federal Security Service's (FSB) Tatarstan branch said on 21 April that two prisoners released from the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, Timur Ishmoradov and Rawil Gomerov, have been accused of illegal possession of arms and explosives, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 22 April. The former Taliban fighters are suspected of involvement in the 8 January explosion of a gas pipeline in Bogelme. The FSB announced that a group of people who were connected to the Taliban have been arrested on suspicion of organizing the explosion. Spokesman Eduard Ismegyilev said the aims of the group had nothing to do with religious activity but were "to destabilize the situation in the republic and distract law enforcement agencies from the investigation of activities of the international terrorist organization banned in Russia, Hizb ut-Tahrir." Ismegyilev said that the suspects in the explosion may also be charged with terrorism. In early April, five Elmet residents were given suspended sentences for involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, while Kazan's Yangasavin Raion court is currently hearing a case against Alisher Usmanov, who is considered by authorities to be a party leader.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Minister Divaev Ready To Go To Blagoveshchensk Trial As Witness
Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev told a press conference on 18 April in Ufa that he is ready to testify in court regarding the December raid by Interior Ministry special troops in Blagoveshchensk (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 and 30 December 2004 and 3, 6, 7, 10-14 and 17-20 January 2005), RosBalt reported the same day. Divaev said he "has his own position on this issue" and that "the court has to assess everything that occurred in Blagoveshchensk." However, he did not say whether the Bashkir Interior Ministry leadership would appeal to the court for leniency for its prosecuted employees or would demand they get the most severe punishment. Over 340 Blagoveshchensk residents are recognized as victims of the December raid. Eight Interior Ministry employees have been charged by the Bashkortostan's Prosecutor's Office with exceeding their authority in the raid and two more Interior officials have been charged with forgery and concealing the true size of the incident.

Meanwhile, human rights leaders say that Interior Minister Divaev, who personally issued the order for the December raid, should be punished for its results. Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General in the Volga Federal District Sergei Gerasimov has appealed to Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, saying Divaev must take responsibility for the events in Blagoveshchensk.

Four Banks Merge With UralSib
Shareholders of the UralSib bank, the Bryansk People's Bank, Kuzbassugolbank, the Moscow-based Investment-Bank Group Nikoil, and Avtobank Nikoil agreed at their meeting in Ufa on 14 April to merge with the UralSib bank, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 16 April. The process of the merger is to be completed by September. As a result of the reorganization, the capital of the united bank will total over 20 billion rubles ($717 million) while its net assets will exceed 120 billion rubles. The Bryansk People's Bank, Kuzbassugolbank, the Investment-Bank Group Nikoil and Avtobank-Nikoil are affiliates of the Finance Company Nikoil.

Bashkortostan's government possesses 19.9 percent of UralSib.
VympelKom To Invest 700 Million Rubles In Bashkortostan The VympelKom company, the operator mobile communication network BeeLine, plans to increase its investments in Bashkortostan in 2005 by 20 percent to 600-700 million rubles, VympelKom's Ufa branch Director Vladimir Orlov told a press conference on 15 April, RosBalt reported the same day. The zone covered by the company's network will increase from the current 87 percent to 100 percent of Bashkortostan's populated territory, while the number of subscribers is planned to grow from 500,000 to 750,000. The previous year, VympelKom invested 500 million rubles in the republic, while the number of subscribers almost tripled from 153,000 in January 2004 to 509,000 in April 2005. VympelKom is Bashkortostan's second-largest cellular communications company following MTS.

Bashkir Legislature Tightens Regulation Of Demonstrations
The Bashkir State Assembly on 19 April passed in its third reading by a vote of 88 to five a law on registering public demonstrations, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. The law obliges organizers of actions involving more than 500 participants to present notification of the action not only to local authorities, but also to the Bashkir government. If there are several organizers of an event, notification must be presented by the leaders of all organizations personally and at the same time. Among other requirements, the notification must be accompanied by a protocol on holding an action and copies of initiating organizations' charters and registration documents confirmed by a notary.

