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Russia Report: May 15, 2002

15 May 2002, Volume 2, Number 16


Please note that with this issue, the weekly "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report" has been subsumed under "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly." The latter will now offer regional news on a fortnightly basis along with continuing weekly coverage of central legislative organs, such as the State Duma. Back issues of "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report" will still be available on our website at
Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told reporters on 14 May that a new consultative organ composed of the heads of regional legislatures may soon be created, ITAR-TASS reported. The new body would be similar to the State Council, which is made up of heads of regions and has no formal legal status. According to Interfax, Mironov said that the heads of regional legislatures will hold a joint session on 21 May in Moscow with the Federation Council, adding that such a meeting will be held once every six months. According to ITAR-TASS, Mironov did not exclude the possibility that this session could be a founding one for the new organization. JAC

In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 May, Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Andrei Vikharev announced that he, along with some other members of the Federation Council, is creating a new political party called the Party of Life that will compete in the next State Duma elections. According to Vikharev, there are 12 people on the party's organizational committee, including Igor Matveev, the chairman of the organization committee of the Will of Petersburg (VP). Vikharev denied, however, that the Party of Life is based on VP, which is headed by Federation Council Chairman Mironov. Vikharev said that "today" Mironov said that he will not join a political party. The website commented that, aside from Matveev, all of Party of Life's organization committee members are Muscovites and concluded that plans to create a nationwide party based on VP called the Will of Russia have been abandoned in favor of founding the Party of Life. JAC

In an interview with on 6 May, Novgorod Oblast's representative to the Federation Council, Gennadii Burbulis, said the "majority" of his colleagues are "worried about the danger that at any moment they could lose their jobs." Burbulis said that the law must detail more precisely what kinds of professional activities or personal, ethical, or legal misdeeds are grounds for recalling and replacing a representative. Regarding whether the office should be an elected one, as Federation Council Chairman Mironov and others have argued, Burbulis suggested that would-be governors select their representative to the Federation Council and run together with that person during gubernatorial elections. JAC

Burbulis also responded to fellow representative Ruslan Aushev's earlier criticism that the upper chamber is not engaged in any meaningful work and "decides nothing" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2002). According to Burbulis, who is also chairman of the council's Commission on the Methodology of Implementing, the Federation Council's Constitutional Powers, said that Aushev's "personal political interests, connected with the concrete situation in Ingushetia, clearly prevailed over his evaluation of the future of the Federation Council." According to Burbulis, the Federation Council should express not only the interests of particular regions, but also the interests of the state and the federation. "Therefore, the credo of the 'federalists' is constant participation in the affairs of the federation subjects [while representing] the interests of the federation as a whole." JAC

A representative office of the Interior Ministry (MVD) will be created in the Siberian Federal District, First Deputy Presidential Envoy to the Siberian Federal District Igor Prostyakov told Interfax-Eurasia on 8 May. According to Prostyakov, the structure will deal with visa issues, coordination of the external economic relations of regions within the district, and migration policy. Presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District Leonid Drachevskii has agreed on a candidate to head the new office: Nikolai Pavlov, who is currently a consul for special assignments at the Interior Ministry. Meanwhile, in a long article about the presidential envoys on 30 April, "Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal" argued that the new district branches of federal ministries "while technically accountable to Moscow, in reality sever all contacts with their head offices and give their allegiance to the presidential envoys." According to the weekly, this situation "has already resulted in numerous conflicts between envoys and federal ministries and departments." JAC

In an article that appeared on the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies' website on 13 May, analyst Sergei Mikheev argues that Vladimir Putin has not vested his presidential envoys to the seven federal districts with sufficient power to resolve their districts' problems independently. Instead, the envoys so far act primarily as the president's eyes, ears, and mouth -- in that they express the president's will verbally. Mikheev predicts that three of the seven presidential envoys to the federal districts -- Viktor Cherkesov, Sergei Kirienko, and Konstantin Pulikovskii -- will soon find other work, although he did not explain the reasoning behind that prediction. JAC

As a result of the national census to be held in October, many villages and settlements may be removed from Russian maps, RTR reported on 13 May. According to the channel, some villages are effectively ghost towns, with nothing left but "dozens of derelict houses and tumble-down fences" and not a single person remaining. For example, in Kursk Oblast, there are reportedly more than 30 depopulated villages and settlements. However, RFE/RL's Karelia correspondent reported last year that local journalists have found people -- most of them elderly -- still living in some of the republic's villages that were marked for "liquidation" by local authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2001). At issue in Karelia was the local government's responsibility for ensuring that basic living conditions, such as potable water, are provided. JAC

