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Russia Report: March 7, 2001

7 March 2001, Volume 3, Number 9
Writing in "Vek" issue number 9, Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Center reports that "influential political circles" are taking the idea of appointing regional leaders "more seriously." He admits that "not all regional leaders share this view," but there is a "growing mood among regional elites." As evidence for this claim, Ryabov cites comments by Karelia head Sergei Katanandov that Russia should "stop having constant elections" and the letter published last year by Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, Kurgan Governor Oleg Bogomolov and Belgorod Governor Yevgenii Savchenko proposing that regional leaders should be appointed by the president. In addition, he cites the recent legislation offered by Unity deputy Vitalii Lednik that would have made the office of governor an appointed one (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 19 February 2001). Ryabov concludes that when Putin and his supporters talk about strengthening Russia's "power vertical," they have in mind a hierarchy in the truest sense of the word with the top officials appointing the regional officials below them -- rather than having them be elected. And the end result that officials are trying to achieve is not a federation at all, but a hierarchy, "since federations are called federations because their components have significant rights, elect their own leaders, and delegate power to the federal government as they see fit." Why would the governors themselves prefer to be appointed? In an article in the East West Institute's "Russian Regional Report" last March, former presidential advisor Leonid Smirnyagin cited one unidentified Federation Council member who explained "it is much easier to lick one boot than clean 400,000." Smirnyagin continued that Russia's regional elite has always been "adroit in the ways of the czar's court" and that it is no accident Communist Party Obkom secretaries often held their jobs for 15 years or longer at a time. JAC

Although the republic's next presidential election is not scheduled until 2002, the race may already be underway, "Segodnya" declared on 3 March. According to the daily, the Agency for Political News has reported that State Duma deputy (Unity) Aleksandra Burataeva, a former anchorwoman at Russian Public Televison, may decide to challenge Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who has already announced that he will seek a third term. According to the daily, Burataeva led a group of deputies who asked the Audit Chamber to conduct an audit of how federal monies are spent in the region. Last month, a political opposition group in the republic announced that it intends to oppose a third term for Ilyumzhinov, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 20 February. Tamara Marlaeva, member of the movement, "People Against the Regime of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov," charges that Ilyzumzhinov's rule has been "ruinous" for the local population. She told RFE/RL that the unofficial level of unemployment in the republic is more than 23 percent and the average wage is only a little more than 50 percent of the average wage for Russia as a whole. While gathering statistical information about the republic, Marlaeva and her sister, Gulnara, were beaten by unknown men in masks who demanded that they stop such activities. JAC

Mordovia Republic head Nikolai Merkushkin has signed a decree which requires workers in local self-rule bodies to pay their own wages only after those of state sector workers have been paid, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 21 February. Unpaid wages to state sector workers such as teachers and doctors remain a chronic problem in some Russian regions, and in Mordovia the backlog of unpaid wages has reached three months and totals 17 million rubles ($592,000). In municipalities where there is an existing salary backlog, the decree defines the percentage of revenues that should be directed towards the wages of budget workers. Under the decree, the republic's Finance Ministry is empowered to suspend the wages to local government officials who violate the decree. JAC

A group of voters in Primorskii Krai has officially nominated State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) and former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov as a candidate in 27 May gubernatorial elections for that region, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 6 March. Cherepkov attempted to run in the previous election in the region in December 2000 but his registration was invalidated. Cherepkov and other candidates have until 21 April to gather the necessary 15,000 signatures in order to register. Seven other candidates, including State Duma deputy (Communist) Vladimir Grishukov, have officially declared their plans to run so far, according to the krai's election commission. When asked about the recent announcement of former Black Sea Fleet Commander Igor Kasatonov that he plans to run, Cherepkov commented on 5 March that "the Kremlin has still not indicated which candidate it supports." At the end of last month, Kasatonov told NTV that he plans to run and that he has the Kremlin's support for his bid. The 62-year-old Kasatonov was born in Vladivostok and says he plans to return there in March to prepare for his campaign, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 February. Another military officer also plans to run, Vladimir Omsharuk, the former commander of the spetsnaz of the Pacific Fleet. JAC

