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Russia Report: September 17, 2001

17 September 2001, Volume 3, Number 25
Expanding on an allegation from late July, "Versiya" on 4 September alleges that Boris Berezovskii is seeking both to gain control over businesses in Russian President Vladimir Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg and to destabilize the local political situation there. The weekly, which is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, claims that Berezovskii's "envoy" in the city is a local businessman, Denis Volchek, who reportedly has ties to crime boss Kostya Mogila. Volchek has reportedly received money from Berezovskii to campaign for a seat in the city's legislature. The weekly also alleges that Berezovskii is behind a media campaign against St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev and presidential envoy to the Northwest federal district Viktor Cherkesov. According to the weekly, Cherkesov has been "scolded for his wife's business activities." JAC

"Novye izvestiya," a newspaper controlled by Berezovskii, asserts on 6 September that an "information war" is being waged against Cherkesov and ponders the question of who ordered that war. It acknowledges that there is tension between Cherkesov and Yakovlev but concludes that Yakovlev is too loyal to Putin to dare sully the reputation of his former close associate, Cherkesov. It then alleges that negative information about Cherkesov's wife, Natalya Chaplina, is in fact being leaked from within Cherkesov's circle by associates who dislike her. The daily also claims to have information that Kremlin insiders have "tired" of Chaplina. The newspaper does not discuss Berezovskii's alleged involvement in the "information war" against Cherekesov. JAC

Presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin met on 11 September with presidential envoy Cherkesov in St. Petersburg, "Kommersant-Daily," which is also controlled by Berezovskii, reported on 12 September. Although details of the meeting were not made public, the daily publishes an unsourced report that the two discussed -- among other things -- candidates for Cherkesov's representative to Kaliningrad Oblast. Cherkesov has reportedly promised to sign an order naming Andrei Stepanov as his representative to the Kaliningrad Oblast; Stepanov is the chief federal inspector for Kaliningrad Oblast and is also a "friend" of Putin. However, Cherkesov has been hesitating for "some reason." According to the daily, if Stepanov is indeed named, then his vacated post will be combined with that of the federal inspector for Novgorod Oblast. And the candidate for this position, according to "sources close to Cherkesov," is Aleksei Sokolov, a former KGB specialist in counterintelligence who has worked in the presidential administration since June. According to ITAR-TASS, Voloshin's trip to St. Petersburg is only the first in a series of trips to the capitals of federal districts. At the beginning of the year, President Putin signed a decree putting Voloshin in charge of the presidential envoys' activities (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 January 2001). JAC

Addressing a meeting of regional leaders in the southern federal district in Kislovodsk on 7 September, President Putin said that Russia's donor regions, which contribute more to the federal budget than they receive in the form of transfers, must help regions that are doing less well economically, Russian agencies reported. Putin acknowledged that "this policy draws criticism from the so-called 'donor regions' because financial resources will be redistributed to support regions that, through no fault of their own, cannot be described as self-sufficient." Such poorer regions, he said, are primarily located in Russia's central, far-eastern, and southern areas. Putin concluded that, "The donor regions have a vast economic potential thanks to the efforts that the whole country has mounted for decades. It would be unfair to think that the population of other regions should not benefit from these resources." Meanwhile, legislators and leaders from donor regions have suggested revising federal-budget policy, "Parlamentskaya gazeta" reported on 30 August. According to the daily, the budget should be formulated so that the central authority stipulates how much it wants to receive from the regions in terms of tax collections and anything above that figure is left in the regions themselves. JAC

Tyumen Oblast Governor Sergei Sobyanin, Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Vladimir Butov, and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev have spoken out against the appeal by 10 regional leaders to President Putin to assume control of issuing licenses for the exploitation of natural resources (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2001). The 10 leaders who signed the appeal were from Belgorod, Bryansk, Kursk, Lipetsk, Orel, Tambov, Tula, and Kostroma oblasts and Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic. None of the regions, which are located in what is dubbed the central "Black Earth" part of Russia, have considerable oil or gas deposits. Butov told "Vedomosti" on 30 August that he would never have signed the appeal because his region depends heavily on the money received from companies extracting natural resources. "If I do not have the right to issue licenses, what point is there in being a governor?" he asked. Sobyanin said on 10 September that the leaders who made the suggestion cannot be familiar with the constitution, arguing that regional leaders do not currently have the legal right to grant such licenses independently. "Such decisions are taken only jointly by the regions and the federal government," he said. Neither level can currently make the decision independently. The next day, Shaimiev told Interfax that the 10 regional leaders were in effect suggesting a return to a planned economy. Shaimiev also cited the constitution, noting that it stipulates that the natural resources be a subject of joint jurisdiction. JAC

