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Russia Report: April 11, 2001

11 April 2001, Volume 3, Number 13
Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov has appealed to President Vladimir Putin asking him to issue a warning to the governments of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Ingushetia for their failure to bring their constitutions into conformity with the federal one, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 3 April citing the pro-Kremlin website On 10 April, Interfax reported that the federal Justice Ministry is preparing a proposal that the president issue such a warning to 23 regions whose laws continue to contradict federal legislation. According to the agency, these regions include the republics of Adygei, Altai, Ingushetia, Bashkortostan, Komi, Tatarstan, Sakha, and Tuva, as well as Arkhangelsk, Voronezh, Novgorod, Pskov, Ryazan, Moscow, Kamchatka, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Chita, Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk oblasts, Krasnoyarsk Krai, and the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, a prosecutor in Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, Viliyam Ivanov, told Interfax-Eurasia on 5 April that if legislators there do not bring the republic's constitution in line with federal law within a three-month period, then Putin will have the right to dismiss them and dissolve the legislature. That day, deputies in Sakha's legislative assembly refused to approve amendments to the republic's constitution proposed by Sakha President Mikhail Nikolaev. Nikolaev suggested changing the formulation of articles about state sovereignty and the republic's right of ownership to natural resources so that they would conform with federal legislation. Currently, article one states that the "republic of Sakha is a sovereign, democratic, and lawful state, based on the right of the people for self-rule." And Article 5 declares that the "land, the earth and its riches, the water, forest, plant and animal life, and other natural resources, the air space above, and the continental shelf on the territory of the Republic of Sakha are the possessions and inalienable property of the people of the Sakha Republic." JAC

Legislators also rejected a proposal by Nikolaev that the head of the republic be allowed to run for three consecutive terms, one term more than the current limit of two. According to the agency, legislators still have 19 additional changes not proposed by the president to consider. According to "Izvestiya" on 7 April, legislators plan to hold a session in the middle of this month to continue discussion of the constitution and on 27 April, the republic will celebrate the 9th anniversary of its constitution. At the annual Association for the Study of Nationalities meeting in New York on 6 April, Jeffrey Kahn of the Michigan University Law School reported that the new version of Bashkortostan's Constitution approved in November 2000 not only has retained some "of the more problematic features" of the previous constitution but has also introduced new ones which appear to contradict federal laws. JAC

In his annual message to the Federal Assembly on 3 April, President Putin devoted considerable attention to regional issues. His opening remarks focused on how the Russian state has been strengthened by his administrative reforms of the Russian federation. With regard to priorities for 2001, Putin laid out four tasks: to define precisely the specific jurisdiction of federal and regional lawmakers; to lay out a new procedure for the operations of federal organs in the regions, ensuring that there is no duplication of activities; to make more orderly the process in which different levels of budgets -- federal, regional, and municipal -- relate to each other; and to pay increased attention to those regions which are highly subsidized. And, if necessary, according to Putin, "draft laws and regulations on the procedure for introducing a stronger process of financial management in these territories." In his comments on the seven presidential envoys, Putin praised the "good job" they performed bringing regional legislation into line with federal laws. JAC

The reaction of regional leaders to Putin's address was mixed. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev said he had expected the president to offer a tougher account of the struggle against crime and corruption, while Chuvash President Nikolai Fedorov called Putin's address "correct and banal," according to "Segodnya" on 4 April. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, on the other hand, praised the speech, noting that it was "the most specific and significant" speech laying out economic reforms and measures for strengthening the state given "in recent years." Altai Krai head Aleksandr Surikov commended Putin's stance on strengthening the Russian state, but he said that he did not agree with comments on private property and capital flight, according to Interfax-Eurasia. According to Surikov, many Russian enterprises must function under climactic and geographical conditions that make it more difficult for them to compete with their Western counterparts, and a strong government policy is needed to take this into account. On 4 April, responding to Putin's call in his speech for measures to reform interbudgetary relations, Federation Council members decided to form a commission to examine such matters, ITAR-TASS reported. Samara Governor Titov will chair the commission. JAC

"Vremya MN" reported on 7 April that the "Federation" group in the Federation Council is not as numerous as its organizers have claimed. According to the daily, its ranks allegedly swelled from 40 to 100 members in March, but several senators may not have even realized that they were being counted in the group. For example, Khakassia President Aleksei Lebed told journalists that he only signed a declaration supporting the presidential policy course. [Two years ago, Lebed inadvertently joined Golos Rossii when he signed a statement expressing support for that group -- see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 10 March 1999]. The daily also noted that Federation includes senators who are clear supporters of liberal economic reform along with active supporters of the Communist Party. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 4 April, only 60 senators showed up at a meeting held behind closed doors the previous day; although previously the group was considered to have 103 members. In an interview with "Novaya gazeta" on 9 April, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak called the group "stupid" and "one of the most unworthy [examples] from the existence of the presidential administration and its collaboration with the Federation Council." JAC

Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed on 5 April repeated his earlier claim that the presidential administration is preparing a series of decrees aimed at reducing the number of regions, "Segodnya" reported the next day. According to Lebed, the process will start in May, but there are still several variations under consideration, such as reducing the regions from 89 to 30 and joining the Moscow city with Moscow Oblast and St. Petersburg with Leningrad Oblast. Under a "gentler" option, about 10 regions with very small populations would be absorbed. Last December, Lebed said that a decree eliminating the autonomous okrugs and oblast would be introduced in January or February 2001 (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 January 2001). JAC

State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Leonid Korotkov defeated incumbent Amur Oblast Governor Anatolii Belonogov in a second round of gubernatorial elections held on 8 April, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 10 April. Korotkov managed to gather almost 7 percent more of the votes than Belonogov. Korotkov's victory was unexpected in part because during the first round of elections held on 25 March, Belonogov polled 20 percent more votes than Korotkov. Korotkov's campaign message was that the oblast's problems, such as unemployment, would only worsen if Belonogov retained office (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 4 April 2001). Russian Television reported on 6 April that the losing candidates from the first round told their supporters to vote for Korotkov in the second round. It also reported that Korotkov "managed to find an understanding with representatives of the federal center." Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Konstantin Pulikovskii told the network that Korotkov "wants to improve Amur Oblast" and his "views on the economy, political questions, [and] social process impress me." Korotkov, a former member of the Communist Party, "has not cut his ties with the left electorate" in the oblast, while at the same time he remains "completely loyal to federal policies," according to "Segodnya." JAC

YUKOS executive Boris Zolotarev won the 8 April gubernatorial elections in Evenk Autonomous Okrug with more than 50 percent of the vote. According to "Segodnya" on 10 April, YUKOS head Mikhail Khodorkovskii visited the okrug on the eve of the elections. "Vedomosti" explained the same day that YUKOS is keenly interested in the okrug's Yurubchen oil field, in which the company plans to invest $1 billion, according to an unidentified YUKOS official. The official added that YUKOS will also make funding available for seasonal food and fuel deliveries to the regions worth some $5-$7 million a year, but "only when the region is headed by someone the company trusts." He continued: "our candidate has won in the first round. This indicates that the citizens must have accepted our proposal." According to "Vedomosti," YUKOS also hopes to establish good relations with the government of Krasnoyarsk Krai, of which the okrug is a part. Zolotarev is the third company executive to be elected governor in Russia by a small region in the country's Far North. The others are former Sibneft head Roman Abramovich, who is now governor of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, and former Norilsk Nickel head Aleksandr Khloponin, who is governor of Taimyr Autonomous Okrug. JAC

Tula Oblast Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev won the most votes in the election held on 8 April, but he will still need to face off against Leninskii Raion head Andrei Samoshin in a second round scheduled for 22 April. According to "Segodnya" on 10 April, most experts believe that Starodubtsev will win without much difficulty. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 April that this last round of regional elections was one of the dirtiest in the history of such struggles in Russia. In Tula, according to TV-6, a fake version of the newspaper "Tulskii Komsomolets" was circulated with compromising material about one candidate. And a campaign worker for candidate Andrei Brezhnev, former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's grandson, was beaten up, and a group of supporters for one candidate tried to break up a meeting on 6 April of the oblast's electoral commission. According to TV-6 on 6 April, "Tula residents are impatiently waiting for an end to the [gubernatorial] election campaign. Local observers confirm that this was the dirtiest campaign ever." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that a war of "kompromat" was also conducted in Amur Oblast. JAC

Amur____Vladimir Korotkov (49.4%)___Anatolii Belonogov (42.9%)
Evenk___Boris Zolotarev (51%)_____Yevgenii Vasiliev (16%)
Tula____Vasilii Starodubtsev (49.1%)__Andrei Samoshin (21.0%)

Source: Interfax-Eurasia, "Vedomosti," and ITAR-TASS

Since the beginning of March, the opposition newspaper "Russkii obozrevatel" has almost completely disappeared from newsstands in the republic of Bashkortostan, having lost some 80 percent of its distributors, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 31 March. The newspaper's founder, Viktor Saveliev, could not find a company within the republic willing to publish the newspaper and has to have it printed in Perm Oblast at much greater expense. The newspaper's first issue included articles critical of Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, including a translation of an article that appeared in the French newspaper "Le Figaro." Saveliev tried to conclude a distribution agreement with the municipal enterprise, Ufa Publishing, but when the director of Ufa Publishing Galina Sherstyannikova saw the article from "Le Figaro" she exclaimed indignantly, "How is it possible that [you] published such materials? Let them read such articles in France, but by no means in Bashkortostan [where] we live," Saveliev reported. Saveliev managed to put together a string of private distributors for the newspaper, but many have been threatened by local government officials with having their licenses revoked. One seller at a kiosk on a busy street in Ufa told RFE/RL's correspondent that she was told that "Russkii obozrevatel" is illegal and has been personally banned by Rakhimov. And, if she continued to sell it, she will face "unpleasantness." However, she and other sellers have refused to identify precisely who threatened them, according to the correspondent. JAC