Meanwhile, another energy official has predicted a new energy crisis will engulf the region next year. Dalenergo General Director Yurii Likhoida told reporters on 5 March that the 10 percent hike in electricity tariffs will "guarantee a new, and possibly more profound energy crisis in the winter of 2002." That day the regional energy commission raised average electricity tariffs by 10 percent from 1 March. Last month, Rosuglesbyt Chairman Georgii Krasnyansko said that the krai's fuel deficit, which caused this winter's energy crisis, is likely to worsen next winter and plunge the region into yet another crisis -- unless emergency measures are taken now (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 February 2001). JAC

In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 28 February, presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko described a "most interesting" map produced by an expedition of economic geographers who came to his region last summer. The map shows that the greatest differences between the quality of life are registered within regions rather than between them. Kirienko explained that although there is a large gap between quality of life of people in Penza and Samara Oblasts, for example, the difference is even greater within Samara, if you compare the larger cities of Tolyatti and Balakovo with Samara's smaller towns. While the latter are characterized by "neglect and collapse," Tolyatti and Balakovo, where industries have been concentrated, have higher wages, less unemployment, more qualified specialists, and more investment. JAC

Writing in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 23 February, Aleksandr Budberg offers one explanation for former Sibneft head Roman Abramovich's recent transition from oligarch to federal legislator to governor of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. According to Budberg, while some people believe that Abramovich is imbued with a "romantic love of the Chukchi," he is in fact motivated by his "first love," money. The daily, which is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, asserts that Abramovich is using Chukotka to obtain additional export quotas for oil and hopes to create an offshore zone where companies would register in order to qualify for tax breaks. On 1 January 2001 Governor Abramovich reportedly proposed to the federal Energy Ministry that Chukotka be given an additional export quota of 2.5 million tons for the provision of the "northern delivery" to the region. According to Budberg, quotas for such a purpose are usually granted in the range of 200,000-400,000 tons, considerably less than Abramovich proposed. Budberg calculates that 2.5 million tons of oil would bring in more than $400 million in revenue, while the annual budget of the entire okrug, which has only 124,000 residents, is only a little more than half that sum. Also, previous deliveries to the okrug cost only $50 million over a period of several years. JAC

Anatolii Kutsonozhko, the chairman of Amur Oblast's election commission, has accused the incumbent Governor Anatolii Belogonov of violating Russian election law, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 1 March. Kutsonozhko told journalists that the governor revealed in a press conference that President Putin in a personal conversation wished him victory in the upcoming 25 March election. Later that week, "Segodnya" on 3 March suggested that the Kremlin has decided to support Belogonov rather than former federal inspector to Amur Oblast Valerii Voshchevoz in part because recent opinion polls showed that Belogonov had twice as much support as Voshchevoz and that there is little chance for the latter to catch up. The daily, which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-MOST Group, argued that the Kremlin has taken a series of steps that "it would be difficult to interpret as anything other than expressions of support for Belogonov." As examples, it cites the fact that Belogonov was included in the delegation accompanying Putin to Korea. In addition, Putin reportedly telephoned Belogonov on 24 February to wish the governor a happy birthday. JAC

Addressing a gathering of the Greater Ural interregional economic association, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov again spoke out against the inclusion of his republic in the Volga federal district, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 21 February. "Izvestiya" reported the next day that governments of Astrakhan, Volgograd, Perm, and Tyumen Oblasts have all approached the federal government with requests to be transferred to different federal districts than the ones they are currently in. Astrakhan and Volgograd Oblasts, both of which are part of the Southern district, want to join the Volga federal district. Perm, which is part of the Volga district, would prefer to be in the Urals, while Tyumen, which is in the Urals, wants to switch to the Siberian district. The daily described the process of distributing the regions among the seven districts as "arbitrary," noting that the borders of the districts mostly coincide with military districts. Meanwhile, the website reported that the Volga and Ural military districts will be merged into a single one this summer, in accordance with a decree signed by President Putin. JAC

In an interview with Interfax the same day, Novgorod Governor Prusak suggested that such referendums are unnecessary because he doesn't believe in them. "It isn't necessary to be afraid to do something without the will of the people," he said, adding that the Federation Council was restructured without holding a referendum. Prusak also suggested that within the Northwestern federal district, his oblast would have no problems merging with neighboring Pskov and that two other ideal pairings might be Arkhangelsk Oblast with Nenets Autonomous Okrug and Leningrad Oblast with St. Petersburg. He added that Russia should have no more than 50 regions and that these should be directly subordinated to "governor-generals" whom the Russian president would appoint. JAC

