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Russia Report: February 27, 2002

27 February 2002, Volume 4, Number 7
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 February that while the Russian government is "scrupulously paying its foreign debts," it is reneging on social obligations. According to deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak, if the federal government were to actually fund all of the social programs that it is required to do under law, it would need at least 6 trillion rubles ($200 billion). However, total budget revenues this year will amount to only 2 trillion rubles, and expenditures 1.9 trillion rubles. Kozak, who heads the presidential commission on power-sharing agreements, has reportedly recommended that the federal government give up part of the obligations that it has undertaken and redistribute funding responsibilities between the various levels of government. The daily also reported that according to its unnamed sources, Kozak's commission is also studying the possibility of introducing external administration for financially insolvent regions. Last December, Deputy Finance Minister Bella Zlatkis announced that her ministry was examining the possibility of declaring at least seven Russian regions bankrupt (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 12 December 2001). JAC

On 21 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with leaders of the upper house, including Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov and leaders of the 16 committees and seven commissions. Putin asked the senators to cooperate more effectively with the State Duma, reported. "Izvestiya" commented that should Mironov succeed in his stated goal of increasing the role of the upper house in forming laws, then the influence of the Federation Council will grow -- which will likely provoke conflict with the Duma. Currently, according to the daily, the situation is under control: "On all basic questions both chambers first consult with the Kremlin." But already, according to the daily, several unidentified high-level sources in the Kremlin have started to express concern regarding "too many initiatives [from] the [Federation Council's] speaker," and Mironov's orientation toward the so-called St. Petersburg group. JAC

Former Gazprom-Media head and former head of the State Property Committee Alfred Kokh was selected on 26 February as the Leningrad Oblast legislature's representative to the Federation Council. According to, Kokh, a close ally of Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, said that he will support the positions of the Unity and Union of Rightist Forces parties. Interfax-Northwest had reported the previous day that Oleg Safonov would be selected. Safonov is an adviser to Leningrad Oblast Governor Valerii Serdyukov on security issues, according to the agency. From 1991 to 1994, Safonov worked as the chief specialist for the Committee for Foreign Relations of St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak. In 1991, President Putin took over chairmanship of that committee and continued to work for Sobchak through 1996. Meanwhile, on 21 February, legislators in the Altai Republic confirmed Boris Agapov, a lieutenant general in the Border Troops, as the governor's representative in the Federation Council, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Agapov was earlier a vice president of Ingushetia as well as a deputy secretary of the Security Council. Representing the republic's legislature will be Yurii Antarodonov, a former deputy prime minister in the republican government. JAC

Also on 25 February, Federation Council Chairman Mironov again spoke in favor of holding elections for seats in the upper chamber. He told Ekho Moskvy radio that such a system could be in place within two to three years. On 19 February, Mironov declared that the practice of concluding power-sharing treaties between the federal center and regions is outdated and has no future, RIA-Novosti reported. JAC

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 26 February examined the distribution of leadership posts in the Federation Council by federal districts. After tallying up the number of chairs and deputy chairs of committees and commissions, it concluded that while the Central federal district has the highest number of representatives in leadership posts, the Volga federal district, which is overseen by presidential envoy Sergei Kirienko, in fact did the best: It snagged the chairs of four committees, all of which are high-profile, such as the committees for the Budget; Economic Policy, Entrepreneurship, and Property; Industrial Policy; and Questions of Local Rule (see "Russian Political Weekly," 5 February 2002). The daily also reports, citing unidentified sources, that officials in the Southern federal district are dissatisfied with the distribution of leadership posts. It asserts that "in the near future, it should not be excluded that a group of senators will initiate a reexamination of the distribution of leadership posts." JAC

Around 1,500 local entrepreneurs and industrialists were expected to participate in a protest on 21 February in Khabarovsk against changes in the tax law, particularly the introduction of a single social tax, reported, citing "Tikhookeanskaya zvezda." The businesspeople from a local krai association charge that the tax reform measure does not demonstrate support for small businesses, which government officials at all levels have called for. They were also planning to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's government. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs in Ulyanovsk picketed the office of the mayor during the lead-up to Prime Minister Kasyanov's visit to that city, reported on 20 February (see item below). The businessmen carried placards demanding a reduction in the leasing fee for space in the food market. According to the website, the protest violated the security regulations in force prior to Kasyanov's arrival. JAC

