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Russia Report: February 13, 2002

13 February 2002, Volume 4, Number 5
St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev told reporters on 6 February that while he favors keeping the Russian Federal Assembly in Moscow, he is not against the transfer to St. Petersburg of several federal ministries such as the Finance Ministry, Central Bank, and Culture Ministry, reported. The next day, in an interview with "Izvestiya," former Deputy Prime Minister and Saratov's representative to the Federation Council Ramazan Abdulatipov discussed his idea of transferring some federal government functions not only from Moscow to St. Petersburg but also to other Russian cities. According to Abdulatipov, he considers it "reasonable" to transfer the State Duma to St. Petersburg, where it met under the Tsar, and move the Federation Council to the State Duma building in Moscow. He added that the offices of the navy would be better situated in Vladivostok, while offices related to forestry might be better located in Krasnoyarsk Krai. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters on 6 February that he favors inviting the heads of countries in the EU to meet in St. Petersburg when the city celebrates its 300th anniversary next year from 24 May to 1 June, Interfax reported. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced the same day that 11.7 billion rubles ($382 million) will be transferred from the federal budget to the city to help it prepare for the celebration. Kazan, which will be celebrating its millennium next year, will receive 1.1 billion rubles. JAC

St. Petersburg Governor Yakovlev has discussed with Putin the possibility of transferring control of TV-6 to the St. Petersburg Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, Ekho Moskvy radio reported on 8 February. However, he did not report on how Putin responded to his suggestion. When asked whether he meant that a tender should not be held, Yakovlev responded by saying that "a certain order exists in the country, and I cannot tell you now how the issue will be considered within the framework of this order." Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg company's board chairman, Aleksandr Potekhin, confirmed that his company will participate in the upcoming tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights. JAC

The offices of the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts appear to be taking on more and more responsibilities. On 11 February, President Putin told a meeting of prosecutors that he plans to conduct a joint session with the presidential envoys and the directors of law enforcement structures in order to elaborate "strategy, tactics, and policies for the struggle against all types of crime." Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 5 February that the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts have recently been tasked with reducing the number of representatives of federal ministries in the regions and eliminating regional bodies that perform the same tasks as federal agencies. According to the daily, the seven envoys have divided up the various federal policy areas based on their previous experience. For example, envoy for the Northwestern federal district Viktor Cherkesov will look at the field operations of intelligence services, while Southern envoy Viktor Kazantsev will look at army sub-units. JAC

Konstantin Pulikovskii, the presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, will create a new district-level council for the leaders of the legislative bodies in the district, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 6 February. Primorskii Krai legislature speaker Sergei Zhekov told the agency that the creation of the council is an attempt to strengthen federal institutions of power. The same day, a session of another council composed of the leaders of executive bodies in the district was to be held in Khabarovsk. Also on 6 February, Viktor Zubkov, the head of the Committee for Financial Monitoring, told reporters in Moscow that departments of his agency will soon be formed in all seven federal districts, Interfax-AFI reported. However, Zubkov added that in order for his committee to operate, additional legislative acts will need to be adopted first. JAC

The general director of a Chinese construction firm which is registered in Amur Oblast has sent a letter to oblast Governor Leonid Korotkov telling him of his company's readiness to build a bridge over the Amur River, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 11 February. According to the agency, the company's proposal is now being studied by the oblast administration. The agency also reported that the company, which has been working in the region since 1995, has built more than 500,000 square meters of housing. In addition to building the bridge, the company also wants to construct a factory for reprocessing soy, an airport complex, and a five-story hotel in downtown Blagoveshchensk. JAC

State Duma deputy (Russian Regions) Franis Saifullin said on 9 February that Moscow's plan to divide Tatars into several ethnic groups in the 2002 census is aimed at eliminating the Republic of Tatarstan, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 11 February, citing Tatarstan Radio. He said that if federal authorities do not give up on the idea, he will appeal to Tatarstan's legislature to postpone the census in the republic. Saifullin assumes the division of Tatars in the census will likely result in their totaling less than 50 percent of the population in Tatarstan. The Duma will then pass legislation to annul national republics where titular nations constitute less than half of the population, he asserted. Tatars currently make up some 52 percent of Tatarstan's inhabitants. JAC