Minister for Federation, Nationalities, and Migration Affairs Aleksandr Blokhin has provided more details about new draft legislation under which regions could merge with each other, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 February. According to Blokhin, who was speaking in Novosibirsk the previous day, under the draft bill, which is still being reviewed by the Kremlin's legal department, a region that wants to join another would have to obtain the official agreement of federal organs, the majority of the population of the region, as well as that of neighboring regions, if the change in the status of the given region would affect their interests. Even if all sides agree, including Moscow, parties or individuals opposed to the merger would be able to challenge it in court. JAC

Stroev and other long-time members of the upper house were dismissive of the new group. According to "Segodnya," Stroev noted that the "Federation Council has always supported the president," while Deputy Chairman Vladimir Platonov suggested that the new members must have "plenty of time on their hands." At least one new senator, Ramazan Abdulatipov of Saratov Oblast, was also skeptical. "Why should we artificially create a situation in which someone is labeled a supporter of the president and someone else is not?" he asked. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 February suggested that one reason that Federation may have been created was to act as a counterbalance to the "red governors" in the upper legislative chamber. The daily, in which Boris Berezovskii owns a controlling interest, noted recently that a large number of the governors elected last year are Communists and that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov regularly drops by the council to deliver "instructions." JAC

Forty-seven members of the Federation Council have signed up to be part of a new group called "Federation," whose declared aim is to support President Putin's legislative initiatives, "Segodnya" reported on 23 February. According to "Kommersant-Daily" the previous day, the bulk of the members of the group are new members of the upper legislative chamber, such as Mikhail Margelov of Pskov Oblast, Aleksandr Nazarov of Chukotka, Valerii Goreglyad of Sakhalin Oblast, Vladimir Kulakov of Magadan Oblast, and Valerii Kadokhov of North Ossetia. Federation's formation follows assertions by Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev that the upper chamber would not "dissolve into factions," and by those new senators who are members of Unity that they would not form a branch of Unity in the Federation Council (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 February 2001). JAC

"Izvestiya" reported on 22 February that an opinion poll conducted by the National Public Opinion Research Center in February showed that 62 percent of its respondents cannot see any results from the establishment of the envoys, while only 9 percent said they were effective. A poll conducted last fall revealed that only in the Volga district did a majority of respondents even know who their envoy was (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 4 October 2000). JAC

President Putin's presidential envoys to federal districts are continuing to extend their influence and activities into their regions' economic sphere. Although they have not yet won control over actual financial flows between the federal center and the regions, in the Northwestern federal district, presidential envoy Viktor Cherkesov will now share financial monitoring responsibility with the Audit Chamber of the 40 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) that is being disbursed to St. Petersburg for that city to celebrate its 300th anniversary. At a joint press conference in St. Petersburg on 2 March, Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin and Cherkesov announced that they "will do everything to prevent the embezzlement of funds, so that our wonderful restorers can redo the city as it was in Peter the First's era." He added that he and Cherkesov will monitor "where and how the money is spent, choose contractors and promote transparency." Last month, "Izvestiya" reported that Cherkesov had organized an international investment conference and visited Novgorod Oblast, "inspecting" some joint ventures there. Meanwhile, presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Leonid Drachevskii sought to intercede on his region's behalf with the Finance Ministry. According to Interfax on 21 February, he sent a letter to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov asking that Siberian regions be granted more funds to cope with the severe frosts and heavy snows plaguing the area this winter, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 21 February. Deputy presidential envoy Vladimir Goman told the agency that the envoys' office conducted a survey of regions' needs that indicated that 1.2 billion rubles ($42 million) is necessary to address such costs as buying new fuel to rebuild reserves. JAC


By Paul Goble

Tatars in the Russian capital of Moscow are attempting to transform their community from a Soviet-defined 'nationality' to an ethnic group of the kind familiar in Western democracies, but as the leaders of that community admit, their success in this effort remains far from certain. Rasim Akchurin, the president of the regional Tatar national cultural autonomy, described in an interview published 24 February in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" both the aspirations of his community and also the difficulties it faces in making this transition.

