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Russia Report: April 18, 2001

18 April 2001, Volume 3, Number 14
In an article about presidential envoy to the Northwest federal district Viktor Cherkesov, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 April that at present Cherkesov has opened public reception centers in all 11 regions within the district. At the opening of the first one, crowds of "suffering, aggrieved, and oppressed" people appeared, and the center has been deluged with "thousands of letters, appeals, and telephone calls." In one case, the envoy's office intervened on behalf of a schoolchildren's musical ensemble, after the children's parents complained to the envoy that the local Education Committee had abruptly stopped funding the organization after a 20-year history of doing so. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" concluded that Cherkesov "today is the most active instrument against bureaucratic arbitrariness." It cited "observers" who report that "simply everyone is afraid of him," since as a former KGB general he has "kompromat" on all bureaucrats. The daily even suggested that fear of Cherkesov may extend all the way up to regional leaders. At the 10th anniversary of the North-West interregional economic association held last month in Leningrad Oblast, only the chairman of the association St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev was able to attend. All 10 remaining governors and presidents "fell ill" on the eve of the event, according to the daily, which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii. Cherkesov had earlier called the organization ineffective. JAC

"Izvestiya" continued its extensive coverage of a potential reduction in the number of Russian regions last week (see "End Note" below). In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 14 April, Deputy Federation Affairs Minister Valerii Kirpichnikov discusses the likely fate of Russia's 10 autonomous okrugs. When asked why some of the ethnic autonomous okrugs still exist since their titular nationality in some cases is less than 5 percent of the total population, Kirpichnikov said that such districts are a "legacy of the Soviet Union" and some "are destined to merge with larger regions." He then mentioned that in Tyumen Oblast, a governor's council has been set up through which the two wealthy autonomous okrugs, Khanty-Mansii and Yamolo-Nenets, plan to invest money in the lesser-developed southern half of the oblast. When asked whether the seven federal districts could become a "tool for expanding regions," Kirpichnikov said that he didn't want them to perform such a function. He added that "they are very large, and it would be dangerous if the federation is based on them." Two days earlier "Izvestiya" interviewed another official, Leonid Ivanenko, chairman (Communist) of the State Duma's Committee on Federation and Regional Policies, on the topic of reducing the number of regions. Ivanenko said that he "is convinced that in the future Russia should not have 89 regions." He added that he is a supporter of unification of certain regions, but he believes it must come about "on an absolutely voluntary basis." JAC

State Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Boris Nadezhdin told Interfax on 11 April that he is working on legislation that would limit regional leaders' ability to seek a third term in office. According to Nadezhdin, deputies are discussing the possibility of introducing more changes and amendments to the law "on principles of organizing legislative and executive organs of federation subjects." Passage of amendments to that law at the end of last January resulted in changes allowing most of Russia's 89 regional leaders to seek a third term (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 January 2001). Nadezhdin said that he believes that legislation was introduced solely for the benefit of Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, who recently won a third term, and a loophole was created in the bill through which some "69 governors slipped through." Nadezhdin said that his bill reintroducing limits has "good chances of being confirmed in the parliament." JAC

Addressing the fourth congress of the numerically small peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, State Duma Deputy Chairman (Fatherland-All Russia) Artur Chilingarov declared that the federal program for the economic and social development of the small people has fallen apart, "Vremya MN" reported on 14 April. According to Chilingarov, entire raions and remote villages in the Evenk, Koryak, Nenets, and Chukotka autonomous okrugs, and Amur, Irkutsk, Kamchatka, Magadan, Sverdlovsk, Tomsk, and Chita oblasts, and Primorskii Krai have not received their northern delivery for the last three years. The daily argued that the indigenous people in extreme cases can survive without the delivery by hunting, fishing, and deer herding. But this is only possible when they are allowed to do so. The new Koryak Autonomous Okrug governor recently changed a decree of his predecessor which practically deprived local Itelmen of the right to gather food, primarily through fishing. The daily also reported that activists for ethnic minorities basically welcome the idea of enlarging federation subjects through abolishing the ethnic-based autonomous okrugs because these autonomous okrugs now exist only for the oligarchs of extractive industries. Also addressing the congress, Sergei Kharyuchi, the president of the Association of the Numerically Small Peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, also accused the federal government of failing in its duties. He charged that Russian government has not fulfilled any of three separate plans to help the approximately 200,000 members of these nationalities, according to Interfax. JAC

A top legislator in Altai Krai is suggesting that the krai be joined with the Altai Republic, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Aleksandr Nazarchuk, chairman of the Altai Krai, told reporters on 11 April that he intends to raise with his fellow legislators the possibility of joining the two regions. According to Nazarchuk, the merger is necessary in light of the fact that over the past decade economic indicators for the Altai Republic have worsened. For example, during the past two months the republic has been last in industrial production in the Siberian federal district. Altai Krai head Semen Zubakin expressed his dissatisfaction with Nazarchuk's plans and declared that the joining of the two regions does not make "any kind of sense." According to Zubakin, indicators of economic development in the republic actually surpass those of the krai. Last February, the head of Perm Oblast suggested holding a referendum on merging his oblast with Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2001). JAC

