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Russia Report: June 4, 2003

4 June 2003, Volume 3, Number 22
Presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko told reporters in St. Petersburg on 2 June that almost 60 billion rubles ($1.9 billion) have been spent on preparations for the city's 300-year jubilee over the past three years, Russian media reported. According to "Gazeta" the next day, this is more than the city's annual budget, which was 58 billion rubles in 2002. Of the 60 billion rubles spent on the jubilee, 40 billion was spent on the reconstruction of architectural monuments, and 20 billion on preparations for the celebration itself. Matvienko praised the event; however, Vadim Tyulpanov, chairman of the city legislature, told the newspaper that he found one of the events, a laser show, "dubious." And he also complained about trash on the streets and "government motorcades which paralyzed traffic in the city for two days," concluding that "to a large extent the holiday was oriented toward VIPs." Local political analyst Boris Vishnevskii told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 31 May that many of his friends hope that the next president is from somewhere else. "If our president had been a Muscovite, then everything of course would have been celebrated with a lot less pomp and perhaps that would have been better," he said. Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovskii was more upbeat, commenting on 30 May that he had never seen so many satisfied faces or smiles in his museum. The museum had been open all night, and Piotrovskii said that there was no special VIP program, with many VIPs standing in line just like everyone else. "We wanted to open the museum for the citizens of St. Petersburg, and apparently many people were interested," he said. JAC

The Voronezh mayor's office issued a press release on 30 May stating that Voronezh Oblast "will lose its independence in 2004" and become part of a new, larger entity made up of Lipetsk, Tambov, and Kursk oblasts, reported. The plan is reportedly part of an overall scheme to reduce the number of regions in Russia from 89 to 40. The capital of the new region will be the city of Lipetsk. An unidentified oblast official commented, "Voronezh Mayor Aleksandr Kovalev probably does not want to administer a raion center." "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day that it had confirmed the report with Pavel Kabanov, head of Pskov Oblast's administration for strategic planning, who said that the scheme had been proposed by Dmitrii Kozak, deputy head of the presidential administration, at a cabinet session two weeks before. It was reportedly decided at that time to postpone any major changes until after the March 2004 presidential elections. However, the daily also quoted an unnamed high-level Kremlin official who said that Russian President Vladimir Putin's position remains unchanged: No changes will be imposed on the regions from above, and all mergers will take place exclusively at the initiative of the regions themselves. JAC

The Novyi region news agency on 30 May quoted Deputy Duma Speaker Irina Khakamada of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) as saying in Perm that it is necessary to reduce the number of regions in Russia in order to simplify administration of the country. According to the agency, Khakamada said 12 federation subjects could be created on the basis of the 12 existing interregional economic associations. Meanwhile, Sergei Boskholov, deputy governor of Irkutsk Oblast, on 30 May told a working group on merging the oblast with Ust-Ordynskii Buryatskii Autonomous Okrug that the okrug would keep its representatives to the State Duma and Federation Council for an unspecified period after the two regions merge. JAC

In an interview with "Pskovskaya lenta novostei" cited by on 30 May, Maksim Orlov of the Agency for Strategic Communications said that, in his opinion, Pskov Oblast currently has no way of preserving itself as an independent subject within the Russian Federation. Likewise, Maksim Kostikov, editor of "Pragmatika," also told the agency that the call by former presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Viktor Cherkesov to reduce the number of regions "was a death knell for Pskov Oblast as an independent federation subject." Transneftmash factory head and local legislator Viktor Mitropolskii said in an interview with that enlargement of the regions is long overdue, and suggested that the oblast be merged with the donor regions of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast. JAC

The legislature of Perm Oblast on 23 May amended the regional law on referendums to allow a plebiscite on merging the oblast with Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, reported, citing the Perm-based news agency Novyi region. President Putin endorsed the idea of merging those two regions during a March meeting with Perm Oblast Governor Yurii Trutnev and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug Governor Gennadii Savelev, who both favor the merger for economic reasons (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 19 March 2003). However, the Komi People's Movement has expressed concern that the Komi ethnic group would be assimilated following a merger with Perm Oblast (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 30 January 2003). LB

In a further move toward reducing the overall number of federation subjects, the Russian leadership is considering holding a referendum following the 2004 presidential election on subsuming the Republic of Adygeya into Krasnodar Krai, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 May, quoting unidentified Kremlin officials. Adygeya is an enclave of just under 8,000 square kilometers within Krasnodar Krai that received the status of a full-fledged federation subject only in 1992. The republic is primarily agricultural and depends on subsidies from Moscow for some 70 percent of its annual budget. LF

Russian officials informed the World Health Organization on 3 June that suspected cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) have been registered in 12 regions of the country, ITAR-TASS reported. The agency did not name the 12 regions. On the same day, "Meditsinskii vestnik" reported that the federal government has adopted a decree under which medical workers who treat persons with SARS will be paid twice their normal salary. A course on how to treat such patients opened in Novosibirsk on 26 May, and a similar course is planned for Moscow in the middle of June. Also on 3 June, the head of the Moscow police, Vladimir Pronin, reported that around 500 citizens of China and Vietnam have been deported from the capital city in order to prevent the spread of SARS, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. JAC