The recent dismissal of Bryansk Mayor Ivan Tarasov provides "the latest example of the weakness of the position of the center in the regions," Sergei Mikheev argues in an article on the Moscow-based Center for Political Technology's website on 6 May. Mikheev argues that Tarasov was being groomed by Moscow as a replacement for Bryansk Governor Yurii Lodkin, a "radical Communist" who favors administrative methods for managing the economy and who routinely blames the federal center for all local misfortunes. Tarasov was supported by the regional branch of the pro-Kremlin party Unified Russia, which tried to get him reinstated; however, Lodkin managed to get one of his political allies appointed mayor. Tarasov was dismissed by the city's legislature on 19 April in an action that Tarasov says was illegal and that he intends to challenge in court. Meanwhile, on 30 April, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel officially warned Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii that he may be removed from office for violating a federal law, reported. Last October, a federal court in Yekaterinburg ruled that one of Chernetskii's decrees from the previous year was illegal. The decree established leasing rates for land in the city. Chernetskii was ordered to cancel the decree, which he has not yet done, according to the website. In a letter to Chernetskii, Rossel reminded his long-time rival that federal law gives him the power to dismiss mayors who violate federal law. JAC

"Novaya gazeta," No. 33, argued that the most noticeable phenomenon of recent regional elections is the "unusually high percentage of votes cast against all candidates." By comparison, the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has not performed well in a series of elections to regional legislatures, including those in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Pskov Oblast, and Sverdlovsk Oblast, according to the weekly. In Krasnoyarsk, Unified Russia finished fifth, and in Pskov and Sverdlovsk oblasts, the party came in second. In Pskov Oblast, Unity (the predecessor to Unified Russia) attracted 26.1 percent of the vote compared to 17 percent voting against all candidates. Another trend, according to the weekly, is that parties and candidates supported by the local executive organs receive more votes in rural districts than in urban areas. JAC

Speaking at a session of the Federation Council, Vladimir Gusev, who represents Ivanovo Oblast and is deputy chairman of the Committee for Economic Policy, Entrepreneurship, and Property, said that only six regions of Russia are currently ready for membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ural-Press-Inform reported on 14 May. Gusev named Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Sverdlovsk Oblast, and Perm Oblast. Gusev also said that, of the rest, between 60 and 65 regions do not meet the WTO's socioeconomic standards. He added that some regions, such as Tyumen Oblast, form a "neutral zone." According to the news agency, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Rossel said two months ago that a number of major enterprises in his region -- primarily in the metals sector -- are not yet ready for WTO entry. "Accession to the WTO is inevitable. It is just a matter of time. Therefore, we must prepare a plan of initiatives that will raise the level of enterprises lagging behind," Rossel said, according to the news agency. RC

Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov said on 7 May that President Vladimir Putin agreed during their 29 April meeting to form a consultative body for solving problems connected with the harmonization of republican laws and federal laws, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2002). Rakhimov also said that although "some media speculate that [the federal center's] power-sharing treaties with Bashkortostan [and] Tatarstan will be abolished, this is impossible, because they already have become our ideology." JAC

Also on 7 May, Bashkortostan's legislature voted to approve the candidacy of Florid Baikov for the post of chief prosecutor, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported. Baikov replaces former prosecutor Yadat Turumtaev, who has retired, according to Interfax-Eurasia. Turumtaev's departure had not previously been announced publicly. However, according to the correspondent, President Rakhimov in recent interviews criticized the work of federal prosecutors, who he said "have become superior to the [Russian] president." JAC

A group of local business, educational, and political leaders published an open letter defending Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin following the earlier publication of "kompromat," or compromising material, about him. The letter, published in "Chelyabinskii rabochii" on 11 May, was signed by the general directors of Magnitostroi and MMK, the rectors of the Magnitogorsk State University and Magnitogorsk State Technical University, and State Duma deputies Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces) and Aleksandr Chershintsev (Russian Regions). The head of the Southern Urals Information-Analytical Administration, Salim Fatykhov, said on 13 May that the earlier publication of the kompromat about Sumin was "ordered" by one of Sumin's political opponents, State Duma Deputy (People's Deputy) Mikhail Yurevich, reported on 13 May. JAC

In his annual address to Chukotka Autonomous Okrug's legislature, delivered at the end of April, Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich repeated the message that he delivered 12 months ago: Chukotka is bankrupt. Despite introducing a broad range of austerity measures, ensuring more efficient tax collection, and fattening the okrug budget by approximately $17 million with his personal tax return in 2001, the budget deficit in 2002 is roughly $25 million. Abramovich warned that "our okrug remains as before highly reliant on subsidies, and there are no objective indications in the future that the okrug will be able to cover its costs with its own resources." As examples, he reported that the annual northern supply of fuel, food, and other goods is paid for largely with federal subsidies, while all new construction in the okrug is now financed by "extra-budgetary" resources. Neither, he infers, can be considered sustainable sources of support over the long term. Abramovich therefore warned that major cuts will be inevitable to the okrug budget in 2002. (Niobe Thompson)

