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Russia Report: December 19, 2002

19 December 2002, Volume 2, Number 43

The next issue of "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly" will appear on 2 January 2003.
Federation Council members marked the occasion of their 100th session on 18 December by approving a bill passed earlier by the State Duma that would introduce jury trials in all Russian regions gradually over the course of four years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2002). And next month, according to "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 17 December, the upper chamber will celebrate another anniversary: its first year operating under its new rules of formation. According to the daily, one of the chamber's main problems is "work discipline," because many of the senators are "truants." For example, Sergei Vasilev, representative for Leningrad Oblast, reportedly only comes to Moscow for full council sessions, and the Committee on Financial Markets and Currency Circulation, which he chairs, is "inactive." The daily also alleges that famed banker/oligarch Sergei Pugachev and several of his other colleagues, are accustomed to leaving council sessions immediately after the first break. Business trips have also taken senators away from Moscow -- France has been a popular destination with some 33 trips already logged. Some senators also traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada, for a congress of international youth chambers and to Portugal to look into "security questions in the Western Mediterranean." JAC

Workers at the municipal housing and communal-services enterprise in Kholmsk in Sakhalin Oblast went on strike on 18 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Some 250 workers are demanding the payment of a six-month backlog of unpaid wages. The enterprise was previously declared bankrupt, and the head of the liquidation committee, Vladimir Trikashnyi, told the agency that capital repairs on the enterprise's housing stock had not been made in the last 20 years. Meanwhile, in the city of Kursk on the same day, some 3,000 public-utilities workers blocked a main road for a half hour, demanding that salary arrears dating back to September be paid, Radio Rossii reported. At the same time, the monthlong strike among municipal workers in Kamchatka eased as workers at two of four municipal enterprises agreed to return to work, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). JAC

State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev told reporters in Moscow on 18 December that the reform of the communal-housing and public-utilities sectors suggested by the government and supported the parliamentary majority is not a reform at all and will neither reduce the indebtedness of the sector nor launch its modernization, Interfax reported. He warned that implementation of the reforms will increase the number of people needing housing subsidies and will increase the gap in living standards of populations in the regions. According to Glazev, the use of worn-out equipment and outdated technology in the housing sector is causing large cities to lose 50 percent of their heat. A Yabloko deputy also criticized the housing reforms in an interview with "Vremya MN" this week. Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on Questions of Local Self-Government, said that the main reason for the strikes in Kamchatka is that the federal government is reforming the communal-services and public-utilities sectors without taking into account regional peculiarities. All subsidies are being accounted for according to a single federal standard, resulting in high levels of indebtedness for communal payments in regions with severe climates. JAC

State Duma Committee on Federation Affairs and Regional Policy Viktor Grishin (Fatherland-All Russia) told Interfax on 18 December that while he has a positive opinion of the intention of the presidential commission on demarcating responsibilities between the various levels of government to transfer the majority of responsibilities to federation subjects, he said that the process poses the danger of disintegration. "We should think through everything very thoroughly and weigh, first of all, [whether] to adopt this law," he said. "For example, in England, 75 percent of revenues from tax collections are sent to the central budget. It is understood that Russia is at a different level of economic development, but nevertheless we should thoroughly consider all steps in distributing powers between the center and regions." Grishin added that currently there are 42 power-sharing agreements still in effect between the federal center and the regions, and the question about whether they will be dissolved after the law demarcating responsibilities is adopted remains unanswered. JAC

Parliamentary rule is the "correct" form of government for the Republic of Bashkortostan and will be adopted "sooner or later," Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov said in an interview published in "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 11 December. Rakhimov sought to eliminate the presidency this autumn, but the republican legislature rejected that proposal. Bashkortostan's new constitution, which was adopted earlier this month, preserves the presidency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2002 and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 6 December 2002). Rakhimov explained that federal legislation does not currently allow a purely parliamentary republic to be formed within the federation. Moreover, the majority of Bashkortostan's population supports retaining the presidency. But he noted that the new constitution broadens the authority of the republican State Assembly, makes that parliament unicameral, extends its term from four years to five, and creates a presidium to improve the efficiency of its work. LB

Leaders of the Meskhetians living in Krymskii Raion in Krasnodar Krai have been invited to meet with representatives of the krai's migration service to fill out migration cards, Interfax-South reported on 17 December. A migration service official told the agency that after filling out the cards, the Meskhetians could have temporary registration for 90 days. According to a press release from the Novorossiisk Committee for Human Rights, some 13,000 Meskhetians have been refused even temporary registration since 31 October. According to the release, Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev has said his administration would cooperate in transferring the Meskhetians to the United States, where there has been discussion of giving them refugee status. According to Interfax, some 21,000 Meskhetians live in Krasnodar Krai. JAC