Doctors and local residents in Amur Oblast first learned that Blagoveshchensk hospital patient Denis Soinikov had been diagnosed with SARS from a national television news broadcast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 May. The oblast press service issued a statement on 29 May saying, "the results of analyses and the official confirmation of the diagnosis has not arrived from Moscow, and [we have] nothing to say about it." According to the daily's local correspondent, no additional measures to contain the disease have been introduced in the city. Local officials say the health of locals who have traveled abroad is being monitored, and markets are being checked. However, the daily reported that "market traders have already forgotten what the inspectors look like, and Blagoveshchensk residents are tired of being afraid of the deadly virus." Soinikov has almost completely recovered, but doctors treating him have been afraid to release him because of the growing brouhaha, the newspaper reported. Soinikov has reportedly announced that he is planning to sue a local television company for allegedly revealing confidential medical information about him, "Izvestiya" reported on 29 May. JAC

Former Interior Minister of the Republic of Kalmykia Timofei Sasykov has been detained by police in Nalchik, ITAR-TASS and reported on 28 May. He is accused of abuse of office and has been transferred to a remand facility in Rostov-na-Donu, according to the reports. Sasykov, who was fired as Kalmykia's interior minister on 26 May, was a staunch supporter of Kalmyk President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who was re-elected to a second term on 27 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2002). During the campaign, opposition candidates harshly criticized Sasykov and lobbied Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov to remove him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2002). RC

Police in Novosibirsk have launched a program to reduce the dependence of local adolescents on computer games, NTV reported. According to the station, local police believe that computer clubs are "breeding grounds for crime," because teenagers are turning to crime in order to obtain the money to spend several hours at the computer. Local police believe that the amount of burglaries and extortion committed by juvenile computer addicts is greater than the amount committed by drug addicts. Novosibirsk is not the only place afflicted by "computer addiction." Last year, a director in St. Petersburg made a documentary film about Internet addiction in Russia (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 27 June 2002). JAC

Members of St. Petersburg's election commission voted on 29 May to dismiss commission Chairman Aleksandr Garusov, Russian media reported. According to ITAR-TASS, city Prosecutor Nikolai Vinnichenko requested Garusov's removal because he has no legal training, which is required by federal law. Vinnichenko became city prosecutor last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003). Legislative Assembly Deputy Vladimir Borkanov told RosBalt that Garusov's dismissal "symbolizes the change of the gubernatorial team." Legislator Mikhail Amosov expressed the view that Garusov was "too oriented toward [the city's] executive power." The Legislative Assembly is expected to decide to move the date of the gubernatorial election to December to coincide with the State Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). JAC

Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov and Saratov Mayor Yurii Aksenenko announced on 29 May that they are planning to start work on the preparation of an agreement demarcating responsibilities between oblast and city authorities, RosBalt reported. The two leaders told city legislators they believe the agreement will be the first such accord reached in Russia. Ayatskov also expressed the hope that the agreement will eliminate any duplication of functions between officials at the federal, oblast, and local levels and will allow a reduction in the estimated 500 bureaucrats working in the oblast. The State Duma is currently considering a bill proposed by the presidential commission on demarcating responsibilities among the various levels of government (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 15 May 2003). JAC

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov signed a decree on 2 June allowing Muslim women to wear headscarves for their passport photos, ITAR-TASS reported. Gryzlov said that the decision was prompted by the need to provide for "the further development of Russia as a state with many religions." Last month, the appeals collegium of the Supreme Court approved the petition of 10 women from Tatarstan to be allowed to wear head covering in keeping with Islamic traditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 16 May 2003 and "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 28 May 2003). According to ITAR-TASS, the ministry sent a procedural complaint to the court after last month's ruling asking that it be reversed. JAC

The Tatarstan National Front was created on 1 June in Ufa, Bashkortostan, at the congress of Tatar organizations, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported. According to the correspondent, the organization will seek to protect Tatar rights in the republic of Bashkortostan and organize Tatar votes for this year's State Duma and republican presidential elections, both of which are scheduled for December. Also discussed at the meeting was the possible re-examination of the results of the census conducted last year, in which a large number of ethnic Tatars were reportedly identified as being Bashkir, "Izvestiya" reported on 2 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October and 6 December 2002). According to the 1989 census, 28.4 percent of Bashkortostan's residents were Tatars and 21.9 percent Bashkirs. JAC

A criminal case on suspicion of libel has been opened against Andrei Karaulov, host of the TV-Tsentr program, "Moment of Truth," RosBalt reported on 3 June citing Andrei Andreev, press secretary for the Communist Party's State Duma faction. In a program aired on 13 April, Karaulov reported that former Communist faction member Vladimir Bayunov had been hiding in a bedroom when a woman named Ivanova was killed in Tver in 1995 and did nothing to stop the crime. In 2000, Bayunov competed in the gubernatorial election in Tver and lost (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2000). Bayunov told "Vremya novostei" on 4 June that the false story about his failure to prevent Ivanova's murder was spread during that campaign, and a local newspaper at the time had to pay 50,000 rubles ($1,600) in damages. He said that the story has been dug up again because another gubernatorial election is pending. For his part, Karaulov said that he got his facts from the murderer himself, Ivanova's former husband, who has already served his term in prison for the murder. JAC

