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Russia Report: April 17, 2003

17 April 2003, Volume 3, Number 15
Addressing the assembled governors from the Northwest Federal District in St. Petersburg on 11 April, President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed the need to finalize the division of power among the federal, regional, and local levels, Russian media reported. "First of all, we need to determine what should be done to make people's lives easier and to make government organs work more effectively," Putin said, according to RosBalt. Then, he continued, "[we must] determine how to finance these responsibilities." According to Putin, the government will prepare by 29 April a three-year plan on financing the various levels of government, Interfax reported. Putin noted the Duma will likely consider the bill on local-government reform before the end of the spring session (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). According to Komiinform, Putin linked reform of the communal-housing and public-utilities sectors with the bill demarcating responsibilities of the various levels of government, since that bill will address the problem of lack of financing that has long plagued municipal governments. JAC

The State Duma has postponed consideration of the bills reforming local government from April to June, "Vremya novostei" reported on 12 April. According to the daily, the official reason is that the Finance Ministry has not yet prepared its amendments to the Tax and Budget codes that would redirect financial flows and responsibilities. The daily also reported that the postponement represents a victory for Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin over deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak. The commission that Kozak heads drafted the original legislation. State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent) told the daily that Putin decided not to undertake the "big political risks" associated with the local-government reforms. According to the daily, Kudrin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov convinced Putin in a conversation on 10 April that a postponement was necessary. JAC

Also on 10 April in Voronezh, some 72 delegates from 57 cities in Russia gathered to attend a two-day meeting devoted to creating a Union of Representatives of Local Self-Government Organs, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. According to the newspaper, the chief task of the new organization is the struggle against the draft federal legislation on local self-government, which was authored by a presidential commission chaired by deputy presidential administration head Kozak. The bill was approved in its first reading in the Duma in February, and a second reading had been expected to take place on 25 April (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 3 March 2003). According to the newspaper, the existing Congress of Municipal Organizations has taken too passive a position regarding the bill in the opinion of the more radical representatives of municipal organs. JAC

Deputy head of the presidential administration Kozak told reporters in Moscow on 14 April that the number of local legislatures in the federation will increase by a factor of 2.5 if draft legislation reforming local government is adopted, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2003). However, Kozak said that neither the total number of state officials nor the burden on taxpayers would increase. Speaking at the same press conference, Aleksandr Shirokov, director of the municipal economics department at the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, explained that with the adoption of the legislation, which the State Duma is currently considering, 20,000 new village and municipal entities would be created, and each of these would need its own budget, RIA-Novosti reported. According to Shirokov, the legislation stipulates that there would be three types of municipal formations -- city and rural settlements, municipal districts, and city areas. JAC

The Council of Muftis on 14 April condemned Telget Tajetdin, the supreme mufti of Russia and the European countries of the CIS, for his 3 April declaration of a jihad against the United States, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2003). The council decided that Tajetdin's "emotional declaration in the name of all Muslims in Russia...cannot be considered a private mistake," according to Interfax. The council also stated that Tajetdin's declaration caused great damage to the authority of Russian Muslims and that he has no right to lead an Islamic organization. Ravil Gainutdin, who heads the Council of Muftis, is a long-time rival of Tajetdin's. Commenting on the council's declaration, Muhammad Gali Khuzin, mufti for Perm Oblast, said, "According to our charter, only a congress of Muslims of the Central Spiritual Directorate of Russia can make a decision about stopping the activities of Telget Tajetdin," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 April. According to the daily, Tajetdin's organization is the largest and most influential Islamic organization in Russia, with 49 regional spiritual administrations compared to only 15 belonging to Gainutdin's group. JAC

Meanwhile, a Muslim charitable organization in Udmurtia called Ikhlas organized a demonstration on 12 April against the "occupation" of Iraq by the United States and its coalition partners, reported on 14 April. The report did not specify how many people participated in the action. Another demonstration of an unspecified size against the war in Iraq was held on 10 April in downtown Astrakhan, reported. According to the imam of a local mosque, many young people attended the meeting. Officials from the Iranian consulate in the city were also invited. JAC