Bashkir parliament deputy Edvard Murzin told "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" on 20 April that the parliament's initiative was the result of growing pressure by the opposition on republican authorities. Opposition representatives announced that they will follow federal, not local law during their actions. Foundation for Development of Local Self-Government head Robert Zagreev told the daily that the local law was passed "to suppress opposition."

Bashkortostan's Opposition Appeals To Putin
The Coordinating Council of Bashkortostan's united opposition appealed on 18 April to President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office, and the Federal Security Service to establish a special government commission to investigate the 16 April events in Ufa (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 18 April 2005), reported on 19 April. In the appeal, opposition leaders called for holding responsible the heads of the administration, law enforcement, and other authorities for the beating of opposition members during the pro-Rakhimov demonstration. The authors said six beaten oppositionists appealed on 16 April to the Ufa Oktyabr Raion interior department. The opposition leaders said republican authorities organized transportation to the demonstration of fighters from the pro-Rakhimov Union of Bashkir Youth. Those fighters, dressed in camouflage uniforms with stylized swastikas on their sleeves, demonstrated under black banners featuring similar swastikas and images of a wolf. The appeal says police let fighters take part in the demonstration, while on the eve of the meeting they banned security companies from "participating in antigovernment meetings and providing security services" to opposition leaders. Thus, the republican authorities did everything to deprive peaceful participants of the opposition demonstration of security and to have opposition supporters beaten, the appeal concludes.

Ufa Oil Refineries Pay Tax Debts
Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov told reporters on 19 April that Bashkortostan's three oil refineries -- Ufaneftekhim, Novo-Ufa Oil Refinery, and Ufa Oil Refinery -- have paid some 10 billion rubles ($360 million) in debts for illegal use of tax breaks in Kazakhstan's Baikonur offshore zone in 2001-02 (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 3 February, 20 March, 26 May, 6 June 23 July, 24 October 2003), RosBalt reported the same day. Rakhimov said the refineries "have paid everything except the fines" of 2.7 billion rubles that were contested in court. To pay the debt, the refineries borrowed $250 million, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 20 April.

Rakhimov: State To Restore Control Over Petrochemical Companies Within Two Months
President Murtaza Rakhimov told reporters on 19 April that the return of Bashkortostan's petrochemical plants to the state will be completed by the end of June. The president added that key decisions on the issue will be reached 26 April at a session of the Bashkir Arbitration Court and meetings of shareholders of Ufa Oil Refinery, Novoil, Ufaneftekhim, Bashneft, Bashkirenergo, Ufaorgsintez, and Bashkirnefteprodukt.

In March 2004, control over those companies was passed to Bashkirskii kapital headed by President Rakhimov's son Ural. President Rakhimov initiated the return of the petrochemical sector companies to state ownership in the wake of a plot in the Bashkir parliament aimed at nominating Ural Rakhimov as its speaker (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 25 February 2005).

Bashkortostan Participates In Russian-Canadian Project To Develop Federalism
Bashkortostan has become a pilot region for a Russian-Canadian project to increase cooperation between Russian federal and regional-level authorities, RosBalt reported on 20 April.

The project, "Mechanisms for Harmonizing the Interests of Federal and Regional Governmental Bodies," also seeks new ways to develop Russian federalism and local self-government.

Representatives of Intergovernmental Affairs and Finance Canada and the Canada School of Public Service took part in a project conference starting on 20 April in Ufa.

Speaking at the forum, Bashkir presidential chief of staff Radii Khebirov said Bashkortostan can be rated first among Russia's entities in terms of "precise implementation of all requirements of federal legislation." But Khebirov criticized federal authorities for concentrating some powers in their own hands while at the same time shifting other responsibilities requiring large expenditures to the regions.

Interior Employees File Defamation Suit Against Opposition Newspaper
The special troops detachment (OMON) of the Bashkortostan Interior Ministry and Interior General Anatolii Smirnov have filed defamation suits against the republic's opposition newspaper "Otechestvo," Regnum reported on 21 April. The plaintiffs demand that information published in the newspaper's 21 January article titled "Blagoveshchensk: the Chronicle of a Human-Rights Investigation" be retracted and that 2 million rubles be paid them in compensation. The first hearing in the case is slated for 27 April.