In an account of the first hundred days of the administration of the recently elected Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 5 April that the new governor has completely formed his government. He has four deputy governors and five people leading up large departments and committees. Two of the deputy governors have experience with large companies such as Sibneft and Russian Aluminum. Dozens of other specialists on economics, energy, construction, and medicine have been sent to Anadyr. According to the daily, "serious changes are expected in all spheres of the okrug's economy." Within two months, specialists are planning to begin work on new radio and television channels, which will broadcast 24 hours a day. JAC

An oblast court in Kemerovo refused on 16 April to satisfy a request of the oblast election commission to cancel the registration of a candidate in the 22 April gubernatorial elections, Nikolai Vlasov, director of the firm Prommarket, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The commission charged that Vlasov failed to include an automobile in his personal property declaration. Last month, an oblast also rejected a request by the all-Russian movement "For Human Rights" to cancel the registration of former Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev. The human rights group charged that Tuleev's participation in the election is illegal since he resigned last January only in order to push up the election date. Tuleev, who is expected to win, will compete against Vlasov, State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Sergei Neverov, Kuzbassenergo Deputy General Director Aleksei Grebennikov, and Kemerovo resident Peter Safonov, according to ITAR-TASS on 12 April. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 March, Tuleev personally requested that Neverov and Grebennikov participate in the election. JAC

Duma deputy (independent) Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov said that a referendum will be held in the near future on the unification of Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs with Krasnoyarsk Krai, "Izvestiya" reported on 14 April. Niyazov added that "if there is constructive discussion with ethnic leaders, then it will be possible not only to unite this region, but also to include [the republics of] Khakassia and Tuva." Niyazov is the leader of the Muslim movement Refakh and was selected from Unity's regional list for Krasnoyarsk. According to the daily, leaders in Tuva and Khakassia are not excited about the proposal. Tuva President Sherig-ool Oorzhak has said that during a transition period, regions should not be expanded but local governments further developed, while the chairman of Khakassia's legislative assembly, Vladimir Shtygashev, has called the idea "bizarre." JAC

"Obshchaya gazeta" in its issue number 15 reported that according to a "reliable source" Russian President Putin declared at a recent cabinet session that Kurgan Oblast would be "broken up" by 2003 and absorbed by its neighbors. According to the weekly, the head of one raion in the oblast, Vladimir Iogan, told the weekly that his and a neighboring raion could be joined with Sverdlovsk Oblast, while two others might be joined with Chelyabinsk and another two could be teamed up with Tyumen Oblast. Iogan concluded that "if a referendum is held, up to 90 percent of residents of these raions would vote for the break-up of Kurgan Oblast." Kurgan Governor Oleg Bogomolov told the weekly that he opposes the dispersion of his region not simply because it would abolish the post of governor, but because "[dividing up] Russia into ten super-regions will not guarantee prosperity." He continued, "in condition of political and economic instability, it would be unwise to start yet another territorial reorganization." JAC

Mordovenergo announced on 16 April that it would start turning off electricity for two hours a day to all residents in the raions of Saransk, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The company said that such a measure was necessary because of the city's chronic indebtedness. In April the city paid only 750,000 rubles ($26,000) of the necessary 21 million rubles. JAC

Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Konstantin Pulikovskii told reporters in Vladivostok on 13 April that he does not approve of acting Governor Konstantin Pulikovskii's plans to run for governor in the elections scheduled for 27 May. Pulikovskii noted that agriculture in Primorskii Krai has been ruined and "Dubinin [has to] answer for that." When asked about the possible defeat of his deputy, Gennadii Apanasenko, who is registered as a candidate, Pulikovskii declared that such an event "would not be any kind of tragedy" for himself, but it would be a "tragedy for the krai, if an unworthy person, who cannot rule the krai, is elected." Then, on the topic of unworthy people, Pulikovskii sharply criticized the recently elected governor of Kamchatka Oblast Mikhail Mashkovtsev, who he said was "a person who is in no condition to oversee his oblast." According to Pulikovskii, Mashkovtsev "is torturing the voters who elected him" and ran his campaign on the a critique of the former oblast authorities and of Moscow but now he doesn't know what to do. Kamchatka has been experiencing electricity outages recently (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2001). Last week, Pulikovskii declared that hat nothing has been done to prepare the krai for next winter and singled out the krai's legislative assembly for special censure, noting that each year they are late in adopting a budget. JAC


By Julie A. Corwin

While proposals to reduce the number of Russia's 89 regions have been circulating long before Vladimir Putin was even a glimmer in former President Boris Yeltsin's eye, they are being bandied about with increasing frequency of late, suggesting that an effort to restructure the Russian federation may be gaining momentum. Reports of rumored "mergers" between regions are now being coupled with news accounts from regional officials actually proposing that their territories be joined with that of a neighbor's. Legislators in Altai Krai and Krasnoyarsk Krai, the governor of Perm Oblast, have made public statements, calling for referenda to be held on their territories.