First Deputy Natural Resources Minister Nikolai Tarasov told reporters in Moscow on 11 April that the flooding situation in Russia remains dangerous and ministry experts expect this year's flooding to be even heavier than last year's, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The northern regions are particularly at risk because the volume of snow currently exceeds the seasonal norm by 50 percent. Regions already affected by flooding are Volgograd, Rostov, and Voronezh oblasts. According to TV-Tsentr, the number of people in those areas affected by flooding is already more than 30,000. According to Tarasov, flood-prevention commissions have been formed in practically all regions, and officials are hoping that this will result less loss of life and material damage than during the floods last year. JAC

Omsk Oblast's Chamber for Trade and Industry has refused to meet with a U.S. trade delegation in protest against the United States' policies in Iraq, "Vremya novostei" reported on 9 April. According to the daily, the meeting, which was scheduled for the middle of April, will not take place because members of the chamber reached a unanimous decision to cancel. This is not the first such action by local authorities -- on 21 March, they reportedly refused to arrange transport to the local airport for Edward Kulakovskii, a cultural attache at the U.S. Embassy, "as a sign of protest against the war in Iraq." JAC

The Media Ministry issued on 9 April an official warning to the St. Petersburg-based television company Peterburg, RosBalt reported. The company failed to provide the ministry with the broadcasting materials it requested, according to the news agency. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 April that this is not the first warning the company has received. The company's television-broadcast license will expire in July and its radio-broadcast license in June, and because of the warnings the station is in danger of losing those licenses, which can be put up for tender. Such a tender could take place just several months before the spring 2004 gubernatorial campaign in St. Petersburg, although it is also possible that the elections will be held in December to coincide with the State Duma race. The St. Petersburg city administration currently owns a controlling stake in the company. First Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii confirmed that the warnings "could influence the procedure for prolonging the company's licenses," the daily reported. JAC

During an 8 April evening news broadcast, the Peterburg television station broadcast the results of a recent poll in which it asked its viewers: "Who should play a more decisive role in determining the result of the future gubernatorial elections in St. Petersburg -- the citizens or the Moscow leadership?" according to RosBalt. The agency cited unidentified experts who claimed this poll is evidence that the political struggle in the city has entered a new, sharper phase. JAC

Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov is facing the possibility of not being able to seek a third term, "Kommersant-Daily" and reported on 9 April. There is little doubt that the oblast legislature will cancel a law that made it possible for Titov to seek more than two consecutive terms, according to the daily. The law was passed in June 2002, but was declared invalid by the Supreme Court. On 8 April, oblast legislators introduced in the agenda of the legislature's next session the question of canceling the law. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 March that a kind of "velvet revolution" occurred during the latter half of March when two factions in the oblast legislature, Unified Russia and People Power, managed to re-elect the chairpersons of three of the legislature's six committees, ousting three of Titov's supporters. Titov competed in the last presidential elections and is co-chairman of the Social-Democratic Party of Russia. JAC

Tatarstan's Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Rafis Kashapov, leader of the Tatar Public Center branch in Chally, who was arrested on 25 March, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 11 April. The Supreme Court left the ruling of the lower Chally City Court unchanged; that court ruled that leaflets found in Kashapov's apartment incited interethnic and interconfessional discord by featuring negative assessments of the Russian people and Russian Orthodoxy. Police searched Kashapov's residence during the investigation of an act of vandalism at the construction site of St. Tatyana's church in Chally last October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2002). Kashapov told "Vremya novostei" last month that there were political motives behind his arrest. The deputy head of the Chally center, Geptrakhman Jeleletdinov, told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 25 March that the action against Kashapov and his brother, who was also arrested, must have been ordered "from above" and is a result of several years' "political persecution" by prosecutors with the support by the Chally administration. Last May, members of the Chally branch of Tatar Public Center were beaten up, and Kashapov refused to attend the trial this year of those charged in the attack, because he said that "the organizers [of the attack] are still at large, and the authorities remain silent concerning them." JAC

Duma deputies voted on 11 April to approve amendments to the law on highway safety in their first reading, reported. The vote was 298 in favor with one against. The bill -- which was introduced by the chairman of the Movement of Car Drivers of Russia, Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist) -- limits the use of registered state license plates and special sound and light signals on automobiles, reported. According to Ilyukhin, the use of special license plates and signals has been proliferating. In the Soviet Union, there were only 104 cars with special license plates and now almost 4,000 cars have special license plates, including the cars of the chairmen of Unified Energy Systems and Gazprom. Government envoy to the Duma Andrei Loginov reported that the government considers the bill "nonsensical" and noted that of the 1,640 cars in Russia with special signals, 530 belong to the State Duma and 259 to the Federation Council. Another suggestion by Ilyukhin was rejected. He proposed a bill that would have redirected the money be spent on providing deputies with free mobile phones to Kamchatka Oblast to help restore essential services on the peninsula before the next winter. The measure got only 144 of the 226 votes needed, reported. JAC

