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Russia Report: August 1, 2001

1 August 2001, Volume 3, Number 23
In two recent interviews, former officials from President Boris Yeltsin's administration offered their negative reactions to moves by President Vladimir Putin to reform the federal system he inherited from his predecessor. In an interview in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 July, Mikhail Krasnov, a former adviser to President Boris Yeltsin and now a political analyst, said while he thinks that the current presidential administration has made many correct and timely proposals, he is afraid that a basis for a revival of "centrist ideology" is being prepared. "The mentality of our federal authorities is more centrist than federal, that is, 'let's take maximum for the center,'" he said. For example, he says the term "'dictatorship of the law' does not come from the arsenal of democratic governments." Such terms as that one and "power vertical" are muscular words which appeal to the public but if they get repeated too often the public starts to believe them. According to Krasnov, the most effective government model is one which defines zones of responsibility, and centrist tendencies could soon lead to the disintegration of the country, since "centralism cannot exist for long in such a huge multicultural multiethnic state. JAC

In an interview with "Moskovskie novosti" on 24 July, Sergei Shakhrai, another former official from the administration of then-President Boris Yeltsin, comments on recently announced plans to review power-sharing agreements. Shakhrai, who participated in the negotiations for dozens of power-sharing agreements, commented that the agreements do not contradict the constitution as some Kremlin officials have asserted and should not be "thrown in the trash bin." The agreements themselves, according to Shakhrai, are "constitutional instruments." According to Shakhrai, the agreements can be used as "instruments for resolving government tasks," such as when the situation in Chechnya reaches "a political plateau," at which point an agreement could be reached similar to the one that exists with Tatarstan. In addition, Shakhrai argues that the agreements could be utilized to play a role in the "optimization of the territorial structure of the country," such as the enlargement of certain regions. JAC

Current members of the Federation Council remain divided in their evaluations of the work of the upper legislative chamber. At a round table conducted by RosBiznessKonsulting in July, long-time members clashed with their newer colleagues, according to an account of the session in "Vremya MN" on 28 July. Representative for Saratov Ramazan Abdulatipov said that he is dissatisfied with the results of the spring session because the work of the chamber's new members has not yet begun, while Moscow City Duma Chairman and senator Valerii Platonov countered that the "actual work of the Federation Council has never stopped." According to Platonov, the "Federation Council has always been and will always be the upper house of the Russian parliament." Platonov added that he is confused by the existence of the new Federation group in the upper chamber. Abdulatipov is a member of the Federation group. Representative for Tyumen Oblast and former Tyumen Governor Leonid Roketskii expressed a similar point of view, saying that the upper chamber has always played the role of stabilizing the country's political life and he hopes it will continue to play such a role. Currently, there are 78 senators selected according to the new criteria for forming the Federation Council, and 67 members who are either regional executives or chairmen of regional legislatures, according to ITAR-TASS on 26 July. Eleven members, such as Roketskii and former Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Kondratenko, served in the council in the old capacity and have been reappointed. JAC

At another discussion in Moscow of the future role of the Federation Council organized by the Institute for Law and Public Policy, some experts concluded that President Putin's reform of the upper chamber was imperfect and will require future adjustments. For example, Petr Fedosov from the Federation Council's legal administration declared that "it is simply impossible to adopt a law on the formation of the Federation Council that does not violate Article 25 of the Constitution. The parliament should represent the people, and the senators the organs of regional authorities." To combine these two rules for selecting legislators into one chamber is unrealistic. Therefore, according to Fedosov, it will soon be necessary to reform the Federation Council again or raise the question of whether Russia needs a two-chamber parliament. U.S. expert Steven Smith of Washington University also suggested changes are inevitable. According to the daily, Smith asserted that the senators will need to be elected directly or they will not be able to perform their duties. According to Smith, "Taking into account the experiences of Australia and Canada, the upper house may become a fairly strong player in the future, representing a conglomerate of interests different from both the president and the Duma." JAC

Communist State Duma deputy Gennadii Khodyrev won a decisive victory over incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov in 29 July gubernatorial elections, polling 59.8 percent of the votes compared with Sklyarov's 28.3 percent. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 July, Khodyrev polled first in the city of Nizhnii Novgorod during the first round, where incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov finished fifth. Sklyarov managed to finish second in the first round only because of his strong showing in the southern areas of the region. "Novye izvestiya" on 31 July speculated that Sklyarov's loss could negatively impact the career of presidential envoy to the Volga district Sergei Kirienko, who unofficially supported Sklyarov (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 July 2001). The daily asked "How will the Kremlin react to the prospect of Nizhnii Novgorod being transformed from the 'reform capital' into an extension of Russia's 'red belt?'" JAC

Khodyrev's victory immediately triggered a flurry of articles in the mainstream media questioning whether the Communist Party was on the road to staging a comeback in Russia nationwide. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov was, of course, happy to agree, telling reporters in Moscow on 31 July that the party considers the Nizhnii ballot a "benchmark election," and the party attaches special significance to the upcoming elections in Tula, Irkutsk, and Rostov oblasts, and the republics of North Ossetia and Sakha (Yakutia). (For a discussion of the upcoming poll in North Ossetia, see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 27, 24 July 2001 and No. 28, 3 August 2001). "Izvestiya" on the same day claimed that 45 of Russia's 89 federation subjects are controlled by Communists: "In 37 regions, the KPRF controls the executive branch, and in eight regions the legislative branch." However, the daily also noted some of the so-called red governors have closer ties to local business interests than to the Communist Party. Khodyrev, meanwhile, announced the day after his victory that he will suspend his membership in the Communist Party while he is governor, saying that such a step will help consolidate the economic and political forces in the region. Khodyrev is not a typical Communist anyway, according to RFE/RL political analyst Mikhail Sokolov, since on a number of issues he is "simply a technocrat." As well as being a former obkom first secretary, Khodyrev is also the former director of a local enterprise in the oblast and is well acquainted with the region's particularities. According to Sokolov on 30 July, Khodyrev promised Kirienko that he will not undertake a massive purge of the local government ranks and will retain former Kirienko aide Sergei Obozov as head of the oblast's government (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 July 2001). JAC

Incumbent Governor Boris Govorin and State Duma deputy (Communist) Sergei Levchenko finished first and second respectively in gubernatorial elections held in Irkutsk on 29 July, according to preliminary results made public the next day, ITAR-TASS reported. Govorin finished with 45.5 percent compared with 24 percent for Levchenko. Federation Council member Valentin Mezhevich finished third with 12 percent of the vote. The second round will be held on 19 August. Levchenko's strong finish surprised most observers, who had expected Mezhevich to finish in second place, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 July argued that the most decisive factor in determining the final results was the low-voter turn-out, which made a second round necessary. Govorin is expected to win the second round. JAC

Following the 26 July Security Council meeting on Kaliningrad, a number of Russian newspapers suggested that a mild version of presidential rule is being introduced in that exclave. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 July, the Security Council decided to set up a kind of "parallel administration," which will act not in the region proper but in the federal government. Special groups will be set up of three to five people in the main federal ministries an agencies which will handle issues related to Kaliningrad, according to the daily. Another outcome of the meeting was the announcement by presidential envoy to the Northwestern federal district, Viktor Cherkesov, that he will appoint a deputy to coordinate the activities of the oblast's ministries and agencies. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 July, Cherkesov's deputy will have a higher status than the current federal inspector to the region, Vladimir Orlov. The daily also reported that according to its unnamed sources, Kaliningrad's special economic zone will no longer be administered by the oblast administration but by the office of the presidential envoy and the presidential administration. JAC

Authorities in the Karelia Republic plan to "liquidate" almost a hundred villages, RFE/RL's Karelia correspondent reported on 26 July. According to data from the State Statistics Committee, no one lives full time in 33 villages in the republic, and Karelian authorities believe that these settlements should therefore lose their official status. One effect of such a change in status will be that the government will no longer be responsible for providing for basic amenities in these places. However, local journalists have discovered that life still exists in many of these villages marked for "liquidation." The majority of the persons are either elderly and/or they are poor people who are unable to defend their rights. One village scheduled for elimination is home to 47 families, who have already lived for the past several years without electricity. According to RFE/RL's correspondent, despite the need for more investigation into the matter, in their last session deputies in the republic's parliament approved the abolition of some 14 villages. JAC

Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin confirmed on 31 July that he has asked the Finance Ministry to conduct an audit of financial flows under the previous krai administration, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 July 2001). The same day, the office of the krai's prosecutor issued a press release charging that former krai officials committed serious violations with regard to interruptions of heat and electricity supplies to residents last winter, RIA-Novosti reported. According to the agency, some officials on more than one occasion "took fuel from the government reserve" and sold it to "friendly" business structures, who in turn sold the fuel to China and other countries in Asia. JAC

Authorities in Saratov have issued a document called "Recommendations for the external appearance of workers in state establishments," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 July. According to the document, "clothing should raise the authority of the individual worker and the organization as a whole." The ideal male-bureaucrat should wear a gray, blue, or beige suit with a white or pastel-colored shirt and a silk tie. The cuffs should not be rolled up except to look at one's watch. (A couple of years back Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov went on record as admitting to a weakness for Armani suits, but those have not yet become mandatory.) The recommendations for female workers have more of a "prohibitive character": no clothes of a particularly cheap or expensive nature, short skirts, lacy tights, loudly colored nail polish, or strong perfume. Deputy head of the government apparatus said that the recommendations are only that, and no one will be disciplined for not following them. However, the correspondent notes that "still it is possible to look to the future of the oblast government with hope" especially when residents recall the previous brochure "Etiquette in Saratov Oblast," which practically all bureaucrats there always have on hand. JAC


By Nonna Chernyakova

BIROBIDZHAN -- The remote Far Eastern province known as the Jewish Autonomous Oblast may not be the kind of place a visitor would expect to find Chinese farmers.

But the region that Stalin once designated as a homeland for Soviet Jews is now seeing an agricultural boom thanks to farmers from neighboring Chinese provinces, officials say.

Deputy Governor Valerii Gurevich said the region started to invite Chinese farmers to work there because 50 percent of the agricultural land lay fallow, and there were not enough Russians to develop it. "They gave a push -- showed our people how to work," he said.

The actual number of Chinese working in the region has declined in the last three years, from 450 to 312, Gurevich said. But their impact is bigger than their numbers might suggest.

Farmers in this cold region had never grown grain until Chinese introduced it in 1999, and this year the territory on which the grain is growing amounts to 565 hectares. Likewise, potato production went from zero in 1998 to 72 hectares this year. Cornfields spread from eight hectares in 1998 to 206 this year. Corn is also a new crop for the region, and its cultivation in the oblast is entirely based on Chinese technology and seeds.

Stalin founded the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in 1934 in order to check Japanese expansion in Manchuria by establishing a European settlement along the Chinese border (migration to Birobidzhan was voluntary). In addition, the Soviet leaders wanted to create a Jewish peasantry tied to a particular territory. But the Jewish population never exceeded 20 percent, and with emigration to Israel it has dropped to less than 5 percent over the past decade.

Establishing ties with China, which lies right across the Amur River, seems more logical. During the Soviet era the region imported melons from the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. Now, with the help of Chinese technologies and seeds, local farmers grow melons here and even export them to the far eastern regions of Khabarovsk, Sakha (Yakutia), and Primore.

Anatolii Kiyashko, deputy chairman of the region's government and the head of the agricultural department, said last year the watermelon harvest was so good that farmers were selling melons by the road for under 2 cents a kilo. "I would call it a real breakthrough in melon-growing in the Far East," Kiyashko said.

The secret of such successes lie in the Chinese methods of soil processing, and hybrid seeds, which yield two or three times more crops than Russian seed. And the industriousness of the Chinese workers plays a role. Kiyashko said, "They get up early and go to the field and work until 10 p.m. Nobody forces them to do it; it's in their blood."

Chinese farmers have made their mark in livestock raising as well. Starting in 1999, two pig farms opened under Chinese management. Now there are 1,300 pigs on three farms.

Lu Binzheng, a 37-year-old farmer from the town of Tsyamusy in China's Heilongjiang province, came to the Russian village of Lazarevskoye 87 kilometers south of Birobidzhan in the summer of 2000 following an invitation from a collective farm director. He invested $10,000 into remodeling an old premises and buying Russian pigs.

Twelve Chinese work on Lu's farm, and another 40 farm in the villages surrounding Lazarevskoye, some growing rice, some vegetables.

On a recent afternoon, Lu's pigs had just been vaccinated, and they were quarantined. No one could enter the premises without being disinfected under an ultraviolet lamp and wearing a white gown. The pigs squeal, play, and drink running water from a tap.

Lu already has 300 pigs, but plans to increase the number to 1,000. "I count on making a profit in two years," he said. "I have already visited meat factories in Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, and Birobidzhan and agreed to deliver the meat to them."

Two Russian girls clean the concrete floors of the pig pens, while Chinese do the rest of the work in the pig farm. Locals also help with the crops. The farm has sown 80 hectares of corn as forage for the pigs, Lu said. He even brought three small tractors to develop the land.

Lu says that he shares his experience with Russians on how to raise pigs and grow corn for them. "We even have our own method on how to give pigs water," he said. He would like to stay in Russia for 20 years, and he is content with cooperation with his Russian partner, he said.

Lyudmila Mokronos, chairman of the Lazarevskoye collective farm and Lu's landlady, said that she is Russian to the core, but she is amazed at her countrymen's inability to work. "I have been to China six times and I was astonished at their industriousness," she said. "It is very clear that they have no decent life in their homes, yet their fields are nice and neat. But here it is a reverse."

In some parts of the Far East, Russians insult and even attack Chinese guest workers and traders. But so far, there have been no serious problems in the village, only small misunderstandings, Mokronos said. Chinese have strict demands about order on their farm, but pay hired hands only 34 to 52 cents a day for fieldwork. But there are few jobs in a village. Mokronos said that even the collective farm pays its workers with grain instead of wages after the harvest.

Elsewhere in Birobidzhan, not everything is fine between Russians and Chinese. A Chinese company started a sawmill near Leninskoye river port, but its machinery was stolen, said Valentina Romanova, deputy head of the town's administration. And Russian workers hired by a Chinese timber company, Lesnye Resursy, went on strike because of low pay, said Viktor Antonov, a reporter from "Birobidzhanskaya Zvezda" newspaper. Some Russian companies that hire Chinese provide such bad living conditions for them that a Russian labor inspector fined the companies.

Even so, agriculture seems to be profitable for both sides. "This is a rare case in the Far East," said Kiyashko, the agricultural official.

Nonna Chernyakova is a freelance writer based in Vladivostok.