The Audit Chamber will in January 2003 conduct a comprehensive audit of affairs in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Radio Mayak reported on 14 December, citing an RIA-Novosti interview with Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin. Stepashin observed that the krai, once a thriving, revenue-generating region, is now bankrupt, owing some 4 billion rubles ($125 million) to the federal treasury. He also said the Audit Chamber has completed a thorough review of Magadan Oblast, the results of which will shed light on the assassination of Governor Valentin Tsvetkov in October. LB

The competition for the 2 February gubernatorial election in Magadan Oblast is so far made up of entirely local candidates, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 December. Acting Governor Nikolai Dubov, Magadan Mayor Nikolai Karpenko, Deputy Director of the Pacific Ocean Fish Industrial Company Petr Golubovskii, Magadan Sea Trading Port head Andrei Zinchenko, and the director of Rosselkhozbank's Magadan branch, Tatyana Bogalova, will all vie to replace Valentin Tsvetkov, who was murdered in Moscow in October. Registration began on 29 November. According to the daily, rumors are circulating in the State Duma that Communist Deputy Sergei Glazev, who ran unsuccessfully this summer for governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, intends to compete in the elections. However, when asked about them, a representative of Glazev's office said, "This is the first we've heard about it." Karpenko and Dubov are considered favorites in the race, according to the daily. Unity's Duma faction leader, Vladimir Pekhtin, has said he will support Karpenko. JAC

The trial of Stavropol State University Professor Viktor Avksentev on charges of provoking interethnic strife opened on 17 December in Stavropol, ITAR-TASS reported. The prosecutor charged that a monograph edited by Avksentev called "Stavropol: An Ethnographic Portrait" includes expressions impugning non-Slavic ethnic groups, "Vremya MN" reported. For example, a call is made for driving out all migrants and transporting them in train cars. The xenophobic statements were made by local residents participating in a sociological survey commissioned by the krai government, according to "Vremya MN." In an earlier interview, Avksentev told a local newspaper that he and his team were trying to show the real situation in the krai regarding interethnic relations. on 16 December noted that the application of the article of the Criminal Code on inciting ethnic tension is "extremely rarely used." It was not used, for instance, in a recent case in Volgograd when seven swastika-clad youths beat to death two Roma, and it was not used in the recent trial in Moscow of five men for involvement in the 2001 Tsaritsyno market rampage that left three foreigners dead and about 30 injured, the website noted. JAC/RC

Presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin met with the chairmen of the political council for Unified Russia's Urals Federal District, Sergei Nosov and Oleg Bakin, for almost three hours, reported on 18 December, citing "Novyi region." Also present at the meeting was deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov and presidential envoy to the Urals Federal District Petr Latyshev. According to the site, the men discussed a series of political questions, including the current situation in Sverdlovsk Oblast. Nosov, director of the firm Nizhnii Tagil Iron and Steel and leader of Sverdlovsk Oblast's Unified Russia party branch, has been touted by some Urals-based analysts as a contender for a top spot in Unified Russia's party list for the 2003 State Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2002). Nosov has also been touted as a possible challenger in next year's gubernatorial elections in Sverdlovsk Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002). JAC

Registration for candidates in the 26 January gubernatorial election in Taimyr Autonomous Okrug closed officially on 16 December with seven people having completed the process, RIA-Novosti reported. The election is being held to replace Aleksandr Khloponin, who was elected governor of neighboring Krasnoyarsk Krai in September. According to "Vremya novostei" on 16 December, Norilsk Mayor Oleg Budargin is considered the candidate that Khloponin and the company he once headed, Norilsk Nickel, favor. Budargin is the former personnel director of the Norilsk Mining and Metallurgical Complex. According to the daily, local expert are certain that Norilsk Nickel has the financial resources to "sell" its candidate, particularly in light of the fact that the okrug's population totals only about 40,000 people. Other candidates are okrug legislator Gennadii Subbotkin and Norilsk Nickel security-service specialist Igor Priimak. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 December, Priimak is registered as a candidate not to seek the office himself but to ensure that all goes smoothly for Budargin, Khloponin's unofficial "successor." JAC

The Tambov municipal Commission on Place-Names has decided to rename several local streets named in honor of "revolutionary terrorists," reported on 10 December. Streets named for French Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre and Bolshevik activists Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko and Nikolai Kuznetsov will have their prerevolutionary names restored. "After the terrorist acts in Moscow, the residents of these streets demanded the authorities remove the names of the revolutionary terrorists," a commission statement read. The commission's decision must be ratified by the City Duma before it takes effect. RC

