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Russia Report: April 3, 2002

3 April 2002, Volume 4, Number 12
Legislators in Krasnoyarsk Krai voted on 28 March to support an initiative of the krai's governor, Aleksandr Lebed, to fully absorb neighboring Evenk and Taimyr autonomous okrugs, Ekho Moskvy reported (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 March 2002). Lebed told reporters in Krasnoyarsk that the idea for the merger came from President Vladimir Putin during his visit there on 21 March. Lebed told Krasnoyarsk State Television that the governors for Evenk and Taimyr will hold onto their current powers until the end of their terms. The station also noted that Taimyr and Evenk are listed in the constitution as separate federation subjects, and therefore the constitution will have to be altered. JAC

Meanwhile, Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin issued a press release the same day saying the krai leadership needs to coordinate with the leadership of the two autonomous okrugs its actions regarding the initiative to join the three regions, Interfax reported. Khloponin said he "didn't understand the activities of the Krasnoyarsk Krai governor, who gave an order to prepare a proposal joining the three regions to his krai administration's council, and then only after that informed the leadership of Taimyr and Evenk." Khloponin added that the merger procedure will be "long, complex, and costly." His statement continued: "Elections will have to be held for all branches of power, regional laws will have to be brought into conformity, as well as federal territorial organs of power.... The most important step will be conducting a referendum in the krai and [two] autonomous okrugs." JAC

The website reported on 29 March that some Russian media have suggested that Lebed may have interpreted too freely the words of President Putin, to whom Lebed attributed the idea for the merger, during his trip to Krasnoyarsk. However, Lebed had apparently been expecting such an announcement, having told an audience in Norilsk last year that the federal government was planning on eliminating all of Russia's 10 autonomous okrugs and one autonomous oblast (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 January and 18 April 2001). JAC

Rostov Oblast law enforcement officials announced on 2 April the results of their operation "Foreigner" which started a week ago, Interfax-Eurasia reported. During one week, police detained around 2,000 citizens of foreign countries. Police also found more than 5 kilograms of narcotics and more than 1,200 firearms. Police officials said that those criminal groups, made up of foreigners, are generally engaged in the trade of drugs and other contraband. JAC

Meanwhile, in neighboring Krasnodar Krai, a plan by Cossacks in the village of Nizhnebakansaya to evict two Meskhetian Turk families was foiled when local human rights groups alerted the media, "Vremya novostei" reported on 2 April. Tamara Karastelebayu, chair of the Novorossiisk Municipal Committee for Human Rights, told the daily that the krai government "is looking for some enemies allegedly responsible for the crime rate here." But, she continued, their efforts "are deliberately escalating the conflict between the Cossacks and the newcomers, even though the consequences of that could be horrible." According to an article by commentator Andrei Piontkovskii in "Novaya gazeta" on 28 March, even Meskhetian Turks with Soviet passports who have lived in Krasnodar for some years are being targeted. Piontkovskii also said that with his recent statements on immigrants, Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr Tkachev has been playing the role of a "fascist" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002). JAC

Alfred Kokh, the head of the Montes Auri investment company and a former chief of Gazprom-Media who was elected to the Federation Council by the Leningrad Oblast Legislative Assembly, withdrew his candidacy on 28 March, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). Leningrad Oblast Governor Valerii Serdyukov quoted Kokh as saying that his decision was motivated by "concern about the purity of intentions of deputies of the oblast's Legislative Assembly and by concern about the reputation of the oblast as a whole." Serdyukov also said Kokh told him that it was "hard to feel the negative attitude toward him from the public." JAC

"Novye Izvestiya" reported on 27 March that since President Putin signed a decree late last year abolishing the Presidential Pardons Commission and creating regional counterparts in its place, the number of "pardoners" has increased a hundredfold, while the number of pardons has dwindled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002). According to the daily, the regional commissions have examined 188 appeals over the past three months, and only 18 pardons were granted. Robert Tsivilev, head of the presidential administration's pardons department, said there is no reason to be concerned because, although many commissions have been formed, only 15 are really up and running. According to the daily, the regional commissions are mainly composed of civil servants, law school professors, legislators, and even former KGB agents, and they consider only cases of minor crimes with terms of up to four years. JAC

