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Russia Report: May 15, 2003

15 May 2003, Volume 3, Number 19
By Ilya Malyakin

The State Duma did not consider the president's draft laws on reforming local self-government and federative relations in April. The chamber was to have considered the draft law "on general principles of organization of legislative and executive state power in the [federation] subjects" in its second reading on 16 April. However, on 15 April the Duma Council took that draft law off the agenda. As for the law "on general principles of local self-government," the Duma Council said nothing about it. The Duma Committee on Local Self-Government, chaired by Vladimir Mokryi, is working on proposed amendments to that law, of which there are more than 6,000 so far. There is no guarantee that that number will not rise further. The bill may be considered sometime in May, but it is possible that "work on the mistakes" in the draft will not be complete by then.

So, the Russian regional authorities and bodies of local self-government have gotten a reprieve. They probably will not manage to freeze the reforms on which the commission led by Dmitrii Kozak, the deputy head of the presidential administration, has been working for a year. And yet the process of establishing new relations between steps of the pyramid -- the center, regions, and local government -- is going slowly. Not just slowly, but much more slowly than the presidential team that initiated the process was counting on. Just a little bit more delay and it will get tied up in pre-election squabbles. And then it will become advantageous for the Duma deputies to delay and not disentangle themselves from the intricate, behind-the-scenes battle being waged around federal reforms. The Kremlin understands this. Kozak recently announced: "In this politically complicated election period it is difficult for the State Duma deputies to be absolutely objective and it is essential for them to better articulate their positions, demonstrating that these laws are above all aimed at upholding the interests of voters."

However, in reality the main factor complicating the adoption of the "second federal packet" of presidential draft laws has nothing to do with the voters. The Duma deputies, who are deeply interested in getting re-elected, will have to maneuver between the Kremlin, governors, and the heads of municipal administrations. No matter how devoted to Vladimir Putin they are, they will have to remember that the notorious "administrative resource," so important for getting re-elected, is by no means controlled by the Kremlin. It is shared by governors' and mayors' teams, who as a rule have very complicated relations with each other.

The problem is that on the threshold of such significant reform, the Russian system of state management turned out to be incapable of formulating a consensus position. Moreover, it turned out that the interests of its teams were hardly even compatible with one another. A dialectical unity of opposites did not emerge -- only a battle. For that very reason, the discussion of the product of Kozak's commission drowns in a stream of amendments, and the opinions of Russian politicians about how the reforms will turn out become ever more hazy. The process of working on draft laws turns into an attempt to mask a conflict in which every level of government is lobbying for its own interests.

The essence of the conflict is obvious. The foundation for it was laid in the summer of 2000, when the president's team submitted to parliament the "first federal packet" of draft laws and carried out the first attack on the unlimited resources of the "regional barons," laying out a new system of relations between the regions and the center. Since then we've gotten a system of federal districts, the right of the president to remove governors from office before the end of their terms, a Federation Council in which the leaders of regional executive and legislative branches were replaced by their representatives, and also official rhetoric declaring the final triumph over centrifugal tendencies in the Russian Federation. But that last assertion is false, as the current "multilateral war" surrounding the "second federal packet" demonstrates.

If we leave official rhetoric alone, then it's not difficult to determine the interests of the participants in the conflict. The Kremlin is interested in turning its half-declarative resources for controlling the regions into real ones. The Kozak commission's proposals call for perfecting mechanisms of such control, including simplifying the existing system for removing the heads of regional executive power from office and for disbanding legislative organs. Such a procedure currently exists on paper, but is in practice not realizable because of its complexity. In addition, the federal center would like to avoid many financial obligations toward the regions and their populations, transferring these obligations, along with the accompanying responsibility, to regional authorities. However, the regional authorities do not want additional responsibility, or interference in their affairs, or personal dependence on the president, or, even worse, dependence on the prime minister, as Kozak and company have proposed.