The State Duma on 9 April approved in its third reading a bill on reforming the system for payment of communal housing and public utilities, Russian media reported. Under the law, an individual can be evicted if he/she fails to pay for housing for six months, RTR reported. The vote was 238 in favor with 181 votes against, reported. Yabloko and the Communist factions voted against the bill, as they did in the previous readings (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 26 March 2003). Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said the law is certain to lead to rate hikes, and that all the mechanisms in the current system that allow monopolies to inflate prices for housing and utilities have been preserved, TVS reported. About 70 Yabloko activists held a protest against the bill outside the Duma, RosBalt reported. The same day, deputies approved a bill amending the law on judicial associations, RosBalt reported. The vote was 241 in favor with 152 against and two abstentions. The bill stipulates the order for forming judicial-qualification collegiums. According to the bill, representatives in the collegiums must be Russian citizens of at least 35 years of age with a higher legal education. JAC


Name of law______________Date approved____________No. of reading

On road safety______________11 April_____________________1st

On the fundamentals__________9 April_____________________3rd
of federal housing policy

On the organs of judicial_______9 April_____________________1st

OUT: Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev announced on 9 April that he is recalling his representative to the Federation Council, Rafgat Altynbaev, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. He will be replaced by Filze Khamidullin, a state councilor on socioeconomic issues, who has for many years "shown her absolute loyalty to Shaimiev." The daily speculated that the reason for Altynbaev's dismissal could be Shaimiev's displeasure with his activities as co-chairman of the Russian Party of Life. Shaimiev is a co-chairman of a competing political party, Unified Russia. However, Shaimiev's apparatus declined to officially provide an explanation for Altynbaev's recall.

IN: The Federation Council on 9 April confirmed Nikolai Bychkov, a former Yukos executive in charge of refining and sales, and Boris Shpigel, the president of Biotek pharmaceuticals, as representatives in the upper legislative chamber, ITAR-TASS reported. Bychkov replaces Leonid Nevzlin, another former Yukos executive, as a representative of the executive branch of the Republic of Mordovia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). Shpigel replaces Aleksandr Bespalov, the former chairman of Unified Russia's General Council, as a representative of the governor of Penza Oblast.

IN: The Central Election Commission on 14 April confirmed Aleksandr Tkachev from Kursk Oblast as a new State Duma deputy in the Unity faction, "Vremya-MN" reported the next day. Tkachev is taking the place of Elvira Yermakova, who left the Duma to become a member of the election commission. Tkachev is the former chairman of the Kursk Oblast committee for international economic activities and information under former Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi, according to "Kommersant-Daily."

IN: Valentin Stepankov, formerly deputy presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District, has been named deputy secretary of the Security Council, "Izvestiya" and "Zavtra" reported on 14 April.

OUT: The Socialist Party of Russia has removed former State Duma speaker and former Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin from his post as leader of the party and withdrawn his party membership, NTV reported on 12 April. According to the station, this step was taken because of Rybkin's alleged cooperation with exiled business tycoon Boris Berezovskii.

IN: Federal Migration Service head Andrei Chernenko has been named first deputy presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, "Rossiiskie vesti" reported on 9 April.

DECEASED: Tver Mayor Aleksandr Belousov died of a heart attack on 9 April at the age of 55, reported the next day.

CHARGED: Former Deputy Governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai Valerii Suladze has been charged with abuse of office and taking bribes, RIA-Novosti reported on 9 April.

