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Russia Report: November 13, 2002

13 November 2002, Volume 2, Number 38
Speaking at a Brussels news conference on 11 November, European Commission President Romano Prodi, EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana, and President Vladimir Putin announced an agreement on access to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Under the accord, Russian citizens traveling by car between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia will be issued special multiple-transit travel documents to cross Lithuanian territory and those traveling by train will receive single-transit travel documents, and reported. Railroad travel documents will be issued when the ticket is purchased, and Lithuania will reserve the right to deny entry to anyone believed to have violated the law or to pose a threat to Lithuanian security. The new procedure will come into effect on 1 July 2003. At the end of 2003, when Lithuania is expected to join the Schengen agreement, the two sides will sign an additional accord. Putin described the agreement as "not ideal, but acceptable" and said talks on the issue will continue. commented that Russia has de facto accepted the EU demand that some sort of visa regime be implemented, even if the word "visa" does not appear in the agreement. VY

Members of the State Duma Committee on Local Self-Government found some unwelcome surprises in the draft laws on municipal reform prepared under the supervision of Dmitrii Kozak, deputy head of the presidential administration and chairman of a presidential commission on demarcating spheres of responsibilities among the various levels of government, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 November. Meeting in Moscow on 10 November to discuss the proposals, the Duma committee members found that several changes had been introduced in the draft laws. For example, raion administrations would gain some powers at the expense of all cities with populations smaller than 200,000 -- whether or not local government in any particular small city had been successful or effective.

Critics of the new proposals included Duma deputies representing the Communist Party, the Union of Rightist Forces and even People's Deputy, the leader of which endorsed the basic concept of the local government reforms last month. Some argued that the municipal reform would regulate local self-government too heavily. Two deputies present defended Kozak's reform concept: Vladimir Mokryi (Unity), a member of Kozak's commission who chairs the Duma Committee on Local Self-Government; and Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko), deputy chairman of that Duma committee. Mitrokhin argued that strict legal regulation will reduce the scope for arbitrary actions by regional authorities that do not wish to share power with municipalities.

However, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that even Mitrokhin opposed the idea of taking powers away from all cities with fewer than 200,000 residents. In his view, cities that have already obtained full local government authority should be allowed to retain those powers.

In a speech to the State Council last month, President Putin called for immediate work to begin on local self-government reforms so that "everything will be ready" for a new system to be implemented in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2002). Kozak has said legislation will be submitted to the parliament by 1 December. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted that the government has not yet agreed on the final draft to be submitted to the Duma, and that Kozak's concept has influential opponents in the Finance Ministry. But even if Kozak wins over skeptics in the government, the numerous objections raised by Duma deputies on 10 November suggest that his reform will not have a smooth ride in parliament. LB

Novgorod Oblast Governor and Democratic Party of Russia leader Mikhail Prusak has advocated radical changes to Russia's electoral system and parliamentary structure, "Vek," reported on 8 November. Prusak favors creating a federal organ of electors, containing 10 or 20 elected representatives from each region. The electors would discuss candidates for the presidency and nominate the best candidate for a nationwide vote. At the regional level, representatives of political parties and the elite would form similar assemblies to nominate gubernatorial candidates. The president would have the power to appoint or reject those gubernatorial candidates. Prusak also advocates strengthening the powers of the Federation Council and creating a third chamber of parliament, the Chamber of Nationalities.

"Vek" speculated that most regional leaders would support Prusak's proposals, which would make governors and the Kremlin more dependent on each other. Prusak has said changing the electoral system would make the president rely more on the regional elite and less on financial-industrial groups; this too might appeal to governors who fear for their careers given the election victories of powerful businessmen in several Russian regions. "Vek" predicted that while no significant changes will be adopted before the 2003-04 election cycle, governors will lobby for changes along the lines proposed by Prusak after the 2004 presidential election. LB

Some 27 percent of Russian citizens, approximately 38.7 million people, had income lower than the subsistence minimum (the official poverty level) in the third quarter of 2002, the State Statistics Committee announced on 11 November. That figure is down from 36.6 percent of the population in the first quarter of 2001 and 33.3 percent in the first quarter of 2002, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 12 November. Poverty is not evenly distributed among regions and population groups. Some 28 percent of men between the ages of 31 and 59 are estimated to live in poverty, as opposed to 43.6 percent of children age 16 or younger. Ivanovo Oblast consistently has the highest proportion of residents with incomes below the subsistence minimum (about 70 percent of the population). Less than 16 percent of citizens live in poverty in oil- and gas-rich Tyumen Oblast and Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug. LB

