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Tatar-Bashkir Report: June 1, 2004

1 June 2004
Federation Council Official Promotes Project On Region Mergers
Federation Council Committee on Federation Affairs and Federal Policies Chairman Aleksandr Kazakov backed on 20 May the idea of dividing Russia into 28 governorates, "Kommersant" reported on 22 May. In the proposal developed by the Economic Development and Trade Ministry's Council on Studying Production Forces, Tatarstan would merge with Ulyanovsk Oblast, with the administrative center in Kazan. Several Federation Council members have supported the idea. Kazakov commented that national-cultural peculiarities "need to be taken into account but not at all in the first instance."

Tatar Constitutional Court Chairman Saifikhan Nefiev told the daily that "the ideas of Russia's reorganization can be seen as an attack on the constitutional norms of Russia's basic law." Nefiev said the Russian Constitution clearly describes the order of the founding and merger of subjects that can only be changed through referendums. He added that the existing constitutional norms are most suitable and there is no need to conduct unification of the state.

Presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko believes that only federation subjects with other subjects within them can be merged, like the recent merger of Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug and Perm Oblast into Perm Krai, the daily reported.

Crimean Tatars Mark 60th Anniversary Of Deportation
Some 30,000 Crimean Tatars gathered on 18 May in Simferopol to mark the 60th anniversary of their deportation from Crimea, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 May, citing Crimean Tatar Mejlis spokesperson Lilya Muslimova. Participants appealed to the Ukrainian and Crimean authorities to pass a law on the status of the Crimean Tatar people granting them the right to self-determination and a law on restoring the rights of those deported and members of their families to return to the places where they previously lived and providing compensation for confiscated property.

Crimean Tatar Mejlis Chairman Mustafa Jemilev said at the meeting that it is necessary to ensure that "the Crimean Tatar language, as the language of peninsula's indigenous people, is one of the [Crimean] autonomy's official languages. It is necessary that Crimean Tatars are represented in all elected, executive, and judicial bodies proportionate to their number." The meeting participants also demanded that education and TV broadcasting in Crimean Tatar be increased.

The same day, the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada discussed but failed to pass the draft laws promoted by the Crimean Tatars. Jemilev commented that the authorities chose "methods of political provocation for the sake of keeping their power." "So-called Cossack detachments, which are illegal paramilitary units, that constantly provoke conflicts with Crimean Tatars are formed with the silent agreement and approval of the authorities and often under their patronage," Jemilev added.

Scholars Discuss Ways Of Reforming Islam
A seminar on the prospects of reforming Islam was held on 24 May in Kazan at the initiative of the Moscow-based Tatar NGO Watanym and the Tatarstan-based civic group Ihlas, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. A report delivered by Tatar presidential adviser Rafael Khekimov pushing the necessity of reforming Islam was severely criticized by imams. Tuben Kama Imam Ramil Yunysov said it is premature to discuss the necessity of reforming Islam, as the majority of Tatarstan's Muslims and even some religious leaders have not properly studied its principles. People should first know and understand the principles of Islam and observe its requirements. Yunysov said most of Tatarstan's Muslims and Muslim leaders cannot agree with Khekimov's proposals, which call on Tatars to stop considering Mecca a holy place and promote a Europe-oriented Islam. "We won't conduct hajj to Europe," Yunysov said.

Tatarstan's Muslim Spiritual Directorate Propaganda Department head Ildus Feiz said Islam shouldn't be reformed but rather the view of Islam by people who don't think they need to follow Islam's regulations. Feiz also said secular scholars must first properly study Islam before they speculate about its reformation. Religious and secular issues should not be mixed, he added. Ethnologist Damir Iskhaqov said Muslim leaders do not give adequate responses to issues of interest for Tatars, particularly, they do not have any position on the federalism issue.

Turkish Court Halts Sale Of Tupras To Tatneft-Related Joint Venture
A municipal court in the Turkish capital Ankara has ruled that the Turkish government should halt a deal to sell 66 percent of Turkish petrochemical holding Tupras to a joint venture between Tatarstan's Tatneft and Turkish Zorlu holding, Reuters and Interfax reported on 24 May. The lawsuit was filed by the Petrol-Is trade union, which comprises Tupras employees. The court said the deal was the result of numerous violations and its completion would harm the interests of the country. Completion of the deal was postponed until it is considered in court. In early February, the Turkish government approved the sale following a tender in which Tatneft subsidiary Efremov Kautchuk GmbH and Zorlu offered $1.3 billion for the nearly two-thirds stake. Tatneft and Zorlu planned to make the payment on 28 May and sign a contract with the Turkish government on 31 May. Tatneft's minority shareholders have already appealed to the Turkish prime minister to block the deal, claiming violations took place during the tender (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 10 and 13 February and 1 March 2004).

