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Russia Report: July 26, 2005

26 July 2005, Volume 5, Number 27
By Paul Goble

Russian President Vladimir Putin's current policies rather than the continuing impact of unresolved problems inherited from the Soviet past are responsible for the current upsurge in ethnic tensions across the northern Caucasus, according to several of Moscow's most thoughtful analysts and observers.

Not only is the current situation very different from the one that powered the first wave of ethnic assertiveness at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it represents a kind of crossing of the Rubicon that threatens not only historically restive regions but many others that have been stable up to now.

In an analysis posted on the APN website yesterday, Sergei Markedonov makes that argument explicitly: "If the 'first edition' of ethnic conflicts was to a large extent a delayed payment on the debts of Soviet times...then today's 'rebirth' of ethnic tensions is being called forth by the mistakes of the period of the 'strengthening of the vertical'" (

But at the same time, he points out, there are some important commonalities between the situation in the early 1990s and now. Now, just as almost 15 years ago, Moscow tried to organize the country's extremely variegated populations under a one-size-fits-all policy.

As the Soviet Union collapsed, that in turn contributed to the parade of sovereignties in which groups with little or no ability to assume responsibility for their futures declared that they should have the same status because of their past victimization as others which did have that capacity. And that in turn dramatically weakened the state.

Now, as Putin attempts to rebuild what he calls "the power vertical," Markedonov says, Moscow is again seeking to apply a common approach to situations that are inherently different and thereby generating new challenges to the center that could prove even more dangerous to the Russian state than those of the early 1990s.

This is most clearly seen, Markedonov continues, in the application of the new municipal reform program, whose application in the North Caucasus has already led to an explosion of "mass fears and phobias" about the possible redivision of land and to protests and demonstrations in places, such as Kabardino-Balkaria that had been stable.

Instead of addressing the real problems of the northern Caucasus region -- which include poverty and the lack of representatives of minority groups in the organs of local and regional power -- Markedonov says, Putin is trying to handle everything by changing administrative arrangements. And that is backfiring on its author.

In an article in today's "Novyye izvestiya," several observers not only second Markedonov's argument about the situation in the northern Caucasus but argue in addition that such new tensions are likely to spread throughout the Russian Federation as the number of new municipalities doubles over the next several years (

Ramazan Abdulatipov, the chairman of the Assembly of Peoples of Russia and one of the country's leading specialists on ethnic conflicts, told the newspaper that the municipal reforms are violating one of the most important rules of political life in his native northern Caucasus: never touch the existing borders of political units.

If the government does and that is precisely what the new administrative arrangements call for, then, Abdulatipov concludes, "in current circumstances, [this] reform will provoke permanent conflicts," something that he greatly fears in his native Daghestan.

But this negative and unintended consequence of Putin's efforts to introduce municipal reforms and thus to strengthen the power vertical will not be limited to the northern Caucasus, the paper asserts, but instead will extend to many other regions, including predominantly ethnic Russian ones as well.

And the paper quotes Georgiy Kadyshev, who runs zoning in Moscow Oblast, as having concluded that the municipal reforms will undermine many existing relationships among neighboring areas, something that at a minimum will complicate administration and more likely will provoke real conflicts among them and with the population.

To the extent that happens not only there but elsewhere, what Putin's approach may succeed in doing is making the Russian Federation as a whole just as fractious and conflict-laden -- and hence ungovernable by Moscow alone -- as many parts of the northern Caucasus already are.

By Julie A. Corwin

Although he appeared before a U.S. congressional committee just 10 days ago, Leonid Borisovich Nevzlin's political and personal fortunes have been steadily declining ever since the October arrest of his closest business partner, former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii. In 2003, Nevzlin appeared on "Forbes'" list of the world's richest people with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion. This year, his name disappeared from the list.

After his 1996 election victory, then President Boris Yeltsin thanked Nevzlin for his role in helping him get reelected. In the 2004 presidential election, Nevzlin, from exile in Israel, underwrote opposition candidate Irina Khakamada, who finished with less than 4 percent of the vote.

For the next election, Nevzlin has already offered to bankroll a union of former chess champion Garri Kasparov and independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov. However, Kasparov rejected the overture, saying that he would not take any money from Nevzlin. Similarly, the Russian State Humanitarian University (RGGU) announced in April that it no longer wants any money from Yukos, which had pledged $10 million to the institution over a 10-year period. University officials also decided to revise the authority of its board of trustees, of which Nevzlin is a member.