A delegation from North Korea will visit the cities of Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, and Blagoveshchensk from 4 to 12 April at the invitation of presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Konstantin Pulikovskii, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 2 April. The delegation will be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Jo Chang-Dok. Jo will discuss with Pulikovskii bilateral trade and investment issues as well as future transportation projects. Meanwhile, in Tokyo on 2 April Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kowaguchi met with Irkutsk Governor Boris Govorin, who led a delegation of oblast industrialists to Japan, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Kowaguchi, 20 percent of all Russian exports to Japan come from Irkutsk Oblast. The last time the oblast sent a delegation to Japan was seven years ago. JAC

Rustem Khamitov, chief federal inspector for Bashkortostan, plans to open a department within his office for consulting with nongovernmental organizations in the republic, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 27 March, citing BashInform. The office will appoint permanent consultants on environmental issues, human rights, veterans' rights, and the rights of women and children. JAC

Former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov told reporters on 27 March that the People's Patriotic Union, headed by Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, has asked him to run for the presidency of Buryatia in elections scheduled for 23 June, Ekho Moskvy reported. During the last election in 1998, the Communist Party had supported the incumbent president, Leonid Potapov. However, at the beginning of this year, Potapov sent a letter to Zyuganov criticizing the party and suspending his membership during Potapov's time as president, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported 27 March. Potapov also angered the party by reportedly opposing Skuratov's nomination to the Federation Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2001). In the meantime, the Communists' support for Skuratov is triggering a split among leftist political groups in the republic: the Buryatia branch of the People's Patriotic Union of Russia is ambivalent about nominating Skuratov, while Ulan-Ude's council of veterans has already declared its support for Potapov. Local trade unions have kept silent, which the daily suggests is a sign of their disapproval of Skuratov's candidacy. JAC

Around 16,000 local entrepreneurs in the city of Sochi participated in a street rally on 26 March to protest the increase in the tax on imputed income on 1 April following the introduction of a single social tax by federal authorities at the beginning of the year, NTV reported. According to the station, the majority of stores and markets in the city were closed so their owners could march. On 28 March, around 400 business people gathered in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and other cities in Sakhalin Oblast to protest higher taxes, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Similar protests have occurred in Voronezh, Khabarovsk, and Ulyanovsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February and 20 March 2002). JAC

"Novaya gazeta," No. 22, examined the possible Communist Party nominees for the 2004 presidential elections. It argued that most political consultants believe that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov will never be able to win. Likewise, his rival, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, did not make a strong showing in gubernatorial elections in Moscow Oblast in 2000. The weekly noted that People's Patriotic Union of Russia Executive Secretary Gennadii Semigin has recently become a "favorite" of the Kremlin, and deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov regularly lobbies for his interests. But Semigin is also unlikely to win a national election. Therefore, the weekly suggests the party will have to turn to a "red" governor who already has a reputation at the federal level, such as Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Gennadii Khodyrev. Khodyrev has been both a cabinet minister and a State Duma deputy. And according to the weekly, Khodyrev's wife announced the day after her husband's victory that she will stand in the next gubernatorial elections in the region, leaving Khodyrev free to vie against President Putin. JAC

In an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 28 March, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak described the government of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov as unprofessional and ineffective and called on Moscow officials to appoint cabinet ministers from the ranks of the better-known regional leaders, such as Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Orel Governor Yegor Stroev, or Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev. Prusak also again criticized Putin's establishment of seven federal districts. Prusak said: "The creation of [this] intermediate structure has no relationship to the strengthening power. Is a presidential representative really necessary for the normal execution of laws? An effective system doesn't need monitors. Meanwhile, in the country there is a rapid growth in the number of control structures." JAC

If President Putin proceeds with his plan to transfer some capital city functions from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Moscow bureaucrats may find local housing is not up to snuff, the local newspaper "Delovoi Peterburg" reported on 25 March. According to the newspaper, the market for elite or luxury housing is extremely tight. Muscovites, who are used to paying $5,000-$7,000 per square meter, will find St. Petersburg prices at $1,500-2,000 per square meter much cheaper; however, there are no more than 30 or 40 genuine elite-quality apartments in the city. And new housing of that caliber won't appear on the market in less than two-three years in the best case, the daily concluded. JAC

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 April that the previous day Tatarstan's republican legislators passed in its second reading a bill amending the republic's constitution. The amendments were designed to ensure that the constitution conforms with federal law; however, republican prosecutor Kafil Amirov has said that he will protest the constitution if his notes and proposals are ignored, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 1 April. And legislators did ignore Amirov's threat, according to the daily, because they believe that Tatarstan President Shaimiev reached a verbal agreement with President Putin under which Tatarstan is able to retain the symbols of its sovereignty in exchange for the republic's "political loyalty." According to the daily, by adopting a new version of its constitution Tatarstan will formally fulfill its legal obligations, and a new legal attack can be launched only after six months. However, by that time, according to the newspaper, federal officials will be more concerned with the upcoming 2003 State Duma elections. JAC

The Tatar-language Dulkin FM radio station in Kazan lost a bid for its broadcasting frequency in a tender held by the federal Media Ministry on 27 March, RFE/RL's Kazan Bureau reported the next day. The station, which attracted the interest of Tatars living around the world by maintaining 24-hour rebroadcasts via the Internet, had earlier failed to pay the ministry 1 million rubles ($32,000) to prolong its license (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2002). A newly organized TVT radio representing the influential Tatar-American Investments and Finance group won the tender. It pledged to preserve Dulkin's audience by offering listeners a wide range of entertainment and news programs in both the Tatar and Russian languages. JAC


By Oleg Rodin

After a miserable defeat during the oblast's gubernatorial election last July, when Communist Duma deputy Gennadii Khodyrev was elected, presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko has delivered an impressive election victory for his party, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), and the Kremlin. In a 31 March ballot for 45 seats in the oblast's legislature, a Unity-SPS alliance won 29 places. SPS alone won seven seats, prompting SPS leader Boris Nemtsov to call the results sensational. An alliance led by SPS Duma deputy Dmitrii Savelev and Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Yurii Lebedev fared much worse, winning only one spot, while the Communists won none. Prior to the win, Khodyrev had declared himself a centrist and threw his support behind the Unity-SPS alliance. During the lead-up to 31 March elections, Khodyrev declared that he and Kirienko had a "shared understanding of who should win in the elections."

While Kirienko and Khodyrev have been seeing eye-to-eye, the envoy's relationship with Mayor Lebedev, a former assistant to Nemtsov , has been less smooth. Given Kirienko's reformist agenda and party affiliation, his relationship with Nizhnii Novgorod's local political actors may strike many as strange.

However, local observers have long noted that there were signs of tension between Lebedev and Kirienko. Local political analysts believe that President Putin's recent criticism of Lebedev's program for alternative military service and his suggestion that it was linked to upcoming mayoral elections represented not the conclusion of Putin himself but that of the envoy's apparatus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). And a State Duma deputy from Nizhnii Novgorod, Dmitrii Savelev (SPS), recently said outright that the recent attempt by local prosecutors to launch a criminal case against Lebedev was undertaken at the orders of Kirienko's team.

According to Valentina Buzmakova, director of the Nizhnii Novgorod Information Agency, Provintsiya, the Kirienko team has also tried to introduce changes into the city's charter that would make it possible for the city duma to elect the city's mayor from within its own ranks rather than for the mayor to be elected in direct elections. Such a practice would violate the principles of the SPS, the party of which Kirienko is still a member. However, Buzmakova believes that Kirienko is primarily concerned with the continuing struggle with his former colleagues, such as Nemtsov, "over first place" -- to determine "who is best and number one in the SPS and in the Kremlin." In fact, according to Buzmakova, one of the envoys' chief tasks, that of bringing local laws into conformity with their federal counterparts, is being given short shrift since as long as the oblast legislature continues to elect the heads of raions, then executive power has become united with legislative, which violates the constitutional principle of separation of powers.

Meanwhile, as Kirienko undermines Lebedev, his relationship with Communist Governor Gennadii Khodyrev has grown increasingly warm. Khodyrev recently described that relationship as having entered a period of cooperation. While Khodyrev's team considers Kirienko warily, the governor himself had emphasized that the envoy has several times provided help in relations with energy monopolies and, for example, helped to prevent the collapse of a chemical factory in Dzerzhinsk.

Former Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Andrei Klimentev, who was a challenger of Khodyrev's in the recent gubernatorial race, is critical of the alliance. Commenting on Kirienko's past association with the Komsomol, Klimentev noted recently that Kirienko "was a true Leninist, but now he has become right-wing." He continued: "Today he and Khodyrev are now friends, especially as they were both founder of Garantiya bank at one time. And now Kirienko's close associates have taken over control of the oil and gas complex in the region, and Kirienko as presidential envoy has taken over control of local force structures -- the police, the tax police, and special services."

As a political opponent of both men, Klimentev is likely not the best judge of their current alliance. However, he is perhaps right to draw attention to the fact that politics in Nizhnii Novgorod has made for "strange bedfellows."

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