It goes without saying that the Kremlin controls the "centrist majority" in the State Duma. However, the regional elite control a majority in the Federation Council, and without the approval of the upper house, the new laws could die on paper. And if the Duma doesn't hurry, then by the time the Duma would have to override the Federation Council's likely veto, the parliamentary elections (scheduled for December) will be approaching. At that time the "centrists" that didn't land spots on party lists will have to think very hard before coming out against those who are able to help or hurt their chances for re-election in the Duma's single-mandate districts. For that reason, it's important for the Kremlin not only to win the battle, but to get the vanquished to approve the victory. There are two paths for achieving this. One is to make major concessions, which would make reform safe in the eyes of the governors. They took this path with respect to the "first federal packet" in 2000, but that's exactly why the need for the "second packet" arose. The second option is to pay a suitable compensation.

That compensation will be paid, but not at the Kremlin's expense. It will be paid with federal budget funds that the regions need to carry out the functions to be transferred to them. And it will be paid in additional powers, but not at the Kremlin's expense. The Kremlin has decided to take those powers out of the pocket of local self-government.

Here the losing participant in the trilateral conflict appears. Local self-government has virtually no representation at the federal level, and consequently, is not capable of fighting its opponents on equal terms. It can only take measures that are more symbolic than effective: writing letters of protest, convening roundtables, and proclaiming its point of view through a few friendly federal legislators.

By the way, in the regions the relations between governors' teams and local self-government are a mass of contradictions. During the Kremlin's first attack on the "regional barons," a huge blow was dealt to the governors by taking away their right to revoke the powers of mayors of large cities before the end of their terms. The president took that power for himself. In general, the governors and mayors of regional capitals did not get along -- in fact, the conflict between the governor and mayor became the basic political paradigm of the majority of regions. However, after the innovations of 2000, the "municipals" sensed the support of the Kremlin and finally turned into independent politicians, bringing part of the "administrative resource" out of the governors' control. In order to defeat the mayors, the governors had only elections, as in Petrozavodsk, or evasive maneuvers, as in Samara, where the oblast introduced external financial management of its capital, depriving the mayor even of control over the city budget. More often the battle between governors and mayors reached a deadlock.

But the "municipals" never lived up to the main hope of the Kremlin. They did not weaken the "regional barons" enough so that the barons would be unable to resist the center. A genuine split of the regional elite did not materialize. For that reason the Kremlin decided to sacrifice its erstwhile ally. The Kozak reforms, among other things, propose taking away the current "immunity" of the heads of local self-government. Having lost most of their political powers, they will be occupied almost exclusively with management activities, and if they get it into their heads to be obstinate, then the governors will be able to remove them from their offices with ease. This compensation for losses to the federal center looks attractive to many regional leaders who are continually compelled to expend resources on battles on their own territory.

In exchange for the mayors, the president's team will probably cultivate new allies: regional legislatures. The "second federal packet" was preceded by reform of the electoral system, which required half of the regional legislatures to be elected from party lists, but eliminated the possibility of locally based parties representing the local elite to compete in elections. The new regional legislators will cease to be "voting machines" ready to support any decision of the governor. On the other hand, through federal party leaders, regional legislators may well fall under the control of the Kremlin.

But all this is speculation. For now only one thing is guaranteed: the demolition of the current trilateral system of checks and balances, from which one team will be excluded. It is hard to judge whether the Kremlin's new attempt to strengthen its control over the regions will succeed. On the other hand, one can certainly confirm that within the regions, the Kremlin's gambit will lead to the homogenization of political life -- one should not exaggerate the capabilities of the regional party structures. In addition, nothing will prevent the governors from accepting a gift from the federal leadership but blocking in the Federation Council the part of the "federal packet" that limits their own powers. For that reason, it's early for the president's team to speak of the imminent strengthening of the "power vertical" on a nationwide scale. But one can with a great deal of certainty expect to see the strengthening of the regional half-feudal regimes, thanks to reforms that had no such intention.

Ilya Malyakin founded the Volga Information Agency in 1991 and remains its chief editor. He also works as an independent regional expert with the Moscow-based International Institute for Humanitarian and Political Studies.