Krasnoyarsk Krai's Election Commission rejected on 21 February a bid to hold a referendum on the question of banning imports of spent nuclear fuel to the region, RIA-Novosti reported. Environmental activists collected more than 40,000 signatures in support of holding a plebiscite, but the commission ruled that only 8,500 of the signatures were valid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2002). By law, 35,000 signatures were needed. Meanwhile, the initiators of the referendum, the local branch of the Union of Rightist Forces, plan to challenge the commission's decision in court. JAC

Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak declared on 25 February that it is necessary to correct the constitution, reported, citing "Izvestiya." Prusak said that "if we do not make these amendments, then the rights according to the constitution will belong [only] to six oligarchs but the obligations to the entire country." He added that he cannot accept a society in which one person can earn $40 billion a year, and another cannot earn 2,000 rubles ($65). "This is some kind of brutal system, which appeared during the period of the so-called reforms," he said. JAC

Primorskugol, the largest coal company in Primorskii Krai, has halted its fuel shipments to Dalenergo, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 20 February. According to the agency, Dalenergo's debt to the company totals around 200 million rubles ($6.5 million), an 88 million ruble increase since December 2001. Meanwhile, Dalenergo announced on 19 February that it will begin massive shut-offs of electricity to enterprises in Dalengorsk, Dalenerechensk, Lesozavodsk, and Partizansk. JAC

Writer Vladimir Karpenko and sculptor Yegor Derdiyashchenko are looking for investors to back their project to build a sculpture honoring the "glory of the mountain Cossacks" on the right bank of the local bay in the city of Volgodonsk in Rostov Oblast, "Vremya MN" reported on 25 February. The sculpture would depict Cossack General Yakov Baklanov, a hero of the Cossack War in the 19th century, leaving the mountains on horseback. According Derdiyashchenko, Baklanov would personify the free spirit of the Cossacks, and the mountain, split into two parts, would symbolize the split of the Cossacks into red and white forces. JAC

A number of politicians, public activists, and residents of St. Petersburg gathered on 19 February to honor the memory of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, who died two years ago, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, several hundred people gathered at Sobchak's grave, including presidential envoy to the Northwest federal district Viktor Cherkesov. Yurii Gladkov, a deputy from St. Petersburg's legislature, declared that each year more people gather at Sobchak's grave as the significance of what Sobchak accomplished for Russia becomes better understood. JAC

NTV reported on 24 February that the Culture Ministry has announced the beginning of the privatization of the Russian film industry with the sale of shares in the St. Petersburg-based Lenfilm studio. Meanwhile, Lenfilm Director Viktor Sergeev has tendered his resignation, Ekho Moskvy reported on 21 February. Sergeev told the station that he is not opposed to privatization of Russia's film studios, but the government "chose the wrong moment for a radical break-up of the film industry." Sergeev told NTV that there appears to be little investor interest in the studios, and that no oligarchs, such as Boris Berezovsky, have come along with any kind of financial offers -- attractive or otherwise -- for Lenfilm. JAC

Efir TV of Kazan and the "Konets Nedely" weekly recently carried reports focusing on the difficulty of obtaining passports without an insertion in the Tatar language and claiming that officials in Interior Ministry bodies in many Russian regions are unaware of the inserts' validity and thus tend to detain the bearers of "strange passports," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 22 February. Tatarstan's militia confirmed that this is a problem, and instructed traveling residents of Tatarstan to stay calm and tell the Russian militia that the federal government agreed to include the extra pages. Despite the negative coverage of the special inserts, only 213 Tatarstan residents have so far applied for and received passports without the Tatar inlay -- while 700,000 people have received the new type of documents. According to the bureau, a total of 3.9 million new passports are to be distributed in the republic by the deadline of 31 December 2003. JAC

The Republic of Tatarstan attracted almost half -- 43 percent -- of the total foreign investment last year in the Volga federal district, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 25 February, citing Stanislav Spitsyn, head of the Central Bank's main administration for Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. Some $687 million flowed to the district as a whole, of which 25 percent went to Samara Oblast, 12 percent to Orenburg Oblast, and only 2.2 percent to Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, according to Interfax. According to Spitsyn, total foreign investment in the Russian economy amounted to $10 billion. JAC

