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Russia Report: April 4, 2001

4 April 2001, Volume 3, Number 12
A number of Moscow-based officials and business leaders are poised to join Russia's upper legislative chamber. Transaero head Aleksandr Pleshakov has been nominated to represent Penza Oblast in the Federation Council, and Sergei Bekov, vice president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, has been tapped to represent Ingushetia, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 April. On 30 March, Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin named Leonid Bindar, a Norilsk Nickel executive, as the okrug's representative to the Federation Council. The previous day, the legislative assembly of the Marii El Republic confirmed the nomination of Ilya Lomakin-Rumyantsev, the director of the Fund for Complex Applied Research, as one of its two representatives to the Federation Council, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Lomakin-Rumyantsev, a Muscovite, is a former federal Finance Ministry official, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 March. That daily reported on 2 April citing unidentified sources that Siberian Aluminum head Oleg Deripaska has been promised the job of representing Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast in the Federation Council. JAC

In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta-religii" on 28 March, deputy presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Vladimir Zorin revealed that his office has engaged in work overseeing interreligious problems and has conducted seminars on the issue in the district (see "End Note" below). According to Zorin, his boss, presidential envoy to the district Sergei Kirienko, considers his work overseeing interethnic and interreligious questions one of his top priorities. Zorin explained that "there are a number of problems, which [the various] religions cannot resolve independently. That is the government's responsibility. For example, religious extremism, against which it is possible to struggle only with the cooperation of the religion and the government." Another problem for the government and religious leaders to sort out, according to Zorin, is that of houses of worship. There are not enough of them, and "in the last 10 years alone more than 4,500 religious communities have been registered on the district's territory." A third issue is the tendency in the last decade of certain regions to not only try to construct their own "mini" economic units but also to "try to create religious structures that are independent of the all-Russian higher-ups." He continued, "this is especially noticeable in the Muslim republics," where there is the problem of a lack of dialogue between "the two basic tendencies in Islam." This lack could be "destabilizing," Zorin concluded, and therefore his office has suggested to authorities the strengthening of "intrareligious cooperation." According to Zorin, some 40 percent of Russia's Muslims live in the Volga district, and Islam is the second most common religion in the district after Russian Orthodoxy. In Russia as whole, Protestantism is number two, according to Zorin. JAC

The Media Ministry rejected on 28 March an application by the Voice of America for a license to rebroadcast on Russian stations in Volgograd and Ufa. Commenting on the decision, Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii said that "an enormous number of countries do not allow the work of a great number of foreign media on their territory." He added that the United States should demonstrate reciprocity and allow Russian stations to rebroadcast in the U.S. if it hopes to have its government-owned station broadcast locally in Russia. Despite Seslavinskii's comments, the director of Russian programs at VOA, Liza Borisova, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 29 March that she believes that the basis of the rejection was primarily a technical one and that she hopes a revised application will elicit a more favorable response. She added that there are Russian stations retransmitting broadcasts in the U.S., for example, in Chicago. JAC

Television broadcasts on channel one in Komsomolsk-na-Amur and several other cities in Khabarovsk Krai went off the air on 30 March because of local television station's unpaid debts to electricity suppliers, according to ITAR-TASS. In Kamchatka Oblast, the "blackout" was wider, affecting broadcasts of Russian Public Television, Russian Television, NTV, and even Radio Mayak, according to Russian agencies the previous day. Kamchatskenergo told Interfax-Eurasia that the debt of the oblast's radio and television broadcasting center had exceeded 4.5 million rubles ($160 million). On 2 April, Kamchatskenergo agreed to resume energy supplies to the local broadcasting center after it agreed to pay its debt. The next day, Dalenergo announced that Primorskii Krai stations are facing a cut-off of their electricity starting 6 April if a backlog of unpaid bills is not extinguished. JAC

Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev won a third term in elections held on 25 March. According to the Central Election Commission on 29 March, Shaimiev won almost 80 percent of the vote, while almost 80 percent of the electorate participated in the election. Central Election Commission official Anatolii Fomin said that campaign spending in the election was only some 10 percent of that spent elsewhere, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Fomin also praised local media for indulging in less "dirty campaigning" than its counterparts in other regions. Shaimiev's main competition came from State Duma (People's Deputy) deputy Sergei Shashurin, who came in second in the race but polled less than 6 percent of the vote. Shashurin's campaign stressed his fight against corruption. As a member of the State Duma's Anti-Corruption Commission, Shashurin raised questions about the alleged embezzlement of 7 million tons of oil from Tatarstan, according to RFE/RL Moscow bureau's Karen Agamirov on 22 March. Shashurin told RFE/RL that it's impossible to follow up on criminal investigations, because the ruling "clan has seized everything." He continued, "Our prosecutor is a thief, our interior minister is a criminal. Using the judicial system, they can hide [all kinds] of thefts and contract murders. I don't say this lightly...I know many guys who are active in the criminal world, and they confirm these crimes." Shashurin added that he "calmly declares" if "Mintimer Shaimiev does not agree with this, then [he can] appeal to a court." JAC

As expected, Amur Oblast Governor Anatolii Belonogov won the most votes in the ballot held on 25 March; however, he did not gather the necessary 50 percent in order to avoid a second round. That round will be held on 8 April. Belonogov will compete against State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Leonid Korotkov. Yurii Bobylev, general director of the local commercial industrial association Soyuz, came in third with 11 percent of the vote, while some 10 percent of the votes were cast against all candidates. The Communist Party is supporting Belonogov, according to RFE/RL's Mumin Shakirov, reporting from Amur on 22 March. Korotkov, a former Communist Party member just two years ago, now opposes both the party and Belonogov. Korotkov told RFE/RL that he is not insisting that voters "love" him but he is assuring them that "if Anatolii Belonogov becomes governor again, the situation in the oblast will become that much worse." Yevgenii Golovin, a journalist with the oblast's only opposition newspaper, "Amurskii letopisets," told Shakirov that Chinese businessmen in collusion with local authorities have engaged in "gray market" activities involving trade in Russian timber, metals, and cars. The profits from their activities leaves the oblast and the neighboring city of Heihe as a bustling metropolis with trade centers, trains stations, hotels, and banks -- in sharp contrast to Blagoveshchensk. "Amurskii letopis" is published in neighboring Khabarovsk. Last month, presidential envoy to the Far East federal district Konstantin Pulikovskii accused Chinese interests of backing Belonogov in order to protect their economic interests in the oblast (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 March 2001). JAC


Tatarstan____Mintimer Shaimiev (79.5%)__Sergei Shashurin (5.8%)
Amur Oblast_Anatolii Belonogov (44.6%)__Leonid Korotkov (20.7%)

RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 30 March that the 28-29 March visit of U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jim Collins to Ufa was not covered by local media on orders of top republic officials. In addition, according to the correspondent, a scheduled meeting between Collins and President Murtaza Rakhimov and Prime Minister Rafael Baidavletov did not take place. Collins did meet with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for External Relations and Trade Rafil Garifullin. Garifullin said that the failure of bilateral economic relationship to develop with the U.S. over the last two years reflected a "lack of will on the American side." Collins responded that it reflected the consequences of the August 1998 financial crisis. JAC

Meanwhile, "Vremya Novostei" reported on 23 March that Rakhimov made a number of stinging criticisms of President Putin's regional policies. Rakhimov complained that the federal government is "drifting away from the regions" and is "becoming unapproachable." And, that it is hard to get through to ministers. "Whenever you call a ministry, some secretary gets the call and starts asking you all sorts of questions -- who is calling, what for, and so on. But the ministers themselves should be calling the regions and asking how things are," he complained. Regarding the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts, Rakhimov concluded: "This is just another layer of government, and we are not rich enough to feed and maintain it." JAC

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 21 March, Chuvash President Nikolai Fedorov asserted that a group of oligarchs "who are loyal to the presidential administration and government" asked him to intervene in the management of a certain local enterprise. They wanted Fedorov to help them replace the owner so they could take it over and they offered in return to resolve "all" of Chuvashia's problems. The oligarchs reportedly referred him to a number of members of the Federation Council, saying that they would vouch for their reliability and resources. According to Fedorov, "a day or two later these senators called me and said: 'Nikolai, these are very reliable people. They always keep their promises; they have never let us down." Fedorov refused to help the businessmen and would not identify who they are but predicted that their identity might come out during the upcoming presidential election in the republic. JAC

Fedorov again confirmed that he does not plan to seek re-election. He acknowledged that the Kremlin opposed him during his first campaign but he does not believe that it would this time round despite his outspoken criticisms of Putin's federal reforms. During the interview, Fedorov again criticized Putin's creation of the presidential envoys for the seven federal districts, saying "Is it necessary to establish an entire unconstitutional institution of presidential envoys in order to bring the laws of Tatarstan into compliance with federal standards?" Fedorov continued: "there is no political will here. We are following the usual Russian path: instead of taking out the trash, we establish a commission on fighting the trash." JAC

