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Russia Report: May 8, 2003

8 May 2003, Volume 3, Number 18
The Constitutional Court will meet on 13 May to consider a suit filed by the Communist Party of Russia (KPRF) challenging the constitutionality of a law prohibiting referendums from being held during the year preceding parliamentary or presidential elections, reported on 5 May. The suit was filed by 117 deputies belonging to the State Duma's KPRF and Agrarian factions, "Vremya novostei" reported on 6 May.

The KPRF has designated three faction members -- Viktor Ilyukhin, Viktor Zorkaltsev and Anatolii Lukyanov -- to represent it during the Constitutional Court session, reported. The Duma approved the ban last September by amending the law on referendums. The changes were quickly approved by the Federation Council and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. The ban was opposed not only by the KPRF and its allies, but also by some leading liberals, including Sergei Yushenkov, the Liberal Russia co-chairman who was shot dead in Moscow on 17 April. Yushenkov warned during the debate that the ban was aimed not simply at preventing a Communist referendum on land sales but at referendums in general. The amendments, he said, "were initiated by the authorities so that the next State Duma will have a solid, pro-Kremlin majority that will approve any decision, including extending the president's term" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2002).

Ivan Melnikov, deputy chairman of the KPRF's Central Committee, said there is a 50-50 chance the Constitutional Court would rule in the party's favor. On the one hand, he told "Vremya novostei," the presidential administration will put "colossal pressure" on the court not to overturn the ban, given that the alternative would represent a "very big defeat" on the eve of parliamentary elections. On the other hand, the court's members understand "as professional judges" that a legally unjustified decision will arouse "a very negative reaction" in the legal community.

Mikhail Barshchevskii, the Russian government's representative to the Constitutional Court, told "Vremya novostei" that he does not believe the referendum ban is unconstitutional, arguing that there are international precedents for such a prohibition and that it is permissible to limit "one or another of the Russian Constitution's rights with the goal of ensuring more meaningful rights." "Public security and public order are more important than anything else, and referendums are banned during a federal election year precisely for those goals," Barshchevskii said. He also accused the Communists of wanting to use referendums to "propagandize" their positions, "Vremya novostei" reported on 6 May. (Jonas Bernstein)

Controversial politician and businessman Alfred Kokh, who formerly headed the State Property Committee and Gazprom-Media, will manage the Union of Rightist Forces' (SPS) election campaign, Ekho Moskvy reported on 30 April. SPS co-leader Irina Khakamada said party head Boris Nemtsov had put forward Kokh's name, after which he won backing from the entire SPS leadership. However, reported on 5 May that Kokh's long-time associate, Unified Energy System (EES) chief and Russian privatization architect Anatolii Chubais, was responsible for Kokh's appointment and that Kokh is in fact Nemtsov's "competitor." Whatever the case, an unnamed SPS source described Kokh as "a real fighter, an excellent manager, and absolutely 'rightist' ideologically," adding that he would "significantly strengthen the party's administrative resources," reported on 30 April. Kokh has "solid positions in business, including the media business," "enjoys authority among Russian intellectuals," and "always achieves his goals," the same source was quoted as saying.

Kokh, who in the mid-1990s worked closely with Chubais and Interros Holding Company chief Vladimir Potanin, was fired as State Property Committee chief in August 1997 after Potanin's Uneximbank won control of Norilsk Nickel and a Uneximbank-led consortium won a 25 percent stake in the Svyazinvest telecommunications holding company in bitterly controversial auctions. In firing him, President Boris Yeltsin said that "some banks are apparently closer [than others] to the heart of Alfred Kokh, and this is not proper" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 1997). Soon afterward, Kokh, Chubais, and other members of the Chubais team became embroiled in another scandal, this time involving receiving royalties from a book on privatization that had not yet been written. More recently Kokh, as head of Gazprom-Media, helped the natural-gas giant take over former oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii's media empire.