And, now, in the most recent issue of "Obshchaya gazeta," a "reliable source" told the weekly that Russian President Putin mentioned at a recent cabinet session a plan for reforming the Russian Federation under which the current 89 regions would be reduced to 15. He reportedly declared that the smallest and poorest region in the Ural federal district, Kurgan Oblast, would be "broken up" by 2003 and absorbed by its neighbors. While stories of rejiggered regional borders have been circulating for some time, this is the first account to link such a plan with Putin so explicitly.

Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed perhaps sparked the recent flurry of articles and analyses of the prospects for a reshaped federation with his claim at a ceremony in Norilsk last December that the federal government was planning on eliminating Russia's 10 autonomous okrugs and one autonomous oblast (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 January 2001). "Segodnya" reported at the time that other regional leaders were expecting the federation to eventually include no more than 30 or 40 subjects. Lebed's prediction that the plan would come into fruition in late January and early February of this year was not borne out; however, Aleksandr Blokhin, minister for federation, nationalities and migration policy, later confirmed that his ministry has prepared draft legislation that elaborates a procedure for regions that want to join one another. And in an interview last week with "Izvestiya," Deputy Federation Affairs Minister Valerii Kirpichnikov declared that some autonomous okrugs are "destined to merge with larger regions."

Proponents of fewer regions put forth a variety of arguments for reforming the Russian federation's current structure. A common argument is that 89 regions is simply too unwieldy. It is impossible for President Putin or any top federal level official to form a personal relationship with each of the regional leaders -- it's hard enough just to remember all of their names. According to some analysts, one reason for the creation of the seven federal districts with a presidential envoy in each was simply to make it easier for the Kremlin to manage the country. The theory was that each regional leader would no longer have the inclination to pick up the phone and try to call the finance minister or Putin himself in order to get this or that done for his region. Instead, he would in future work through the good offices of the presidential envoy (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 17 May 2000).

But critics, such as Baskhortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, have complained that the envoys and proliferating number of district-level bureaucratic organs associated with them, are an expense that the country can ill afford (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 4 April 2001). The creation of fewer, larger, regions might make it possible -- at least in theory -- for the office of presidential envoy to "fade away" as one envoy, Sergei Kirienko, has suggested they would do in the future (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 25 October 2000).

Another common justification for enlarging the regions is that some are reportedly simply too small and too dependent on federal transfers to be economically self-sustaining. This argument is usually advanced with regard to the autonomous okrugs, whose standard of living in nationwide rankings is generally lower than that of oblasts, krais, or republics. But it has also been put forth with regard to Kurgan Oblast, the region that is reportedly slated for elimination. According to "Obshchaya gazeta," Kurgan Oblast is the only region in the Urals federal district that is a net recipient of funds from the federal government. Its level of industrial production last year was some 10 times lower than the level in either Sverdlovsk or Chelyabinsk oblasts and some 20 times lower than that of Tyumen Oblast.

But if 89 regions is too many, there is little agreement on what the ideal number should be. Current suggestions range from 7 to 76, the latter number representing the elimination of all the autonomous okrugs and autonomous oblast, and the re-absorption of the two "federal cities" Moscow and St. Petersburg into the Moscow and Leningrad oblasts. During last year's presidential campaign, one candidate, Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev, argued that the number of regions should range between 30 and 35 (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 23 February 2000). Many years prior, then Soviet leader Yurii Andropov reportedly considered dividing up the Soviet Union into seven regions. That President Putin came up with 7 federal districts rather than say 5 or 12 is considered by some people to be "not accidental." More recently, Duma deputy (Russian Regions) Aleksandr Chershintsev, a member of the Budget Policy Committee, suggested that it makes more sense to have "some 40 strong, capable and independent regions" than 89 -- of which "only 18 can feed themselves and others."

A local legislator in Kurgan Oblast declared last month that there was little need to worry about the possibility of the oblast being broken up since such a step would require amending the constitution. But interviews with Federation Affairs Ministry officials reveal that draft legislation being prepared by the ministry outline a procedure by which borders can be changed without altering the constitution. President Putin created the seven federal districts and the State Council all by decree, and there is perhaps little reason to expect that he will suddenly change tactics and call for a constitutional amendment.

"Obshchaya gazeta" concludes that the rumors about Kurgan Oblast are "not accidental" and should be considered a trial balloon sent up by the Kremlin to elicit reactions to plans to reduce the number of regions. If rumors can indeed be equated with trial balloons then the Kremlin has launched many recently, suggesting that at the very least there is considerable ferment and debate on the issue of redrawing Russia's borders.