More damaging to Nevzlin's reputation than spurned offers of largesse have been the criminal charges that have been accumulating since he left Russia for Israel. In January 2004, less than two weeks after Nevzlin announced plans to help organize Khakamada's presidential campaign, the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office issued an international arrest warrant for Nevzlin. He was wanted on suspicion of evading 26.7 million rubles ($930,000 at the current exchange rate) in taxes in 1999-2000 and allegedly appropriating shares in two Eastern Oil Company (VNK) subsidiaries, oil producer Tomskneft and the Achinsk refinery.

In July 2004, the Prosecutor-General's Office issued a second international arrest warrant for Nevzlin on charges including murder and attempted murder. Russian prosecutors accuse Nevzlin of ordering former Yukos security official Aleksei Pichugin to organize and commit numerous murders, including that of businessman Sergei Gorin and his wife. Nevzlin is also charged with organizing two attempts on the life of East Petroleum President Yevgenii Rybin. Nevzlin for his part accused Rybin of attempting to blackmail him and asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate the matter.

In an interview with "The New York Times" on 21 March, Nevzlin said that the cases against him were fabricated by the Federal Security Service (FSB) "from beginning to end." On 20 July, the prosecutor's office resubmitted a new request for extradition to Israeli authorities, according to "Ha'aretz."

Nevzlin, 45, climbed to the peak of Russia's business elite from fairly humble origins. His father, an engineer from Leningrad Oblast, and his mother, a schoolteacher from Chita, raised Leonid Borisovich on their modest incomes in an apartment off of one of Moscow's main thoroughfares.

In 1981, Nevzlin graduated from the Moscow Institute for Oil and Gas Industry at the age of 21. In his first job, he worked as a computer programmer for the external trade association, Zarubezhgeologiya, of the Ministry of Geology.

Then one day at the end of 1987, he answered a newspaper ad seeking workers and ideas. At the Youth Center for Scientific-Technical Creations (MNTP), he met Khodorkovskii. Together, they turned MNTP into Menatep bank, the corporate ancestor of today's Yukos. Nevzlin started out as a computer programmer but quickly evolved into the bank's chief specialist for public relations and lobbying.

According to "Profil," No. 32 (2002), Nevzlin was a "superprofessional piarshchhik," who enjoyed access to all branches of power. He had particularly close informal relations with then Finance Minister Boris Fedorov, but his access to the Finance Ministry didn't end when Fedorov left in 1994. Prior to that, Nevzlin and Khodorkovskii were advisers to Russia's first post-Soviet Prime Minister Ivan Silaev.

Although he remained business partners with Khodorkovskii throughout the 1990s and today possesses Khodorkovskii's 59.5 percent stake in Menatep, Nevzlin has engaged in a peripatetic pursuit of a variety of different sideline interests in recent years. He spent a year as first deputy chairman of ITAR-TASS news agency, nine months as head of the Russian Jewish Congress, some 15 months as Mordovia's representative to the Federation Council, and concluded with less than five months as rector of the Russian State Humanitarian University. The last position raised eyebrows, since Nevzlin wasn't a scholar and has no doctorate.

Has Nevzlin been trying to reinvent himself in much the same way as Khodorkovskii? Yaroslav Kuzminov, rector of the Higher School for Economics, told on 24 June 2003 that he didn't think Yukos's philanthropic efforts were purely public relations. "I am almost certain that for Khodorkovskii and Nevzlin this is a spiritual need. In this sense, they are going along the path of [financier George] Soros," he said.

Analyst Stanislav Belkovskii told on 14 July that Nevzlin is a clever person, but he has one major deficiency: He doesn't understand politics. Nevzlin believes that the country is run by KGB-FSB officers, but in fact it is under the control of the people who came to power in the 1990s. "Nevzlin behaved the same way toward his competitors as the team of [presidential aide] Igor Sechin is behaving now toward Yukos shareholders," he concluded.

While Nevzlin may not be clever enough by Belkovskii's yardstick, he has managed to do what some of his fellow oligarchs have not: Avoid jail. He has also apparently managed to preserve at least some of his financial assets. Nevzlin told on 11 March 2004 that Russian prosecutors greatly exaggerated the assets he and other Yukos shareholders held in Swiss banks. He said the real sum is not more than $5 million, adding that "nobody keeps such huge amounts in cash in personal accounts."