In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 May, Kokh said he wants the SPS to come in third in the December State Duma elections and that "good money and good ideas" are necessary to achieve that goal, because media campaigns cost money and without the media it is impossible to reach voters. In 1999, the SPS won some 8 percent of the vote after receiving substantial sympathetic media coverage on major networks and placing many paid commercials on national television. The latest national survey by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) showed SPS tied for fourth place with 6 percent support, behind the Communist Party (28 percent), Unified Russia (21 percent), and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (7 percent), Interfax reported on 30 April.

"Kommersant-Daily" speculated that Kokh does not enjoy a good reputation in the Kremlin and that this will complicate the SPS's efforts during the Duma elections. The newspaper recalled that in February 2002, the legislature of Leningrad Oblast selected Kokh to represent the region in the Federation Council, but Kokh declined that job, purportedly under pressure from the Kremlin. An unnamed SPS source characterized Kokh's relations with the Kremlin as irrelevant, telling "Kommersant-Daily" that "it is already obvious that the authorities do not intend to favor SPS" in the elections. The source added that Kokh has a good reputation in business and media circles.

The initial reactions to Kokh's new job among SPS's political rivals ranged from lukewarm to hostile. Pavel Velikanov, a spokesman for Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), said that if Kokh brought "any kind of ideas" to his new position, then "something might work out for him," RosBalt reported on 5 May. Sergei Mitrokhin, a member of the Yabloko faction in the State Duma, called Kokh "one of the most odious representatives...of super-big business, who is ready to carry out any order." Mitrokhin alleged that the SPS has already spent $1.5 million on anti-Yabloko publications and predicted that such efforts will only accelerate with Kokh's accession as the SPS's campaign manager, RosBalt reported on 5 May. (Jonas Bernstein/Laura Belin)

A deputy from the LDPR faction in the State Duma and his aide allegedly assaulted a group of Moscow police officers in the early hours of 6 May, reported the same day. According to the officers involved, the incident occurred at around 5 a.m. when a group of three allegedly drunken men stopped their patrol car near a metro station. Two of the men -- Duma Deputy Vladislav Demin and his aide, Aleksei Kozeretskii -- then allegedly attacked the officers, shouting "Beat the cops!" ITAR-TASS, however, reported on 6 May that the incident occurred when the policemen asked the three for their documents.

Demin reportedly beat one of the officers while Kozeretskii attacked their vehicle with a baseball bat, after which the two attacked other officers with clubs. The attackers were subdued only after traffic-police officers in two patrol cars arrived at the scene and assisted their beleaguered colleagues.

Demin, however, was allowed to leave the scene without being detained after showing his Duma identification. Kozeretskii was detained and released later that day. But despite the fact that Russian parliamentarians enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution, the prosecutor's office in the district where the attack occurred has launched a criminal investigation of the incident. Anyone convicted of assaulting a police officer can get up to five years in prison, Interfax reported on 6 May. The press service of the LDPR's Duma faction refused to comment on the incident, saying the faction's leaders are currently not in Moscow.

Demin, 29, is a Krasnoyarsk native who, before winning a seat in the Duma, was deputy general director of a company called Kord and a deputy in the Krasnoyarsk Krai Legislative Assembly, reported on 6 May. According to the website, he sits on the Duma's Industry, Construction, and High Technology Committee and on a Duma commission examining federal defense and security expenditures. In addition, the website reported, there is "certain information" that Demin is a former sportsman who was active in martial arts in Krasnoyarsk and headed the krai's karate federation, as well as a close friend of controversial former Krasnoyarsk Aluminum head Anatolii Bykov. Citing "Novaya gazeta," reported that Demin goes by the nickname "Kokos."

LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii has called for an overhaul of Russia's police, starting with its name, MK-Novosti reported on 1 May. The term commonly used for the police -- "militsiya," or "militia" -- is old-fashioned, vaguely "revolutionary" and "unhealthy," Zhirinovskii said. He suggested -- somewhat unimaginatively -- that it should be renamed "the New Russian Police." He also called for new police uniforms, ranks, and decorations. Still, Zhirinovskii said the Interior Ministry ought to be "the most powerful structure in the ranks of Russia's power departments," with supervision over such things as criminal investigations, the passport-visa service, and nationalities policies. Zhirinovskii also revealed that he was detained by police three times during his childhood and "around five times" as an adult. During his childhood, he said, he was detained for jaywalking, making noise at a bus stop, and breaking a public bench. He denied, however, that he and his buddies actually damaged the bench. Zhirinovskii said he was detained "regularly" in 1989 for participating in political demonstrations, MK-Novosti reported on 1 May. (Jonas Bernstein)

Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 6 May that the system of single-mandate districts for electing deputies to the State Duma should be changed, RosBalt reported on 6 May. "The suggestions for changing the system of electoral districts are clear and understandable," Veshnyakov told journalists. "We must make it correspond to the demands of federal law." According to Veshnyakov, there should be voting districts in each of Russia's regions and each of them should have roughly the same number of voters. The current system of electoral districts, which came into effect in 1995, is out of date because of changes in the districts' populations, Veshnyakov said. The TsIK will take up the changes on 14 June and, within a day or two of that, send them to the Duma for consideration, Veshnyakov said. He predicted, however, that some deputies will protest, given that the CEC has received 10 appeals from different regions and each of them has asked for more electoral districts. "If the new scheme is not confirmed by the State Duma before 15 August, then in that case the right [to confirm it] will transfer to the Central Election Commission," RosBalt quoted Veshnyakov as saying. (Jonas Bernstein)

Irkutsk Oblast has moved closer to adopting amendments to its charter that would extend the terms of the governor and regional legislators from four to five years, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 May. A regional working group considered about 100 amendments proposed by the local legislative assembly, State Duma deputies, the oblast administration, and the oblast prosecutor's office. On 6 May, the working group took up a series of amendments specifically covering the procedures for electing the Irkutsk Oblast governor and deputies to its legislative assembly. RIA-Novosti, citing the Sibirskie Novosti news agency, reported that the working group decided that the regional legislative assembly should have 62 deputies. All of the proposed amendments will be presented to the legislative assembly later this month, the news agency reported. (Jonas Bernstein)

The Norilsk city election commission on 6 May decided that a new mayoral election will not be held on 19 October, as had been previously announced, though a new date was not named, ITAR-TASS reported. Commission Chairman Viktor Sadchikov noted that the law requires a repeat mayoral election be held no earlier than six months and no later than seven months after the last election. The first round of the last election took place on 20 April. The second round never took place because a court disqualified the front-runner, prompting all other candidates to drop out of the race (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003). Norilsk Election Commission spokeswoman Nina Petrova told ITAR-TASS on 7 May that the commission has appealed to the Central Election Commission for permission to hold the repeat election in December simultaneously with the State Duma elections. (Laura Belin/Robert Coalson)

Mikaddas Bibarsov, deputy chairman of the Council of Russian Muftis, has written to Fandes Safiullin, a State Duma deputy from Tatarstan and a member of the executive committee of the World Tatar Congress, about the situation in Penza Oblast, where a self-declared "Tatar national-cultural autonomy" held its founding congress on 22 April despite "obstacles" created by the local authorities, Regnum reported on 6 May. In his letter, Bibarsov complained that some guests who were invited to the congress were prevented from entering the local "palace of culture" were the congress was supposed to be held. One participant, Farid Urazaev, who is deputy chairman of the World Tatar Congress's Executive Council, congratulated Penza's Tatars for holding the meeting and noted "the bleak fact of the crisis of the Penza authorities' social policy," Regnum reported. Bibarsov called the actions of the local authorities "a dangerous precedent that goes against state interests in the area of nationalities policy in Russia." Earlier this year, Penza's Muslim community, estimated to number around 100,000, protested the use of an image of Jesus from a Russian Orthodox icon on the oblast's flag (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003). (Jonas Bernstein)

State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said during a press conference in Rostov-na-Donu on 4 May that there should be a law on Cossacks, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 May. Seleznev said such a law is needed to "calm" the Cossacks, but added that he is not sure the draft legislation will be finalized in time for consideration by the current Duma. An earlier version of the law on Cossacks passed the Duma three years ago but was torpedoed by the Federation Council, after which President Putin called for a new version to be written (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 28 June 2000). During the same 4 May press conference, Seleznev was more bullish about proposed amendments to the budget and tax codes, saying they represent a revolution in Russian budgetary law and genuine budgetary federalism, RIA-Novosti reported on 4 May. Money, he said, should stay where people live. "Genuine government by the people is carried out in small cities, meaning that where the people live is where the money should be for repairing roads and repairing roofs and other municipal expenditures," the news agency quoted him as saying. (Jonas Bernstein)