On 10 April, President Rakhimov suggested that the leaders of regions where NTV is broadcast should join forces to purchase a package of blocking shares in NTV. He declared that the "independence of a national [television] channel should be provided for not by foreign investors but our Russian regions, businessmen, and people. I hope that then people might see the opinions of Russia on this channel and not of [inside Moscow's] ring road." Rakhimov added that State Duma deputies from Bashkortostan are already working on draft legislation that would limit the opportunities of foreign investors to purchase a controlling and perhaps even a blocking package of shares in nationwide channels. In a recent ranking of media freedom in the Russian regions, Bashkortostan shifted from 87th to 14th after it revoked the most offensive articles of its Media Code because these articles conflicted with federal legislation (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 January 2001). JAC

Not one independent television company remains in Omsk Oblast following the closure of the independent information agency "Novosti konkretno" (NK) last month," RFE/RL's Omsk correspondent reported on 7 April. The leadership of the channel Agava refused to continue a cooperation agreement with NK producer Vladimir Chizhmoi, and the entire staff of NK resigned in protest. The opposition television company STV-3 was closed in the spring of 2000 and channel Antenna-7, a partner of NTV, lost its independence soon after the closure of STV-3. Antenna-7 rebroadcast transmissions from NTV as well as producing a few of its own programs. And, according to RFE/RL's Omsk correspondent, the information programs were considered among the best in Siberia. The oblast's branch of the Union of Journalists told RFE/RL that no problem with freedom of speech exists in the region; however, one independent journalist, Konstantin Brednikov, declared that "Omsk authorities have already achieved what authorities in Moscow are only trying to accomplish." He continued, "the authorities have all television companies under their control. A system for total control over all mass media has been created in the oblast." JAC

Following a declaration by legislators in Taimyr Autonomous Okrug that they are considering breaking away from Krasnoyarsk Krai, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed and Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin met on 5 April to try to resolve differences between the two regions, "Segodnya" reported on 6 April (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 4 April 2001). Taimyr legislators complained that the krai failed to transfer some 37 million rubles ($1.3 million) to the okrug's budget from 1995 to 2000. The Norilsk industrial district pays some 67 percent of its taxes to the krai, which is supposed to return 12.5 percent of these sums to the okrug. However, it does not return all of this sum, according to the daily. After their meeting, the governors told reporters that they agreed to form a commission to resolve all controversial questions between the two regions. The first issue the group will examine will be interbudgetary relations. By 17 April the commission is supposed to prepare suggestions for mitigating the conflict between the regions. If commission members fail, the governors plan to appeal to the presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district, Leonid Drachevskii, Interfax-Eurasia reported. "Vedomosti" suggested on 10 April that part of the reason Khloponin decided to run for governor in Taimyr was "for the sake of better contacts with the Krasnoyarsk Krai government." Norilsk Nickel, the company which Khloponin headed before his election victory, reportedly provides some 70 percent of the krai's budget. JAC

At a 5 April meeting with clergy in Stavropol, the presidential representative to the South Russia federal district, Viktor Kazantsev, expressed concern at the outflow of ethnic Russians from the North Caucasus, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 8 April. Kazantsev noted that in Daghestan the Russian population has fallen by 50 percent over the past decade, while in Ingushetia Russians now account for less than 2 percent of the population. In 1996, Russians were the second-largest ethnic group in Ingushetia and accounted for 13.2 percent of the republic's 299,700 population. In Karachaevo-Cherkessia, where Russians are the largest ethnic group (42.4 percent), every third Russian family is seeking to leave, according to Kazantsev. LF

The federal government has set aside 6.65 billion rubles ($240 million) in 2001 from the Federal Fund for Financial Support for the Regions for this year's Northern Delivery, Interfax-AFI reported on 9 April. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed a corresponding decree on 30 March for the delivery of oil, refined products, fuel, and grocery items to territories in the Far North. Under the document, no less than 35 percent of the total sum should be dispersed by 15 May and no less than 70 percent by 15 July (the agency did not explain why the total would add to 105 percent). Also by July, the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade is expected to complete its work on a draft federal program on "reducing the differentiation in social and economic development of Russian regions from 2002 up to 2015." JAC

City_____________Price of subsistence minimum basket of food
____________________products in March 2001, rubles

Magadan_____________________1529.80 rubles
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk_______________1258.50 Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii_________1236.00
St. Petersburg____________________895.40 Orel_____________________________692.20

Russia overall______________________826.50

Source: Interfax on 5 April citing the State Statistics Committee