Authorities in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast have entered in high level confrontations with a number of local media outlets, "Versiya" reported in its issue number 9, citing the Glasnost Defense Fund. According to RFE/RL's Nizhnii Novgorod correspondent on 24 March, the city of Sechenovo provides one recent example. A week before elections for the raion administration head, the raion's acting chief, Sergei Vasin, with the help of local law enforcement authorities, turned off the transmitter for the local television studio, "Zemlya Sechenovskaya." Vasin based his action on the charge that the television station workers had refused to give him on-air access to wage his campaign although he had been invited along with other candidates to participate in an election program. Vasin first tried to lodge a complaint in court against the station but the court refused to honor his suit. The station's director, Marina Efremova, told RFE/RL that she finds herself in an tough situation: "Of course, it is difficult to live with the sense that people are afraid even to approach me in a place where I have lived for the last 37 years...But my family is supporting me and the studio's workers, otherwise I couldn't follow through with this." One former raion official told RFE/RL that the administration's task now is to dismiss Efremova and put in place someone else so the station will be their's." Station workers have not received their wages in two months, and the correspondent reported that they are not excluding the possibility that they will cross over to a commercial channel. JAC

On 2 April, the acting governor of Primorskii Krai, Valentin Dubinin, submitted his application to the regional election commission to register as a candidate for the 27 May gubernatorial elections. Dubinin was the first deputy governor during the tenure of the previous governor, Yevgenii Nazdratenko, who resigned in February (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 February 2001). Another one of Nazdratenko's deputies, Konstantin Tolstoshein, is also running. According to Interfax, Dubinin stated on 2 April that he is not the "Kremlin's candidate" and revealed that presidential envoy to the Far East federal district Pulikovskii does not approve of his decision to run. Meanwhile, Pulikovskii's deputy, Gennadii Apanasenko, claims that he is supported by the Kremlin, challenging Admiral Igor Kasatonov, who has also claimed that honor, according to "The Moscow Times" on 3 April. JAC

The legislative assembly of Taimyr Autonomous Okrug is preparing to consider the possibility of no longer being a constituent part of Krasnoyarsk Krai, Interfax reported on 2 April. Taimyr legislators sent a letter to Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed informing him that their plans resulted from the failure of the krai to send some 37 million rubles ($1.3 million) to the okrug's budget from 1995 to 2000. Last July, Krasnoyarsk authorities announced that they were unilaterally withdrawing from a bilateral budget agreement with the okrug, according to the agency. The deputies also object to a number of decisions by Krasnoyarsk authorities concerning the use of natural resources and the taxation of enterprises in the Norilsk industrial district. Specifically, Taimyr legislators are irked by the February 2001 appeal of Krasnoyarsk authorities to the federal Ministry of Natural Resources to transfer the administrative functions on the natural environment from the Taimyr Committee on Natural Resources to the one in Krasnoyarsk, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 3 April. The daily also reported that "hardly anyone in Krasnoyarsk wants to enter into an open conflict with the new head of Taimyr," Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, who until recently headed Norilsk Nickel. That company provides some 70 percent of Krasnoyarsk Krai's budget revenue. According to Interfax, Khloponin wholly supports the Taimyr legislators' position. JAC

Seventy children and 30 workers at the 132nd kindergarten in the city of Ulyanovsk may be turned out into the streets, RFE/RL's Ulyanovsk correspondent reported on 24 March. The Ulyanovsk car plant that runs the kindergarten has informed the city's mayor and education department that it no longer wants to finance the school from its budget. One upset parent told RFE/RL, "We don't know where to send our children. In the municipal kindergarten nearby there are no places. And in our own Leninskii Raion, there is a waiting list of 610 people and one must wait more than a year." Another "private" kindergarten was also closed recently, and a similar fate has befallen a number of other kindergartens in the city. The deputy head of the Leninskii Raion, Ivan Melnikov, told RFE/RL that his district has taken in eight kindergartens of other establishments over the past year. "But we only have enough resources from the city's budget to pay wages for personnel and to feed the children. There is no talk about payments for public utilities or rent." According to the correspondent, the city already owes the local electricity supplier some 2.5 billion rubles ($870,000), but the city budget is only 1 billion rubles. JAC


By Paul Goble

The number of Muslims in Russia is increasing not only because of the demographic growth of the historically Islamic peoples there but also because members of other groups, including ethnic Russians, are turning to Islam as well, according to a number of recent articles in the Russian press.

