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Russia Report: January 17, 2001

17 January 2001, Volume 3, Number 3
The presidium of Unity's political council on 16 January called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to declare a state of emergency in Primorskii Krai, ITAR-TASS reported. According to a statement adopted by the pro-Kremlin party, the situation in the krai is characterized by a "systemic crisis, paralysis of power and collapse." Also on 16 January, protesters marched in front of the building housing the krai's legislature to demand the resignation of Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent reported. However, legislators refused to put the issue on the agenda, and according to NTV, a fight broke out on the floor of the assembly between supporters and opponents of the motion. The previous day, some 100 protesters closed the federal highway between Vladivostok and Khabarovsk for about 90 minutes to protest electricity blackouts affecting the city. Last November, residents of Nakhodka and Artem staged similar protests, blocking a federal highway, over the lack of heat to their homes (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report,"15 November 2000). According to information from the Emergency Ministry on 16 January, the homes of some 3000 residents in the krai remain without heat. Outside temperatures in the krai have been ranging around minus 20 degrees Celsius, and a spokesman for Unified Energy Systems told reporters that the electricity monopoly is hoping for the energy situation in the region to normalize by the end of the week. The Ministry of Finance announced the same day that the krai will receive an additional 800 million rubles ($28 million) in federal transfers in January to cope with the cold weather. JAC

Outside of Primorskii Krai, the continued spell of unusually cold weather throughout Siberia and parts of the Far East with temperatures ranging between minus 40 and 45 degrees Celsius is putting additional pressure on regional heating systems and local budgets while paralyzing local industry in some cases and causing schools to close. Schools in Irkutsk, Buryatia, and Jewish Autonomous Oblast have been shut in some cases for almost a week because of the severe temperatures. In Irkutsk Oblast, for example, 17 people have died because of the cold spell, while more than 100 people have been admitted to hospitals for frostbite, according to Interfax-Eurasia on 16 January. Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov told reporters that the record cold temperatures in his region are destabilizing the work of the fuel and energy complex there and are creating problems with fuel deliveries for power stations, who have had to burn more fuel. An official with Russia's state weather service told dpa on 15 January that the length of the current cold spell in Siberia is setting a new record and that there have been "only two other cold periods like this in the past 120 years, in 1968-69 and in 1949-50." Also on 15 January, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced that the Russian government has transferred 10.5 billion ($370 million) so far this month to stabilize the fuel situation in the coldest regions of Siberia and the Far East and will dispatch another 7.5 billion rubles to help ease the situation. Kasyanov reported earlier that in some regions, the low temperatures have tripled costs for local budgets. JAC

Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak told Interfax on 10 January that he opposes the possible liquidation of the Main Territorial Administration in the presidential administration and the transfer of its powers to the presidential envoys in the seven federal districts. However, Sergei Samoilov, head of the directorate, told that agency that no one is talking about liquidating the department --only reorganizing it. He added that it is possible that in the near future there may be a redistribution of functions between the directorate and the envoys. Prusak's comments follow a spate of articles in the central press alleging that Samoilov's department has managed to fight off any increase in powers to the envoys ("RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 November and 20 December 2000). JAC

Following up on earlier articles in "Segodnya," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 January that the government is preparing a document that will change the status of federation subjects by "returning" all of the autonomous okrugs to the full control of the oblasts or krais of which they are a part (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 and 10 January 2001). The newspaper said that the idea is nothing new and was suggested by some of the leaders of the autonomous okrugs last summer. The main idea behind their initiative is to unite the budgets and economies of the okrugs and oblasts with the hope that standard of living of okrug residents might reach the higher level usually achieved in the larger oblast or krai. (Yamalo-Nenets and Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrugs, both donor regions, are two exceptions.) According to the daily, which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, since a formal change in the status of the regions would require a constitutional amendment, the government will try to arrange the new system on a "de facto" basis. On 12 January, Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov told Interfax that the time is ripe for territorial reform in the Russian Federation and that "instead of 89 regions, no more than 50 but no less than 30 would be sufficient for us." Ayatskov suggested that the ethnic republics of the North Caucasus might be joined together in a single region, but the larger regions such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan should remain independent. JAC

Federation Council Chairman Egor Stroev cautioned on 12 January against the upper legislative house becoming a body controlled by Moscow-based officials, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Stroev, the "house of regions is being formed from bureaucrats close to the federal center and from people living in Moscow." He continued, "that will discredit the system of authority. The Federation Council will fight for the interests of groups and monopolies...not for the interests of the regions." The previous day, Stroev told President Putin that he thinks that the parliament's upper chamber should be elected rather than appointed. Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov expressed a point of view similar to Stroev's on 11 January, telling reporters in Ufa that the upper legislative house is in danger of being "privatized" by Muscovites as well as by "New Russians and representatives of oligarchs," Interfax-Eurasia reported. He said that seven Muscovites have recently been nominated for the council and these people have practically no relationship with representatives of the regions and do not even know where they are located or what problems face the local population. JAC