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated on 6 November that Chukotka Autonomous Okrug may merge with Magadan Oblast. A leading advocate of the merger is former Chukotka Governor Aleksandr Nazarov, who now heads the Federation Council's Committee on Northern Affairs and Small Nationalities. Speaking to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Nazarov advocated combining the executive organs of the two regions first, followed by the legislatures. In Nazarov's vision, the merger of Chukotka and Magadan would be a prelude to uniting all Russian Federation subjects in the Far East region. Although many Russian politicians have advocated reducing the number of federation subjects, specific proposals (for example, to combine Taimyr Autonomous Okrug and/or Evenk Autonomous Okrug with Krasnoyarsk Krai) have gone nowhere. LB

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov won a second seven-year term as president of the Republic of Kalmykia in a runoff election on 27 October. Ilyumzhinov gained 57 percent of the vote, while High Technology Bank Deputy Chairman Baatyr Shondzhiev won 38 percent. Although Ilyumzhinov outpolled his opponent in the second round, it was a far cry from his past domination of Kalmykia's political landscape. He ran unopposed for the presidency the first time he was elected and has since presided over what many characterize as an authoritarian regime.

Ilyumzhinov benefited from various "administrative resources" during this campaign. Opponents complained that Kalmykian media not only gave disproportionate coverage to the incumbent but refused to grant free air time to all candidates, as required by law. The runoff election was scheduled just one week after the first round, a quick turnaround that limited Shondzhiev's capacity to gain support. (Shondzhiev was one of 11 presidential candidates in the first round, but most of the candidates were openly or secretly allied with Ilyumzhinov's administration.)

Other regional leaders in the Russian Federation have exploited similar advantages in their own re-election campaigns. But whereas some republican presidents, such as Murtaza Rakhimov of Bashkortostan, have won re-election with more than 90 percent of the vote, Ilyumzhinov was forced into a second round, where his margin of victory was slimmer than expected. The outcome may reflect a simple protest vote in a region with high poverty rates, or it may have been affected by influential forces outside the republic. Some commentators viewed the presidential contest in Kalmykia as a proxy war between two factions in Putin's camp: the "Family" of advisers from Boris Yeltsin's presidency, which backed Ilyumzhinov, and the "Petersburg group," which has links to Shondzhiev (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2002). Either way, Ilyumzhinov is likely to face more opposition both inside and outside Kalmykia during the next seven years than he was accustomed to during his last term. LB

The campaign for the 8 December St. Petersburg legislative elections officially began on 8 November, Russian news agencies reported. Candidates may now distribute campaign materials and appeal to voters in the print or broadcast media. RTR reported that the question of a possible third term for St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev promises to be a leading campaign issue. The city's charter prohibits Yakovlev from running for a third term, but the new legislature could amend the charter if the candidates favored by the governor end up holding a majority in the 50-seat chamber. More than 400 candidates have been registered for the race. Continuing an election tradition that has confused many voters in the past, there are nine pairs of registered candidates with identical names. Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces have agreed to support a single list of candidates. LB

Although each candidate for the St. Petersburg legislature is ostensibly limited by law to 300,000 rubles ($9,700) in campaign spending, incumbents will spend far more to win the voters' approval. According to RTR on 9 November, legislators have earmarked 2 percent of city budget expenditures for deputies to spend in their own districts at their discretion. One incumbent reportedly paid for the installation of numerous steel doors at private apartments, each bearing the name of the deputy whose "reserve fund" financed the project. The use of budget funds for campaign purposes is illegal. LB

Three candidates have submitted to election officials the necessary signatures to participate in the 8 December mayoral election in Novgorod, RosBalt reported on 5 November. The candidates are Novgorod Oblast Deputy Governor Nikolai Grazhdankin, oblast Communist Party leader Valerii Gaidym, and acting Mayor Sergei Lobach. The local election commission must certify or reject the applications within five days. Grazhdankin is supported by the Democratic Party of Russia, Lobach is backed by the Unified Russia party, and Gaidym is running on the Communist ticket. The deadline for applications is 6 November. The election is being held to replace Aleksandr Korsunov, who was killed in an automobile mishap on 8 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 September 2002). RC