Such converts are still relatively rare, but over the past year, they have caught the attention of the media in Tatarstan and other historically Islamic regions. Now, the phenomenon has become sufficiently large that it is the subject of an extensive article by Azat Akhunov in the current issue of the religion supplement of Moscow's "Nezavisimaya gazeta."

Titled "Why are Russians Accepting Islam?" the article suggests that those Russians who choose to become Muslims have a variety of motives -- from those typical of anyone turning to religion or from one faith to another to those arising from the specific needs of those Russians who live in areas where Muslims now predominate.

Akhunov focuses on the Tatarstan village of Kukmor, where the historically Islamic Tatars form 80 percent of the population and the traditionally Orthodox Christian Russians form only 12 percent. In that situation, the tone of public life is set more often by the local Muslim majority rather than the Russian community, however important it is in the broader world. And he notes that one Russian there who converted to Islam was "in essence no longer a Russian in the customary sense of this word."

And Akhunov concludes that "in Kazan alone there live not a few Russians who publicly profess Islam and who do not try to conceal this fact of their biography." He notes that "Russian Muslims in Tatarstan are completely respected and do not experience any discrimination. Among them are people of various professions...and there are now mosques [there] in which prayers are conducted in Russian."

But if Akhunov does not view this development as threatening, others appear to view it just that way. On the one hand, they view it as likely to accelerate the relative size of Russia's Muslim community. And on the other, they see such conversions as raising questions about the nature and stability of Russian national identity itself, questions that appear to be increasingly disturbing to many Russians.

One measure of such concerns is the new popularity of the works of Dmitrii Karataev-Karachevskii, a Bulgar nobleman who as an emigre published numerous works on the complex history of Russian-Tatar and Russian-Muslim relations, works that suggest the two are far more intermixed than many have assumed. His books have been reprinted in Moscow during the last few years and have sparked debate among both scholars and politicians.

But more immediately, many Russians appear to be especially concerned by the growth of Islam itself, and some of that concern is reflected in two other articles in the same issue of the religion supplement of "Nezavisimaya gazeta."

In the first, a researcher from the Institute of Oriental Studies, Damir Khayrutdinov, describes the dramatic growth of the Islamic community in Moscow itself, a growth powered by migration, larger birthrates, and conversion as well.

Muslims have lived in what is now the Russian capital since the time of the Golden Horde, Khayrutdinov notes, but now they are the second largest religious community not only in the capital but in the country as a whole. As they have grown, they have erected more mosques and more cemeteries, making them far more visible now than at any time in the last 500 years.

And in the second article, Vladimir Zorin, the deputy presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, tells an interviewer that his bureaucracy has taken the lead in discussing interconfessional relations, not only because the percentage of Russian Orthodox in the Middle Volga is relatively lower than elsewhere but because of the assertiveness of Muslim groups there.

Zorin describes in detail the continuous seminars he is supervising on such relations, acknowledging his willingness to take local religious concerns into account even as Moscow insists on harmonization of regional and republic legislation with all-Russian norms. And he holds up the work he has done as a possible model for the offices of other presidential envoys.

If current demographic trends continue and if more Russians do choose to become followers of Islam, both these concerns and efforts by the government to deal with them almost certainly will increase. And that in turn may complicate still further the lives of those who cross the religious line from Christianity to Islam.

REGIONAL INDEX: What Specialists Earn

Profession_________Cities________Average Monthly Wage

Personnel Director___Moscow__________$1800-$3000

_________________Nizhnii Novgorod_____$900-$1300




Information Systems_____________________________

Dept. Director________Moscow_________$1200-$1800

___________________St. Petersburg_____$1000-$1600




Regional Sales Manager__Moscow__________$2000

_____________________St. Petersburg_____$1400-2000




Trade Representative____Moscow___________$650-$750

_____________________St. Petersburg_______$400-$470

_____________________Nizhnii Novgorod____$350-$450




Chief Accountant________Moscow___________$1700-$2500

_____________________St. Peterburg_________$1200-$1600

_____________________Nizhnii Novgorod_____$900-$1100





______________________St. Petersburg__________$400-550

______________________Nizhnii Novgorod________$200




Source: "Izvestiya," 21 March 2001