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Russia Report: February 21, 2001

21 February 2001, Volume 3, Number 8
Note: The next issue of "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report" will appear on 7 March.
Several regional leaders in the Northwestern federal district may be held legally accountable for the failure of their regions to bring their legislation into conformity with federal laws, RFE/RL's St. Petersburg correspondent reported on 14 February citing Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Zubrin. According to Zubrin, executive-level officials in St. Petersburg, Pskov Oblast, and Komi Republic "ignored" demands from the prosecutor's office to change local laws that violate federal legislation. However, officials in Komi Republic told "Vremya novostei" the next day that Zubrin's announcements comes to them as a complete surprise and that they had previously received no protests or letters from Zubrin. Pskov Oblast officials were also indignant, telling the daily that "all problems in the region stem from the fact that the prosecutor wants everything at once." Deputy head of the oblast's administration Dmitrii Shakhov said that "we agree about which laws that do not comply with federal legislation" but "we cannot amend them in a single moment; therefore, there will be a law passed in the oblast about the order of application of the three laws disputed by prosecutors."JAC

Regional election commission officials in Amur Oblast reported on 18 February that nine candidates have successfully registered in elections that will be held on 25 March, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the commission, incumbent Governor Anatolii Belonogov will vie against federal inspector to the Amur Oblast Valerii Voshchevoz, Yurii Bobylev, head of the regional branch of the Union of Industrialists Entrepeneurs, and State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Leonid Korotkov, among others. Voshchevoz is the second federal inspector to announce his plans to run for the governor's office this year. In Nenets Autonomous Okrug, a federal inspector there recently had to resign his office in order to run, reportedly because his superior, presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Leonid Drachevskii, did not think it was appropriate to combine running for office with his current duties as inspector (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 17 January 2001). JAC

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 20 February, Perm Oblast Governor Yurii Trutnev revealed that he would like to conduct a referendum on the question of formally joining his oblast and the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug. According to Trutnev, lawyers for the oblast are examining the legal issues involved in holding such a referendum and conducting such a merger. He added that it would be desirable to hold the referendum at the same time as some other election. In an interview with Interfax on the same day, deputy chairman of Komi-Permyak's legislative assembly Vladimir Startsev said that he thinks the majority of the okrug's voters would favor joining with Perm Oblast. He noted that the standard of living in the okrug currently ranks at the very bottom of all Russian regions, excepting Chechnya about which insufficient economic data is gathered. And, residents of the okrug see joining with Perm Oblast as the solution to their problems, according to Startsev. Last month, Federation, Nationalities and Migration Policy Minister Aleksandr Blokhin announced that his ministry is preparing legislation that would lay out procedure for federation subjects to merge with each other (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 10 January 2001). JAC

Deputies in Primorskii Krai's legislative assembly voted on 19 February to set 27 May as the date for the next gubernatorial elections in the krai. Former gubernatorial candidate and State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Viktor Cherepkov told reporters in Moscow that day that he does not think former krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko "will risk" running. However, he said that Nazdratenko will likely put forward "his own person" for the office, which will likely be Nakhodka Mayor Viktor Gnezdilov. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 14 February, Nazdratenko described Gnezdilov and local legislator Sergei Zhekov as the "intelligent" candidates among those likely to run. First deputy presidential envoy to the Far East federal district Pavel Apanasenko told Interfax-Eurasia on 20 February that he does not exclude the possibility of participating in the gubernatorial race. Apanasenko added that since he is currently in government service, it would not be correct for him to simultaneously participate in elections. "The president appointed me to my current position, therefore the question of my participation [in the election] should be agreed upon with him," he said. Deputy presidential envoy to the Urals District Sergei Sobyanin won last month's election in Tyumen Oblast. JAC