Gennadii Subbotkin, a deputy with the municipal legislature in the town of Dudinki, has become the first person to declare his intention to run for governor of Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, reported on 5 November, citing the Yenisei-Inform news agency. The election will be held on 26 November and was called to replace former Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, who was elected governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai on 22 September. Norilsk Mayor Oleg Budargin is reportedly considering running for the post, reported. Although no specific announcements have been made, a spokesman for Budargin's office was quoted as saying, "One thing can be said for sure -- Norilsk will not just stand by and watch the election in Taimyr." Yenisei-Inform also reported on 31 October that a nongovernmental organization called Taimyr Youth will support okrug Duma Speaker Viktor Sitnov in the race. According to a statement by the organization, Sitnov is the only potential candidate capable of "continuing the reforms that Aleksandr Khloponin initiated in Taimyr." RC

The Magadan Oblast Duma on 29 October scheduled the next gubernatorial election for 2 February 2003. Voters will choose a successor to Valentin Tsvetkov, who was assassinated in Moscow last month. LB

A by-election will be required in Murmansk in the coming months to replace State Duma Deputy Vladimir Gusenkov, who died on 5 November. A member of the Fatherland-All Russia faction, Gusenkov had been deputy chairman of the Duma's Agricultural Committee. LB

Legislators in Bashkortostan have voted to postpone consideration of a new draft republican constitution, reported on 13 November. According to the report, deputies postponed consideration because of the large number of comments and proposals being received from throughout the republic. The draft, which would create a parliamentary republic and eliminate the post of republican president, was approved by a constitutional commission on 16 October. Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov's term expires in June 2003. Though he has not announced plans to seek another elected office, some analysts have speculated that he will run for the republic's State Assembly with a view to the speaker's job. The new draft constitution limits the head of Bashkortostan's executive branch to two consecutive terms in office but sets no term limits for the speaker of parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2002). RC/LB

Police in Pskov on 31 October confirmed that they have arrested the former head of the Loknyan Raion on suspicion of ordering the 26 August murder of his successor, Leonid Volkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002), "Izvestiya" reported on 1 November. The report cites unidentified police sources as saying that Sergei Vasilev, who is one of the richest people in Pskov Oblast, has partially confessed to the crime. Pskov Oblast Deputy Prosecutor Petr Ishchenko told journalists that three men have been arrested in the case, including the suspected triggerman, who was found to be in possession of the apparent murder weapon. RC

Rustam Zakirov, a deputy in Tatarstan's State Council, has been arrested and charged with organizing the murder of the head of Tatarstan's Egerje Raion, Refis Seyetov, who was killed outside his home in Nizhnee Kuchukovo early on the morning of 31 August (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 September 2002), reported on 1 November, citing an unidentified source in the republic's Prosecutor's Office. According to the source, two members of an organized criminal group in Izhevsk, the capital of Udmurtia, had previously been arrested on suspicion that they carried out the killing. Investigators are focusing on Seyetov's professional activities to find a motive for the crime, suggesting the possibility that a criminal group from Izhevsk was trying to extend its influence to the Egerje Raion, of which Zakirov is a former head. CB

Journalist Natalya Novozhilova on 17 October prevailed over Ilya Denisov, who sued her nearly five years ago over a series of articles on Russian fascism that she published in the local newspaper "Prizyv," the Vladimir-based newspaper "Molva" reported on 19 October. Denisov formerly headed the Vladimir branch of Russian National Unity and later became chairman of the Russian National Party. He sued for 200,000 rubles ($6,600) in compensation for lost business, plus 60,000 rubles from Novozhilova and from the editorial staff of "Prizyv" for moral damages. Novozhilova filed a countersuit seeking 50,000 rubles from Denisov for harassment including threatening phone calls.

In 1998 a raion court upheld both lawsuits, but the Vladimir Oblast Court overturned that verdict and sent the case back to the raion level. Following 3 1/2 years of on-again, off-again hearings, a different judge in the raion court denied Denisov's suit and upheld Novozhilova's, ordering him to pay her 9,500 rubles as compensation for legal costs and 2,000 rubles in moral damages. At the same time, the court ordered "Prizyv" to pay Denisov 6,000 rubles in moral damages; the newspaper did not send a representative to numerous court hearings.

Commenting on the verdict, Novozhilova objected to the small moral damages awarded to her for years of harassment. Though her complaint is understandable, her victory is still notable. Plaintiffs have won most of the libel and slander lawsuits against journalists in post-Soviet Russia. Journalists have found it especially hard to defend reports containing statements of opinion and evaluative terms such as "fascist," the truth of which cannot be proven.

Politicians in many regions have used defamation lawsuits to punish journalists and media outlets. Their efforts have succeeded in part because the Constitutional Court has never invoked Article 29 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees press freedom, to protect speech that defames public figures. Nor has the Constitutional Court settled the inherent conflict between Article 29 and Articles 21, 23, and 24, which guarantee a citizen's right to personal dignity, honor and reputation, and privacy. As long as that issue is not resolved, Novozhilova's triumph will likely remain the exception, not the rule. LB

IN: Colonel General Nikolai Koshman replaced Anvar Shamuzafarov as State Construction Committee chairman on 30 October. In 1999 and 2000, Koshman was the federal government's representative to Chechnya.

OUT: Former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev resigned as Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy to Muslim countries on 9 November. In his letter of resignation, he objected both to Maskhadov's foreign policy, which has recently become more pro-Western, and to Maskhadov's willingness to negotiate with Russia.

PROMOTED: Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov was appointed by President Putin on 7 November federal minister responsible for the reconstruction of Chechnya. Ilyasov will relocate to Moscow, where he replaces Vladimir Yelagin.

IN: State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev's Party of Russia's Rebirth received official registration from the Justice Ministry on 11 November. On 7 November the Justice Ministry registered Sporting Russia, headed by State Sports Committee Chairman Vyacheslav Fetisov, as a nongovernmental organization.

OUT: The entire St. Petersburg branch of Liberal Russia was dissolved by the party's political council on 11 November for opposing recent decisions of party leaders, particularly last month's expulsion of Boris Berezovskii, Liberal Russia's main financial backer.

IN: Mikhail Men was appointed deputy mayor of Moscow on 12 November, TV-Tsentr reported. Men recently resigned as deputy governor of Moscow Oblast, a post he had held for nearly three years, "Vremya-MN" reported on 2 November. He was a prominent member of Yabloko for most of the 1990s but left Grigorii Yavlinskii's movement upon agreeing to join the executive branch in Moscow Oblast. He is the son of the well-known dissident priest Aleksandr Men, who was murdered during the Gorbachev era.

11-18 November: Representatives of Khabarovsk Krai will present the region's economic potential and the possibilities of its transportation infrastructure to potential trade and investment partners in Shanghai, China

14 November: Government will meet to consider Russia's energy strategy through the year 2020

15 November: Russian and French foreign and defense ministers to meet in Paris for the Russia-France Security Cooperation Council

16-17 November: Former Yabloko party member and State Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Igrunov will hold a founding congress in Moscow for his new party called the Union of People for Education and Science (SLON)

21-22 November: Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov scheduled to visit Prague for NATO summit

22 November: State Duma to consider draft 2003 budget in its third reading

25 November: The Energy Ministry and the State Construction Committee will present a report on their preparations of the country's energy and heating infrastructure for the winter

26 November: Gubernatorial elections to be held in Taimyr Autonomous Okrug to replace former Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, who was elected governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai in September

29 November: State Duma will consider package of electricity-sector reforms in their second reading

30 November: Date by which Denmark is expected to make a decision regarding the extradition of Chechen Vice Premier Akhmed Zakaev to Russia

end of November: President Putin will visit Yekaterinburg

December: Armenian President Robert Kocharian to visit Russia

8 December: Parliamentary elections in the city of St. Petersburg and mayoral elections in Novgorod

26 December: Deadline by which regions should form permanent election commissions in order to comply with new federal legislation

1 January: Date by which Unified Energy System plans to redeem 80 percent of its debts to Russian coal companies, according to company statement on 29 August

1 January: Jury trials will begin to be held in St. Petersburg, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service

3 January: Date until which Colonel Yurii Budanov will remain in custody on charges of murdering a young Chechen woman

1 February: New Labor Code will come into effect.

2 February: Gubernatorial elections will be held in Magadan Oblast to replace Valentin Tsvetkov, who was assassinated in Moscow in October.