Tatneft Believes Obstacle To Tupras Deal Temporary
An unnamed Tatneft representative in Turkey told "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 May that the oil company has appealed the 21 May verdict by the Ankara Municipal Court halting the sale of a 66 percent stake in the Turkish oil refinery Tupras to the alliance of Tatneft and the Turkey's Zorlu Holding group (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 25 May 2004). Tatneft believes the appeal will be satisfied within two or three days, the source said, adding that "the deal was agreed with the Turkish senior leadership." Tatneft was planning to hold a signing ceremony of the contract by the prime ministers of Tatarstan and Turkey on 31 May during celebrations of the Tatar national holiday Saban Tuye in Istanbul.

Prosecutor's Appeal Against Tatar President's Oath Rejected
The Tatar Supreme Court's Appeals Board on 24 May rejected a lawsuit by Tatar prosecutor Kafil Emirov against provisions of the law on the office of the Tatar president as contradicting federal legislation, "Kommersant" reported on 26 May. Emirov was targeting the text of the Tatar presidential oath, in which the president promises "to secure...state sovereignty of the Republic of Tatarstan." Emirov argued that the oath contradicts federal law, which rules out the existence of Tatarstan's sovereignty as only Russia as a whole can be sovereign. According to the oath, the president also promises to "observe the [Tatar] Constitution," a provision that was also contested by Emirov, who said the Tatar president must also observe the Russian Constitution, federal laws, and those of the federation subject, as well as decrees by the Russian president and Russian government resolutions. Presidential envoy to the court Andrei Oshchepkov asked the court to stop considering the case, as lawsuits against regional laws can only be heard by constitutional, not general courts, according to a ruling by the Russian Constitutional Court.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Bashkir Cabinet Approves Business Plan For Agidel Nuclear Project
Bashkortostan's cabinet approved on 21 May the draft concept for investment in the Agidel nuclear-power plant, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 24 May. The project was developed by Russia's Nuclear Energy Ministry, stipulating that the first power unit is to be launched in 2012.

Russia's official plan for developing nuclear-energy plants in the first half of the 21st century states that the Bashkir nuclear-power plant is to be completed by 2020.

By July the working group of Bashkortostan's government is to submit suggestions for the project and present a forecast of future electricity rates.

Former Deputy Minister Persecuted For Promoting Status For Tatar
Former Bashkir Deputy Economy Minister Renat Gataullin told RFE/RL's Kazan bureau on 25 May that he has not been reinstated to the position despite a 30 April court ruling that his dismissal was illegal. Gataullin was fired in early 2004 for promoting higher status for the Tatar language in Bashkortostan. Gataullin said that most Bashkir residents who fight for official status for the Tatar language in Bashkortostan have lost their jobs. He added that repression against the Tatar language in effect facilitates the Russification of Bashkortostan's Tatars, since Tatars who are deprived of studying their native language and are forced to study Bashkir opt instead for Russian.

Bashkir Arbitration Court Head Under Investigation
Court Chairman Fenil Safin is being investigated for possible involvement in corruption and abuse of power, RosBalt reported on 26 May, citing an unidentified Russian law enforcement source. Interior agencies are investigating several appeals from residents who claim that Safin abused his powers by promoting his and his relatives' interests. The investigation centers on events that took place during Safin's service as Arbitration Court head and as the republic's justice minister. Specifically, the legal nature of the appointment of Safin's brother, Segit Safin, as an Abjelil Raion Court judge is being questioned. The appointment has been deemed illegal by experts of the Bashkir Supreme Court but the Bashkir Judges Qualification Board disagreed with the conclusion and the issue is now being considered by Russia's Judges Qualification Board.

Saudi Arabians Show Interest In Bashkir Helicopter
A Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry delegation headed by Major General Dhafir Nagi al-Kahtani visited Bashkortostan on 24-26 May to study the possibility of purchasing aircraft from the Kumertau Aviation Plant, Interfax-Povolzhe and Bashinform reported. The delegation visited a plant that intends to bid for a Saudi government contract for helicopters. On 26 May, the delegation met with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Economic Relations and Trade Minister Boris Kolbin. Al Kahtani said during the meeting that the Ka-32 helicopters produced in Bashkortostan would meet his country's needs, as they can be used for emergency, fire prevention, and patrolling operations. The sides also stressed that closer cooperation between Bashkortostan and Saudi Arabia should be promoted.

