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Russia Report: May 9, 2001

9 May 2001, Volume 3, Number 17
The next issue of "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report" will appear on 13 June.
More regional officials are expressing fears about the incursion of nontraditional religions and foreign intelligence services. Omsk Governor Leonid Polezhaev recently declared that the future of Russia is being threatened by an "invasion into all spheres and at all time of our public life and at all levels of population starting with students and ending with administrative structures," RFE/RL's Omsk correspondent reported on 28 April. This invasion, according to Polezhaev, is being conducted by agents of foreign intelligence services working under the guise of nontraditional religions, religious sects, and all kinds of charitable funds. Meanwhile, in Chelyabinsk Oblast, the head of public relations for the Federal Security Services directorate, Stanislav Neginskii, told Interfax-Eurasia on 4 May that three Turkish citizens had entered the oblast illegally, including Khamid Yuksel, who pretended to be a businessman and established contacts with local criminal groups. Yuksel is reportedly a member of the special services in Turkey and headed a separate "nationalist terrorist organization," known as the "Gray Wolves." It is not clear whether he was referring to the National Movement Party founded by the late Alparslan Turkes. According to Neginskii, other regions in Russia have had similar experiences with Turkey's intelligence services, such as Stavropol Krai, where two agents were exposed in April. JAC

More regional leaders continue to express their belief that the number of Russian regions will be reduced. In an interview with "Itogi" (issue no. 17), Samara Governor Konstantin Titov predicted that there will be fewer subjects in the Russian Federation in the future. In the same publication, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak repeated his belief that there should be fewer regions, saying the optimum number is between "50-60" (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 March 2001). In a press conference on 8 May, Prusak expanded on that theme, noting that it is necessary to abandon the current scheme of seven federal districts because they will lead to Russia's disintegration, Interfax-Northwest reported. Prusak also repeated his objections to Putin's creation of the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts. He said, "I was always convinced that the institution of the presidential representatives is unnecessary." He also categorically denied rumors that he will soon be named to replace Viktor Cherkesov, the current presidential envoy to the Northwest federal district. According to "Izvestiya" on 7 May, rumors have been circulating that Cherkesov will be named to head the Justice Ministry or office of the Prosecutor-General, hence the need for a replacement. JAC

In the interview with "Itogi," both Prusak and Titov expressed the opinion that the dual existence of the State Council and Federation Council will not last long. Titov suggested that the Federation Council should become an elected body, while Prusak called for keeping the State Council and creating a chamber of nationalities alongside it. In an interview with "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 5 May, Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Khabarovsk Krai's legislative assembly and of the Federation Council's Defense Committee, said that while he respects the new members of the senate, he is "convinced that the new upper house will be not better than the previous one." JAC

Local members of the Unity party in Ivanovo Oblast are feuding, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 8 May. A new Unity deputies group has been created in the oblast's legislative assembly, which has selected the oblast's former Governor Vladislav Tikhomirov, who is now a legislator, as its head. In addition, about one-third of legislators in the oblast's legislative assembly have expressed their desire to join a Unity faction. Rather than being pleased about the new group's popularity, the head of the oblast's political council for the party, Ivanovo Mayor Aleksandr Groshev, has expressed his sharp dissatisfaction with the emergence of the faction. According to local journalists, Groshev has said that he does not approve of the selection of the new group's leader and that Unity party leader Sergei Shoigu has not given his okay and does not plan to support the deputy group. JAC

In an interview with Radio Mayak on 5 May, Karelia Republic head Sergei Katanandov said that he does not think that elections for his post will be brought forward from when they are currently scheduled to be held, the spring of 2002. He added that although his current title is chairman of the government of the republic, next year elections will be held for the head of the republic. He declined to say whether he will seek re-election. Three days later, Katanandov told Interfax-Northwest on 8 May that his government intends to continue its work to give the Karelian language official status as the republic's second state language after Russian. According to Katanandov, some 14 percent of the population is ethnically Karelian and more than two-thirds of those residents use their mother tongue. JAC

A scandal has erupted at the state university in Syktyvkar, the capital of the Komi Republic, because almost the entire staff of the department for Komi Folklore and Finno-Ugric literature has been fired, RFE/RL's Syktyvkar correspondent reported on 28 April. The department is the main center for preparing teachers of Komi literature for national schools in the republic. The teachers wrote letters of complaint to the head of the Komi Republic, his deputies, the Ministry for Nationality Affairs, and the Ministry for People's Education, but they have not responded. And so far, the affair has been reported on only in "Tribuna" and "Krasnoe znamya" and not in the Komi press. The teachers protested against the introduction of a new policy of teaching Komi folklore and literature in Russian rather than in Komi. JAC

Local Cossacks in the Krymskii raion in Krasnodar Krai have been conducting a campaign of violence against the stores and homes belonging to Meskhetians, RFE/RL's Krasnodar correspondent reported on 25 April. The conflict started when an old man, who was an ethnic Russian, was beaten outside a store in the village of Novoukrainskoye, and rumors circulated that the man had been attacked by Turks. Representatives of the local Turkish society tried -- unsuccessfully-- to convince the Cossacks that the "hooligans" involved in the attack were not Turks but Azerbaijanis born in Georgia. The Meskhetian community is split between those who consider themselves Turks, and those who believe they are ethnic Georgians. Two days after the attack, four busloads of Cossacks arrived in the town dressed in camouflage, carrying batons and gas pistols. Ivan Bezuglyi, the Ataman of the Tamansk department of the Kuban Cossack forces, went up to one house where a Turkish family was residing and declared that the Cossacks had arrived to verify the passport regime. According to the correspondent, the Cossacks for the most part found that most of the adults were at work but all the men who they did find at home were rounded up in buses and taken away. After the leaders of the Turkish society finally managed to get the local police to intervene, the Cossacks released some six men of Turkish descent. They had been beaten severely, their clothes ripped and faces bloodied, and despite repeated requests, their personal documents were not returned to them by the Cossacks. On the same day, as the men were taken away, a group of masked men from one of the Cossack buses entered a shop owned by a Meskhetian and beat one of the shop's assistants and pulled all the goods off the store's shelves. Although several Meskhetians have been treated for wounds in the hospital, so far no criminal proceedings in the matter have been launched. JAC

According to RFE/RL's Krasnodar correspondent on 24 March, at numerous unsanctioned meetings, Ataman Bezuglyi has demanded more or less the quick expulsion of ethnic Turks from the Kuban, using as his main argument "the age-old incompatibility of Slavic and Turkish populations." The Cossacks also accuse the Turks of showing a lack of respect for their Cossack neighbors, and of providing assistance to radical Muslim organizations. According to official information there are some 13,500 Meskhetians in the krai, but unofficial estimates put the total at 20,000. Of this number only some 2,500 have Russian citizenship, the rest are residing with temporary registration, having become as of 1 February persons without citizenship (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 13, 30 March 2001). Aleksandr Blokhin, the federal minister for federation, nationality, and migration policy, has said that lists are being formed to send some of the Meskhetians to Turkey, Georgia, and other countries, including Canada. JAC

A number of ethnic organizations in Krasnodar Krai have expressed their opposition to plans by the Turkish government to open a consulate in Novorossiisk, "Izvestiya" reported on 8 May. According to the daily, Ishkhan Khudoyan, head of the Kurdish society of the Kuban, said with the creation of the consulate the Turkish intelligence service will have a legal outpost in the krai. Also opposed to the consulate are the Cossacks and ethnic Armenians in the krai. The daily speculates that with the opening of the consulate the conflicts between the Meskhetians and the local Cossacks "could take unprecedented forms." Meanwhile, no one in the krai's administration has received any formal notification of the agreement between the Russian and Turkish governments announced earlier about the opening of the consulate, according to the daily. JAC

Local activists in Omsk Oblast are collecting some 10,000 signatures demanding that authorities there provide some kind of "spiritual security" for the television airwaves and encourage television broadcasters to make programs with a more positive approach to life, RFE/RL's Omsk correspondent reported on 28 April. According to the correspondent, local committees led by oblast officials have been reviewing 400 films, televisions series, and broadcasts and have expressed their dissatisfaction with the poor quality of the programming they found. They have complained about the presence of sex and violence in that programming, and most bitterly about the preponderance of foreign cartoons and lack of educational programming. JAC

After having been reinstated by a local court in his position as first deputy governor, Konstantin Tolstoshein signed a decree on 7 May naming himself acting governor of the krai. Tolstoshein claimed that he had been forced to resign in February against his will, and the raion-level court agreed. Another deputy governor, Igor Belchuk, had previously been named acting governor, after Valentin Dubinin went on leave to pursue his campaign for governorship of the krai. Tolstoshein, who recently decided to abandon his bid for the office, is a close associate of former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 7 May, Tolstoshein promised to occupy himself with economic rather than political matters during the lead-up to the elections. However, he also alleged that the krai's administration has essentially been turned into a campaign headquarters for Dubinin, and according to ITAR-TASS, Tolstoshein announced that personnel in the krai's administration will be cut even before the 27 May gubernatorial elections are held. On 6 May, Dubinin told reporters that he thinks that Tolstoshein's return will lead to a "a war among the staff." According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 8 May, Belchuk resigned soon after Tolstoshein's return. Aleksei Titkov of the Moscow Carnegie Center told "The Moscow Times" that the next three weeks Tolstoshein will spend in office will be the "most decisive in the election." "It's like the Russian saying about the harvest: One day brings food for a year," according to Titkov. JAC