The legislative assembly of Krasnoyarsk Krai has decided to hold balloting for a governor on 8 September, reported on 13 May. The only major faction that opposed the date was the Communists, who argued that the vote should be scheduled "as late as possible," the website reported. The election is being held to replace Governor Aleksandr Lebed, who was killed in a helicopter accident on 28 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002). At a session held the previous week, legislators approved a request from the krai's election commission to introduce changes to local election law, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the amendments, candidates for governor can now spend up to 20 million rubles ($646,000) each on their campaigns, compared with the 1 million rubles they could spend previously. Previously, Yabloko State Duma Deputy Aleksei Arbatov predicted that "huge sums of money" will be spent during the next gubernatorial election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002). RC/JAC

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has traveled to Smolensk Oblast to campaign for incumbent Governor Aleksandr Prokhorov, who is facing a re-election bid on 19 May, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 May. According to the daily, Prokhorov's chief competitor is the head of the Smolensk administration of the Federal Security Service Viktor Maslov, who is reportedly supported by the federal center, the leaders of local force structures, and the largest taxpayers in the oblast, the Smolensk AES and the diamond-cutting factory Kristall. According to the daily, Zyuganov has already experienced an unpleasant surprise: The Smolensk branch of the Rossiya movement that is headed by State Duma Chairman (Communist) Gennadii Seleznev has declared its support for Maslov. JAC

The main political achievement of Viktor Cherkesov, presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, over the last two years is "the gradual removal from key municipal posts of 'people loyal to Governor [Vladimir] Yakovlev,''" wrote in a profile of Cherkesov on 12 May. Six months ago, the website noted, Cherkesov reported that a number of high-profile investigations were underway throughout the northwest region, including St. Petersburg. Since then, the Northwest Prosecutor-General's Office has publicly announced corruption investigations of four of Yakovlev's deputy governors. The website noted that relations between Yakovlev and Cherkesov were "strained," but added that the two men were seen seated together at a recent event, something that had never happened. RC

In an interview with RFE/RL's St. Petersburg correspondent on 8 May, St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly Deputy Aleksei Kovalev described the circumstances surrounding his 23 April arrest. Kovalev was arrested on suspicion of accepting kickbacks with regard to a case launched by prosecutors in 1998. According to Kovalev, however, the case was manufactured in order to show deputies from the opposition what could happen to them. Kovalev, who is a member of the Union of Rightist Forces, said that he was singled out because he has no money or protectors and that he is grateful to the public, which objected to his incarceration. An unnamed representative of the Northwest Regional Prosecutor's Office, which oversees the work of the municipal prosecutor's office that arrested Kovalev, was quoted by Interfax as saying, "[We are] going to look into the question of whether taking such a serious measure against the lawmaker was reasonable." JAC/RC

An alleged local crime boss, Igor Sirotenko, and the leader of an ethnic-Chechen organized-crime group, Suleiman Akhmadov, reportedly recently made threats against Tolyatti journalist Valerii Ivanov, who was found murdered at the beginning of the month, reported on 7 May, citing the website of the newspaper "Samara Segodnya" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2002). Ivanov's newspaper, "Tolyattinskoe obozrenie," had been preparing to publish an article about the alleged participation of some of Sirotenko's associates in the murder of two high-ranking police officers. In addition, the Chechen group was reportedly angered by a series of articles about them that followed the filing of a murder case against two of Akhmadov's former bodyguards. The deputy editor of "Tolyattinskoe obozrenie," Aleksei Sidorov, also alleged that both he and Ivanov were threatened by Nikolai Abramov, an adviser to Tolyatti Mayor Nikolai Utkin, following the publication of an article about a scheme to extract funds from foreign companies concocted by a municipal enterprise headed by Abramov's son. JAC

The number of regions closed to foreigners increased recently and may rise further. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed a decree on 6 May virtually closing the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug to foreigners, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 May. According to the daily, authorities in Yamalo-Nenets have attempted repeatedly over the last five years to restrict access to the okrug, and at least twice each year have sent draft legislation to the federal authorities to tighten borders because of rising levels of crime and drug addiction. Before the 1990s it was practically impossible to enter the okrug without a special visa, the daily reported. On 8 May, Valerii Ustyugov, representative for Kaliningrad Oblast's governor in the Federation Council, suggested that Russian citizens' entry into Kaliningrad Oblast be drastically limited in light of the impending EU membership of neighboring Poland and Lithuania, BNS reported. Earlier, the Lithuanian government said that, as of mid-2003, it will have to stop granting Kaliningrad residents the right to visa-free travel because of the country's impending membership in the European Union. Ustyugov told members of the oblast's legislature the previous day that "unusual problems call for unusual solutions." The following table lists areas for which foreigners face restricted access. JAC