Aleksandr Salii, a Duma deputy (Communist) and chairman of the Commission for the Study of the Use of Election Legislation, called on the Duma's Security Committee to confirm information contained in a 29 January article in "Moskovskii komsomolets" alleging that workers at his commission accepted money to falsify the results of the 2001 gubernatorial elections in Irkutsk Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2001). Incumbent Irkutsk Oblast Governor Boris Govorin won a second round by less than 2 percent of the vote. Salii suggested that the author of the article had apparently obtained some audiotapes from one of Russia's intelligence services, Interfax reported on 6 February. JAC

During President Putin's televised chat with Russian citizens in December last year (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 31 December 2001), he promised that a farm in Krasnodar Krai would finally be hooked up to a gas pipeline in January. "Izvestiya" reported on 6 February that one eager presidential assistant subsequently issued an order for "gasification" for a farm with a similar name in a neighboring raion. Yuggazifikatsiya chief engineer Nikolai Gryazev told the newspaper that his company received an order on 28 December to start work so that gas could be supplied to consumers in Kazache-Malevannyi in January. Working in temperatures of minus 27 degrees Celsius, his company's workers managed to have a pipeline ready for supplies by 31 January. However, the krai's deputy governor, Aleksandr Ivanov, announced that a "common" mistake had been made and the names of the two farms were confused. Meanwhile, found out that Tatyana Disyuk, the woman who had originally made the request, doesn't even live in Kazache-Malevannyi and has had gas in her own home for years. She explained that she made the phone call on behalf of the farmers because they are not used to public speaking and their Russian isn't strong. JAC

About 500 residents of the town of Sosnovoborsk in Krasnoyarsk Krai blocked a railway line along which nuclear waste is being imported on 9 February, Interfax reported, citing Greenpeace Rossiya. According to Greenpeace, 41 tons of spent nuclear fuel from the Kozloduy nuclear power plant in Bulgaria was transported to the town of Krasnoyarsk 26 along this railway line. The protestors are demanding that the waste be taken back to Bulgaria and that a referendum on making their region free from nuclear waste be held. They submitted more than 40,000 signatures in support of the referendum to the krai's regional election commission on 7 February -- 5,000 more signatures than required by law. A previous attempt to hold a national referendum on the import of nuclear waste and other environmental issues failed when the Central Election Commission said that more than 600,000 of some 2.5 million signatures were invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November and 26 October 2000). According to the law, 2 million signatures are needed. JAC

The operational department of the Federal Security Service (FSB) for Lipetsk Oblast arrested Ivan Trunov, a 65-year-old resident of the region, on suspicion of conducting industrial espionage for China, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 February. According to the daily, Trunov works at the Novolipetsk metallurgical combine (NLMK), which at the end of last year concluded an agreement with a Chinese company to supply slabs. Trunov represented NLMK in the negotiations. NLMK's security director told the daily that he has information that Trunov was looking for a document that had information that was the company's intellectual property. Trunov was then put under observation and was apprehended holding some documents about the "technology for raising the quality of the slabs," which the security director said could "interest industrial circles in China." If convicted, Trunov could be sentenced to five years in prison. According to the daily, last month the FSB uncovered another attempt at industrial espionage on behalf of the U.S., Japan, and China in Omsk Oblast at the Catalyst Institute of the Siberian department of the Academy of Science. JAC

National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov has registered as a candidate in State Duma by-elections in a single-mandate district in Nizhnii Novgorod, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 February. Limonov will compete along with five other candidates for the seat abandoned by Gennadii Khodyrev when he won gubernatorial elections in that oblast. Limonov currently resides in Lefortovo prison, because he is suspected of organizing an illegal armed formation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2001). "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 February that despite his incarceration, Limonov's chances of victory are considered high, as the other candidates are not well-known in the district. JAC


By Jeffrey Kahn

Miners once worked beside canaries, whose faster respiration alerted the workmen to poisonous but unseen gases lurking in the depths. Analysts of Vladimir Putin's reforms have generally focused their attention on the most visible load-bearing timbers of the president's federal reforms: presidential envoys, the new Federation Council, and the new powers "vertikal" to initiate dismissal procedures against regional executives and legislatures. But despite exacting analysis, the conclusion frequently reached is that it is "too early to tell" what long-term effect the reforms will have. What other, indirect indicators offer guidance? What canaries are singing "v glubinke" (in the depths), in the maze of new and old relations between Russia's federal and regional governments?