17 April: Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will attend a conference on EU expansion in Athens

17 April: Apostolic Nuncio to the Russian Federation and Archbishop Antonio Mennini will meet with Irkutsk Oblast and city administration officials, reported on 14 April

18 April: The State Duma will consider the draft Customs Code in its second reading, RosBalt reported on 15 April

19 April: The Party of Life will hold its first congress in Moscow

20 April: Mayoral elections will be held in Norilsk and legislative elections will be held in Kemerovo Oblast

20-24 April: Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri will visit Moscow

20-21 April: Japanese First Deputy Foreign Minister Tetsuro Yano will visit Russia

21 April: The Federation Council will submit to the State Duma its amendments to the laws governing media coverage of election campaigns, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 April

22 April: Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov will visit Yekaterinburg

22-25 April: The Sixth General Assembly of the Northern Forum will be held in St. Petersburg. Governors from 28 countries are expected to attend, and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov will head the Russian delegation, ITAR-TASS reported

24-25 April: Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda will visit Russia

25 April: State Duma will consider a bill reforming local government in its second reading, according to RosBalt on 1 April

26-29 April: Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin will visit North Korea

29 April: Deadline for completion of the first stage of Russia's chemical-weapons disarmament

30 April: Russian government will consider a financial plan for 2003-05, according to RosBalt on 12 March

May: St. Petersburg will celebrate its 300th anniversary

May: U.S. President George W. Bush invited to visit Russia

May: New daily publication called "Rezonans," produced by some of the staff of the now-defunct newspaper "Novye izvestiya," will debut

May: Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi will visit Vladivostok

1 May: Deadline by which the government is expected to finish preparing a package of legislation establishing a mortgage system, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 February

9 May: Victory in World War II celebrated

11 May: Parliamentary elections will be held in North Ossetia

13 May: Extradition hearing in London scheduled for tycoon Boris Berezovskii and his associate Yulii Dubrov

18 May: New law on railway transportation will come into force

18 May: Leonid Parfenov's program "Namedni" scheduled to return to the airwaves on NTV after a three-month hiatus

22 May: The current term of presidential ombudsman for human rights Oleg Mironov expires

25 May: Gubernatorial elections in Belgorod Oblast

25-27 May: Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit Russia

30 May: Russia-European Union summit will take place in St. Petersburg

31 May-1 June: Czech President Vaclav Klaus will visit St. Petersburg

1-3 June: G8 summit will take place in Evian, France

15 June: Karachaevo-Cherkessia will hold presidential elections

16-22 June: A meeting of 25 Nobel Prize laureates on the topic of "Science and the Progress of Humanity" will be held in St. Petersburg

17-21 June: Seventh International Economic Forum will be held in St. Petersburg

27 June: Gazprom will hold annual shareholders meeting

July: Month by which a working group of European and Russian legislators wants to create a "road map" for implementation of the joint Russian-EU accord on Kaliningrad of 11 November 2002, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 March

1 July: Date by which the new State Anti-Drug-Trafficking Agency will be created and new Federal Service for Economic and Tax Crimes will be formed, according to the agency's new head Viktor Cherkesov on 8 April and ITAR-TASS on 10 April

1 July: United Arab Emirates national airline will begin regular flights from Moscow's Domodedovo Airport

1 July: Date by which Russia should ratify a border treaty with Lithuania, according to State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin on 27 March

September: Second Russian-U.S. Commercial Energy Summit will take place in Moscow

14 September: Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel's second term officially expires

23 September: The first European-Pacific Ocean Conference will take place in Vladivostok devoted to improving dialogue among intellectuals in European countries and the Pacific region, reported on 6 March

October: Days of Bulgarian Culture will be held in Russia

October: President Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will meet in Yekaterinburg, Novyi region reported on 14 April

29 October: 85th anniversary of the founding of the Komsomol.


By Charles Carlson and Denis Valeev

Although he relocated to London in late 2000, self-exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovskii continues to feel legal pressure from Moscow, and next month he faces an extradition hearing in a London court. The Prosecutor-General's Office might be pursuing its case against Berezovskii with particular vigor because the former oligarch continues to play a significant political role in Russia, managing to stir up trouble in places far away from London. At a recent Liberal Russia party conference in Kazan devoted to the ethnic problems of the peoples of the Volga region, Berezovskii moderated a forum dominated by criticism of Moscow's nationalities policy. Berezovskii was officially expelled from the Liberal Russia party in October, but some regional organizations of the party continue to cooperate with him.

The March conference provided a rare public discussion of the deficiencies in the federal government's approach to nationality policy. Speaker after speaker lambasted Moscow's recent initiatives with regard to the non-Russian peoples of the Russian Federation. Berezovskii, speaking via video link from London, wrapped up the proceedings with a denunciation of the current direction of Russian government policy and its likely negative consequences for the cohesion of the federation.