Saratov Oblast Deputy Governor Yurii Moiseev has been formally charged with deliberately causing serious harm to a local resident, Vitalii Gladyshev, in September 1998, Interfax reported on 5 May. If found guilty, Moiseev faces a prison sentence of two to eight years, sources in the local police's press service told the news agency. Moiseev was detained by police on 23 April for allegedly beating Gladyshev and causing a concussion in 1998. According to a recent article in the local newspaper "Reporter," a criminal case was opened immediately after the incident but was closed after witnesses received threats and withdrew their testimony. A new criminal case was opened after "Reporter" published its investigation of the original case (see "Russian Political Weekly," 1 May 2003). Moiseev is not only Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov's deputy, but also his nephew (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 24 April 2003). JAC

IN: Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 30 April signed orders relieving embattled State Fisheries Committee Chairman Yevgenii Nazdratenko of his duties and naming Aleksandr Moiseev as his replacement, reported on 1 May. Also on 30 April, President Putin signed a decree naming Nazdratenko a deputy secretary of the Security Council, reported the same day. The website quoted unnamed Security Council sources as saying that Nazdratenko will oversee ecological security and the preservation of bioresources. After serving as Primorskii Krai governor for most of the 1990s, Nazdratenko stepped down in February 2001 -- apparently under pressure from Putin -- in the midst of the region's fourth consecutive winter of heating and electricity outages. Putin, however, named him to head the State Fisheries Committee, overseeing a multibillion-dollar industry. Earlier this year, Kasyanov temporarily suspended Nazdratenko from that post after fishermen and officials in the Far East complained he had misallocated fishing quotas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003).

Although Nazdratenko will formally oversee a broader range of issues in his new job than he did as head of the State Fisheries Committee, Russian commentators do not expect he will wield real power in his new job (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2003). "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 5 May that the Security Council mainly prepares advisory documents for the president. Nazdratenko will likely be charged with drafting an ecological-security document, but he will not be able to implement it, and it will likely be forgotten, as are many of the Security Council's recommendations. However, "Moskovskie novosti" Editor in Chief Viktor Loshak, writing in the paper's 6 May edition (No. 17), stressed that Nazdratenko had wound up "not in jail, but in the Kremlin." "We have such a surprising form of democracy, in which nothing is explained to public opinion and nobody answers for anything," Loshak wrote. (Jonas Bernstein/Laura Belin)

8 May: There will be a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin Wall marking the 58th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War

9 May: There will be military parades and official ceremonies marking the 58th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War

11 May: Elections will be held for North Ossetia's republican parliament and for the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii Duma

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

14-15 May: U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to visit Russia to prepare for June U.S.-Russia summit

16 May: State Duma expected to consider ratification of the Russian-U.S. Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty

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

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

20 May: Legislative elections in Leningrad Oblast will take place

21 May: Foreign ministers from Russia and the EU along with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will attend a signing ceremony for the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Program for the Russian Federation in Stockholm, Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov announced on 21 April

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

23 May: St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary celebrations will officially start

25 May: Gubernatorial elections to be held 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

June: President Putin scheduled to visit London, according to ITAR-TASS on 29 April

1 June: U.S. President George W. Bush to meet with President Putin in St. Petersburg, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 May

1 June: Deadline for Russian veterinary inspectors to complete inspections of U.S. chicken farms

1-3 June: G-8 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 its 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 Committee on Drug Trafficking will be created and new Federal Service for Economic and Tax Crimes will be formed, according to the committee's 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 Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin on 27 March

14 July: Deadline set by President Putin for Russian regions to bring their laws into compliance with federal regulations

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

September: Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev's Party for Russia's Revival will hold a congress in Moscow

1 September: Campaign officially begins for State Duma elections

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

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

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