Regional electoral activity and the court system (federal and regional) are two such early warning signals, though so important in their own right that they are rarely considered for this indirect purpose. Federal ambivalence or impotence regarding regional elections can lead to pockets of autocracy cut off from the fresh air of a larger (professed) transition to democracy. Politicization of the courts is noxious to a federal system, so dependent on neutral arbitration between different levels of government. Putin has recently focused his attention on the judiciary and renewed direct federal influence over regional electoral processes, suggesting that this president, in stark contrast to Yeltsin, understands this interrelation. Such analysis is hardly meant to discount the "primary" reforms themselves, merely to direct attention to other signals.

Republican Elections

In the last 60 days, one-third (seven) of Russia's ethnic republics have held presidential elections (Adygeia, Altai, Kabardino-Balkaria, Komi, Sakha, North Ossetia, and Chuvashia). Every election was contested. In three elections, incumbents either lost or quit before election day. Incumbents Nikolai Fedorov in Chuvashia, and -- more controversially, given the cancellation of a close rival's candidacy -- Aleksandr Dzasokhov in North Ossetia retained their posts with results suggesting genuine electoral competition. Similarly, the incumbent president of Komi, Yuri Spiridonov, lost his position by a margin of less than 6 percent. Elections, of course, aren't a sufficient condition for democracy. But these results do suggest some progress towards the attitudinal acceptance and institutional routinization of elections, as Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan put it, as "the only game in town."

However, Soviet-style election returns are not everywhere in Russia a thing of the past. Kabardino-Balkaria President Valerii Kokov won a third term with the modest showing of 87 percent support. Kokov is less popular than in the past, when he won 88.9 percent (1992) and 93.0 percent (1997), respectively (the latter election was uncontested). Among still-sitting presidents, only Tatarstan's Mintimer Shaimiev has done better -- in 1996, Shaimiev won over 97 percent of the vote. In March 2001, he won a third term with over 79 percent. Many of the Russian Federation's least savory regional leaders (such as Kalmykia's bizarre Kirsan Ilumzhinov) remain in power on suspect democratic credentials.

Such extreme outcomes suggest abuse of the electoral process itself. To the sophisticated regional autocrat, structural electoral fraud is far preferable to crude ballot stuffing or lost election returns. Expert manipulation of the electoral process in the months before the polls open can ensure an election day clean enough for even the most discriminating election observer -- when these elusive creatures appear in the regions at all. This is especially the case for republican presidents, the majority of whom were schooled in the bureaucratic arts as Soviet apparatchiki.

Republican presidents have perfected these skills in post-Soviet Russia in part by studying the election-season shenanigans of fellow regional executives. In 1998, Bashkortostan's current President Murtaza Rakhimov engineered an electoral system that intimidated his opponents with the full power of the state; his closest adversary lost his registration as a candidate three times. The former president of Sakha (Yakutia), Mikhail Nikolaev, obviously studied that campaign carefully (and the federal government's indifference to it) for his attempt at a third term this past December. Many of the same methods were tried. Full use was made of the republic's media and other resources. Nikolaev, however, was forced out of the race, although not before positioning an ally to succeed him.

What explains the different result? First, Nikolaev lacked Rakhimov's extraordinary power over the regional legislature, judiciary, and prosecutor. He could not force the constitutional changes needed for a third term -- though he had himself registered nevertheless by a compliant local election commission. The restoration of federal influence in the regions is another important change. The full force of Putin's reforms was brought to bear on Sakha. Federal envoys and inspectors attacked the republic's still unreformed constitution. These attacks were aided by an aggressive republican prosecutor and surprisingly sympathetic (given its recent past) republican judiciary -- unheard of in the Yeltsin era. The new Federation Council provided the carrot to join with this stick (Putin's "vertikal" dismissal powers, though theoretically quite disturbing, have not yet proven practical on the ground). One month after bowing to Kremlin pressure, Nikolaev was appointed one of Sakha's senators by his Kremlin-friendly successor, Vyacheslav Shtyrov.