Budget-funded workers across Russia were owed 1.3 billion rubles ($43 million) as of 1 May, about the same amount as the previous month, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev announced during the Federation Council's 14 May session. Wage arrears to workers in the education sector account for some 600 million rubles of the total debt, RIA-Novosti reported. The problem is concentrated in a relatively small number of regions; of the Russian Federation's 89 regions, 70 have no wage arrears to public-sector workers. In another seven regions, unpaid wages amount to three days of back pay, and eight regions have wage delays of up to 12 days. Ulyukaev said that Kirov, Ulyanovsk, and Amur oblasts have the greatest wage-arrears problem, with delays of more than half a month. LB

The majority of Russian regions are resisting changes required by the new law on basic guarantees of electoral rights, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 May, citing presidential envoy to the Central Federal District Georgii Poltavchenko. That law requires that at least half of the seats in all regional legislatures be filled from party lists according to proportional representation and stipulates that the new system must be in place by 14 July 2003. Up to now, political parties have had a very weak presence in the majority of regional legislatures, because most regions have elected legislatures solely through a plurality system, with each seat going to the winner of a single-mandate district. Most candidates run as independents with no party affiliation.

President Putin recently instructed his envoys to the seven federal districts to monitor regional compliance with federal legislation, and Poltavchenko said Putin specifically mentioned the problems arising from introducing a mixed electoral system in the regions. Of the 18 regions in the Central Federal District, only Belgorod, Tver, and Vladimir oblasts have altered their electoral laws to introduce proportional representation, Poltavchenko said. He asserted that the rate of compliance is even worse in the other federal districts. LB

Only two of Russia's seven federal districts -- the Central Federal District and the Southern Federal District-- experienced population increases between 1989 and 2002, according to data from last year's census, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 8 May. An article in the daily by State Statistics Committee Deputy Chairman Sergei Kolesnikov noted that the population in what now comprises the Central Federal District increased by just 0.2 percent over the 13 years, solely due to increases in the city of Moscow and Belgorod Oblast. By contrast, the total population in what is now the Southern Federal District increased by 11.6 percent in the same period. Every region in that district showed increases in population except for the Republic of Kalmykia. The Volga and Southern federal districts attracted many migrants from other CIS countries, as well as Russian citizens leaving regions in the north, Siberia, and the Far East. "The migration might have been greater if [Russia] had a full-fledged housing market," Kolesnikov wrote. LB

Demographic trends revealed by last year's census have prompted the Central Election Commission (TsIK) to redraw the map of State Duma districts. Half of the 450 Duma deputies are elected in single-mandate districts, in which the candidate with a plurality of the vote wins the seat. The TsIK approved a new map on 14 May. The greatest changes affect four regions: Murmansk Oblast and Irkutsk Oblast each lose one Duma seat and will be left with one district and three districts, respectively. The Republic of Daghestan and Krasnodar Krai will each gain one seat and will now have three districts and eight districts, respectively.

The TsIK also changed the district borders within the city of Moscow, Perm Oblast, and Sverdlovsk Oblast, taking into account population shifts within those regions. In addition, 95,000 Russian citizens living in Israel will be added to the voter rolls in three single-mandate districts in Tula Oblast.

Speaking on 14 May, TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov expressed the hope that the parliament will approve the new electoral map before adjourning for the summer recess, RIA-Novosti reported. Veshnyakov announced on 6 May that if the Duma does not approve the plan by 15 August, the TsIK will invoke its authority to adopt the new map without parliamentary approval. LB

The second round of the Norilsk mayoral election, scheduled for 4 May, had to be abandoned for lack of any candidates still seeking the office. On 28 April, the Norilsk Municipal Court disqualified trade-union leader Valerii Melnikov, who came in first in the first round with just over 47 percent of the vote. The next day, second-place contender Norilsk City Council Chairman Sergei Shmakov, who had gained 31 percent of the vote, withdrew from the race rather than participate in what he called a "no-choice" election. Shmakov told TVS on 29 April that voters should be able to decide among the candidates in an "honest, open contest." The candidates who finished third and fourth in the first round also withdrew their candidacies on 29 April. Many regional elections have been marred by controversial court rulings striking candidates off the ballot, but the Norilsk mayoral contenders are unique in their desire not to capitalize on the front-runner's misfortune.