Akchurin's organization was created on the basis of a 1996 Russian law "on national cultural autonomy." That legislation was designed to give groups either lacking a state-defined territorial entity or living beyond the borders of the one listed as being theirs the possibility of creating ethnic institutions such as schools and social service agencies to support their community.

That law marked a major break with the Soviet past. As set up by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, the Soviet system with rare exceptions gave language and other cultural rights to non-Russian nationalities only on the territory of the republic or entity bearing its name. That is, a Tatar living in Tatarstan could attend a Tatar-language school only in Tatarstan. (The Russians were the exception; Russian-language institutions were provided for them everywhere.)

Tatars or other groups who lived over widely dispersed areas or who moved out of their ethnic republics were given little or no cultural or linguistic support and were in the Soviet understanding expected to assimilate to the dominant nation, typically Russian, among whom they lived.

For the Tatars, this was a particular problem to the future of their nation because three-quarters of its members live beyond the borders of the Republic of Tatarstan in the Middle Volga. Hence, they have been among the most active in taking advantage of the provisions of the 1996 act.

They have organized district and regional committees, one of which Akchurin heads. They have set up schools, special courses, and social clubs. And they have sought to maintain their national identity in much the same way that ethnic communities do in democratic societies.

But they face several major obstacles in transforming themselves from a Soviet-style nationality to a Western-style ethnic group. First, the Tatars of Moscow have to follow the provisions of the law which rigidly set registration requirements but to do so without the financial support of the government. Akchurin said that the city and regional authorities had provided help but that the federal government has not.

Second, the 1996 law prohibits the Tatar community from engaging in politics. Consequently, it cannot seek to pressure the government or promote candidates for office as other social groups in a civil society are allowed to do. Instead, ethnic communities like religious communities are precluded from legal political participation, a prohibition that may lead to the politicization of these groups in ways the state cannot control.

And third, the 1996 law and those who implement it continue to use Soviet-era terminology. Akchurin said last week that he did not like his community to be called a diaspora or even a national cultural community. He pointed out that Tatars have been living in Moscow "since the moment of the founding of the city" and therefore cannot be properly viewed as a diaspora.

The Tatar leader said that he believes the community should be called what it calls itself, a community, one not interested in standing aside from the life of other groups in the Russian capital but also committed to maintaining its sense of individual and collective identity.

Akchurin suggested that all 'nationalities' in the Russian Federation should have the same rights as his group seeks, including ethnic Russians living among non-Russian communities in various parts of that country. If Akchurin's vision triumphs, then the Russian Federation will have made an important step forward toward the creation of a civil society defined by more than just the existence of non-governmental organizations.

The fact that he is in a position to give this interview is a source of hope. But the survivals of past Soviet thinking on this subject to which he refers indicate that he, the Tatars and other groups in that country face an uphill struggle in transforming themselves from nationality to ethnic group and their country from a state-defined organization into a civil society.



The following table shows the average monthly wage earned in regions across Russia as well as the cost of a "subsistence minimum" basket of food products figured as a percentage of this wage. For Russia as a whole, almost one third of the average monthly wage was required in 2000 to purchase these minimum number of products. As the table illustrates, the average wage goes further in some regions than in others. In the city of Moscow, for example, a resident might have three-fourths of his monthly wage left after buying food; in Ust-Ordynskii Autonomous Okrug less than a third remains. JAC

Geographic_____________Min. Food Basket/
Unit___________________As a Share_____________Average*
______________________of Monthly Wage_________monthly wage, ____________________________________________rubles

Russian Federation__________0.30_______________2508

Central District________________0.30_____________2485
Belgorod Oblast_________________0.33____________1992
Bryansk Oblast__________________0.48____________1361
Vladimir Oblast__________________0.37____________1768
Voronezh Oblast_________________0.42____________1569
Ivanovo Oblast__________________ 0.51____________1328
Kaluga Oblast___________________0.37____________1913
Kostroma Oblast_________________0.39____________1649
Kursk Oblast____________________0.39_____________1655
Lipetsk Oblast___________________0.31____________2107
Moscow Oblast__________________0.29____________2572
Orel Oblast_____________________0.38_____________1718
Ryazan Oblast___________________0.42_____________1646
Smolensk Oblast_________________0.39_____________1801
Tambov Oblast__________________0.47_____________1368
Tver Oblast______________________0.40_____________1757
Tula Oblast____________________0.40______________1810
Yaroslavl Oblast__________________0.33_____________2160
Moscow City__________________0.25______________3743