The newspaper article focused on the December Interior Ministry raid in Blagoveshchensk. The operation, which involved 17 members of OMON, resulted in mass violations of the rights of Blagoveshchensk residents, 341 of whom are recognized as victims of the use of illegal force. Smirnov, the Bashkir deputy interior minister who supervised the Blagoveshchensk raid, was later dismissed from his post.

"Otechestvo" Editor in Chief Sergei Kuznetsov denied charges that the article included exaggerations. "Otechestvo" was founded by the Rus opposition movement in 1993. It's 200,000 copies are distributed free of charge in Bashkortostan.

Opposition Says Members of Extremist Group Support President Rakhimov
The leaders of Bashkortostan's united opposition, Ramil Bignov and Anatolii Dubovskii, released a statement on 21 April saying that militants of the Grey Wolves extremist group took part in the 16 April meeting in Ufa to support Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov, reported on 21 April. The opposition leaders brought to Moscow videotapes of mass disturbances they said were initiated by the group's members at the meeting. Dubovskii said the militants were dressed in armored garments and carried clubs. He said they also had emblems with stylized swastikas and green flags of the international terrorist organization Grey Wolves. Opposition leaders said they hope federal authorities will help them provide security at the next meeting of the opposition on 1 May.

Russian Human Rights Official Calls For Punishing Minister For Blagoveshchensk Raid
Ella Pamfilova, head of the Russian presidential Human Rights Council, said on 24 April that Bashkortostan's leadership should bear responsibility for violations of human rights in Blagoveshchensk in December, RFE/RL reported the next day. Pamfilova told ORT's "Vremena" program that she was bewildered that non-management employees of the Interior Ministry, not Minister Rafail Divaev, will be punished for the Blagoveshchensk raid conducted by Interior Ministry personnel.

Bashkir Peoples' Assembly Appeals To Shaimiev
The council of the Assembly of Bashkortostans' Peoples appealed to Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev to express their "indignation" over the activities of Tatarstan's trade and economic representative to Bashkortostan, Ramil Bignov, claiming he "openly calls for violent overthrow of the legal power and reallotment of republican territory," an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 22 April. Assembly leaders claimed that Bignov "is impudent enough to speak on the behalf of the Tatar people and introduces himself chairman of a union of Tatar organizations known by nobody." They expressed their belief that "everything is being done" in the republic for Tatars "to feel themselves comfortably." Authors of the appeal called on Shaimiev "not to let adventurers persecuting their mercenary interests speak on behalf of the brotherly Tatar people, Tatarstan and its leader."

In an interview with RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 22 April, Bignov said his activities as Bashkortostan's opposition leader have nothing to do with his responsibilities as Tatarstan's trade and economic representative to Bashkortostan. He said he promotes the rights of Bashkortostan's Tatars not as Tatarstan's envoy, but as a person who was born and lives in Bashkortostan.

Opposing Groups Plan 1 May Actions In Ufa
Bashkir opposition leaders Ramil Bignov and Anatolii Dubovskii told a press conference in Moscow on 21 April that roughly 30,000 people will take part in an opposition meeting on Ufa's Lenin Square on 1 May, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 22 April. Meeting organizers said they were informed by the city administration that a festival will be held on the square at the same time. Ufa authorities did not suggest any other site to hold a meeting as legislation prescribes.

Meanwhile, the Ufa city administration was presented with notifications from the opposition Foundation for the Development of Local Self-government and from the pro-Rakhimov Eurasian Youth Union that they plan to hold meetings on Ufa's Lenin Square, "Moskovskii komsomolets v Bashkortostane" reported on 22 April.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Topographer Convicted Of Disclosing State Secret In Marii El
The Marii El Supreme Court on 22 April convicted Ivan Ablinov of disclosing state secrets and gave him a three-year suspended sentence, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 23 April. Ablinov, who worked as the head of the topographical department at the Marii Trust for Prospecting and Construction Works, was accused of selling secret documents containing coordinates of geodesic stations in Marii El to republican construction companies. The companies needed the data for land surveying in the republic and paid Ablinov 8,000 rubles for them. Ablinov told the daily that he will appeal the verdict, claiming that "the criminal case...was fabricated by the FSB [Federal Security Service]" in order "to report to Moscow that they do work." He denied that the coordinates he passed to the companies were secret.

Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Deputies Call On Governor To Resign
Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Legislative Assembly deputies in an open letter called on oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev to resign and not ask the Russian president to reappoint him, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 April. The letter to Khodyrev was signed by 36 out of 42 deputies, including speaker Yevgenii Lyulin. Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Roman Antonov told the daily that the action came in the wake of rumors that Khodyrev has asked President Vladimir Putin to let him resign ahead of schedule and has assured presidential-administration officials that his candidacy will be supported by the oblast assembly. An unidentified source in the oblast assembly told the daily that the text of the letter was shown to Putin by presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko during their meeting on 21 April. They daily quoted Khodyrev as responding to the letter by saying he will not resign.

Presidential Envoy Opposes Administrative Merger Of Federation Entities
In an interview with Interfax on 19 April, presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko opposed the idea of the administrative merger of federation subjects. Kirienko said regions should only be merged after a referendum like the one of Krasnoyarsk Krai, and the Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs on 17 April is possible. "There are currently about 2,000 territorial disputes in Russia," Kirienko said. He added that national-territorial divisions also exist, making the idea of administrative merger unrealizable. There are exceptions like "nested-doll-type subjects" where subjects located within other entities have their own governors, legislative bodies, and representatives in the State Duma, Kirienko said. He cited the example of Perm Oblast, which includes Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug.

Samara Oblast Governor Resigns Ahead Of Schedule
The Samara Oblast Duma on 26 April unanimously voted to reappoint Konstantin Titov as oblast governor, Interfax-Povolzhe reported the same day. Incumbent Governor Titov was nominated to the oblast duma by President Putin on 25 April, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 April.

Prosecutors' Office Investigates Soldiers' Deaths
Deputy military prosecutor of the Saratov garrison Sergei Yermoshchuk said on 20 April that a criminal case on driving to suicide was filed after four servicemen were found hanged in the forest 20 kilometers from Saratov, Regnum reported the same day. The four had served regular military service and were to be demobilized this spring. On 19 April, they were summoned for interrogation to the local Interior Ministry department on accusations of stealing an automobile.

Volga Federal Military District military prosecutor Vladimir Melnikov said evidence rules out murder, and prosecutors believe the incident was suicide, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 April. Officers from the soldiers' regiment, however, refuse to believe the four committed suicide, the daily said.

Action Against �Velvet Revolutions' In Yekaterinburg
Some 600 people, according to police estimates, demonstrated on 19 April in Yekaterinburg in front of the U.S. Consulate building to protest "velvet revolutions" and defend Russia's political and economic sovereignty, Interfax-Urals reported the same day. Participants held portraits of President Putin. Some 20 policemen watched the action. Representatives of the Yekaterinburg trade union Profi, which initiated the protest, told the news agency that the move is "a protest against the aggressive policy of America, which is currently the main supplier of instability to the territory of the CIS, implanting and supporting every possible 'color' revolutions in the countries of the commonwealth."

Izhevsk Pentecostals Accuse Police Of Abusing Authority
Udmurtia's prosecutor's office has filed a criminal case on abuse of power by Interior Minister officers while they were conducting a search at the Pentecostal church in Izhevsk, Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 19 April. Republican prosecutor Boris Sarnaev told a press conference the same day that the criminal case was filed after a complaint by Pentecostal Udmurt Eparchy Bishop Yurii Degtyar. Degtyar said that on 14 April, special police forces raided the church, arrested 46 people without revealing charges, and beat one of them. According to the Udmurt Interior Ministry, the action was part of a murder case. Among the 46 people detained, 22 were not Russian registration.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova