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Russia Report: July 4, 2001

4 July 2001, Volume 3, Number 20
At a 29 June meeting, the Security Council discussed what has recently become a "hot topic" in the Russian media and at Moscow federal officials' press conferences: the distribution of powers between the federal center and the regions. On 26 June, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree establishing a commission that will address this issue as well as bring the numerous power-sharing agreements previously negotiated between Moscow and the regions into conformity with the federal constitution (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 June 2001). After the Security Council session, Valentin Sobolev, deputy secretary of that body, told journalists that the federal government and the regions have concluded 42 power-sharing treaties, on which more than 260 agreements are based, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 30 June. However, most of these treaties and agreements do not comply with federal law, according to Sobolev. Therefore, it is necessary either to improve the agreements or the federal laws, Sobolev concluded. The daily, which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii, concluded that "it is clear that regional authorities will insist on the former option, and the Kremlin will have to make some concessions." JAC

Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev, who is one of three regional leaders selected to serve on the new commission, is likely to push for some concessions vis-a-vis his own republic's power-sharing treaty. In comments to the press following the announcement of Putin's decree, Shaimiev stressed the long-term nature of the work the commission is about to undertake. "The creation of the commission is the beginning of a long path -- the commission will work on a continuous and long-term basis," Shaimiev said, Interfax reported on 27 June. Shaimiev also cautioned the members of the commission not to look for easy answers to the problems of federal construction. "It seems to many that a unitary government would be easy to rule, but I think that this is the inertia of old thinking," he added. On the same day, Shaimiev's press secretary, Irek Murtazin, told "Vremya i dengi" that Tatarstan's leaders have agreed to harmonize the republic's constitution in September but such harmonization will have to be a two-way street, according to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau. Murtazin added that Tatarstan's parliament will likely appeal to the State Duma to amend the Russian Constitution. JAC

According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 June, Shaimiev along with Vologda Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev and Kabardino-Balkaria President Valerii Kokov, will be the only regional leaders represented on the commission. Both Tatarstan and Kabardino-Balkaria are among the so-called "problem regions" highlighted by anonymous sources in the Security Council, Interfax reported. According to these sources, problems regions, such as Sakha (Yakutia), North Ossetia, Tatarstan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Pskov Oblast and Komi Republic, continue to have laws on their books which violate federal laws. Despite the large number of "problem regions" cited, Justice Minister Yurii Chaika declared at the 29 June Security Council session that already 94 percent of regional laws have been brought into conformity with federal legislation. However, "Vremya MN" reported the previous day that legal experts it consulted with suggested that the process of harmonization is far from over: "For one thing, the regions do not always adopt new laws taking into account the norms of federal legislation. And secondly, federal laws are adopted without a view toward how they might be implemented in the regions." JAC

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 June concluded that the Security Council session the previous day was just one part of the serious preparation being undertaken by the presidential administration for the next stage of President Putin's federal reforms. Another part of this preparation was Putin's meetings with his envoys to the seven federal districts. On 27 June, Putin met with presidential envoys Petr Latyshev (Urals), Leonid Drachevskii (Siberia), and Sergei Kirienko (Volga), and the next day he met with his envoy to the Far East district, Konstantin Pulikovskii. At the meetings, according to the presidential press service, Putin discussed the envoys' tasks for the second half of 2001. Special attention was also paid to the theme of defining the responsibilities of the center and regions and organs of self-rule, and Putin also discussed with the envoys "their work on developing structures of a civil society in Russia," Interfax reported on 29 June. JAC

Putin's meeting with Pulikovskii was perhaps the most closely watched since rumors of Pulikovskii's impending dismissal had been circulating widely. According to a number of analysts, Pulikovskii mishandled not only the most recent gubernatorial election in Primorskii Krai but also other similar races in other parts of his district. On 29 June, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" discussed Pulikovskii's recent moves in an article entitled "Career Suicide or Precise Plan?", in which the author concludes that "the whole saga of [Primorskii Krai gubernatorial candidate Gennadii] Apanasenko's race for governor looks like a move by the presidential envoy to prove to the world that nothing could oppose his decisions once they were made." Pulikovskii openly supported Apanasenko, his first deputy, in that race (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 June 2001). The daily also cited a unidentified Kremlin source who said that Pulikovskii sees his own Far Eastern district as an analog of a Far Eastern republic. The source added that a number of other envoys suffer from similar such views. JAC

The next day, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" polled a number of Moscow-based experts on the question of whether the presidential envoys should be granted wider powers. The answer was a resounding "no." Duma deputy (independent) Vladimir Ryzhkov suggested that the envoys' wish to be granted "control over budgets, the creation of an okrug-level government and wider responsibilities, is a dangerous demand and could lead to Russia splitting up into 7 large pieces." He added that President Putin appears to be aware of this danger and more than once told the envoys in his own words that they must not gradually take on other responsibilities but rather fulfill precisely those tasks he already gave them. Georgii Satarov, of the Indem Fund, made a similar point, arguing that rather than strengthening the envoy network the institution should be weakened or liquidated. This is because, according to Satarov, the introduction of the seven "satraps" could lead to a "sharp disintegration" in Russia or to its break-up. JAC

Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Pulikovskii told reporters in Moscow on 27 June that he personally favors the appointment -- rather than the election -- of Russian's regional governors, Interfax reported. Pulikovskii added that he believes that some of the newly elected governors in his district came to power accidentally. He said that some of the governors have confessed to him that they "do not know why they came to power or what they are going to do with it." Pulikovskii did not specify to whom he was referring, but the five new governors in his district are Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin, Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev, Amur Oblast Governor Leonid Korotkov, Koryak Autonomous Okrug Governor Vladimir Loginov, and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich. On the same day, a high-level unnamed source in the presidential administration told the agency that the Kremlin does not share Pulikovskii's view regarding the preferability of nominating governors. JAC

At a 27 June meeting with Putin, presidential envoy to the Siberian district Drachevskii presented the president with a 70-page report outlining a strategy for the development of Siberia, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 29 June. According to the report, the basic threat facing Siberia is the aspiration of its foreign partners to export raw materials out of the region: "In 2000, Siberia exported goods worth $70 million -- two-thirds of the Russian trade overall -- for which Siberian regions received only an insignificant share of the profits." The solution, according to the authors of the report, is to eliminate the "consumer attitude toward the resources of Siberia and the unequal development of the Eastern and Western regions of Russia." The report was written with the participation of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, the interregional association Siberian Accord, and three Siberian think-tanks, according to the daily. And, despite the participation of the Economics Ministry, the report's authors make recommendations that do not gibe with Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref's previous prescriptions. For example, the document frequently calls for tax exemptions and recommends that at several border points businesses be freed completely from taxes and be given the opportunity to export goods without having to pay excise duties. JAC

Following a visit to the village of Tavaivaan in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, RFE/RL's special correspondent Mumin Shakirov reported on 28 June that the overwhelming majority of residents of the village continue to think highly of the governor they elected last January, former Sibneft head Roman Abramovich. Campaign posters of Abramovich are still visible in local hair salons, restaurants, and ancient snack bars. One 29-year old resident, Irina Rychima -- who attended university in St. Petersburg -- described how sad she felt when after finishing university, she had to return home to Tavaivaan in 1998: "There was nothing to eat, and no money to pay for an apartment. People did not go anywhere on vacation ever. But now there is hope. I go up to children and ask if they are going away to camp and they say yes. Many have already gone and more will go." She declares that the governor "doesn't just say things, he does them." According to Shakirov, schoolchildren in Chukotka receive free trips to the south, and adults also have the opportunity to vacation to warmer regions. Back wages are being paid, and Abramovich's team has started to work on a program for transferring pensioners to the Russian mainland. JAC