Northwest District______________0.32______________2459
Karelia Republic__________________0.30_____________2687
Komi Republic___________________0.20_____________3902
Arkhangelsk Oblast________________0.25_____________3026
Nenets Aut. Okrug_________________0.21_____________5689
Vologda Oblast_____________________0.27___________2724
Kaliningrad Oblast__________________0.35____________2200
Leningrad Oblast__________________0.30_____________2505
Murmansk Oblast___________________0.23____________3946
Novgorod Oblast__________________0.35_____________1988
Pskov Oblast________________________0.43__________1604
St. Petersburg City_________________0.29_____________2875

South District__________________0.41_________________1658
Adygei Republic__________________0.49_______________1444
Daghestan Republic_______________0.71_________________968
Ingushetia Republic_______________0.61_________________1371
Kabardino-Balkaria Rep.___________0.52_________________1283
Kalmykia Republic_________________0.47_______________1390
Karachaevo-Cherkessia Rep._________0.54________________1271
North Ossetia Rep._________________0.51________________1351
Chechnya Republic__________________n/a________________n/a
Krasnodar Krai_____________________0.35______________1886
Stavropol Krai_____________________0.43_______________1586
Astrakhan Oblast____________________0.32______________2186
Volgograd Oblast__________________0.38________________1884
Rostov Oblast______________________0.41_______________1570

Volga District____________________0.35__________________2005
Bashkortostan Republic_____________0.31________________2270
Marii El Repubic___________________0.56______________1193
Mordovia Republic__________________0.55______________1187
Tatarstan Republic__________________0.28______________2269
Udmurtia Republic_________________0.35________________2083
Chuvashiya Republic________________0.52_______________1280
Kirov Oblast_____________________0.41_________________1666
Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast___________0.37__________________1864
Orenburg Oblast__________________0.35________________2051
Penza Oblast_____________________0.43_______________1554
Perm Oblast______________________0.27________________2709
Komi-Permyak Aut. Okrug___________0.49________________1381
Samara Oblast____________________0.33_________________2414
Saratov Oblast_____________________0.48______________1547
Ulyanovsk Oblast___________________0.38_______________1598

Ural District______________________0.20_________________3996
Kurgan Oblast____________________0.43________________1620
Sverdlovsk Oblast_________________0.31__________________2542
Tyumen Oblast___________________0.12__________________7761
Khanty-Mansii Aut. Okrug__________0.10__________________10124
Yamalo-Nenets Aut. Okrug_________0.12____________________9670
Chelyabinsk Okrug________________0.32___________________2379

Siberia District____________________0.30___________________2525
Altai Republic____________________0.53__________________1434
Buryatia Republic_________________0.34___________________2212
Tuva Republic____________________0.51_________________1646
Khakasia Republic_________________0.35_________________2419
Altai Krai________________________0.44_________________1522
Krasnoyarsk Krai__________________0.22_________________3767
Taimyr Aut. Okrug________________0.19__________________7513
Evenk Aut. Okrug_________________0.30__________________3758
Irkutsk Oblast____________________0.29_________________2935
Ust-Ordinskii Aut. Okrug___________0.68__________________1180
Kemerovo Oblast_________________0.27_________________2687
Novosibirsk Oblast________________0.35_________________2103
Omsk Oblast____________________0.43__________________1615
Tomsk Oblast___________________0.23_________________2997
Chita Oblast____________________0.32__________________2553
Aginsk Buryat Aut. Okrug_______0.64_____________________1246

Far East District_________________0.29________________3414
Sakha Republic__________________0.23_________________4864
Primorskii Krai___________________0.35_________________2741
Khabarovsk Krai_________________0.31_________________2947
Amur Oblast____________________0.33__________________2356
Kamchatka Oblast_______________0.23__________________5004
Koryak Aut. Okrug______________0.20_________________10515
Magadan Oblast_________________0.24__________________5317
Sakhalin Oblast__________________0.30_________________3897
Jewish Aut. Oblast_______________0.41__________________2076
Chukotka Aut. Okrug_____________0.37__________________6224

*As of November, 2000

Source: PlanEcon, Washington, D.C.