A group of Muslim women from Kazan has complained to the chief inspector of the federal Interior Ministry regarding the refusal of the republic's passport service to accept photographs of women in headscarves for their passports, reported on 16 December. Zulfii Fatkhullina of the Union of Muslim Women said Muslim women who have refused to have their passport photos taken without headscarves have faced difficulties because they don't have passports. One woman was reportedly refused admittance to the maternity ward of a local hospital, while others cannot find work or receive state-subsidized medical care. JAC

The State Duma on 15 December passed in its second reading a bill on the use of electronic voting machines, RosBalt reported. The vote was 266 for and 136 opposed. The bill has provoked controversy, with some politicians and experts arguing that it will make it easier for the government to manipulate election results (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October and 6 November 2002). RC

Legislators in the State Duma on 11 December approved in the second reading a draft law that would establish Russian as the state language, ORT reported. According to "The Moscow Times" on 28 November, the bill requires that Russian be used in all official contacts and bans "foreign words that have commonly accepted Russian equivalents," as well as "vernacular, disdainful, or foul" language. However, it does not specify how the law would be enforced or how language offenders would be punished. ORT noted that contrary to earlier speculation, the latest version of the bill does not impose fines for distorting the Russian language in public. "The Moscow Times" also commented that since the Duma approved the bill in the first reading in June, deputies have loosened proposed restrictions on journalists and television personalities, who would be able to use prohibited language if it is "an inalienable part of an artistic concept." LB

The State Duma on 11 December voted to postpone the introduction of jury trials by as much as four years, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Although Russia's 1993 Constitution guarantees trials by jury, only in 2001 was a law passed calling for the introduction of such trials nationally by January 2003. However, by a vote of 263 to 92, deputies approved a Kremlin-proposed bill that would phase in jury trials gradually by 2007. Under the measure, jury trials will begin in Bashkortostan and about a dozen other subjects of the federation in January and in Moscow and about another dozen additional subjects on 1 July. All other regions except Chechnya will have jury trials by 1 January 2004, and Chechnya will have them by 1 January 2007, reported. AP quoted Duma Legislation Committee Deputy Chairwoman Yelena Mizulina (Union of Rightist Forces) as saying that the delay is necessary because of financial and technical difficulties. RC

Also on 11 December, deputies adopted in its fourth and final reading the 2003 federal budget, Russian news agencies reported. According to, 283 deputies voted in favor and 119 opposed the bill. There were no abstentions. Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov (Russian Regions), speaking before the vote, strongly urged legislators to support the budget. The approved budget foresees a GDP of 13.05 trillion rubles ($387 billion), inflation of 10-12 percent, and a ruble-dollar exchange rate of 33.7 to one. The budget predicts a surplus of 72 billion rubles. The bill will now be sent to the Federation Council. Also on 11 December, deputies approved in its second reading a package of four bills that reform Russia's railway system, Interfax reported. One of the bills establishes rules for forming the charter capital for the Russian Railway, a joint-stock company that would be created on the basis of the current Railways Ministry, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service. The government would own 100 percent of the shares, but at the same time it is not excluded that an independent company could use the railway system for transportation. A separate bill on entering and exiting Russia, which makes it obligatory for foreign citizens and individuals without citizenship to fill out a migration card, passed in the third and final reading, Interfax reported. The bill also establishes a procedure for deporting such people if a decision is made that their presence is undesirable. RC/JAC


Name of law__________Date approved_____________# of reading

On the state automatic____15 December_____________2nd
system for elections

Criminal Procedure Code___11 December__________1st, 2nd, 3rd
(on jury trials)

2003 Budget____________11 December_______________4th

On the specifics of _______11 December_______________2nd
administering and distributing property for railway transport

On natural monopolies_____11 December______________2nd

On railway transport______11 December____________2nd
in the Russian Federation

Charter for railway_______11 December_____________2nd
transport in the Russian Federation

On the procedure for entering ____11 December___________3rd
and exiting the Russian Federation