Nevzlin also revealed that his Swiss bank warned him six months ago about the possibility of accounts being frozen, and so he left just $100,000 in his accounts for his family's current expenses. Of course, $100,000 may not go very far now, as Nevzlin and his second wife currently live in one of Tel Aviv's tonier suburbs. He must also keep up with mounting legal fees.

By Claire Bigg

With the arrival of hot temperatures and summer recess, thousands of young Russians have traded city life for the peace of Russia's picturesque countryside. But at a pro-Kremlin camp north of Moscow, young Russians have little time for barbecues, mushroom picking, and lazy afternoons. They have come to learn how to defend their country -- and President Vladimir Putin. The government, meanwhile, this week approved a comprehensive five-year program to raise patriotic feelings among youth.

This is no ordinary boot camp. It is organized by the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi and the 3,000 youths are not here to relax. Their day starts at 8:00 a.m. with a 5-kilometer jog followed by political lectures, debating workshops, and physical training.

Gleb Pavlovskii head of the Foundation for Effective Politics has been invited to give lectures at the camp. He told RFE/RL's Russian Service the goal is to prepare young Russians to head off a possible coup against President Vladimir Putin.

"We're still an unstable country, and the lads have to be trained, educated," Pavlovskii said. "What will they do in the event of an attempt such as the one in August 1991, an attempt to overthrow Putin? Sit and listen to lectures? They have to get up, go into the street, and stop the putsch. It means they have to know how to do this. They have to know how to stop and break up a fascist demonstration. Break it up with the use of force. How else?"

Many observers believe Nashi was set up by the Kremlin earlier this year to avert any popular revolution in Russia like the ones in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan ahead the 2008 presidential elections.

The Kremlin has not officially admitted having links to Nashi, but Vladislav Surkov, one of Putin's closest aides, recently flew to the camp.

Life at the camp is strikingly reminiscent of the Soviet era -- youngsters call each other "comrade" and cartoons hung between pine trees portray Soviet heroes fighting capitalists, fascists, and American politicians.

Nashi describes Russian liberal politicians, wealthy oligarchs, and radical youth groups as its enemies and tends to brand them as "fascists."

At the Seliger camp, most youths, like this young man, are also eager to extol the virtues of patriotism. "The young generation is the future of Russia," he told RFE/RL's Russian Service. "If patriotic views are not created now for the young generation, if everybody goes to America and so on, Russia won't hold out for very long."

A manifesto distributed at the camp also promotes strong patriotic views, expressing support for Putin and warning in vague terms about Russia's enemies.

As the caricatures on display at the camp suggest, anti-Western feelings seem to be rife among Nashi members and sympathizers. During his visit to the camp, Putin's aide, Surkov, said Russian youth had to be protected against "the manipulative influence of the West."

Such statements are increasingly common among Russia's political elite, a tendency that is worrying to many observers, such as U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow. "I hear such declarations more and more often," he told RFE/RL. "It's a shame, because we had the impression that post-Soviet Russia wanted to become a member of the West and that the strategy of the administrations of Yeltsin and Putin was to integrate Russia into the world community. Such statements about the protection of young people against the West sound very strange."

Camps such as the one on Lake Seliger are still relatively rare, but similar initiatives could see a sharp rise in the near future.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov this week approved a governmental program aimed at promoting patriotism among Russian youth over the next five years. The program, called "Patriotic Education for Citizens of the Russian Federation," is due to receive a total of $17.4 million from the federal budget between 2006 and 2010. It outlines plans for summer camps, competitions, and games with a strong focus on sports and the military.

And the names that have already been given to some of the planned events -- "Ready for the Defense of the Motherland" or "We Believe in You, Soldier!" -- speak volumes about the government's desire to boost the prestige of Russia and its ailing army.

By Claire Bigg

Foreigners wishing to adopt Russian children could soon have to take parenting lessons and psychological tests for emotional stability. This, at least, is what Russia's Education and Science Ministry suggested this week following the murder of a Russian girl by her American adoptive mother. The tragedy comes just weeks after another Russian child died at the hands of his adoptive mother in the U.S. The killings have sparked outrage in Russia, where many are calling for a tightening of rules governing foreign adoptions.

In April, a woman in Chicago was sentenced to 12 years in prison for beating her 6-year-old Russian adopted son to death.

Another American woman, Peggy Sue Hilt, was arrested and charged on 8 July with the murder of a 2-year-old girl she had adopted in Russia. The autopsy showed the child died after being hit in the stomach.

