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Russia Report: January 24, 2001

24 January 2001, Volume 3, Number 4
Power supplies in Vladivostok finally stabilized on 20 January, but other parts of the krai continued to be affected by power outages. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told cabinet ministers on 18 January that Primorskii Krai would have adequate power supplies within a few days; however, as of 23 January, some 13,000 residents in Artem and Spassk-Dalny were still without heat, according to ITAR-TASS. Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu earlier set 18 December 2000 as a deadline for heating to be turned on throughout the krai. JAC

President Vladimir Putin said on 19 January that those responsible for failing to provide energy and heat in the Russian Far East must be identified and held responsible, Russian agencies reported. "We talk a lot about needed structural changes in the government and its departments and we set up new structures, but nobody is taking specific, personal responsibility for the current situation." He said that he will no longer "seriously accept the severe cold as an excuse." In an article on 18 January, "Vremya MN" suggested President Putin's concentration of power in his own hands has had the unintended effect that more and more Russians hold him responsible when things go wrong. It noted that in Primore, "residents criticize regional authorities -- but they also look across at festive Moscow. They cannot understand why Moscow is not taking urgent measures to restore order in Primore." JAC

In an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 January, Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko defends his actions, saying as the elected head of the territory, he will not refuse to take responsibility for what is happening there. However, he notes that "the fact of the matter is that what is purely an economic and administrative" problem is being transformed into a political one. According to Nazdratenko, local officials were long aware of the problems of the power sector and tried to prevent the current crisis but they were stymied by a variety of factors, including the failure of Moscow to provide full financing for the Pacific Fleet, which is located in the krai, and the decline of the local coal industry at the same time that electricity tariffs and the price of fuel oil were rising and local heating infrastructure in public housing was in bad need of repair. Compounding the crisis, Primorskii Krai had to pay higher electricity tariffs than other regions; for example, local industries in the krai pay 70 kopeks per kilowatt hour, while other regions such as Irkutsk and Ulyanovsk pay only 15 kopeks. The governor also apportioned blame to municipal authorities, noting that one official went on a business trip to China in the middle of the heating crisis. In contrast, Nazdratenko had nothing but praise for the government of Prime Minister Kasyanov and President Putin who "have provided a great deal of help to Primorskii Krai residents." Kasyanov arranged for money to extinguish federal debts to the region while Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu arranged for federal assistance for people affected by the floods that the region experienced last summer to be disbursed. In general, Nazdratenko suggested that many of the problems the krai are experiencing are not unique, and that in Primore the only difference may be the problems' severity and timing. JAC

Controversy over the new composition of the Federation Council is continuing. Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed has claimed that some oligarchs have approached him offering to buy a seat representing the krai in the Federation Council, "Vek" reported in issue no. 3. According to the publication, the going price -- $500,000 -- is considered a bargain by some business tycoons who are seeking parliamentary immunity and the opportunity to lobby for certain legislation. The monthly also reported that Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev is calling for amendments to the law on forming the upper legislative chamber so that its members are required to be from the regions they represent. Last month, Stroev openly expressed his fears that seats were being sold on the floor of the council (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 10 January 2001). JAC

Altai Republic head Semen Zubakin complained to reporters in Moscow on 17 January that the new senators are "not especially legitimate people." He also did not exclude the possibility of a political crisis occurring as a consequence of the body's lack of legitimacy. Zubakin announced that he himself will leave the council shortly. Meanwhile, on 18 January, new members of the Federation Council were nominated. Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov appointed a Muscovite, Valerii Goreglyad, as his new representative to the council. Goreglyad currently works as head of the Federation Council's Budget Committee staff. He was born in Belarus, attended university in Moscow, and from 1987-89 served in the Congress of People's Deputies in Moscow, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Newly-elected Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich appointed his predecessor, Aleksandr Nazarov. Nazarov pulled out of the race just a week before the recent gubernatorial election was held, making Abramovich's victory that much easier. Nazarov is the second former governor to be named to the upper chamber by his successor (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 January 2001). Marii El Republic President Leonid Markelov told reporters on 22 January that he is nominating Aleksandr Troshin, state-secretary of the Agency for Restructuring Credit Organizations, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 22 January. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 January that former Tyumen Oblast Governor Leonid Roketskii will get to keep his post on the State Council despite the fact that he lost the recent election there. However, terms on the presidium of the State Council are supposed to last only six months. JAC

The deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on Self-Rule, Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko), told "Izvestiya" on 20 January that a bill amending the law on general principles for self-rule calling for a "special administration regulated at the federal level" for cities with more than 50,000 people will soon be introduced in the Duma. According to Mitrokhin, the bill, which is sponsored by the People's Deputy group, would violate not only existing Russian legislation but also the European Charter for Local Self-Rule. At a hearing in the Duma on the problems of self-rule held on 19 January, Mitrokhin called the initiative an "unacceptable, barbaric" approach which will lead to the appointment of administration heads and mayors rather than their election, Interfax reported. The presidential administration's stance on reform of the regulations covering municipalities is not yet clear, according to the daily. So far, the presidential envoy to the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, has spoken out against any interference with the powers of local authorities, and State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev has said that local self-rule is an important part of Russian statehood. JAC

According to Mitrokhin, the "pilfering" of the local budgets by federal and regional authorities poses an additional threat to local self-rule. He recommends the introduction of an "unalterable tax minimum" for local budgets. At the hearing, a number of mayors complained that implementation of parts of the Budget and Tax Codes have sharply reduced their revenues. Uglich Mayor Eleonora Sheremeteva reported planned revenues for her city fell by 28 percent in 2001. JAC

The State Duma Committee on Federation and Regional Policy recommended on 19 January that the lower chamber accept in its second reading a bill allowing certain regional leaders to seek a third term, Interfax reported. According to committee member (independent) Vladimir Ryzhkov, a majority of deputies favor an amendment to the bill which would limit the number of regional leaders getting the option of a third term to those who head regions where the local constitution or statutes previously did not limit leaders to only two terms. Therefore, instead of 17-19 leaders being allowed a third or even fourth term, only four regions would be granted this option: the republics of Tatarstan, Komi, and Kabardino-Balkaria, and Novgorod Oblast. Some analysts have speculated that the bill was originally authored primarily with the goal of allowing Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev a third term. On the same day, the committee voted almost unanimously to reject a bill sponsored by Deputy (Unity) Vitalii Lednik that would make governors an appointed rather than elected position. Unity's faction leader said earlier that his group does not support their colleague's proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2000). JAC

Law enforcement officers in Tambov Oblast have detained the deputy head of Tambovenergo, Stanislav Kiselev, in connection with the death of a retired colonel in a local intensive care unit after an artificial respirator ceased functioning because of a power cutoff, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 January. According to RFE/RL's Russian Service, the local electric utility cut off power to a number of municipal establishments because of mounting unpaid bills. Meanwhile, in Stavropol Krai the local prosecutor has charged Stavropolenergo Director-General Aleksandr Pribytkov with acting illegally to gain profit for himself and company stockholders, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 16 January. Earlier, an arbitration court revoked a 583,000 ruble ($21,000) fine imposed against Stavropolenergo for switching off electricity to non-paying customers. In the city of Artem, in Primorskii Krai, the chief manager of a municipal heating network was sentenced to two years in jail for his failure to secure heating to homes there, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 January. According to the krai prosecutor's office, this is the first in 13 criminal cases opened in connection with the disruption of heating in the territory. JAC

Residents of Ulan-Ude, Buryatia's capital, are in "shock" because fees for communal services, such as apartment rents, have shot up dramatically, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-regionii" reported on 16 January. Ulan-Ude Mayor Gennadii Aidaev recently announced that it was necessary to raise fees to the federal level, which puts payments at 70 percent of their actual cost. At the federal level, such payments have gradually been easing up, but not in Buryatia, the semi-monthly reported. According to federal reforms, fees in 1997 were supposed to be 35 percent of their actual cost; in 1998 the figure was 50 percent, in 1999, 60 percent, and in 2000, it was raised to 70 percent. However, in Ulan-Ude local authorities kept payments down, and since May 2000 they have reflected only 35 percent of actual costs. As a result, only 7 percent of the population needed a federal housing subsidy, when the proportion should have been 70 percent. Meanwhile, basic payments for the upkeep of communal housing is taken from the local budget, and gradually these expenditures have come to absorb as much as 60 percent of all budget resources. Aidaev's policy on payment for communal services grew out of his campaign for the mayoral office. Supported by the Communist Party and the People's Patriotic Union, Aidaev strongly denounced federal reforms in this sector. Now, "he would apparently prefer to forget his campaign pronouncements," and, according to the publication, has decided to opt for "shock therapy" in the form of a more than a twofold hike. JAC