Meanwhile, the krai election commission has complained that it has received only one-third of the funds set aside to conduct the elections. The krai administration's failure to transfer enough funds is a violation of federal law -- one which Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov has likely already pointed out. Kolmogorov flew to Vladivostok on 6 May along with first deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov and a deputy interior minister and a deputy director of the Federal Security Service, according to Interfax-Eurasia. Surkov has assisted the Kremlin in getting itself out of other sticky situations such as the Duma's consideration of impeachment votes against then President Boris Yeltsin, however, he has little regional experience (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 1 May 2001). According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 8 May, Surkov told local legislators in the krai that first deputy presidential envoy to the Far East federal district Gennadii Apanasenko must be elected or "elements of an external administration will be introduced in the krai." JAC

The Supreme Court of Sakha (Yakutia) on 3 May upheld a lawsuit by the republic's prosecutor and declared almost half of the 144 articles of the republican constitution to be in violation of federal legislation, Interfax-Eurasia reported. In particular, the court declared articles 1 and 5, regarding the republic's sovereignty and its rights to underground natural resources, invalid and not subject to implementation, according to the agency. The court's decision will come into force in ten days and will likely provoke a strong protest from the republic's legislators, who have so far resisted making certain changes to the republic's constitution, including amending articles 1 and 5 (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 11 April 2001). The republic's president has supported the changes and also wants to include an amendment giving him the rights to seek three, rather than just two, consecutive terms. On 4 May, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov announced that regional prosecutors will be subject to dismissal if they do not succeed in ensuring that legislation in their regions corresponds fully to federal law, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Sakha Prime Minister Vasilii Vlasov announced that loss of the right to use underground natural resources by the republic could lead to annulment of a leasing agreement with the diamond company ALROSA, whose payments to Yakutsk make up 75 percent of the republic's annual budget, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 8 May. JAC

Residents in Tuva voted on 6 May in favor of accepting a new constitution, Russian agencies reported the next day. According to preliminary results, 85.5 percent of voters supported the new constitution, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Some 61 percent of residents participated in the vote; 50 percent was necessary in order for the referendum to be valid. The previous constitution, which had been adopted in 1993, according to Russian Television, contained provisions that violated federal legislation. And to bring the constitution into conformity some 60 amendments were adopted. In particular, the articles about the republic's sovereignty and its right to decide independently to leave the Russian Federation were changed. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 8 May, Tuva was the only republic in the federation to have the right to break away from Russia and during periods of emergency rule or some kind of national political crisis, only local laws would be in effect. JAC

According to the website, the new constitution changes the status of the president to the head of the government and creates a new two-chamber parliament. Under the old system, some 32 deputies worked in the Verkhovnii Khural while 250 worked in the Velikii Khural. Now, there will be only 162 deputies, of whom some 32 will work on a full-time basis, according to Interfax-Eurasia. The newly created position of head of the government will have wider powers in comparison with the old post of president. For example, he can now independently nominate members of the cabinet of ministers and of the courts, according to the agency. "Kommersant-Daily" concluded that the new constitution may not be in effect for long because of irregularities in the way in which the referendum was conducted. For example, the parliament received the final version of the new constitution only 40 minutes before the session in which it was decided to conduct a referendum. But according to the law such a project should go through two readings in the Tuvan parliament. JAC

The Prosecutor-General has launched criminal proceedings against the head of the information-analytical department of Bryansk Oblast's administration, Sergei Antoshin, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 May. He is suspected of accepting bribes. ... MARII EL. The Audit Chamber has accused the administration of the former president of Marii El, Vyacheslav Kislitsyn, of the illegal use of administrative resources, Interfax-Eurasia reported. ... ROSTOV. Federal Security Service officers have arrested the local prosecutor for Novocherkassk, Nikolai Voskresov, on suspicion of accepting bribes and abuse of office, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 April. Four years ago, Voskresov's predecessor, Nikolai Kotov, was convicted of accepting bribes. JAC

The following table shows the cost in April 2001 of a selection of basic food products in a variety of regions. As was also the case in March, Magadan, Yakutsk, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk lead the country with the highest prices in April (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 11 April 2001). The price for the basket rose 2.4 percent in April nationwide compared with the previous month. JAC

City_________________Price of Subsistence Minimum Basket of
______________________Food Products for April 2001, rubles

Magadan______________________1476.50 rubles
St. Petersburg___________________932.30

Russia overall____________________846.10

Source: State Statistics Committee as cited by Interfax on 7 May.