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Russia Report: July 18, 2001

18 July 2001, Volume 3, Number 21
Addressing the first session of the presidential commission on defining the responsibilities between the federal center and regions on 17 July, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for speeding up the process of reforming how Russia is administered: "I want to emphasize and I think many would agree that we have dragged out the creation of a balanced and effective system, where each level of power knows exactly and to what degree it is responsible." He added that "the division of powers [between the center and the regions] does not require putting up a Great Wall of China between the federal center and the regions. Just the opposite: It [should] create the conditions for closer and more civilized interactions." On the issue of the power-sharing agreements negotiated between the federal center and the regions, Putin noted that such agreements in their time played a "positive role," but today the majority of them frequently do not work. And, according to Putin, the agreement system itself only "aggravates the problem of inequality of the federation subjects" both in terms of their attitude towards the federal center and to each other. JAC

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 July asserts that the Putin administration's effort to revise the power-sharing agreements is eliciting a range of reactions from regional leaders from acquiescence to defiance. It argues that the tactic of canceling the agreements across the board is supported by those leaders whose regions are dependent on federal aid or whose leaders, such as Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, also "double as federal politicians." However, not all of the six regions that have announced their unilateral withdrawal from the power-sharing agreements since Putin's decree establishing the commission are financially dependent on Moscow. These regions are Marii El Republic, and Perm, Ulyanovsk, Nizhnii Novgorod, Omsk, and Novosibirsk oblasts. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" suggested on 10 July that there is less than meets the eye to the recent announcement by four of those regions that they would voluntarily terminate their power-sharing agreements. According to the daily, the terms of the four Volga regions' agreements were not being observed anyway, and it was therefore "easy" for the regions "to give up powers that they didn't really have." JAC

Meanwhile, at the defiant end of the spectrum of regional responses is Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev. At a press conference on 17 July, Shaimiev also called for initiating a new stage in federal reforms, according to Interfax. Shaimiev noted that over the last year the process of bringing regional legislation in line with federal law was completed, but he insisted that it is now time to start the second stage of this work, "the bringing of federal laws into conformity with the constitution, especially those parts, where they intrude upon the competence of the federation subjects." According to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau, Shaimiev also said that he does not rule out the possibility of abolishing power-sharing agreements "if we manage to enter all our achievements into existing federal laws." However, in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 July, Shaimiev explained that the fate of each power-sharing agreement "should be up to each region to decide," noting that "for Tatarstan, our agreement is the second most important document, after the constitution." Shaimiev did not specify which constitution he was referring to, but presumably it was Tatarstan's rather than the federal constitution, since he also stated the same day that Tatarstan and Chechnya were the only republics not to sign the federative treaty with Russia, and the "federal center needs to pay more attention to this fact," according to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau. JAC

At a press conference in Moscow on 17 July, Federation Council representative from Saratov Oblast Ramazan Abdulatipov told reporters that the pro-Kremlin Federation Group in the upper legislative chamber plans to introduce amendments to the chamber's regulations on 19 July that will reduce the powers of the chamber's speaker and of the leadership of the chamber's apparatus, RIA-Novosti reported. According to the agency, the only responsibilities remaining within the competence of Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev will be questions relating to the daily life of the chamber such as foreign business trips, the formation of delegations, and housing for senators. Another senator and member of Federation, Aleksandr Pleshakov, representing Penza Oblast, told the website that reducing Stroev's powers is only part of a series of changes that the group hopes to make as it adapts the chamber to its new members who will work on a constant basis. According to Pleshakov, "senators should more actively participate in the development of important decisions" and "not only vote in sessions." Meanwhile, Stroev, who had perhaps caught wind of the upcoming changes, recently registered as a candidate in Orel Oblast's 28 October gubernatorial elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2001). If victorious, Stroev would be serving his third term, and under a recent bill passed by the State Duma, he is not eligible to do so. However, that bill has not yet been passed by the Federation Council, and the Federation group also announced on 17 July that its members will vote unanimously against the bill. JAC

Following his return from a trip to Primorskii Krai, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov ordered the federal Finance Ministry to conduct an audit of the krai's budget for the first half of 2001, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 5 July. According to the press service of the krai administration, Kasyanov's order came in response to a request from newly elected Governor Sergei Darkin. Meanwhile, the agency reported on 16 July that a 60-member team from the office of the presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, Konstantin Pulikovskii, had just concluded a similar audit in Amur Oblast. According to the agency, the commission led by Pulikovskii's first deputy, Gennadii Apanasenko, discovered more than 30 violations of various regulations in how federal monies were spent by local self-rule organs and established a deadline for their resolution. Apanasenko competed against Primore Governor Darkin in recent elections there. JAC

Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko and World Bank President James Wolfensohn signed an $80 million loan agreement on 11 July to finance a pilot project aimed at helping relocate pensioners and disabled people living in the Far North, Interfax reported (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 14 March 2001). The loan will be used to relocate citizens from Norilsk in Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, Vorkuta in Komi Republic, and the Susuman raion in Magadan Oblast. The money will be allocated from the federal budget in the form of housing certificates, with an average cost of $2,600 per certificate per person, according to the agency. According to "Novye Izvestiya" on 11 July, some 15,000 people, including pensioners, invalids, unemployed persons, and families with many children, are expected to be moved from the city of Norilsk under the program; however, the number of persons not only wanting to but needing to move out of the city is in fact much higher -- around 42,000. According to the daily, no cash is exchanged under the program. Once the persons being relocated find housing, they give their realtor the housing certificate, which the realtor then exchanges at the nearest branch of Sberbank. JAC

"Argumenty i Fakty" provided new details on 11 July of a previously unscheduled meeting between President Putin and Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich that took place on 4 July. According to the weekly, the main issue on the meeting's agenda was a decision by the Prosecutor-General's Office about a month before the meeting took place to follow up on a four-year-old finding of the Audit Commission that cast some doubt on the privatization of Sibneft. According to the weekly, Abramovich has been interviewed by investigators twice in the past month, the last time just three days before his meeting with Putin. The weekly reported that the meeting lasted only 20 minutes, and the only local development Abramovich was able to update the president on was how "8,000 children are being flown out of Chukotka for a summer vacation by the sea, for the second year in a row." According to Interfax on 4 July, the official reason for the meeting was to discuss Chukotka's preparation's for winter and the upcoming visit in 2003 of French ethnographers to the region. However, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 July the issues on the unofficial agenda were Abramovich's recent acquisition of shares in Aeroflot, the withdrawal of profits from Sibneft, and the criminal case against former Aeroflot executive Nikolai Glushkov. Given that on the same day as his meeting with Putin, Abramovich sold his 42.5 percent stake in Russian Public Television (ORT) to Sberbank, it seems also possible that ORT was also on the already crowded agenda of that 20-minute meeting. JAC

RFE/RL's Krasnoyarsk correspondent reported on 10 July that Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed is trying to regain control over the region's largest newspaper, "Krasnoyarskii rabochii." The newspaper's chief editor, Vladimir Pavlovskii, has received copies of two almost identical lawsuits that have been filed in an arbitration court in the krai. The first suit was signed personally by Lebed, while the second was signed by the chairman of the krai's committee on the administration of state property. The newspaper is currently owned by an enterprise formed in May 1998 by seven journalists who worked at the paper. However, Lebed contends that the paper is in fact government property, since none of the krai's agencies gave an authorization for the newspaper to be privatized. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 11 July, Lebed himself signed an agreement with the paper's editor in October 1998, promising to provide various kinds of help for the paper. The paper had supported Lebed's candidacy in the gubernatorial election that year, but over time relations between the governor and the newspaper "went bad," and more and more articles critical of the krai administration started to appear. Editor Pavlovskii believes that the governor's bid to take over the newspaper is connected with the approach of the next gubernatorial elections scheduled to take place before the end of the year. JAC

State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) and former candidate in the Primorskii Krai gubernatorial election Viktor Cherepkov told reporters on 16 July that he intends to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg with a request to annul the results of the krai's recent gubernatorial election (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 June 2001). On 13 July, the majority of Cherepkov's colleagues in the Duma, some 280, voted in favor of a declaration on the election. The declaration called on the Supreme Court to examine Cherepkov's protest against a decision of a krai court removing him as a candidate. The declaration evaluated the krai court's decision as "nonsense." JAC

Also on 13 July, legislators in Primorskii Krai's legislative assembly approved changes to the krai's law on gubernatorial elections, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to the agency, deputies voted to raise the threshold required for a candidate to win in the first round from 35 percent to 50 percent. According to the website, the krai was the only region in Russia to have had such a low barrier for victory in the first round. Deputies also removed the requirement that at least 25 percent of registered voters participate in municipal elections in order for them to be declared valid. Legislators made the change because the requirement resulted in certain municipalities going without organs of self-rule for long periods of time. This was particularly the case in Vladivostok. JAC

The local newspaper "Zvezda Povolzhya" reported on 12 July that Tatar communities in different regions of Russia have addressed letters to the World Tatar Congress office complaining that local officials have asked well-known Tatar businessmen and scientists to sign public statements against the switch to Latin-Tatar script, according to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau. The next day, in Omsk Oblast, an RFE/RL correspondent reported that several members of the local Tatar community had prepared a letter protesting the latinization of Tatar script. The letter was supposed to be sent on to Tatarstan's State Council, but the head of the local community, Khakim Sadykov, refused to sign it. Sadykov told RFE/RL's Kazan bureau on 16 July that he was "surprised that transition to Latin-Tatar script, being a cultural matter, is considered political in Russia." He said that in his opinion, the majority of Tatar population supports the switch-over, "which meets the requirements of modern information technologies." Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Astrakhan correspondent reported on 13 July that Astrakhan Oblast Governor Anatolii Guzhvin met with local Tatar community leaders and urged them to speak out against switching to the Latin script. Guzhvin called for postponing the introduction of the script until all issues can be reexamined. But President Mintimer Shaimiev's adviser, Rafail Khakimov, told the RFE/RL Kazan bureau that he has no information about such a review. JAC


By Oleg Rodin

The second round of the gubernatorial election in Nizhnii Novgorod, which is scheduled to take place on 29 July, will pit the two former contenders of the second round of the last gubernatorial election in that region in 1997: former obkom first secretary Gennadii Khodyrev against Ivan Sklyarov, the region's current governor. In the 1997 ballot, Sklyarov won with just some 3 percent more votes than Khodyrev -- but in this year's first round, Khodyrev had some 3.62 percent more votes than Sklyarov -- 24.44 percent versus Sklyarov's 20.82 percent, according to a preliminary count of 100 percent of the ballots. Khodyrev, a member of the Communist faction in the State Duma, had not even been expected to finish in the top three candidates.

Immediately after the announcement of the preliminary results of the vote, Sklyarov declared that difference between the ballot's top contenders amounted to about 14,000-15,000 votes, and as such, is not worth discussing. "The struggle is still ahead," Sklyarov emphasized, calling on all region's residents to participate in the second round. Even with the support of the presidential administration, Sklyarov's victory cannot yet be considered a foregone conclusion, if for no other reason than that the first round yielded such a surprising result.

It was suggested that Nizhnii Novgorod's 2001 campaign would be the dirtiest the region had seen, and such prognoses turned out to be justified. All of the top contenders in the race were touched by one scandal or another. First of all, the campaign began long before its official start. On the main streets of the oblast's capital, Nizhnii Novgorod, banners appeared with the call for "A new century -- a new governor," prompting an investigation by the region's prosecutor and police.

The next scandalous action of the new election campaign began with the showing on the local television station, TNT-Nizhnii Novgorod, of a videotaped monologue in which presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko discussed Governor Sklyarov with sharp and obvious distaste. Although the recording was made the year before last, its broadcast essentially assisted in the process of establishing Kirienko's control over the oblast administration. A number of Kirienko's assistants have entered the administration's apparatus, including Sergei Obozov, who is its head. Obozov worked in Kirienko's office, managing Nizhnii Novgorod issues. Observers believe that in the event of Sklyarov's re-election for a new term, power in the oblast will in fact be concentrated in the hands of Kirineko and his team. In view of this, it is perhaps not surprising that Kirienko now supports Sklyarov in the election.

Another candidate touched by scandal was State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Vadim Bulavinov. Nizhnii Novgorod residents received in their mailboxes a letter bearing Bulavinov's name asking for financial support for his campaign and another touting the recent passage in the State Duma of the law allowing imports of spent nuclear fuel into Russia and linking Bulavinov with a plan to import such waste directly into Nizhnii Novgorod in exchange for a fair share of money. This provocation appeared at the same time as polls showed that the majority of Russian citizens opposed such imports. Nevertheless, going into the election, Bulavinov was still considered almost an undisputed favorite in the race, based on the results of several opinion polls. However, he placed only third with 19.07 percent of the vote.

Also expected to do well was Andrei Klimentev, who instead finished fifth with just 10.55 percent of the vote. Klimentev was elected mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod in March 1998, but the results of that election were canceled by the Supreme Court when he was found guilty of stealing a state credit. Local political analysts believe that Klimentev's defeat in the first round can be considered a great success for the "party of power," whose local representatives on several occasions declared that they would do all that was possible to ensure that someone connected with the criminal world did not become head of the oblast.

These analysts believe that the "anti-Klimentev campaign" was waged following strict guidelines. For example, it was forbidden to remove Klimentev from the ballot because that might conjure up unhelpful associations with his previous mayoral election: In 1998 the level of his support grew after the cancellation of the elections. It was also thought that if Klimentev was removed from this year's gubernatorial elections, his victory in next year's mayoral race in Nizhnii Novgorod would have been assured. So rather than seeing Klimentev disqualified, residents were treated to posters around their city with slogans such as "Gays for Andrei" and "Prostitutes for Andrei." (Klimentev was the only candidate whose first name was Andrei.) Also during the past several months, notices throughout the city were painted over with the words "Death for Klima."

Dmitrii Savelev, the candidate who finished fourth with 12.58 percent of the vote, also figured in another dirty campaign tactic. Savelev is a State Duma deputy from the Union of Rightist Forces. On 7 May, an anonymous phone call was placed to the police, who discovered a group of young people at the local Oka hotel preparing leaflets calling "For the separation of Autozavodskii raion from Nizhnii Novgorod" and "For the nomination of Dmitrii Savelev for the post of presidential envoy." Savelev's campaign staff as well as the candidate himself denied that they had anything to do with the preparation of the documents or with their openly provocative nature.

Meanwhile, the scandal regarding the participation of Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Yurii Lebedev in the gubernatorial election continues. Representatives of the citizens initiative group that originally nominated him declared at a recent press conference that they have sent an appeal protesting the violation of Lebedev's rights to the political department of the United Nations, the Helsinki Group for Human Rights, the European Council, and other international organizations. Lebedev's registration as a candidate was canceled, according to the oblast election commission, because he used administrative resources for the gathering of signatures to support his candidacy. The commission received evidence documenting that signatures for the mayor had been collected by people under the direction of the city housing office and schools. Following the recent rejection by a local court of his suit challenging the election commission's decision, Lebedev had sent an appeal to the Supreme Court. And if the court decides in his favor, the results of the first round would be declared invalid.

However, few analysts are expecting the court to take such action, so voters will likely have the final say in the 29 July rematch between Sklyarov and Khodyrev. For Sklyarov, the election result may be seen as a judgment by the voters of the past four years. Sklyarov was elected following the departure of Boris Nemtsov to join the team of then President Boris Yeltsin. And in the four years following Nemtsov's departure, Nizhnii Novgorod, which was once considered at the forefront of economic reform, reverted to being a provincial backwater. Under Sklyarov, the region formally remained a "donor region," that is, a region that gives more to the federal budget in tax revenues than it receives back in federal transfers. But the standard of living of the population slid to 50th place among federation subjects. The oblast's debts amount to roughly twice the size of the oblast's annual budget. Voters who are unhappy with this state of affairs may find a way to express their displeasure by supporting Sklyarov's former nemesis, Khodyrev, and reversing what they may now see as the mistake made four years ago.

Oleg Rodin is an RFE/RL correspondent.