As the campaign for governor heats up in Irkutsk Oblast, the administration of incumbent Governor Boris Govorin is putting strong pressure on his perceived opponents, including journalists who have been critical of the oblast administration, RFE/RL's Irkutsk correspondent reported on 15 June. On 31 May, police officers tried to conduct a raid of the apartment of the chief editor of the "Baikalskaya otkrytaya gazeta," Vitalii Kamyshev, who is also a frequent contributor to RFE/RL. The raid was connected to the fact that the police had received an anonymous letter accusing Kamyshev and his wife of being involved in the sale of illicit drugs. The next day, five police officers showed up at the newspaper's office and when they were denied entry proceeded to threaten Kamyshev. They finally agreed to leave only after Kamyshev called a local television station. Local police also tried to accuse another well-known local journalist, Yurii Udodenko, of hitting a child with his car, according to an RFE/RL correspondent. Udodenko has written about corruption and abuse of office by the police in Irkutsk. Last month, police officers seized all copies of the opposition newspaper "Vostochno-Siberskie vesti" (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 June 2001). Meanwhile, local human rights activists from the group "For Human Rights," have filed a complaint with the oblast election commission, charging that local newspapers "Komsomolskaya pravda v Baikale," "Vostochno-Siberskaya pravda," and "SM no. 1," have engaged in gross violations of the election laws with their open support for Gavorin. On 27 June, the commission issued a warning to the three newspapers. JAC

On 28 June, the oblast's election commission completed registration for candidates in the 29 July election. Incumbent Gavorin will compete against State Duma deputy (Agro-Industrial group) Sergei Levchenko, Federation Council member Valentin Mezhevich, deputy head of the East-Siberian department for combating organized crime Aleksandr Balashov, deputy dean of faculty services and advertising for Irkutsk State University Lyudmila Drobysheva, Irkutskptitseprom attorney Nikolai Oskirko, and the chief power-engineer of the Baikal Cellulose-Paper company, Ivan Shendrik. According to one opinion poll conducted earlier in the month, Gavorin has a more than a 20-point lead over his nearest competitor (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 June 2001). JAC

Following a claim that President Putin is concerned by the "dirty" nature of the campaign during the lead-up to Nizhnii Novgorod's 15 July gubernatorial election (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 June 2001), NTV reported on 30 June that investigators from the Federal Security Service's Nizhnii Novgorod inspectorate found electronic listening devices in the office of the leading candidate, Vadim Bulavinov. A top official from a private security firm, which provides security services to companies owned by another candidate, Dmitrii Savelev, has been detained in connection with the case. Both Bulavinov and Savelev are State Duma deputies (People's Deputy and Union of Rightist Forces, respectively). According to RFE/RL's Nizhnii Novgorod correspondent on 28 June, Savelev's ratings have surged recently in opinion polls from 5.6 percent to 10.3 percent. Savelev would have his registration canceled if law enforcement officials can prove the connection between the planted listening device and Savelev. Bulavinov, who is in first place with 16.4 percent, also faces the prospect of having his registration canceled. Lacking a quorum, the oblast's election commission has twice postponed consideration of whether Bulavinov violated election law with his participation in charitable activities after becoming a candidate, according to an RFE/RL correspondent. Incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov, with 12.1 percent, is in third place after Bulavinov and Klimentev. JAC