Two high-profile regional leaders have criticized the current administrative set-up within and between the Federation Council and State Council. Yegor Stroev, speaker of the Federation Council, said on 10 September that he does not believe it is useful or desirable for the Federation Council and the State Council to coexist as parallel institutions, calling it "a violation of the system of power." He also repeated his call that the upper legislative house be formed on an elected basis, Interfax reported. The next day, Tatarstan President Shaimiev told Interfax that he thinks the upper house in its current form will not exist for long. With regard to the State Council, Shaimiev suggested the status of that organ will perhaps be resolved through changes to the constitution, but until then the council will function as an advisory organ for the president. He also criticized the new principles under which the Federation Council is now organized. According to Shaimiev, the principle for delegating representatives from the regions to the upper legislative chamber is "imperfect and primitive," and the electability of all levels of power in the country is a necessary condition for developing democratic institutions. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" suggested on 30 August that members of the Federation Council are "gradually getting more and more frustrated with the meager choice of options left to them by the constitution," that is, either accepting the bills or rejecting them. It reported that an unidentified "insider" said that the upper house intends to turn down all vital bills that for some reason do not satisfy it. JAC

At least four of the newly appointed senators in the Federation Council are former top military officials, and more servicemen are likely to join their ranks, "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii, reported on 31 August. In addition to the former first deputy head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, Valerii Manilov, who has been tapped to represent Primorskii Krai, there is also Colonel-General Vladimir Kulakov, who represents Magadan Oblast; Major-General Aleksandr Kalita, who represents Ulyanovsk Oblast; and a former officer of the Baltic Fleet, Nikolai Tulaev, who represents Kaliningrad Oblast. Moreover, Kulikov is not just a "simple senator" but chairman of the committee for security questions and defense. The daily asserts that the "military senators" represent the "party of power" on an active basis within the Federation Council and actively seek out candidates among the military as candidates to serve as senators. It also claims without reference to sourcing that many people in the circle around President Putin support the idea that more of the country's bureaucratic apparatus should be staffed by service personnel. JAC

Ethnic Russians living outside Russia and Russian citizens attending a forum on the Russian Far East in Vladivostok have called on the State Duma to declare the region a "high-risk" territory, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 September. Participants in the forum declared that the region's demographic problems are particularly pressing, as more than 600,000 people have left the region and the death rate is double that of the birth rate, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. According to the daily, demographic pressure from China is being felt all the more strongly, since around 150 million people live in that country's northeast provinces compared with just 6 million Russians on the Far Eastern territory. Currently there are tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants in the Far East, but "obviously the Chinese will become more and more numerous." The daily continued, "Therefore in the distant future, Russia without any war can lose its eastern regions." JAC

Following reports of other attacks on foreign students at other regional universities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2001), "Obshchaya gazeta" No. 36 reported that no less than eight of 33 Chinese students sent to study at Orel State University have decided to go home following racially motivated attacks. A leader of the Chinese students told the weekly of two attacks against the students within a week, one by men in white and red masks outside the students' dormitory. Viktor Livtsov, head of the oblast's committee for youth affairs, believes that local skinheads who deal "aggressively" with outsiders are behind the attacks. JAC

An inauguration was held on 7 September for newly re-elected Irkutsk Governor Boris Govorin amid reports that his political opponents and members of the press were banned from the ceremony. According to the website, a deputy chairman of Irkutsk Oblast's legislature along with other local deputies who have been critical of Govorin were not allowed to attend the inauguration. At the same time, journalists from leading media outlets such as RIA-Novosti, ITAR-TASS, RTR Television, and several newspapers who have also been critical of Govorin were denied accreditation to cover the ceremony. Deputy Governor Tatyana Ryutina reported that too many people had wanted to attend the ceremony. Meanwhile, a correspondent for "Nezavisimaya gazeta" who attended the event reported that leaders from neighboring regions such as Chita, Buryatia, and Tuva as well as Oleg Sysuev of the Congress of Municipal Organizations, Soviet cosmonaut Aleksandr Polishchuk, and head of the Federation Council's apparatus Vladimir Nikitov were all in attendance. JAC

The Media Ministry extended its suspension of the broadcasting license of embattled TVK television company in Lipetsk Oblast from the original 10 days to one month -- until 11 October, website reported on 11 September. According to the website, the ministry considers the new leadership of the television station illegitimate. Journalists at the station have barricaded themselves in their offices, refusing to vacate them and charging that the station's takeover is linked with upcoming April 2002 gubernatorial elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2001). TVK journalists are demanding that the former director of the station, Aleksandr Lykov, be reinstated. According to "The Moscow Times" on 12 September, Lykov reported to work one day and found that he was locked out and fired. A controlling share in TVK belongs to a company linked with local oligarch Vladimir Lisin, according to the daily. The paper suggested that Lisin would like to run for governor himself. Other publications have suggested that TVK was one of the few local media outlets critical of the current governor and that a cleansing of the local airways in advance of the elections is underway. JAC

Citing the Glasnost Defense Fund, "Versiya" reported on 4 September that Andrei Yudin, a correspondent for Radio Liberty, was beaten up by local policemen outside of Lipetsk on 7 July and taken away in handcuffs and held in a local jail cell. After five hours, the dezhurnaya called for medical assistance. The doctors who were called said that Yudin had sustained a concussion and required hospitalization. JAC

The Central Election Commission (TsVK) has ordered the election commission of Rostov Oblast to conduct an investigation without delay into that body's rejection of the candidacy of Leonid Ivanchenko, head of the oblast's Communist Party, in upcoming gubernatorial elections, the website reported on 6 September. Ivanchenko earlier declared that he would contest the oblast's decision in court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2001). According to ITAR-TASS, TsVK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters that Ivanchenko has a chance of being reinstated as a candidate. However, on 10 September, Sergei Yusov, the chairman of Rostov Oblast's election commission, told reporters that although "only God" knows what will happen, he personally does not think Ivanchenko's candidacy will be reinstated, Interfax-Eurasia reported. On 6 September, the Rostov election commission rejected the candidacy of another potential contender, local entrepreneur Valentin Chistyakov, and "Novye izvestiya" declared the next day that incumbent Rostov Governor Vladimir Chub will be effectively unchallenged in the 23 September race. JAC

Only one other candidate has managed to register -- the deputy head of the Zimovnikovskii Raion administration, Petr Voloshin -- and local analysts believe that only Ivanchenko would have provided any real competition. According to "Izvestiya" last month, polling data showed equal support for both Chub and Ivanchenko. Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 6 September said that his party will boycott the race if the oblast commission's decision banning Ivanchenko is not overturned, ITAR-TASS reported. On 12 September, presidential envoy to the Southern federal district Viktor Kazantsev vowed to ensure that the election is conducted in compliance with the constitution. JAC

Farit Mukhametshin, speaker of Tatarstan's legislative assembly, told RIA-Novosti on 10 September that a Constitutional Commission for drafting a new version of the republic's fundamental law will be formed at the legislature's next session, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Mukhametshin acknowledged that "correcting the constitution is a major issue on Tatarstan's political agenda." He added that the article saying Tatarstan is a sovereign state "associated with the Russian Federation" will be dropped. JAC


By Paul Goble

Russian Federation Affairs, National and Migration Policies Minister Aleksandr Blokhin said at the beginning of this month that it makes no sense to have one sovereign state within another -- a statement that is contradicted by the experience of other federal countries around the world but that threatens popular sovereignty in Russia itself.

Speaking in Ufa on 2 September, Blokhin said that Bashkortostan, a republic in the Middle Volga region, has no sovereignty because the location of one sovereign state within another is "nonsense," RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported. Only the Russian Federation is sovereign, Blokhin said, not any of its constituent parts.

Blokhin's remarks appear to reflect part of Moscow's drive under President Vladimir Putin to restore central government control over the far-flung regions and republics of the Russian Federation. But there are three reasons why his comments are both problematic and threaten the very notion of popular sovereignty that lies at the basis of a democratic society.

First of all, the sovereignty declarations of the republics within Russia adopted a decade ago as the Soviet Union was disintegrating have played a key role in helping to manage the devolution of power from the hypercentralized Soviet state. Moreover, as Bashkortostan's "Kyzyl tang" newspaper reported last week, these declarations, and especially the one by neighboring Tatarstan, helped the republics to affirm popular sovereignty and thus promoted federalism.

Had the republics not issued such declarations of sovereignty, the paper suggested, there would have been only two choices in the last decade: either the continuation of control from Moscow or a drive toward independence by the republics. These declarations, the paper continued, in effect prevented both, a contribution Blokhin ignores.

Second, Blokhin's assertion that there cannot be one sovereign state within another simply does not square with international practice. In most federal systems, including most prominently that of the United States, both the individual member states and the country as a whole are sovereign. Thus, the state of Virginia describes itself as a sovereign commonwealth, and the United States of America is also a sovereign nation.

That is possible because the sovereignty referred to at both the state and federal level refers to popular sovereignty, the rule of the people as expressed through their democratically elected representatives. In the U.S., there is a continuing tug of war between the powers of Washington and the powers of the state government, but no one on either side of the divide challenges the existence of what Russians might call matryoshka-doll-like federalism.

Indeed, over the last decade there has been a revival of discussions of American federalism that identifies these shared sovereignties as being at the core of the nature of the American republic. Precisely because the states are sovereign, they can take actions that are not simply copies of central government plans. That not only allows for more variety and experimentation, but it serves as a check on the power of the central government.

And third, Blokhin's comments in the Bashkortostan capital call attention to a tendency in contemporary Russian political thought that may constitute one of the most serious obstacles to the development of liberal democracy in that country. For Blokhin and for those who share his approach, sovereignty is less about popular rule than about the power of the state, an entity which stands above and beyond the society over which it rules. Such a conception of political life has a long history in Europe and Russia itself, but because it minimizes the role of the people in governing themselves, this conceptualization of sovereignty can represent a potentially serious threat to the prospects for democracy.

If the state rather than the people is the sovereign, as Blokhin maintains, then the state can swallow up the society rather than serve as the expression of the will of the people. And in that event, comments like Blokhin's in a Middle Volga republic two weeks ago may be the harbinger of something far more troubling than the simple cancellation of the sovereignty declarations adopted by Russia's republics a decade ago.