New Bashkir Election Commission Formed
Only five of 12 seats in the new Bashkir Central Election Commission (USK) nominated by the Bashkir parliament and president on 27 May were filled by representatives of parties, despite the stipulation by federal law that at least half of the commission should be made up members of political parties, RosBalt reported on 27 May. The Communist Party, Unified Russia, the Agrarian Party of Russia, the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia, and Motherland are represented on the commission and will serve four-year terms. Bashkir presidential administration official Ural Khesenov told RosBalt that the structure of the commission does not violate federal law. "Proposals from two parties were made to the Bashkir presidential administration and both were satisfied," he said. Alongside parties' envoys, the commission includes three representatives of municipal bodies, two members proposed by the Russian Central Election Commission, and two members of the former Bashkir USK. The latter's chairman, Baryi Kinjegulov, and secretary Naile Altynova were elected to the new commission. The election of a commission head will top the agenda at the commission's first meeting scheduled to be held within two weeks.

Parliament Appeals To Russian Premier To Promote Construction Of Nuclear Plant
The Bashkir State Assembly appealed on 27 May to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to resolve the issue of financing the construction of the Bashkir nuclear power plant and to help launch in 2011 its first block capable to generating 1 million kilowatts of electricity, RosBalt reported. The Bashkir government appealed to the Russian government to release funds to continue construction of the plant, which will cost an estimated 802 million rubles per year. Construction of the plant in Agidel started in 1989-90 but was suspended due to environmental concerns. The suspension helped push the unemployment rate in Agidel to 27 percent. Deputies said "the completion of the construction of the nuclear plant will contribute to...the implementation of the task of doubling Russia's gross domestic product, as called for by the Russian president."

Deputies offered assurances that starting up the plant will help overcome the region's energy shortages and will save 4 million tons of oil a year. The chairman of the State Assembly Industry, Construction, Transport, and Communications Committee, Nail Qotlogildin, told "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 May that "Tatarstan, not only [Bashkortostan], needs the station." The final decision on restarting construction of the plant is to be made by the Russian government. The Bashkir authorities hope the entire procedure will be finished by 2006.

"Kommersant-Daily" quoted Tatar State Council Economy Committee Chairman Marat Galiev as saying the issue of the safety of nuclear power plants, including that of the Bashkir plant, remains one of the most controversial. He said the Bashkir government's statements that the station project meets environmental protection standards are questionable. He added that the belief that the region suffers from energy shortages is wrong, saying the republic has an energy surplus.

Prosecutor Says Fight Against Back Wages Toughens...
Bashkir prosecutor's office head Lyudmila Ekhmetshina told a press conference on 28 May that 20 criminal cases have been opened in Bashkortostan so far this year for delays in paying wages, while the total of back wages owed has grown by 18 percent to 405.7 million rubles ($13.5 million), RosBalt reported the same day. In 2003, 10 such cases were opened, five of which went to trial. One company director was given a three-year suspended sentence, while two other cases were settled out of court. Ekhmetshina said private companies are the main wage debtors.

Bashkortostan's acting prosecutor Mikhail Zelepukin said on 28 May that 337 officials have been fined in the past 18 months for breaking laws on paying wages. Zelepukin said prosecutors failing to prosecute nonpayment of wages will also be punished, adding that the Ishimbai prosecutor has been fired for this reason.

...As Collective Farm Pays Wages With Salt
Employees of Mishkin Raion's Fetkhetdinov collective farm were paid their wages in salt, "Trud" reported on 28 May. Depending on their wages, people were given from 50 to 100 kilograms of salt. Households, including even sheep and cows, now have salt supplies for the next five years, the newspaper wrote. Workers at the farm haven't been paid all their wages with money since 1991. In Mishkin Raion villages, where 40 percent of farms lose money, wages are also paid with milk, grain, hay, and manure. The head of the raion administration was dismissed after the "salt wages" case was reported in the media, while local residents have been told "what they can and what they can't discuss with touring journalists," the daily reported.