Both incidents have received huge media coverage in Russia, where they have provoked a debate over possible reforms of the adoption process for foreigners. About 15,000 Russian children are adopted by foreigners every year, half of them by American families.

This month, the Education and Science Ministry -- which oversees adoptions -- aired proposals that would make foreigners wanting to adopt Russian children undergo compulsory psychological tests for emotional stability. The ministry also suggested introducing special parenting classes.

Ivan Yantsukevich is an adviser to the director of the ministry's department of youth policy, education, and the social protection of children, which drafted the proposals.

He told RFE/RL the proposed changes could be useful in detecting foreign adoption candidates who are unfit to care for children.

"The aim of these changes is to prevent such tragedies from happening again," Yantsukevich said. "The changes should ensure that a family with mentally disturbed members is not even able to lay claim to adopting a child. Our task right now is to determine exactly what changes are needed to do so."

The ministry says it is also eager to curb illegal adoptions. It proposed outlawing adoptions organized by groups or intermediaries not accredited with the Russian government.

Last month, Russian authorities suspended accreditation for three U.S.-based adoption agencies, saying they had failed to monitor the children after their adoption.

But the two recent murders have also highlighted how much more can be done to encourage Russians to adopt orphans.

Some officials have put the number of orphans in Russia at a staggering 2 million. But Russian families rarely adopt because of the social stigma, or simply because they cannot afford more than one child.

"The department is now trying to draw the attention of the Russian public, of potential Russian adopters, to the problem of orphaned children and to inform Russian citizens about adoption," Yantsukevich said. "This doesn't mean we are trying to reject international adoption."

As part of this effort, the Education and Science Ministry recently launched an adoption website ( to guide prospective Russian parents through the adoption process.

Former First Deputy Prime Minister and Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko died at the age of 57 from leukemia, Russian newspapers reported on 21 July. In his autobiography, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin wrote that he considered naming Aksenenko to the post of prime minister after Yevgenii Primakov resigned, but instead nominated Sergei Stepashin because he feared the Duma would object too strenuously to Aksenenko. Aksenenko resigned as Railways Minister in January 2002 -- two months after a criminal case on suspicion of exceeding his authority among other charges was launched against him.

President Putin signed a decree naming Lieutenant-General Konstantin Romandovskii as head of the Federal Migration Service, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 July. Romandovskii previously headed the department of internal security at the Interior Ministry, replacing former Deputy Interior Minister Andrei Chernenko.

8 August: Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Gennadii Khodryev's term will officially expire.

12 August: Fifth anniversary of the sinking of the Kursk submarine.

26 August: CIS summit to be held in Kazan.

September: First-ever Sino-Russian military exercises to be held on the Shandong Peninsula.

September: New U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns will take up residence in Moscow

1 September: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its plans for the elimination of the estate tax, the simplification of individual tax declarations, and the simplification of the requirements for real-estate purchases.

3 September: First anniversary of Beslan school tragedy.

5 September: Fall plenary session of the State Duma opens.

21 September: Federation Council reopens.

1 October: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its economic-development plans for the Far East, the North Caucasus, and Kaliningrad Oblast.

4 October: President Putin to visit London for Russia-EU summit.

23 October: Referendums to be held in Kamchatka Oblast and the Koryak Autonomous Okrug about the merger of the two federation subjects.

9 October: State Duma by-election in single-mandate district in Rostov Oblast.

23-26 October: Third anniversary of the Moscow theater hostage crisis.

25 October: Second anniversary of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii's arrest at an airport in Novosibirsk.

1 November: Public Chamber expected to hold first session.

1 November: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its proposals for limiting foreign-capital participation in the defense sector and strategic-resource development.

1 November: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its proposals for judicial reform and combating crime, especially terrorism.

Second half of November: Chechnya to hold legislative elections, according to pro-Kremlin Chechen President Alu Alkhanov.

1 December: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its plans for reducing traffic accidents, alcoholism, and drug addiction, as well as its proposals for improving health care.

1 December: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its plan to increase state-sector wages by 50 percent within three years.

28 December: Federation Council will hold its last session in 2005.

2006: Russia to host a G-8 summit in St. Petersburg.

1 January 2006: Date by which all political parties must conform to law on political parties, which requires at least 50,000 members and branches in one-half of all federation subjects, or either reregister as public organizations or be dissolved.