Former Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor and convicted felon Andrei Klimentev is currently running third in polls. According to "Vremya novostei" on 29 June, local and federal authorities have tried to say as little about Klimentev as possible, on the theory that the lower his profile the smaller the chances are that he will attract the protest vote. That strategy appeared to be working and Klimentev's rating started to fall, but more recently, according to the daily, posters have started to appear on city walls calling for "Death for Klima." Other advertisements have equated a vote for Klimentev as a vote for "prostitutes, homosexuals, and bandits." Since such ads could actually help Klimentev, the daily implied that his headquarters may be behind it despite the fact that Klimentev is officially protesting the anti-Klimentev materials. RFE/RL's correspondent reported the previous day that Klimentev's former estranged wife may be involved in the anti-Klimentev propaganda. According to RFE/RL political correspondent Mikhail Sokolov, the current battle in Nizhnii Novgorod illustrates a recent trend in regional elections with different clans around the president backing competing sides. For example, presidential envoy to the Volga region Kirienko supports Sklyarov, while the pro-Kremlin deputies group, People's Deputy, supports its fellow member, Bulavinov. JAC

Residents of one of the most densely populated raion in the Tuva Republic, Barunkhimchenskii, are facing a virtual information blackout, prompting some residents to complain that their "constitutional right to information" is being violated, RFE/RL's Kyzyl correspondent reported on 26 June. Raion residents have not been able to watch television for more than a week and have not been able to listen to radio for several years in a row, and local newspapers which had reduced their print-runs due to a lack of prior interest are available in only limited quantities. For example, one of the most popular local newspapers, "Efir," prints only 1,000 copies. Residents of the raion stopped being able to listen to the radio when the only medium-wave transmitter built some 44 years ago went out of service. In order for it to work again, spare parts are needed, which have not been sent from Moscow. Broadcasts on shortwave and ultra-shortwave in Tuva are practically impossible because of the mountainous terrain. And, broadcasting via satellite is not financially possible: according to preliminary estimates, to establish a transmitter, station, and other equipment would require 35 million rubles. And the republic has no such funds. Since the television also went off the air, a group of technical workers from the republic's television and radio transmission center have traveled to the area, but the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company stopped providing any kind of financing to the region other than wages a while ago, and a solution to the problem does not seem to be forthcoming in the short-term, according to the correspondent. JAC

Meanwhile, presidential envoy to the Urals federal district Petr Latyshev announced on 27 June that authorities in Yekaterinburg are working on the creation of a federal television station there, "Izvestiya" reported the next day. The new station will be the 16th in that city. JAC


By Nonna Chernyakova

KURILSK, Russia -- After a time of neglect, the federal and local government are investing more in the economy of the Southern Kuriles -- a group of disputed islands governed by Russia but also claimed by Japan. And, as the life of the islanders is gradually improving, they are less likely to agree to transferring the territory to Japan.

In November 1998, when this reporter last visited, the Kuriles were gripped by a serious energy crisis, and the island of Iturup was without electricity for 16 hours a day. Some buildings, including the hotel, had no heating or even, at times, water. There were also problems with telephone connections.

At that time the islanders were outraged with the situation in the populated southern Kurile islands of Iturup, Kunashir, and Shikotan (Japan also claims a nearby group of uninhabited islets known as Habomai). About one-third of the people stopped on the dirt streets of Kurilsk wanted Japan to take over the territory because Russia's government was doing nothing to improve their life.

But in the last two years the electricity problem has been solved, said Sergei Podolyan, vice governor of Sakhalin Oblast and the former mayor of Iturup. Ironically, Japan helped solve the problem by building a generator and providing fuel to produce electricity. But the local government also did its part.

"The main thing we have done was create a realistic budget and controlled the cash flow," he said. "We have cut unjustified expenses, especially in our household maintenance system. We created a council of fishing companies that allowed us to increase the island's budget threefold, as they pitch in some profit from their fishing areas for the island's development."

The southern Kuriles are part of a volcanic chain that stretches 1,200 kilometers from Japan's Hokkaido to Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. The southern islands were annexed by Japan in 1855, but the Soviet Union seized them at the end of World War II.

The Russian government has not forgotten about the islands, Podolyan noted. Roads are being built, and workers have started constructing a hydrothermal power station near the Baranovsky volcano.