Meanwhile, "Parlamentskaya gazeta" reported on 10 January that four more regions, Tula, Bryansk, Chita, and Pskov Oblasts, have nominated new representatives to send to the Federation Council. Pskov Oblast Governor Evgenii Mikhailov is sending Mikhail Margelov, director of the Russian Information Center, as his representative. The legislative assemblies of Bryansk and Chita are sending Stepan Ponasov and Vitalii Vishnyakov, respectively, who are both former chairmen of these legislatures. Tula's Duma is sending Oleg Tatarinov, its first deputy chairman. These representatives will face confirmation at a session at the end of January, according to the daily. JAC

"Moskovskii Komsomolets" reported on 10 January that the new composition of the Federation Council may cost as much as an extra 115 million rubles ($4.1 million) a year. Under the new principles for forming the upper legislative house, Federation Council members will be based in Moscow permanently, and the presidential administration has proposed that they be paid as much as State Duma deputies: 11,000 rubles a month. Current senators earn about half this sum, according to the daily. The government will also have to cover the costs of moving the new senators' families to Moscow and providing housing for them as well as staff for their offices. "Segodnya" reported on 11 January that the seven presidential envoys to the federal districts are among the highest-paid federal officials, earning $3,820 a month, which is 4.6 times more than President Putin. JAC

Incumbent Tyumen Governor Leonid Roketskii was unseated in elections held on 14 January, losing to first deputy presidential envoy to the Urals federal district Sergei Sobyanin. The secretary of the oblast's election commission told Interfax that the voting followed a distinct pattern, with the electorate in the south of the oblast supporting Roketskii where he got more than 50 percent of the vote, while in the north, in Khanty-Mansii and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs, more than 75 percent of the voters supported Sobyanin. The governors of those okrugs backed Sobyanin in appeals published in local newspapers. Just before the election, the local election commission ruled that those appeals did not violate election law because the governors of the autonomous okrugs claimed that they signed them while they were on vacation and were therefore not in their official capacity. Sobyanin was formerly a chairman of Khanty-Mansii's legislature, and he was also supported by the local branch of Yabloko, the mayor of Surgut, Surgutneftegaz, and Surgutgazprom, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 12 January. Tyumen Oil company reportedly supported Roketskii. Gennadii Raikov, the leader of the People's Deputy group in the State Duma, was elected from a single mandate district in Tyumen Oblast. He told "Izvestiya" on 16 January this election struggle was particularly "harsh with 'kompromat' being thrown about by both sides." Raikov said what is occurring in the oblast now is "an attempt at redividing the oil and gas complex with the northern part of the oblast trying to bring the south under its control." According to Raikov, the only oil company registered in the south of Tyumen Oblast is Tyumen Oil company, while the rest have headquarters in the north of the oblast or in Moscow. An unidentified source in the presidential administration told Interfax that it is not impossible that Roketskii can remain a member of the presidium of the State Council. However, the source added that the final decision will be up to President Putin. JAC

Also on 14 January, incumbent head of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug Vladimir Butov was re-elected, according to preliminary results on 15 January. Butov needed to get more than 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid a second round, according to "Izvestiya" on 12 January. Butov's closest competitor, Aleksandr Shmakov, deputy general director of the U.S.-Russian company Polar Radiance (Polyarnoe siyanie) got less than 14 percent of ballots cast. Some 3.5 percent of the voters voted against all 10 candidates for governor. The local branch of Unity supported Butov, according to Interfax-North West. The okrug also boasts potentially substantial oil and gas reserves in the Timan-Pechora basin. JAC

Tyumen___Sergei Sobyanin (51.32%)__Leonid Roketskii (29.92%)
Nenets____Vladimir Butov (68.11%)__Aleksandr Shmakov (13.67%)

Source: ITAR-TASS, Interfax North-West

According to "Vremya MN" on 13 January, 16 gubernatorial elections will take place in Russian regions in 2001. They are the Altai, Komi, Yakutia, Tatarstan, Chechnya, and Chuvash Republics as well as in Amur, Irkutsk, Kemerovo, Nizhnii Novgorod, Rostov, Tula and Tyumen Oblasts, Nenets, Taimyr, and Evenk Autonomous Okrugs. In five of these regions (Komi, Yakutia, Tatarstan, Chuvashia, and Rostov), the leaders have already been in office for two terms. State Duma deputy Oleg Morozov (Russian Regions) told Interfax on 15 January that at its session scheduled for 18 January the Duma will consider in its second and possibly third reading legislation allowing some regional leaders to seek third terms. The bill, which would amend an existing law, already passed in its first reading last November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2000). JAC