The Russian government will allocate an extra 150 million rubles to Sakhalin Oblast to help that region cope with its current energy crisis, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 January. Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov met with Prime Minister Kasyanov the previous day to discuss the oblast's situation. Part of the money will be used to buy coal from Irkutsk Oblast to replace current supplies that have frozen because of their high degree of humidity. The energy situation has gradually worsened as an unusual cold spell has persisted. Electricity shut-offs reached 12 hours a day, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 22 January. JAC

Igor Yukhimenko, head of the Union of Rightist Forces' (SPS) regional department, told Interfax on 16 January that the Communist Party experienced a significant setback during 24 December local elections in Smolensk Oblast. According to Yukhimenko, of the 322 deputy slots in organs of local self-rule, the Communists' share dropped from more than 200 to only 56. Furthermore, in not one of these 30 municipal or raion bodies did the Communists achieve a majority. SPS and Yabloko were able to pick up some of the Communists' seats, winning 51 spots for its representatives. According to Yukhimenko, besides the Communists, Yabloko, and SPS no other political party is represented in Smolensk. JAC

Numerous "irregularities" are being reported in the lead-up to 28 January gubernatorial elections in Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, Petr Zaitsev, a local election commission chairman there, told ITAR-TASS on 22 January. According to Zaitsev, Norilsk Nickel head Aleksandr Khloponin, a leading candidate in that race, has been warned about using state employees to campaign: several State Duma deputies have expressed their support for Khloponin in a local newspaper, Zaitsev reported. Last week a delegation of nine State Duma deputies visited the okrug, after which some of them announced that they were going to ask the Audit Chamber to investigate the activities of the okrug authorities, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 22 January. State Duma deputy (Russian Regions) Yevgenii Zelenov said that he thinks that the okrug's problems hardly stem from a lack of money; the regions has "sufficient means, but it is necessary to check how well they are being expended." Earlier in the month, "Parlamentskaya gazeta" published an interview with a local Taimyr official that concluded with a strong endorsement of Khloponin (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 10 January 2001). JAC

Tatarstan's Press Ministry has explained why it ordered the seizure of the 18 January edition of "Kazanskoe Vremya," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 22 January. According to the ministry, the newspaper had issued two separate editions with different content, and therefore the republic's Interior Ministry was ordered to seize both editions. "Kommersant-Daily"'s Kazan correspondent had a different theory, reporting on 19 January that the seized edition carried articles promoting Rafgat Atlinbaev, the former mayor of Chally and deputy agriculture minister, who is reportedly planning to run for president of Tatarstan in elections that will be held on 25 March. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev recently informed the Tatarstan branch of his Social Democratic Party that he will not run for president there. JAC

Newly re-elected Governor Nikolai Maksyuta announced on 22 January that he is going to introduce the office of plenipotentiary representatives of the oblast administration in each of the cities and raions in the oblast in order to strengthen "vertical power," ITAR-TASS reported. He explained the step was necessary because local officials sometimes ignore regional laws and decrees. In addition, raion officials frequently do not coordinate their works with counterparts in neighboring areas. Unlike President Putin, Maksyuta will have eight rather than seven envoys. Maksyuta is not the only regional leader to mimic Putin's administrative reforms. Sakha President Mikhail Nikolaev also introduced seven super districts in his republic (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 June 2000), and Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov announced the establishment of his own State Council. JAC

The former deputy governor of Kaliningrad Oblast, Mikhail Karetnyi, has been officially charged with money-laundering and appropriation of another's property, Interfax North-West reported on 16 January, citing the head of the department for economic crimes in the oblast, Aleksei Gorbov. Four years ago, Karetnyi was allegedly involved in a scheme to defraud Dresdner Bank and the oblast of a $10 million credit extended to a local factory...PSKOV. A Pskov city court sentenced former Deputy Mayor Vladimir Ivchenko to seven years in prison for a number of crimes, including rape of a minor, swindling, and abuse of office, Interfax North-West reported on 19 January. Ivchenko continues to assert his innocence, blaming the charges on his political enemies (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 1 March 2000)...SMOLENSK. Deputy Governor Yurii Balbyshkin, who was arrested in October on suspicion of abuse of power, has been dismissed from his official duties, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 January (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 1 November 2000). Balbyshkin requested his dismissal because he cannot fulfill his duties, but stressed that the request is not an admission of guilt...SVERDLOVSK. The deputy prosecutor-general for the Urals federal district, Yurii Zolotov, ordered the arrest of a Sverdlovsk Oblast administration official, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 22 January. Aleksandr Kurtukov, deputy general-director of the state enterprise SINPO, is suspected of accepting a bribe worth 5,600 rubles ($200). SINPO oversees the distribution of non-residential office space. JAC