The Federation Council on 18 December approved the 2003 federal budget and a bill amending the Criminal Procedure Code that phases in the introduction of jury trials over a four-year period. "Vremya MN" noted that day that there was little doubt the budget would pass the upper chamber despite the fact that the majority of regions have objections to the bill. The previous week, senators approved a new version of the law on elections to the State Duma, ORT reported. Beginning with the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2007, political parties will have to receive at least 7 percent of the party-list vote in order to receive any of the 225 Duma seats distributed according to proportional representation. The current threshold of 5 percent will remain in force for next year's Duma elections. The new electoral law would also increase campaign spending limits to 250 million rubles ($7.4 million) for political parties and 6 million rubles for candidates running in single-member districts. Groups registered for the party-list ballot in 1999 were allowed to collect only 42 million rubles. In that election, as in 1995, it was an open secret that the leading parties and electoral blocs spent many times more than the legal limit. LB/JAC


Name of law_______________________________Date approved

2003 Budget________________________________18 December

Criminal Procedure Code______________________18 December
(on jury trials)

On elections to the State Duma__________________11 December

OUT: Aleksandr Vasilev, an assistant to State Duma Deputy Mikhail Grishankov (People's Deputy), was found dead on 18 December in the city of St. Petersburg, reported. He was shot in the head. On 31 October, an assistant to State Duma deputy Nikolai Kovalev (Fatherland-All Russia), Sergei Kharlamov, was also found dead from a bullet to the head in Moscow.

OUT: Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, commander of the North Caucasus Military District, told reporters on 17 December that he has rejected a proposal by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to transfer him to the Siberian Military District. The next day, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree relieving Troshev of his duties, appointing Siberian Military District commander Colonel General Vladimir Boldyrev in this place.

IN: Deputies in the republican legislature in Karelia voted on 18 December to confirm Vladimir Fedorov, the republic's chief traffic inspector, to represent it in the Federation Council, Interfax-Northwest reported. Fedorov will replace Yurii Ponomarev, who will join the republican government.

IN: State Duma Economic Policy Committee Deputy Chairman Anatolii Aksakov (People's Deputy) and Budget Committee Deputy Chairman Vladislav Reznik (Unity) were confirmed by the State Duma on 15 December as members of the National Banking Council, Interfax-AFI reported. Named earlier to the council, which oversees the Central Bank, were Banking Committee Deputy Chairman Pavel Medvedev (Fatherland-All Russia), first deputy head of the presidential administration Dmitrii Medvedev, presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, head of the presidential administration's economic directorate Anton Danilov-Danilyan, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev, and Federation Council representatives Sergei Vasiliev (Leningrad Oblast) and Gleb Fetisov (Voronezh).

20 December: A Moscow court will announce the sentence of former Media-MOST executive Anton Titov on charges of embezzlement, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service

20-22 December: Communist Party head Gennadii Zyuganov, along with other Communist legislators, will visit Volgograd

21 December: A Slavneft extraordinary shareholders meeting will take place in Moscow, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 16 December

22 December: The Union of Rightist Forces party council will meet in Moscow Oblast

22-25 December: Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev will visit Iran

24 December: Moscow District Court scheduled to consider lawsuits filed by eight people seeking a total of $7.5 million in damages from the Moscow government for suffering incurred during the October hostage crisis

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 Systems plans to redeem 80 percent of its debts to Russian coal companies, according to company statement on 29 August

1 January: Jury trials may begin to be held in the republics of Adygei, Altai, Bashkortostan, Buryatia, and Daghestan; Krasnoyarsk and Primorskii krais; and Amur, Arkhangelsk, Astrakhan, Magadan, Murmansk and other oblasts, according to legislation pending in the State Duma that would amend Russia's Criminal Procedure Code, RIA-Novosti reported

3 January: Law on countering the financing of terrorist organizations to go into effect, which will add to the list of organizations whose financial dealings receive special scrutiny and will allow the authorities to freeze financial operations for seven days if there are grounds to suspect that the operations are directed toward funding terrorism

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

15 January: Justice Minister Yurii Chaika expected to report to the Duma on proposals for criminal punishment that does not involve serving time in prison

15 January: A joint session of Chechnya's two chambers will select the republic's new president

26 January: Gubernatorial elections will take place in Taimyr Autonomous Okrug

Late January: International Monetary Fund mission scheduled to visit Moscow to evaluate the development of Russia's economy

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

16 February: Elections will be held in the Republic of Mordovia to elect the head of the republic (not called a president under republican law)

February: Labor Ministry expected to submit to the government a list of jobs to which young men seeking to perform alternative service (as opposed to military service) could be assigned

February: NATO-Russia Council will hold conference in Rome

4-5 February: An all-Russia conference on "Information Security in Russia in a Global Information Society" will be held in the government building in Moscow

27-28 February: The Union of the People of Chechnya movement will meet in Moscow, State Duma deputy Aslanbek Aslakhanov announced on 18 December.