In an interview with "Literaturnaya gazeta" (issue number 1-2), Dmitrii Oreshkin, head of the Mercator Group, suggested that the Kremlin's role in last year's gubernatorial elections was limited. According to Oreshkin, the Kremlin "did not have its own people running for posts in the regions," nor did it fight any specific regional leaders. He explains, "the Kremlin didn't sink [former Kursk Governor Aleksandr] Rutskoi. It just didn't prevent others from doing so. Neither was the struggle against [former Kaliningrad Governor Leonid] Gorbenko in Kaliningrad an all-out war. All the Kremlin had to do there was make sure that Gorbenko's rival wasn't assassinated, and that he had access to the media." Oreshkin also noted that the political parties "merely sided with the surefire winner." He continued, "it's laughable really when the very same candidate for governor is supported by the Communists and the right. Almost 300 candidates were registered -- and fewer than 10 of them were members of any political party." Oreshkin also argued that no party, not even the Communists, can legitimately claim victory in the regional elections. The type of official that won in most cases were those "who have influence over businesses and [know how to] milk them." JAC

Newly-elected Governor Aleksandr Tkachev announced on 11 January that he is going to liquidate the krai's government and reduce the number of bureaucrats, "Izvestiya" reported on 12 January. Earlier in the week, Tkachev asked that all members of his cabinet resign, telling them that "from now on there will be no such term as the krai government." Tkachev has also submitted a bill to the krai's legislature outlining the administration's new structure. Instead of a government there will be six deputies who will be in charge of all departments and committees. Tkachev explained that "now the governor and the head of the government will be one and the same person." According to the daily, legislators accepted the proposed changes with barely a murmur of protest, and the bill was accepted in the first reading unanimously. JAC

Police officers in Kursk Oblast have arrested former Deputy Governor Vladimir Bunchuk on suspicion of embezzling $1.8 million, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 January. Bunchuk is a former deputy of former Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi and supporters of Rutskoi are claiming that the case is political. On 15 January, a Kursk Oblast court held a hearing in the criminal case against Rutskoi's younger brother, Mikhail, the former head of police for public security for the oblast, ITAR-TASS reported. The younger Rutskoi is accused of violating five articles of the criminal code, including abuse of office and swindling. Also on 15 January, Aleksandr Rutskoi dismissed as "slander" a charge by the current deputy governor, Nikolai Tkachev, that Rutskoi's administration left behind debts of at least $2 million. JAC

In an interview with REN TV on 15 January, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel predicted that fulfillment of the 2001 federal budget could trigger social explosions in several Russian regions, Interfax reported. Rossel noted that donor regions are losing a significant part of their tax revenues; these "regions, as they are drained of blood, in the near term will probably not [be able to] pay wages to state sector workers," he said. Sverdlovsk Oblast is considered a donor region, which means that it contributes more in tax revenues to the center than it receives back in the form of federal transfers. Also on 1 January the oblast's Ministry of Finance reported that the backlog of unpaid wages to state sector workers totaled 36.1 million rubles ($1.3 million) JAC

As gubernatorial elections continue in Russia, "Izvestiya" on 10 January thought it timely to consult with one of the U.S.'s regional leaders, Minnesota Governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura. The newspaper acknowledges that Ventura is not a typical U.S. governor. A former professional wrestler known as "The Body," a former Navy Seal, and a Harley-Davidson fanatic, he won election in 1998 in a surprise victory with 37 percent of the vote compared with 34 percent and 28 percent for his Republican and Democratic party competitors. The daily notes that among the governor's first acts was to declare 15 February a day for honoring the musical group the Rolling Stones. Some highlights from the interview:

Q: What now is your sharpest disagreement with federal authorities?
A: It's over a program for teaching mentally retarded children. It costs the state about $250 million a year so that children are taught by teachers with special pedagogical training. When federal officials established this, they promised us that they would cover up to 40 percent of expenses but so far they haven't paid more than 11 percent. There is another conflict over the death penalty. A long time ago this issue was lodged fully within the competence of the states. But now the right to punish and to pardon has been taken by Washington. I don't agree with this. The federal authorities also take the largest part of our taxes from us. With this money they expand state bureaucracy, which starts to interfere in all our affairs, including education. Occasionally, this interference approaches open blackmail. They tell us: if you don't accept such and such program, then you won't receive money for roads.

Q: You wouldn't like to return to professional wrestling at some point?
A: That way is already closed for me. I am already 48 years old, which for wrestling is old. [With] old age -- there is that one style, in which you push with your shoulder, as is the case with your athlete, what's his name?

Q: Aleksandr Karelin
A: Exactly. A remarkable fellow, I like him very much. In Russia, you have many bad guys, this is okay. You have democracy, but it is of course weak, but the American system is [only] a little bit better. It's like you have this vending machine for cold drinks. But they offer you only Coke and Pepsi and not Seven-Up or Mountain Dew, not even non-alcoholic beer. That's bullshit. (Dermo!)

Q: You believe that the two-party system is dead?
A: No, I would not say that at all. But our society has become so diverse, and the two-party system doesn't represent this. Half of the population says none of these people are my candidates, and generally we do not go out to vote...