It is not yet clear when repeat elections will be held in Norilsk. According to city election commission Chairman Viktor Sadchikov, the law requires a repeat mayoral election be held no earlier than six months and no later than seven months after the last election. Since the first round of the mayoral election took place on 20 April, the repeat election should be set between 20 October and 20 November. However, the commission has appealed to the TsIK for permission to hold the repeat election in December on the same day as the State Duma elections. LB

The new 14-member election commission for Krasnoyarsk Krai held its first meeting on 6 May, Russian media reported. None of its members served on the previous commission, which caused a furor by twice attempting to invalidate the result of last September's gubernatorial election in the krai. The TsIK eventually filed suit seeking to disband the krai commission, and the Krasnoyarsk Krai Court in January upheld that lawsuit. Konstantin Bocharov, former head of the Norilsk Nickel press service, will chair the new commission, and he vowed to "preserve neutrality" with respect to the authorities and all political parties and movements in the krai, reported. But speculated that Bocharov was handpicked by TsIK Chairman Veshnyakov, adding that Veshnyakov can now "place his people everywhere and completely take the election process under his control." LB

Kaliningrad Oblast officials plan to seek federal aid to compensate residents for transit across Lithuania to the rest of Russia, NTV reported on 11 May. Under a draft law being prepared by Kaliningrad officials, oblast residents would receive annually a free visa and one free train ticket -- or a discounted airplane or ferry ticket -- to Russia. The scheme would cost an estimated $40 per Kaliningrad resident each year, or approximately $40 million for the entire region. LB

New rules restricting travel outside Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk are creating headaches for employees of foreign companies as well as for Russian citizens who are not from Sakhalin Oblast, "The New York Times" reported on 11 May. In accordance with a directive signed by Governor Igor Farkhutdinov in March, internal travel permits are required for foreigners and Russians from "the mainland" in order to visit border townships, which make up virtually the whole island outside the capital city. Oblast authorities enacted the rules in order to combat organized crime groups that illegally export seafood fished in Sakhalin to Japan. However, the new requirements may undermine foreign direct investment in the oblast. "The New York Times" said that later this month "thousands of construction workers are to fan out across the island, building bridges, repairing roads, and paving airstrips." But a foreign engineer wishing to check on a construction project outside Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk might need two travel permits to make the trip. ExxonMobil, which plans some $12 billion in investment in Sakhalin over the next decade, is building housing for its foreign employees, but because the construction site is just outside the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk city limits, "our engineers will need a propusk [travel permit] to go home after work," according to Michael Allen, Exxon's liaison with the oblast government. In addition, because visa rules keep changing, some foreigners working in Sakhalin must spend extra money and time flying to Japan or South Korea so that they can apply for a new visa. LB

The St. Petersburg City Court on 14 May sentenced the three men convicted of killing Legislative Assembly deputy Viktor Novoselov in October 1999, Interfax reported. Artur Gudkov, who set off the car bomb that killed Novoselov, received a life sentence, and his accomplices Aleksandr Malysh and Andrei Chvanov were sentenced to 16 years and 10 years in prison, respectively. The convicted men reportedly belonged to the organized crime group run by Vadim Tarasov. He was arrested in Moldova last November but it is not yet clear whether he will be extradited to Russia. LB

The Audit Chamber has accused the St. Petersburg authorities of spending money allocated for repairing roads on foreign grass purchased for lawns, Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin announced on 14 May. He said it was "difficult to understand" why road funds would be allocated in such a manner, RIA-Novosti reported. Stepashin also said several St. Petersburg landmarks -- the Kazanskii and Isaakievskii cathedrals and the Mikhailovskii castle -- would not be renovated in time for the city's 300th anniversary celebrations. LB

16 May: Vladimir Putin to deliver annual address to the parliament

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

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

25 May: Gubernatorial elections to be held in Belgorod Oblast

25-26 May: U.S. President George W. Bush will visit St. Petersburg

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

1 June: Date by which Putin has instructed the government to complete consultations on a plan to convert Russia to a professional army

1-3 June: G-8 summit will take place in Evian, France

12 June: Liberal Russia faction that supports Boris Berezovskii will hold extraordinary congress in Moscow

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 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

15 August: Date by which Duma should approve new map of single-mandate districts; if it fails to do so, the Central Election Commission will have the right to confirm the map

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

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

1 September: Campaign officially begins for State Duma elections

1 September: Date by which government commission will have drafted 2004 budget

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

1 October: 33 percent salary hike for budget-funded workers to go into effect

6 October: British court to consider Russia's request to extradite Boris Berezovskii

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.