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Russia Report: January 30, 2002

30 January 2002, Volume 4, Number 3
Despite media reports about regions having difficulty paying wages to state sector workers, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told reporters in Tomsk on 25 January that the majority of Russian regions will have no problem paying higher salaries, ITAR-TASS reported. Kudrin said the first quarter of the year is "always a difficult period," but it is necessary to differentiate between those regions that really have problems and those which are trying to take advantage of the situation to extract more funds from federal authorities. According to Kudrin, there are regions which act as "blackmailers" and "deliberately exaggerate" their problems. According to ORT on 28 January, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a very similar remark during his meeting with Duma faction leaders the previous week. Putin said that "the government must not allow itself to be blackmailed by difficulties where they do not exist or where they are far-fetched, or else where the regions, or in some cases, the natural monopolies do not want or are unable to curtail ineffective expenditures quickly." JAC

On 17 January, the legislature of the Republic of Karelia adopted an appeal to President Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and members of the Federal Assembly to quickly transfer some 300 million rubles ($9.8 million) so the region will be able to pay the higher wages of state sector workers, such as teachers and doctors, reported, citing RosBalt. Aleksandr Chazhengin, the chairman of the chamber's Budget Committee, warned that if the money is not sent, budget organizations in Karelia will begin withholding wages as soon as February. JAC

On 28 January, Sverdlovsk Oblast Economy Minister Galina Kovaleva told that the oblast government has prepared an appeal to Putin asking him to re-examine the method by which regional budgets are formed. Kovaleva said Sverdlovsk officials want Moscow to calculate regional budgets not on the basis of gross regional product, as is currently done, but based on the volume of the tax base. Kovaleva said Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel already proposed that idea during presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin's recent trip to the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2002), and that he plans to discuss the idea directly with President Putin. The website reported earlier in the month that Rossel has called for the establishment of a political party to defend the interests of donor regions; that is, those regions that direct more tax revenues to the federal center than they receive back in the form of transfers. JAC

Sergei Pugachev has officially left his post as chairman of the board of directors for Mezhprombank and does not own even a 5 percent stake in the company, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 January. Pugachev was recently named as a representative to the Federation Council for the Tuva Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). The daily concluded that Pugachev, one of the most influential bankers in Russia, has decided to concentrate on politics. According to unidentified sources in the presidential administration, Pugachev was more attracted to the guarantee of immunity from criminal prosecution that comes with his new position than with the possibility of lobbying for his bank. It also claimed that Pugachev showed his loyalty to the Putin administration by stopping all joint business with associates of former President Boris Yeltsin. JAC

Mikhail Nikolaev, who recently withdrew his bid for re-election as president of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, will now represent the republic's executive in the Federation Council, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 24 January, citing the republican administration. Nikolaev will be one of eight former regional heads serving in the Federation Council, which will also include former Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Nazarov and former Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Kondratenko. Both governors decided not to seek re-election and were then chosen by the man they tapped as their successor to serve in the Federation Council. JAC

Meanwhile, Vasilii Vlasov, the chairman of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic's government, has been nominated to serve as president of Alrosa, replacing recently elected Sakha President Vyacheslav Shtyrov, Interfax reported on 27 January, citing the Sakha presidential administration. In an interview with "Trud" on 25 January, Vlasov said the person who is tapped to replace Shtyrov should be a "professional of the highest class" and "should be from the republic." Vlasov also said he believes that the share of state property in key branches of the economy should be restored. Vlasov is a close associate of Nikolaev and former head of Sakhaneftegaz. JAC

Former Federation Council press service Director Yurii Argunov told reporters in Moscow on 15 January that he is resigning because of his disagreement "with the new rules of the game in the information field," RIA-Novosti reported. However, Lyudmila Fomicheva, the press secretary for Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, told reporters Argunov has violated civil service ethics, and that ever since he lost the struggle to retain his position he is acting like a "dishonorable and unscrupulous" person. She added that the ethics of many Muscovites in the civil service leave something to be desired, according to "Vremya MN" noted on 15 January that Fomicheva was recently transferred to Moscow from St. Petersburg, and like President Putin she also worked in the office of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak. JAC

Fomicheva worked both as Sobchak's press secretary and headed the office of then-Deputy Mayor Putin. Other former St. Petersburg officials now in the Federation Council are Petr Tkachenko, the director of the chairman's apparatus; Vasilii Arzhantsev, the head of the speaker's secretariat; and deputy head of the secretariat Yevgenii Chaikovskii. The likely new head of the press service, according to the daily, is Aleksei Kedrin, who headed the press service of the St. Petersburg administration during Sobchak's tenure. JAC