Joint investments from the federal and local governments into the economy and the infrastructure amounted to $9.78 million in 2000, up from $2.54 million in 1999, according to the "Report on the Social and Economic State of the Southern Kuriles Area for January-December 2000," issued by the Sakhalin Regional Administration.

Islanders, too, say things are looking up. Nikolai Ramzayev, director of the Kurilsk division of the Sakhalinsvyaz telephone company, said that the Internet was introduced last year on the islands as well. "I sold a huge amount of Internet cards, but we still have a pretty weak channel," he said. He added that by the end of July, a digital telephone station will be built, and the line's quality will be improved significantly.

"Finally, the islanders have started feeling some care from the authorities," Ramzayev said. "And life is improving gradually."

The islands are still isolated, however. Planes do not fly in bad weather, and a ship scheduled to sail once a week may abruptly change its plans and cast off days behind schedule. But despite continuing transportation problems, the cargo turnover has grown by 26.8 percent as compared to 1999, mainly because the ship started bringing more food and equipment to the islands. Four new cafes opened during 2000, and a nature museum is being remodeled into a Russian Orthodox Church.

The life of common people is still very hard. Some don't even have enough money to buy food, so shopkeepers provide food on credit. However, the average salary has grown by 140 percent to $154.55 a month as compared to $109.65 (when inflation is factored in, the increase amounts to 23 percent), according to the Sakhalin Oblast government report.

Despite the salary increases, more people are leaving the islands than arriving. During 2000, 275 people arrived and settled, but 416 residents left for good. In 2000, not a single baby was born in the area, officials said. Still, several islanders were pushing strollers down the streets of Kurilsk recently; the children were either born this year or the mothers went elsewhere to give birth.

Rimma Rudakova, head of Kurilsk administration's social department, is the local organizer of a non-visa exchange with Japan that has been going on for 10 years. While she supports the idea of cultural and other links with the neighboring country, she is completely against giving her "homeland" to Japan. She says the overwhelming majority of the islanders share this view -- even children.

"There was a discussion in our school," she said. "Local children said 'Our traditions and religion are so different. It would be so difficult to coexist together.'"

Like many islanders, Rudakova sees Russia's war in the breakaway Muslim republic of Chechnya as a cautionary tale of what can happen when a minority group is absorbed into a larger nation against their will. "Look at what happened to Chechnya," Rudakova said.

Tibor Ormosh, 43, is a former construction worker who lost his job with that industry's collapse so he decided to start a trading business from scratch. At first he brought suitcases full of food from Sakhalin Island by airplane. Now he owns a store called Tsunami -- a modest business by foreign standards, but it is Kurilsk's biggest store (he calls it a "department store"). It now sells mostly food and beverages, but he is expanding into a large room where he will sell clothing, home appliances, and other goods.

Ormosh complained that the Iturup administration tried to limit his and other merchants' businesses by imposing price controls. Merchants cannot charge more than 40 percent over the wholesale price of staples. Merchants say they could live with the price controls if the government would help out with the cost of imports, but it refuses to do so.

Podolyan, vice governor, explained this move as a compromise between needy people's situation and the desire for higher profits by traders. "The merchants are not quite sincere when they say the government doesn't help them," he said. "A new, lower tax makes their life much easier. They only pay it once a year, as opposed to every month before."

Ormosh and other shopkeepers have complained to the Sakhalin regional prosecutor. "There is a federal law that says the government should sponsor deliveries to northern territories," he said. "Only after that does the local administration have the right to control the prices."

You might think someone like Ormosh would be interested trying his fortunes under the more business-savvy Japan -- rather than the Russia, which is notorious for the bureaucratic structure that it inherited from Soviet times. But even he is completely against returning the islands to Japan.

"It is very beautiful, and everything is clean," said Ormosh, who has visited Sapporo under the non-visa exchange program. "But I wouldn't be able to live with the Japanese. Their psychology is so unlike ours, and we are used to an absolutely different life."

Nonna Chernyakova is a freelance reporter based in Vladivostok.