If regional elites are left to their own devices in their local politics, Putin's control of the Federation Council may well have been purchased with borrowed funds. The end to ex officio membership in the Federation Council, the establishment of independent, if only Potemkin-style, federal offices, and Putin's continued popularity has re-established a federal toehold, however slight, in the regions. Of course, too much federal control (e.g. the proposed appointment of regional executives) would produce an equally undesirable outcome: a double blow against important principles of federalism and electoralism.

The Courts

Complex political systems rely on courts to resolve disputes. The temptation for abuse, therefore, is great. As the first Soviet commissar of justice famously declared, "A club is a primitive weapon, a rifle is a more efficient one, the most efficient is the court." A federal judiciary must be cautious to avoid overtly political issues involving preferences better left to a parliament or electorate to decide. But courts must not shrink from even politicized conflicts when the stakes are legal issues, not political choices. The judiciary is a branch, after all, famously lacking both sword and purse to support its interpretive activity. Its integrity as a neutral arbiter is its most powerful authority.

Whatever harmonization of federal and regional laws that the Kremlin seeks to install politically, the courts will be an important forum for adjudication. If federal courts are seen by regions as levers of federal control, little deference will be given their decisions. In the Yeltsin era, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and others categorically refused to acknowledge any federal court's jurisdiction over them. Recent shifts away from such a mentality, therefore, are to be encouraged. The Russian Supreme Court, to its credit, did not shrink from its authority when called upon to assess the legality of the Sakha presidential election procedures. And it is a sign of even further progress in federal relations that most Sakha officials, albeit reluctantly, abided by the court's rulings.

Gradually, regional courts are also coming out from under the thumb of governors and presidents. The Sakha Constitutional Court issued a ruling that criticized the republic's constitution for violations of federal law -- unheard of prior to Putin. Its dilatory rulings on candidate registration in the recent elections were less admirable. Regional elites learn as quickly from federal abuse of the courts as they do from the electoral tricks of their neighbors. In Tver, a city court imprudently inserted itself between warring factions in the legislature and governor's office, creating for a time the bizarre situation of two warring speakers for the regional legislature.

But if federal courts are winning marginally greater respect in the regions, they are in danger of losing authority altogether as neutral forums for the resolution of legal disputes -- an authority already virtually obliterated for human rights cases. The perception of judicial impartiality is a potential asset for the economy, democracy, and federalism that Russia squanders to its long-term peril. Even the U.S. State Department, usually reluctant to comment on individual proceedings, noted the "strong appearance of political pressure" in recent Supreme Arbitration Court rulings against TV-6. In the long run, that scandal may weaken judicial autonomy even more than it has weakened media independence and free expression.


Ballot boxes and courtrooms embody both the most abstract of ideas and the most concrete of institutions. Gone are the days of brazen republican defiance of Moscow. But the war of laws -- whether federal or regional law should reign supreme, or reign at all -- continues in a new guise. While the bilateral treaties of the Yeltsin era may be a thing of the past, the mentality behind them lives on in the fundamental and still unresolved question of Russian federal politics: "kto kogo?" (who for whom?) The answer to this question is not to be found in Putin's new federal institutions. Diametrically opposed conceptions of federalism exist in the kremlins of Moscow and Kazan. Resolution will only come through the use, and abuse, of institutions of law and democratic process over the course of Putin's presidency and his successors.

Putin is to be encouraged in his efforts to improve the education, pay, and composition of the judiciary. But he must resist the urging of advisers to use the courts as tools of politics. Regional political elites must be pressed to embrace the substance, not just the form, of the electoral process. Such behavior must be watched closely, or the last tune our canaries sing will be their swan song.

(Jeffrey Kahn's new book, "Federalism, Democratization and the Rule of Law in Russia," will be published by Oxford University Press in May 2002.)