Recently elected Altai Republic head Mikhail Lapshin has categorically denied the possibility of joining his republic with the neighboring Altai Krai, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 23 January. The possible merger has been actively discussed following the suggestion last year by Altai Krai legislature Chairman Aleksandr Nazarchuk that a referendum should be conducted on the question (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2001). Meanwhile, on 28 January, Altai Krai Governor Aleksandr Surikov said that the believes that his region's population would oppose a merger with the Altai Republic. However, he said that he believed residents of the Altai Republic would favor the move, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 28 January. JAC

Former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov is reportedly planning to run for the presidency of the Republic of Buryatia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 January. Incumbent President Leonid Potapov has not yet announced whether he will seek a third term in the ballot scheduled for this summer, but local analysts expect him to run. According to the daily, the local Communist Party has decided to withdraw its support from Potapov and instead try to get Skuratov elected. Communist Party officials are allegedly still smarting from Potapov's support for Putin during the 2000 presidential election campaign. Skuratov was born in Buryatia and was recently elected to represent its legislature in the Federation Council. However, the election was later declared invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2001). JAC

Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed personally led the first session of the regional Council of Muslims created by the krai administration, "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 January. According to the daily, the number of Muslims in the krai has sharply increased over recent years because of migration from former Soviet republics and other regions of Russia. In fact, according to recent data, Islam is the second most popular religion in the region with more than 100,000 followers. Mosques have been erected in two of the krai's largest cities, Krasnoyarsk and Norilsk. Local Muslims also have their own schools and cemeteries. At the council's first session it became clear that local Muslims were hoping to get financial assistance from the krai government for the construction of more schools and mosques, but Lebed replied that the krai's budget is already suffering from a sharp deficit. However, he acknowledged that it is important for Siberia to train its own religious leaders at home -- "otherwise we will prepare [our own] bin Ladens or Khattabs." Lebed also pledged to include a Muslim representative on the new regional pardon commission. JAC

Viktor Ilyukhin, the leader of the Movement to Support the Army (DPA), and a member of the Communist faction in the State Duma, has registered as a candidate in 14 April gubernatorial elections in Penza Oblast, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 January. Ilyukhin has wide support in the oblast, having been elected to the Duma from a single-mandate district there three times. Incumbent Governor Vasilii Bochkarev told the daily that he considers Ilyukhin to be his main competitor. According to the newspaper, Bochkarev announced his intention to seek re-election, but has not yet filed an application with the local election commission. JAC

More than 20,000 people (1 percent of the 2 million population) annually emigrate from Primore (Russia's Far East), RIA-Novosti reported on 28 January, quoting Primore Governor Sergei Darkin. Darkin stressed that numerous social and economic problems lead to the high level of emigration, and offered to enhance consolidation of Russian border territories and develop more transport facilities in Primore ports in an effort to attract more investment. VC

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kudrin told reporters in Yakutsk on 28 January that the federal government will consider plans for the construction of a railway to Yakutsk at an estimated cost of some 7 billion rubles ($228.68 million), Interfax-AFI reported. Kudrin was in Yakutsk to attend the 27 January inauguration of President Vyacheslav Shtyrov. Also in attendance were presidential administration head Voloshin, former Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, a government delegation from Angola, "the directors of some of Russia's largest companies," and the Moscow representative of DeBeers, Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC

Following the selection of former Sakha (Yakutia) Republic President Mikhail Nikolaev to represent the republic's executive in the Federation Council, republican legislators on 28 January chose Robert Burnashov as their representative. Burnashov is a former deputy chairman of the republican government. JAC

Tyumen Oblast Governor Sergei Sobyanin has reportedly ordered a Moscow polling firm to conduct an opinion poll of Tyumen residents asking whether they favor the liquidation of the Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenets autonomous okrugs, which are part of Tyumen Oblast, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 16 January. The daily noted that according to a recently passed law it is necessary for federation subjects considering a merger to first hold a referendum among those citizens who would be affected. The daily speculated that it is likely that the majority of the residents of the oblast would favor getting rid of the okrugs, because there are very few Khanty, Mantsi, or Nenets remaining. According to the newspaper, Ramazan Abdulatipov, an expert on nationalities and Federation Council member (Saratov), believes that Russia's misfortune is that it is constantly going from one extreme to the next: first it was a rapid process of confederation and now a process of excessive centralization. JAC