A group of opposition legislators in Voronezh Oblast have sent an appeal to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov asking him to investigate the financial activities of the oblast administration, reported on 29 May. The lawmakers charge that Voronezh Oblast Governor Vladimir Kulakov has "turned the oblast budget into a credit cash box," to judge by the results of a recent investigation by the oblast Audit Chamber of the local enterprise Voronezhinvest. According to the local weekly "Bereg," the enterprise was created in 2001 immediately after former oblast Federal Security Service head Kulakov's gubernatorial-election victory in December 2000. Last year the firm obtained a 480 million-ruble ($16 million) loan from Vneshtorgbank that was secured by the oblast budget, as well as budget loans of more than 500 million rubles. JAC

One of the deputies who signed the letter, Yurii Matveev, also charged that last week he was beaten up on a city street and that one of the attackers was a person who works for the oblast administration, reported on 29 May. However, he has not filed a complaint with the police. "I will wait two weeks and ask them to admit their guilt, and if they do not then, I will sort things out with them myself," he said. According to the weekly, this is the second attack on an opposition deputy in the past two months. Vyacheslav Kitaev, chief specialist for economic security at Voronezhinvest, countered that the deputies are trying to shake things up before the December State Duma campaign and "can't tell the difference between rye and barley," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 May. JAC

The following table represents a ranking of regions in terms of creditworthiness compiled by the AK&M rating center, based on financial data from 2002. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," the inclusion of Lipetsk in the top 10 was unexpected. The region won its high rating due to its almost 11 percent budget surplus and low level of indebtedness. JAC

Top 10 Regions in Terms of Creditworthiness

1. Moscow city
2. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug
3. St. Petersburg
4. Tyumen Oblast
5. Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug
6. Lipetsk Oblast
7. Leningrad Oblast
8. Samara Oblast
9. Sverdlovsk Oblast
10. Moscow Oblast

Source: "Nezavisimaya gazeta," 2 June 2003.

IN: President Putin issued a directive on 26 May rotating the membership of the State Council Presidium, Interfax reported. Seven regional leaders, one from each of Russia's federal districts, serve on the presidium for six-month terms. The new appointees are Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, Belgorod Oblast Governor Yevgenii Savchenko, Perm Oblast Governor Yurii Trutnev, Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev, Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov, and Sakha (Yakutia) Republic President Vyacheslav Shtyrov.

OUT: Federation Council members voted during a closed session on 28 May to dismiss Andrei Vyakhirev, the representative of the Kurgan Oblast legislature, from his post as deputy chairman of the chamber, Russian media reported. Vyakhirev was reportedly active in arranging financial support from business circles in Yekaterinburg for the Party of Life, which Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov now heads (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 25 April 2003). And according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 29 May, he "criticized the work of his boss [Mironov] too often."

OUT: President Putin signed a decree dismissing Igor Shuvalov from his post as director of the government apparatus and naming Konstantin Merzlikin to replace him, reported on 28 May. Shuvalov will now serve as a presidential aide. Merzlikin most recently served as the director of Kasyanov's secretariat and also served as deputy director of the secretariat of former First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov in 1998-99.

6 June: State Duma will consider the possibility of changing the date of State Duma elections from 14 December to 7 December

7 June: Kazan will host the first congress of the all-Russia Association of Doctors in Private Practice, "Vremya MN" reported on 31 May

8-9 June: Finnish Prime Minister Anneli Jaeaetteenmaeki will visit Russia

9-11 June: Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom will visit Russia

11 June: State Duma will consider package of laws reforming local government in its second reading, according to State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev on 3 June

10 June: Communist and Yabloko factions will submit document seeking vote of confidence in government to Duma Council

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

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

16 June: State Council will meet in St. Petersburg to discuss government cultural policy

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

17 June: Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov will visit Krasnoyarsk

17 June: Russian peacekeeping troops will start withdrawing from Kosovo

20 June: State Duma will hold its last plenary session of the spring session

22 June: Current term of Human Rights Ombudsman Oleg Mironov will expire

27 June: Gazprom will hold annual shareholders meeting

28 June: 3,500 delegates will attend a Unified Russia party forum called "Together with the President" in Moscow, "Vedomosti" reported on 3 June

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

13-16 July: Prince Charles will visit Russia

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

14 July: Federal law on basic guarantees of electoral rights will come into effect requiring 50 percent of regional legislatures to be elected from party lists

15 July: Government will consider draft bill on mineral resources, Prime-TASS reported on 28 May

1 August: Deadline for Russian peacekeeping troops to withdraw from Kosovo

12 August: Third anniversary of the sinking of the "Kursk" submarine

13 August: Air-traffic controllers will hold a nationwide protest

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

17 August: Karachaevo-Cherkessia will hold presidential elections

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

30 September-2 October: The Second All-Russian Sociological Congress will take place at Moscow State University

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: 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.