State Duma Deputy Fendes Safiullin (Russian Regions), who was elected from a single-mandate district in Tatarstan, kicked off the chorus of complaints with a stinging comment about the status of Vladimir Zorin, government minister without portfolio in charge of nationalities policy. Safiullin charged that Zorin has neither political influence nor financial resources: Zorin "is merely a bum minister with no staff, finances, or power."

Safiullin also charged that the articles of the Russian Constitution that grant state status to the languages of ethnic minorities in the republics of the Russian Federation and that declare that international legal norms on ethnic rights take precedence over national laws are routinely violated. He deplored a February 2002 federal government decree requiring that all university dissertations be written in Russian. He also deplored a government ban on offering university courses in the language and history of non-Russian peoples with instruction in national languages. Safiullin criticized the fact that, despite the many native languages of the Russian Federation, passports are issued only in Russian. He pointed out that in 1998 the Constitutional Court abolished the requirement that candidates for the office of executive-branch head in the republics of the federation must be able to speak the language of the titular non-Russian population.

Safiullin said that to preserve its image as part of European civilization, Russia must be more sensitive to the needs of its ethnic minorities. He said the 2002 ban on the planned Tatar orthographic reform from a Cyrillic-based script to a Latin-based one is a "disgrace for Russia." He recalled that the State Duma rejected the Tatar alphabet reform on the basis of a fabricated report that claimed the reform was "initiated by Turkish intelligence." Safiullin said that report labels all members of the Tatar intelligentsia "Turkish spies." He predicted that if Russia continues to pursue such negative policies toward its non-Russian minorities, it could lead to the country's "self-destruction."

In his remarks to delegates, Kerim Yaushev, a Tatar journalist from Bashkortostan, echoed Safiullin's criticisms. Yaushev said he disagrees with some Russian politicians' claims that Russia has no distinct ethnic policy. "Russia always had a nationalities policy, and this policy's name is 'the policy of empire,'" he said. Yaushev added that Russian chauvinism toward non-Russians has been elevated to official state policy. One aspect of that policy, Yaushev said, is the promotion of Russian Orthodox Christianity as inherently superior to other faiths. Yaushev also criticized what he termed the falsification of the results of the October Russian national census. He said a large number of Tatars in Bashkortostan were falsely registered as Bashkirs in order to weaken the status of Tatars in the region and to sow enmity between Tatars and Bashkirs.

Tatar ethnologist and historian Damir Iskhakov, who is deputy chairman of the Executive Committee of the World Tatar Congress, also lamented the direction of Moscow's ethnic policy. He said the ongoing local self-government reforms disregard ethnicity, even given when the reformed local authorities will be obliged to administer territories inhabited only by non-Russian ethnic groups. He said that ever fewer Tatar children are attending Tatar-language schools. Parents prefer to send their children to Russian-language schools so that they will succeed in universities where exams and lectures are conducted exclusively in Russian, according to Iskhakov.

In his address to the congress, Berezovskii said: "The remaining economic strengths of Russia's regions, combined with unsolved ethnic issues, are producing a centrifugal process. This creates an explosion, which can be seen in the example of Chechnya." Berezovskii said it is imperative to liberalize Russia's federal structure so that instead of the center delegating powers to the regions, the regions decide which powers to delegate to the center. This, Berezovskii continued, necessitates not strengthening the power vertical, as is being done now, but devolving power to the federation subjects.

Berezovskii noted that the Russian government is moving toward merging regions to create larger territorial-administrative units. The next step, he charged, will be to replace elected regional leaders with ones appointed by Moscow. He predicted that if the Kremlin-backed Unified Russia party wins a majority in the State Duma elections in December, the Kremlin will attempt to amend the constitution to extend the presidential term in office and to permit the merging of regions and the appointment of regional leaders.

Of course, this assertion directly contradicts President Vladimir Putin's public statements that he has no plans to fundamentally alter the constitution. It is therefore not difficult to imagine that the Kremlin continues to find Berezovskii irritating -- even at a considerable distance.

Charles Carlson is a former director of the RFE/RL Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek services, and Denis Valeev is a political scientist and freelance contributor to the Kazan bureau of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service.