Agroindustrial Complex Trade Union Central Committee official Ivan Furman said that there are similar farms paying wages fully in agricultural products in 60 regions. Even on prosperous farms, 20 percent of wages are paid in goods.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Another Chelyabinsk Oblast Senior Official Under Investigation
Chelyabinsk Oblast prosecutor's office spokesman Viktor Smok said the office has opened a criminal case against oblast First Deputy Governor Viktor Timashov, reported on 24 May. Timashov is accused of bribe-taking, abuse of power, and misappropriation and embezzlement of a large sum of money. Smok said Timashov's case is separate from the investigation into the alleged embezzlement of state money earmarked for geological prospecting in the South Urals under which South-Ural Mining Company Chairman Aleksandr Losev is being sued.

Speaking at a press conference on 25 May, Timashov said he took a vacation while the investigation was under way, Novyi region (Chelyabinsk) reported the same day. He said that his relatives' apartments were searched but denied reports that gold and millions of rubles were seized. He also said that he had 4 million euros ($4.9 million) worth of shares, valuables, and money before he began working in the oblast administration and he had made this public. Novyi region (Chelyabinsk) commented on 31 May, citing unidentified sources in law enforcement agencies, that the recent "cleaning" was initiated at the highest level in Moscow and is directly linked to upcoming elections of the Chelyabinsk Oblast governor and Chelyabinsk mayor.

Marii El Incumbent Asked To Run For Reelection
Heads of 250 companies and organizations in Marii El appealed on 25 May to Leonid Markelov to run for reelection as the republic's president, Regnum reported. Markelov's current term ends in January 2005.

FSB Major General Comes Up Clean
Major General Nikolai Dolgopolov, the head of the Marii El Board of the Federal Security Service (FSB), on 28 May said that prosecutors have finished investigating his activities, "Kommersant" reported on 29 May. The investigation was initiated after Marii El presidential chief of staff Dmitrii Frolov accused Dolgopolov of abuse of power. Specifically, Frolov said Dolgopolov had interfered in corporate disputes between local companies and was guilty of protectionism. However, Deputy Military Prosecutor of Volga-Ural Military District Pavel Demidenko said that none of the accusations had been confirmed and refused to file a criminal case against Dolgopolov.

Samara Raion Head Hospitalized In Shooting
On the morning of 28 May, Samara Oktyabrskii Raion head Konstantin Fomenko and his driver were shot at by an unknown assailant, reported the same day. The men were shot as they were leaving Fomenko's apartment. Both were severely injured and hospitalized. Fomenko has been the administration head for two years. He was previously a bodyguard for Samara Mayor Georgii Limanskii.

Sverdlovsk Oblast's Rossel May Run Again
Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel told a press conference on 27 May that he may run for reelection in 2007, Novyi region reported the same day. Rossel said, "under federal law I have the right to govern [for] four more years." He added, however, that it is too early to discuss any details.

Ulyanovsk Oblast's Shamanov Opposes Regions Merger...
Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Vladimir Shamanov told reporters on 27 May that Ulyanovsk Oblast will remain a separate federation entity as long as he remains the governor, RosBalt reported on 28 May. Shamanov added that some Ulyanovsk politicians are trying "to earn political capital discussing the merger with more prosperous neighboring regions." The merger of Russia's regions into 28 governorates has recently been proposed. Under the plans, the Ulyanovsk Oblast would be merged with Tatarstan into the Volga-Kama Governorate with an administrative center in Kazan.

...As Do Residents Of Tyumen Oblast, Khanty-Mansii, Yamal-Nenets Okrugs
Some 74 percent of participants polled by the news agency on 14 April-25 May opposed the idea of the merger of the Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug, Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, and Tyumen Oblast, MiK reported on 29 May. Of 1,021 people questioned, 25 percent backed the idea.

Udmurt Court Bans Sale Of State-Owned Udmurtenergo Stake
Udmurtia's Arbitration Court has prohibited the republican government from holding an auction to sell off a 10 percent state-owned stake in Udmurtia's electricity monopoly Udmurtenergo, RosBalt reported on 29 May, citing the press service of the republic's chief federal inspector. The stake amounts to 18.9 million shares. The verdict was passed in reaction to a lawsuit by the Russian Property Relations Ministry's Udmurt Territorial Board against the Udmurt government in which the plaintiff demanded that the Russian Federation's property be withdrawn from "alien illegal possession and securing measures be taken." The Udmurt government announced that the auction failed to attract buyers. The government was hoping to earn at least 265 million rubles ($9.1 million) in the sale. Udmurtenergo's capital totals 189.4 million rubles. Fifty-five percent of the company is owned by Russia's Unified Energy Systems.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova