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Russia Report: April 24, 2002

24 April 2002, Volume 4, Number 15
In his analysis of Russian President Vladimir Putin's address on 18 April, Mikhail Sokolov of RFE/RL's Moscow bureau suggested that Putin's comments raised the prospect that the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts will be given wider responsibilities, including over "cadre and control activities." In his speech, Putin declared, "It is time for us to shift some federal functions to the district level, moving them closer to the regions, above all monitoring and personnel issues, specifically in the areas of financial monitoring and choosing candidates for posts in the regional divisions of federal bodies." Sokolov also noted that Putin declared the power-sharing agreements negotiated between the federal center and regions as fully "legitimate," but said that all agreements should be "confirmed in federal law." Sokolov also pointed out what Putin didn't talk about: For example, "he didn't speak about shameful government interference during the course of almost any election," which suggests that Putin is "satisfied with playing the role of authoritarian modernizer of Russia." JAC

Almost two years after the office was established, the State Duma held a hearing on 23 April on the role of the presidential envoys in the seven federal districts, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Vladimir Lysenko (Russian Regions), chairman of the State Duma Committee on Federal Affairs and Regional Policy, said that he believes that today's "governor-generals" were appointed to promote the interests of the federal center in the regions, where the bulk of federal ministries and departments have been transformed into "lobbying structures" for the local governor. Yaroslavl Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn did not pick up on this theme, but instead lobbied for his idea of merging economically weak regions with stronger ones. According to NTV, Lysenko criticized this idea. He said, "If, instead of feeding the country and making the population wealthier, we destroy the borders [between the regions] and start a new revolution against the existing regional elite, everybody will understand that we are engaged in politics instead of economics, for which we will again have no time." JAC

On the eve of the presidential runoff in his republic, former President of Ingushetia Ruslan Aushev resigned his position as a representative in the Federation Council on 23 April, Russian agencies reported. Aushev declared: "I think it makes no sense to stay in a chamber that decides nothing. All the questions I raised regarding the Prigorodnyi Raion in North Ossetia were ignored," REN-TV reported. Aushev also said that his complaints about election irregularities in Ingushetia were similarly ignored. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 April, he explained that the office of the presidential envoy of the Southern Federal District actively interfered in the election process, forcing the withdrawal of Interior Ministry (MVD) head Khamzat Gutseriev from the race (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2002). JAC

On the same day, Valerii Golubev was selected by the Leningrad Oblast legislature to represent it in the upper legislative chamber. Golubev, according to Interfax-Northwest, has headed the committee on tourism and recreation of the administration of St. Petersburg since 1999. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 April, Golubev also headed former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak's secretariat when Vladimir Putin headed the mayor's international affairs committee. From 1979 to 1991, he was a KGB officer. JAC

Addressing the presidium of the State Council on 19 April, President Putin declared that "Russian citizens are still not able to use their legal rights" with regard to land ownership, Interfax reported. He called on the regional leaders to speed up resolution of the problem of regulating transactions involving the buying and selling of land. At the same time, Putin asked members of the presidium "to act with special care and to listen to the farmers and the regions." After the meeting, current presidium member and Astrakhan Oblast Governor Anatolii Guzhvin told reporters that the presidium members basically supported the bill, but that members' opinions on the sale of agricultural land were split 50-50 in terms of whether or not to support the government's draft law on the buying and selling of agricultural land. However, this represents progress, since a week ago, the division was 30 percent versus 70 percent. According to Guzhvin, the law has certain flaws, such as its failure to set a limit on the amount of agricultural land than can be owned by one person or entity. But he said that the regions themselves should set such a limit. An unidentified source told RIA-Novosti that discussion in the advisory chamber was "not too sharp, but lively." JAC

At a full session of the State Council on 22 April, only the leaders of the Evenk and Ust-Orda autonomous okrugs supported the government's bill on agricultural land sales without reservation; however, "even opponents of the bill believe its adoption is inevitable," REN-TV reported. Discussion in the advisory chamber focused mainly on separate articles of the bill. Most controversial was the question of how much land can be concentrated in the hands of a single person or entity, according to the station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2002). The government suggests that each region set its own limit, but the limit should not be less than 35 percent of the land in a single region, which some governors say is too much. Among the leaders of six regions categorically opposed to the bill were the heads of Belgorod, Tambov, and Tula oblasts and Krasnodar Krai, according to the station. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 April, President Putin said that Russia has lost millions of hectares of arable land to weeds over the past 10 years while the issue of land sales has been debated. JAC

Vladimir Zorin, Russian minister without portfolio in charge of nationalities questions, told a conference on federalism in Ufa that a state that promotes liberal economic reforms and democratic principles cannot be ruled in a unitary way, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 19 April, citing Bashinform. He also encouraged ethnic groups to develop their own national and cultural autonomies to satisfy their national and cultural needs since not all ethnic groups can have their own national administrative entities. According to Zorin, some 300 national-cultural autonomies have been established in Russia, 13 of which are Russia-wide, 70 are regional, and more than 180 are local. JAC

The government approved on 19 April a concept for the development of Siberia up to 2020, RIA-Novosti reported quoting presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District Leonid Drachevskii. According to Drachevskii, the program itself still needs several amendments and changes, but should be completed by 20 May. Earlier, Drachevskii accused the government of dragging its feet over the program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 20 March 2002). Drachevskii's office oversaw the drafting of the program. According to Radio Rossii, one result of implementing the program will be that transportation tariffs will be lowered. JAC

Local airline Vladivostok Avia announced on 17 April that it will begin providing 10 charter flights to Pyongyang in May and will later provide 40 more charter flights to different cities in Japan, including Osaka, ITAR-TASS reported. The company also plans to begin regular air service between Vladivostok and the Chinese city of Mudanjiang, as well as to two other cities in China, and to Taipei, Taiwan. JAC

The legislature of Bashkortostan has asked the chairman of Russia's Supreme Court and the Upper Qualifications Collegium to consider stripping Bashkortostan's Supreme Court Chairman Marat Vakilov of his office before his term expires, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 April. Vakilov's counterpart at Bashkortostan's Constitutional Court, Ildus Adigamov, told legislators that day that Vakilov had obtained several apartments in a dubious manner and embezzled some 200,000 rubles ($6,400) from funds that had been allocated for construction work at the court, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 22 April. During the first three months of this year, the federal Finance Ministry and federal Treasury Board conducted an audit of the Supreme Court's financial activities, revealing a number of violations. JAC

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 April that local observers are interpreting the visit of Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko to Buryatia so close to 23 June presidential elections as a sign of the Kremlin's support for incumbent President Leonid Potapov. According to the daily, Matvienko did not utter a single critical remark about Potapov during her 16 April visit. The same day, Vyacheslav Volodin, a Fatherland-All Russia faction leader and member of Unified Russia's General Council, told reporters that the question of whom to support in the presidential elections has not yet been resolved. Previously, the council recommended Potapov's strongest potential competitor, State Duma Deputy (Fatherland-All Russia) Bato Semenov, to head the republic's Unified Russia branch; Unified Russia in Buryatia has been "slow" to declare its support for Semenov. The daily concluded that Semenov's position is shaky. Also on 16 April, Potapov threatened the republican legislature with dissolution if it does not support canceling the republic's declaration of sovereignty of 1990 (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 April 2002). JAC

Legislators in Irkutsk Oblast decided on 17 April to form a working group to study the possibility of joining the oblast with neighboring Ust-Orda Buryat Autonomous Okrug, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 April. According to the daily, its unidentified sources claim that the first candidate for a "merger" in the Russian Federation will not be Yaroslavl-Kostroma or Krasnoyarsk-Taimyr-Evenk, but Irkutsk Oblast with Ust-Orda Buryat or Perm Oblast with Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, because the regional political elites in the latter regions are not opposed to such a consolidation. Sergei Samoilov, a presidential adviser and former head of the Kremlin's chief territorial administration, told the daily that governors in Perm and Irkutsk have been ready for a while and periodically ask Moscow, "When can we start [this process of unification]?" JAC

Police in Krasnodar have detained six young people between the ages of 15 and 18 for defiling Armenian graves in a city cemetery, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 18 April. According to the service, some 30 graves, most of which were Armenian, were destroyed during a rampage by a group of youths on 16 April. Police officials told REN-TV that the youths were dissatisfied with the most recent performance of a local soccer team, Kuban. One of the team's strikers, who is an ethnic Armenian, failed to score a winning goal in the game. However, Vladimir Zorin, minister in charge of nationalities policy, linked the attack to the activation of a local "skinhead" movement. Meanwhile, the Union of Armenians of Russia issued a statement protesting the activities of Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev and his supporters, ITAR-TASS reported. Tkachev recently launched an effort to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in his region, which has prompted criticism from human rights activists and political commentators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). JAC

Meanwhile, Don Cossacks have declared that they will set up posts at local railway stations and at Rostov Oblast's border with Krasnodar to turn back any Meskhetians sent there from Krasnodar Krai, reported on 18 April. The Cossacks had heard that Krasnodar authorities had given Meskhetians train tickets to Rostov-na-Donu. Earlier, Krasnodar authorities had escorted some families of Kurds to Rostov-na-Donu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002). According to Aleksandr Osipov of the Moscow-based Memorial human rights group (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 10 April 2002), there are about 15,000-18,000 Meskhetians in Krasnodar. JAC

A citizens' initiative group has been formed in Krasnoyarsk Krai to conduct a referendum on merging the krai with the Taimyr and Even autonomous okrugs, Interfax reported on 18 April, citing the krai's Election Commission. According to the agency, the question on the referendum will be, "Do you agree with the idea of forming a new federation subject by joining Krasnoyarsk Krai, Evenkiya, and Taimyr?" By law, the question must be approved by the krai's legislature within 20 days. However, Evenk Governor Boris Zolatarev continues to oppose the idea. He told "Krasnoyarskii rabochii" that he visited the presidential administration and did not receive confirmation there that President Putin had raised the idea of forming a new, larger region during a meeting with Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed and Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, as Lebed has alleged, reported on 15 April (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 29 March and 2 April 2002). JAC

Yana Vyrobova, editor of a local newspaper in Sverdlovsk Oblast, was sentenced by a local court to 1 1/2 years of corrective labor and a deduction of 15 percent of her income to be sent to the government for defaming the honor and dignity of the chairman of the Sverdlovsk Oblast government, Radio Mayak reported on 22 April. Because Vyrobova is the mother of an underage child and this is her first conviction, she is eligible for an amnesty and will not have to serve time. According to the station, Vyrobova is unrepentant and said that if the editorial office of her newspaper receives similar information again, they will publish it. JAC

President Putin has signed a resolution declaring the power-sharing agreements between the federal center and Leningrad Oblast and Krasnodar Krai null and void, Rosbalt reported on 23 April citing the presidential press service. Earlier in the month, Putin signed a resolution canceling existing power-sharing treaties between the federal center and St. Petersburg, Orenburg, and Nizhnii Novgorod (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). Meanwhile, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and deputy head of the presidential administration Dmitrii Kozak met on 21 April to discuss federal-regional relations, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported citing ORT. Kozak said at the meeting that earlier when he criticized power-sharing treaties, he "wasn't referring to Tatarstan." He added that "to a large extent...we have settled all issues with Tatarstan." He said that although 28 of 42 power-sharing treaties had been annulled because they bore "a political and declarative character," they did not contain any legal norms. Fourteen agreements including Tatarstan's remain valid. JAC

From 1951 to 1962, the Soviet Union sent 29 dogs into space, eight of which never returned, including the first canine cosmonaut, Laika. Soon after his first flight, Soviet space pioneer Yurii Gagarin reportedly once said at a banquet, "I still don't understand whether I was the first person in space or the last dog." Yurii Silaev, who now resides in the city of Korolev in Moscow Oblast, was a metalworker at Energiya 45 years ago, where he worked alongside both human and canine cosmonauts. Earlier this month, he told RFE/RL about his recollections of Laika, the first dog in space. JAC

"I was part of a four-person work brigade. If it was necessary to work round-the-clock, then we would work round-the-clock. I was a 25-year-old fellow, and I didn't think then about marriage. It was interesting. We dressed like surgeons with white gowns, hats, and shoes. I had to go to Baikonur [Space Center], and at the last minute close into the space hatch a white dog, Laika. Dogs are just like people, except they're animals. But dogs were the first ones to be sent [into space]. There were several of them, they were not large, about 300-400 centimeters long -- small and very pretty, mongrels with drooping ears. They all had sensors attached with little patches to their bodies. It was a shame, but what could we do? It was for the cause. And the dogs were already spending time in the space cabin in which they would fly. Everything was done in a hurry, they started off with many sensors to see how they functioned while still on earth.

"It was possible to touch the dogs. I would knock -- wake up, don't sleep. I tugged at them.... This was the first experiment with animals. A female laboratory worker placed the dog in the cabin, it would obey only her. Smart dogs, they looked you in the eye but couldn't talk."

"In my opinion, [the dogs] were very smart, especially Laika. She was always spinning around, twirling, chasing her tail. The others were sluggish and semi-inert. I saw that this dog was unusual and we picked her as such, one of the smart ones. Laika would be lucky enough to be the first one in space. Then we felt sorry for her: how could we save her? At the time we still had not learned to [retrieve] 'objects' [from space]. We had not yet thought about sending people. At the very start, Sergei Pavlovich said: 'Well, Yurii, climb in there, close up the mutt and seal her in properly. Make sure everything is sealed hermetically. Knock so that she gets up and then report to me.' I said, 'Look at me.' I knocked on the container, so that she somehow shuddered, so that there was a reaction, but she lay by her food bowl all the time. Then she perked up her ears two times. And then, I closed the hatch."

Source: "Korrespondentskii chas," 14 April 2002