According to the krai's information center, some 60 department heads in the krai's administration have tendered their resignation, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 February. Acting Governor Valentin Dubinin will study all of the resignations and decide which ones to accept over the next week, according to the agency. The krai's prosecutor, Valerii Vasilenko, has also resigned, but Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov told Interfax that he will insist that he retain his post. Nazdratenko's own future employment remains up in the air; Interfax reported on 15 February that the krai's election commission chairman Sergei Knyazev said that Nazdratenko had told him that President Putin offered him the post of chairman of the State Fishing Committee, whose head was dismissed last month (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 22 January 2001.) However, this report has not been officially confirmed, and the agency later reported that an unidentified but "well-informed" source said that Nazdratenko's appointment to that post is hardly likely. Nazdratenko and other Far Eastern governors have spoken out against the commission's plans to auction quotas for fishing and other marine resources (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 10 January 2001). JAC

Five candidates have registered to contest the presidency of Tatarstan in the ballot to be held on 25 May, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 February. They are incumbent Mintimer Shaimiev, State Duma deputies Ivan Grachev and Sergei Shashurin (both Communists), Nikolai Federov, who is deputy administration head of Zelenodolsk Raion, and Communist Party of Tatarstan ideology secretary Robert Sadykov. Sadykov, who is also supported by Tatarstan's nationalist-oriented parties and is considered the most serious challenger to Shaimiev. The Central Electoral Commission excluded from the ballot a sixth potential candidate, Dmitrii Bernikov, who is chairman of the All-Russian movement "Against Crime and Lawlessness," on the grounds that the number of disputed signatures among those he collected in support of his candidacy exceeded the 15 percent maximum. LF

After raising the prices of communal services such as heat and hot water at the beginning of the month, Ulyanovsk Mayor Pavel Romanenko signed a decree on 15 February lowering them again, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2001). On 1 February the price of hot water was raised from 5 rubles (17 cents) per person to 30 rubles. That rate has now been lowered to 20 rubles. The price of heating was raised on 1 February from 35 kopeks per square meter of apartment to 2.5 rubles. The new rate is now 1.20 rubles. According to the agency, the mayor explained the new lower rates were possible thanks to the work of a commission for regulating tariffs of various municipal services that was created on the order of Ulyanovsk Governor Vladimir Shamanov. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 February that following Shamanov's election, prices of a variety of goods rose since they had been artificially capped under former Communist Governor Yurii Goryachev. JAC

Ulyanovsk dwellers got another surprise on 19 February when it was announced that the 220 tram lines in the city would be reduced to 150 and that the interval between buses would be increased two to three times, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Ulyanovskelektrotrans head Vasilii Chernysh, the reason for the cutbacks is the enterprise's debt of 27 million rubles ($941,000) to the local electricity supplier. Chernysh added that it will difficult to extinguish the debt because so many passengers ride for free and the price of a single ride, 2 rubles, is below the actual cost which is 2.7 rubles. JAC

Invalid Spends Three Years on Kitchen Floor

An open letter to presidential envoy to the Urals federal district Petr Latyshev published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony" on 17 February 2001:

My name is Nikolai Aleksandrovich Alekseev. I am an invalid and resident of the Far North. I appeal to you for some help against arbitrariness and illegality. The administration of [the city of] Salekhard [in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug] took away my residence in the spring of 1997. After the demolition of my old home, I was not given an apartment. I did not want to leave my old apartment, but the head of the residential committee of the Salekhard administration Konstantinov declared that the police would remove me by force. I thought [at the time] that I will live for a while with my relatives. I didn't want to cause a scandal. Since then, I have been able to obtain only a temporary propiska for the dormitory of a fish preservation company. For more than three years, district and city officials have dismissed my claim [for housing], violating the European Convention for Human Rights, not to speak of the Russian Constitution. If this hadn't happened to me, I never would have believed that it was possible.

The All-Russian Society of Invalids has petitioned for housing for me three times, to [Yamalo-Nenets] Governor Yurii Neelov, State Duma deputy (Unity member and former Prime Minister) Viktor Chernomyrdin, and Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev. Neelov has quit helping invalids; Chernomyrdin did not receive the petition (as he didn't receive five of my letters). Stroev forwarded the appeal to Neelov, but the governor didn't respond.