French farmers sent 500 pedigree cows to Siberia on 20 February as part of an intergovernmental agreement to improve Russian meat quality, "The Moscow Times" reported on 20 February. According to the daily, the shipment of 500 cows sent to Tyumen Oblast is just the beginning, and up to 10,000 pedigree cows will be delivered to different Russian regions each year for 10 years. Tyumen Oblast Governor Sergei Sobyanin said that the cows are badly needed as the region has had difficulty trying to raise cattle that are good for both meat and milk. JAC

Prime Minister Kasyanov wrapped up a visit to Ulyanovsk Oblast on 19 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Kasyanov told local reporters that the federal government has worked out a series of measures to stabilize the region's financial situation, reported. According to Kasyanov, Ulyanovsk is a region in crisis, where there are problems with paying wages and a number of enterprises have accumulated large debts for a variety of services, including electricity. JAC


By Oleg Rodin

According to official statistics, Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast has about 40,000 immigrants -- most of them from republics of the former Soviet Union, such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Unofficially, specialists estimate there are at least several thousand more. And it is this category of unofficial or undocumented immigrants who are in the worst position. Without documents, they live a kind of marginal existence -- they have difficulty securing housing, jobs, and services and ensuring that their basic rights are observed. The majority of the immigrants are ethnic Russians who sought to return to their historical motherland following the break-up of the Soviet Union, but there are also many people of other nationalities.

Almaz Choloyan is the director of Nizhnii Novgorod's public center for assistance to immigrants, especially for those forced migrants from the Nagorno-Karabakh. Choloyan, who is herself Armenian, is very familiar with the problems immigrants face based on her own experience. She says that at least half of the forced migrants experience problems with obtaining medical treatment. When they arrive, they frequently do not have registration, and it is therefore not always possible for them to access free medical help even in an emergency situation. It is necessary to pay up front for an examination, diagnostic test, and/or medicine, but refugees usually have little money and are unemployed, which makes paying for medical services a serious problem.

Choloyan said that refugees have occasionally even died because they have been refused medical assistance or help was not provided in a timely enough or complete manner. Emergency ambulances have sometimes refused to take a seriously ill person to a medical facility, while the hospitals have refused to provide hospitalization without sufficiently large sum of money. On 10 February 2001, a girl from Nagorno-Karabakh died from a pulmonary edema -- a week earlier a local hospital had refused to admit her because she lacked documents and permanent registration and money for treatment. In another case, in one of the raion centers of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, a woman with appendicitis died while waiting for her relatives to gather enough money to pay for her operation. Even obtaining dental treatment is difficult for many, because dental clinics require patients to show their passport.

Another important problem forced migrants confront is trying to arrange for registration for permanent housing and to receive official status as refugees. Frequently, immigrants hear from local bureaucrats comments such as: "We didn't call you here! Why did you come here? You need work, an apartment, money? And you think that we should give you all this right away?" Also difficult is trying to obtain Russian citizenship. That process requires various documents from the refugees' previous place of residence, which the refugees often only managed to flee with great difficulty. They need a birth certificate, a marriage certificate, a work book, and other documents. And to return to the place that they just left to seek the documents requires money, which refugees frequently do not have -- and without a valid passport it is impossible to buy tickets for the plane or train. And even if they manage a return trip, hopes of obtaining the right papers are very small, as for a variety of reasons some former Soviet republics give out such documents very reluctantly or flatly refuse to do so.

Refugees also face problems in the workplace. For example, forced migrants frequently work without a registered labor agreement, in markets or in kiosks. There, they have no kind of workers' rights, and the employers have no responsibilities of any kind to their employees. Payment for work in this instance is low, and such work can in any moment disappear. And it is not unusual for refugees not to be paid at for their work at all, because it was performed without an official labor agreement. In addition, refugees also often lack local contacts who can arrange for them to meet potential employers, and unqualified low-skilled work is all that is available to them.

Without documents, many immigrants live in an illegal situation. Without registration and without citizenship, it is therefore impossible for them to find good work, to study in schools or university, to obtain medical insurance, or to register their marriage or new born children. And, that, of course, means that their children will also live in an illegal situation without hope of availing themselves of the rights usually granted to citizens.

New changes in legislation will likely make life even more difficult for refugees in Russia. The rule is changing regarding the period for registering their status and converting their passports and other documents. By 31 December 2003, passports of the former Soviet Union must be exchanged for Russian ones. And many forced migrants, who did not manage to receive citizenship and a new Russian passport to replace their old Soviet passport, will become illegal aliens. It is even possible that they will be forced to leave Russia -- a strange development in light of the country's labor shortages and catastrophic demographic trends.

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