Members of the city of Ulyanovsk's Center for Assistance to Animals have appealed to local legislators to alter a law limiting residents to only one dog or cat per apartment, "Izvestiya" reported on 24 January. The group suggested instead a limit of 12 animals, a number that Irina Rodina, the director of the center, said would not pose a disturbance to neighbors. The center, which is staffed by 17 people who spend their spare time rescuing homeless cats and dogs, has also appealed to the mayor for funding for a 24-hour shelter for homeless animals; however, Ulyanovsk Mayor Pavel Romanenko said that while he considers the idea a fine one, there is insufficient financing for it. JAC


By Oleg Rodin

This spring, when the State Duma finally votes on legislation allowing young men to perform alternative military service, deputies are likely to consider the experience of Nizhnii Novgorod. In that city, for the first time in Russian history, citizens have actually had a real opportunity to perform alternative military service. Local human rights activists struggled for eight years to make the right granted to young people by Article 59 of the Russian Constitution a reality.

Although the constitution was adopted in 1993, Defense Ministry departments across the country continued to turn down young men's requests to perform alternative service. Military officials argued that because the State Duma has not yet adopted a law on alternative service, Article 59 of the constitution cannot come into effect. In addition, they argue if they were to allow alternative service, then no one would serve in the Russian army.

However, a Nizhnii Novgorod peace group established by young people who do not want to take up arms refused to let the matter drop. They established in several court proceedings that they had a right as citizens not to serve in the army -- and criminal cases were not opened up against them. Judges were not able to show that the activists' demands were illegal.

Finally in 2001, Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Yurii Lebedev declared that during the fall conscription campaign, young men in Nizhnii Novgorod would be given an opportunity to serve alternative rather than military service. Public opinion surveys conducted in the region showed that the majority of residents approved of the idea. The parents of potential soldiers believed that their children could and should serve in the army, but not as the army currently functions in Russia. The newly elected governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, Gennadii Khodyrev, also approved of the mayor's initiative.

In accordance with the mayor's directive, the city's enlistment commission started receiving declarations from those young men who did not want to serve in the army. The declarations totaled about 60, and members of the city's draft commission met personally with each young man seeking alternative service to ensure that he showed both pacifist convictions and a readiness to perform the most difficult work of the social sphere, for example, as a hospital orderly. Of the 60 applicants, only 21 persons received permission, the rest could not demonstrate evidence of their pacifist beliefs.

Defense Ministry officials, however, did not take kindly to the city's innovative approach, and threatened the new recruits with criminal prosecution if they opted for alternative military service. One youth became frightened by this threat and turned down alternative service. But the remaining recruits insisted on their rights. And on the international day of tolerance, a picket of the Defense Ministry's local headquarters was held.

Military officials also tried another form of pressure. During the conscription campaign, representatives of the military and law enforcement structures tried to organize raids on the apartments of those young people who were of conscription age. In each raion of Nizhnii Novgorod, a special group was created which would conduct searches of the homes of those seeking alternative service. However, the would-be searchers were stymied by the fact that most of the young men did not live at the address listed on their propiskas or registration papers.

Local military officials were worried that because of the implementation of a program of alternative service they would not be able to fulfill the army's enlistment plan, but this concern proved to be unjustified. The fall call-up in Nizhnii Novgorod was filled 100 percent. More than 1,000 people were sent to the army, while another 1,000 managed to avoid enlisting, or 50 percent fewer than in previous years.

The city's prosecutor also tried to stop the program, but a protest filed in a local court was rejected. And the mayor's order establishing the program was considered legal. From 1 January 2002, 20 people deemed to be conscientious objectors have been working as orderlies in the city hospital's emergency room.

This is very difficult work and the young men daily confront serious diseases and people who are dying. They turn and clothe patients who are immobile. They clean the toilets. They transport heavy containers of oxygen to operating rooms. They fill up the cabinets with medicine in the hospital's various departments and even take dead patients to the morgue. They follow a strict discipline but receive only a very small wage, practically like that in the army. In addition, the term of alternative service lasts a year longer -- three years in the hospital instead of two in the army. Despite the difficult nature of the work, the young men continue working in the hospital and do not intend to leave. It took them too long and they had to overcome many obstacles in order to obtain the right to serve their country -- not with weapons in their hands -- but with peaceful and socially useful work.

Soon the spring conscription campaign will begin, and Nizhnii Novgorod's enlistment commission will again accept applications from young men who want an alternative to military service. In the future, it is possible that alternative service will become a real option in other regions in Russia. The State Duma will choose from the three versions of the law on alternative military service that it is currently considering. Activists in Nizhnii Novgorod who made the program of alternative service a reality can perhaps take some credit for the law finally moving through the parliament -- a law for which Russia has already been waiting for eight years.

Oleg Rodin is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Nizhnii Novgorod.