Name of Region_____________Number of raions with restricted access
Chukotka Autonomous Okrug__________all
Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug_____all
Khabarovsk Krai___________the entire city of Komsomolsk-na-Amur
Moscow Oblast _____________________5
Kaliningrad Oblast___________________5
Arkhangelsk Oblast___________________5
Komi Republic_______________________5
Kamchatka Oblast___________________2
Sverdlovsk Oblast____________________2
Chelyabinsk Oblast___________________2
Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast________________2
Primorskii Krai________________________2
Murmansk Oblast______________________2
Karelia Republic_______________________2
Astrakhan Oblast_______________________1
Leningrad Oblast_______________________1
Volgograd Oblast_______________________1
Orenburg Oblast________________________1
Krasnoyarsk Krai________________________1
Mordovia Republic_______________________1

Source: "Kommersant-Daily," 7 May 2002

IN: Prime Minister Kasyanov signed a decree on 29 April appointing Aleksandr Yegorushkov deputy minister for antimonopoly policy, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 May. Yegorushkov had previously served in this position. At the same time, Leonid Chumakov was dismissed as deputy chairman of the administration of the Pension Fund because of his "transfer to different work."

OUT: Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov dismissed on 7 May the first deputy head of the department for state and municipal property, Vladimir Avekov, RIA-Novosti reported. According to the agency, Luzhkov was displeased with Avekov's report for plans in 2002. "It is May, and he is discussing plans for the year 2002," Luzhkov complained.

OPEN: A new club for members of the Russian and foreign political elite has been launched at the Mercury club at Moscow's International Trade Center, Interfax reported on 14 May. The club's founders include the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the Russian Parliamentarian Club, the Club of Orthodox Christian Entrepreneurs, the Union of Journalists and several other organizations.

19 May: By-elections to be held in Altai Republic for State Duma seat left vacant by newly elected Altai Republic President Mikhail Lapshin

19 May: Gubernatorial elections in Smolensk Oblast

19 May: Finnish President Tarja Halonen will visit St. Petersburg

19-22 May: Algerian military delegation will visit Moscow

20-23 May: North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sum will visit Moscow

20 May: International press center for the 300th anniversary in St. Petersburg will open

21 May: A conference of transportation ministers from the countries that are signatories to the Agreement on North-South International Transportation Corridor will take place in St. Petersburg

22 May: Presidium of State Council will meet and discuss the impact on the international situation on Russian policies

23-26 May: U.S. President George W. Bush to visit Russia

23 May: State Duma will hold an additional unscheduled plenary meeting

26 May: Channel 6 will come back on the air, according to Channel Six General Director Aleksandr Levin on 25 April

27 May: NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson will visit Moscow to open NATO's first permanent military mission there

28 May: World Bank's Board of Directors to discuss its Russia strategy

29 May: Russia-EU summit to be held in Moscow

29 May: Federation Council will consider amendments to law on elections if passed by the State Duma, according to Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov on 13 May

First half of June: Communist Party will hold a party plenum, according to Interfax on 19 April.

June: Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit to take place in St. Petersburg, ITAR-TASS reported

June: Baltic Sea State Council meeting to be held in St. Petersburg

June: Government will have drafted a federal program for putting Russia's armed forces on a professional basis, according to Prime Minister Kasyanov on 7 December

2 June: NTV's broadcasting license is set to expire, according to Ekho Moskvy on 23 April

9 June: Repeat elections for legislature of Primorskii Krai

10-11 June: The European Foundation for the Sustainable Development of Regions (FEDRE) of the Council of Europe will host an international forum on energy and sustainable development in Omsk.

14 June: START-II treaty expires, according to Interfax on 14 May

17 June: Trial of former Aeroflot executives on charges of embezzlement to resume, according to ITAR-TASS on 25 April

23 June: Presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for Buryatia

26-28 June: Group of Seven summit to be held in Canada

1 July: Russia will complete its withdrawal from the military base at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam

1 August: Russia's first full-scale facility for the destruction of chemical weapons will be launched in Gorny in Saratov Oblast, according to presidential envoy Sergei Kirienko

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

September: Symposium and investment fair for atomic power plants to take place in Vladivostok

10-11 September: The fourth annual conference of the regional administrations of countries in Northeast Asia will take place in Khabarovsk

7 October: CIS summit to be held in Chisinau, Moldova, according to Interfax on 13 May

9-16 October: All-Russia census

26-27 October: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to be held in Las Cabos, Mexico

7 November: Day of Reconciliation and Agreement