Before the elections, Yurii Neelov declared in the mass media that "Yamaltsy" will not complain about his election for a second term. Apparently, the governor refused to help me because I do not have housing or 'officially' reside in his region. Evidently, I am not a Yamalets and do not fall under the governor's pledges.

The plenipotentiary for human rights and the Main Administration for labor and the social defense of the okrug's population have petitioned [on my behalf] to Salekhard Mayor A. M. Spirina, but those efforts were in vain. State officials defend themselves well.

I am an invalid. Six years ago I was confined to bed, a fate worse than you can imagine. I have bent vertebrae and a weak heart. For the past three years, I have slept on the floor in my relatives' kitchen. When will this lawlessness and humiliation end? I appeal to you for your help. Do not leave me in this pitiful state.

Nikolai Aleksandrovich Alekseev, Salekhard


Average monthly wage, rubles ($=28.67 rubles)

______________Nov. 2000______Nov. 2000________Jan. 2001

Healthcare_________ 1375________1172____________4309

Source: "Nezavisimaya gazeta-politekonomiya" 20 February 2001

In the Urals federal district, a Security Board, analogous to the federal-level Security Council, has been created, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 19 February. According to the agency, representatives of all security structures operating in the district will participate in the board. The next day, the agency reported that the presidential envoy to the Urals district Petr Latyshev is intending to created a district counsultative council for rectors of higher educational institutions. And, in the Northwestern federal district a commission to defend investors' rights will be created in the near future under the authority of presidential envoy to that district Viktor Cherkesov, Interfax reported on 15 February. JAC

At a closed session of the Central Election Commission on 15 February, Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov announced the creation of a special group for eliminating violations of election laws committed during the course of elections, Russian newspapers reported the next day. The group will start working in the regions in April and will be composed of members of the commission, Media Ministry, and law enforcement organs. The group's first task will be to oversee gubernatorial elections in Tula Oblast, which are scheduled for 8 April. According to the daily, Veshnyakov also called for amendments to the law on media in order to crack down on violations of the election law: "Freedom of speech is interfering with the freedom from illegal propaganda," "Kommersant-Daily" on 16 February quoted Veshnyakov as saying. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 February, Veshnyakov singled out the Republic of Udmurtia, Vladimir, Kurgan, Kursk, and Tyumen Oblasts, as regions where the local media showed a clear preference for one candidate. He noted that Kursk was particularly guilty in this regard, with some 46 complaints about violations of laws regulating campaign propaganda. Veshnyakov also criticized regions that were slow in dispensing money to local election officials so that they could organize balloting. According to "Izvestiya," presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin, who attended the commission session, called on election officials to "work more closely with the presidential envoys" to the seven federal districts." JAC

As expected, President Putin has signed a decree reorganizing the Main Territorial Administration (GTU), Russian newpapers reported on 17 February (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 January 2001). According to "Moskovskii komsomolets," the administration will lose 40 personnel, 28 of whom will be transferred to the headquarters of the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts. Twelve will be transferred to the presidential administration's legal department. On 16 February, Putin dismissed GTU head Sergei Samoilov. According to the daily, which cited only unnamed Kremlin sources, Samoilov's replacement, Andrei Popov, is a protege of deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov. The daily also reported that the GTU and the presidential envoys to the regions have been battling since last August, in part because as "one senior Kremlin official" put it, the envoys were actually trying to usurp power. Earlier, the envoys reportedly requested that their staff be increased to 230 each, a request which the GTU was resisting. The daily predicts that the next tougher battle will be over economic policy: Kremlin officials reportedly believe that presidential envoys must not be given access to economic levers, since such "a policy might lead to the creation of seven economically independent states within the Russian Federation." JAC

Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev echoed Putin's concerns about the municipal utilities in remarks to reporters on 19 February. Stroev declared that the "communal [services] sphere is in a catastrophic situation," and he predicted that next winter many regions will experience the same fate as Primorskii Krai, a region which has been plagued by heating and electricity outages in recent months. On 14 February, the Congress of Municipal Organizations of Russia, the Union of Russian Cities, and the Russian Union of Local Authorities submitted a joint appeal to President Putin asking that measures be taken to improve the energy situation to avert a "total energy crisis" across the country next winter, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, as the energy crisis eases in Primorskii Krai, Rosuglesbyt Chairman Georgii Krasnyansko told "Nezavisimaya gazeta-politekonomiya" on 17 February that the fuel deficit that caused this winter's energy crisis in that region is likely to worsen next winter and plunge the region into yet another crisis -- unless emergency measures are taken now. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, however, seemed to resist the idea of reform, saying on 20 February that he is opposed to the introduction of 100 percent payment of costs for rent and utility services for city residents, ITAR-TASS reported. He declared that would mean that a one-room apartment in Moscow would rent for 557 roubles ($20) per month, and a three-room apartment at some 1,150 roubles. JAC

According to "Vremya novostei," the "situation in Komi and Pskov Oblast is becoming typical," and prosecutors have lodged protests against other regions, such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, for their slackness in bringing their laws into compliance. Yakutia has also been accused of ignoring prosecutors' complaints: in the Far Eastern federal district, the first deputy prosecutor in the republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Nikolai Takhvatulin, told reporters on 14 February that the local legislature there is unsatisfactorily completing its work amending local legislation. Takhvatulin said that from 1999-2000, the republic prosecutors appealed to republic-level officials 90 times about 43 laws and 35 decrees which violate federal legislation. As a result, some 34 laws and 22 decrees were changed. JAC

In two of his most recent public speeches, Russian President Vladmir Putin touched on themes vital to municipal officials, suggesting that the Kremlin might be ready to turn its attention from the regional or oblast level to the next level down. During a two-day tour of Siberia, Putin told an audience in Tomsk on 16 February that a reform of the communal services is needed, because, he said, 60 percent of municipal utilities' infrastructure is simply worn out, "Segodnya" reported on 17 February. At the same time, citizens are paying only 80 percent of the actual cost of public utilities. Putin called for making the transition to customers paying 100 percent of costs -- at least those citizens with high incomes who can afford it. In addition to the problem of rates being charged not matching costs, Putin pointed to the high rate of indebtedness in the sector, with municipal organizations owing huge sums of money. On 20 February, addressing the presidium of the State Council, Putin suggested that it is necessary to "seriously strengthen the financial and economic basis of local self-government." One way to do this, he suggested, would be to "consider the possibility of redistributing tax revenues in favor of local budgets." An organization of mayors recently appealed to Putin to pay more attention to the problems of local self-government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). After Putin's speech, presidium member Leonid Roketskii told reporters that Putin has ordered that a package of decrees and laws be prepared that will regulate the reform of local self-government. In Tomsk, Putin announced that he has asked the government to submit by mid-April a program for modernizing the housing and public utilities system. JAC

In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 17 February, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said that "over the next three to four years, it will be necessary to evolve to a principally new system of interbudgetary relations -- dividing not money but responsibilities." According to Khristenko, the tax and budgetary powers of regional and local authorities will be increased, but so will their responsibility in an environment with strict budgetary restrictions. Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry reported on 9 February that financial assistance to the regions comprised the largest spending item in the federal budget in January, totaling 19.7 billion rubles ($687 million), ITAR-TASS reported. However, this amount still fell 5 percent short of the planned expenditure of 22.87 billion rubles. Of the total amount transferred in January, some 221.7 million rubles went to Russia's Far North to cover spending on petroleum products and food, according to ITAR-TASS on 13 February. According to the agency, Yakutia got some 82 million rubles, Magadan 40 million rubles, Arkhangelsk 30 million rubles, and Chukotka 25 million rubles. In terms of transfers to the regions for electricity subsidies, Primorskii Krai got over 54 percent of the total 166 million rubles transferred to all Russian regions. JAC