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Russia Report: October 10, 2001

10 October 2001, Volume 3, Number 28
Despite the supportive tone set by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a number of Russian regional leaders in predominantly Muslim regions voiced criticism of U.S. air strikes against Afghanistan. Timur Akulov, the head of Tatarstan's presidential foreign affairs department, said on 8 October that "more efficient measures could be taken in order to find and annihilate bin Laden" than the U.S.-led military campaign against the ruling Taliban that began on 7 October, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Akulov told "Vechernyaya Kazan" on 9 October that the bombings could create more support for the Taliban than that group had dreamed possible. The same day, the press center of Tatarstan's Muslim Religious Board issued a statement saying that while "terrorist acts against innocent people cannot be justified," the aim of defeating terrorists is not likely to be achieved in the manner that the U.S. has selected. The statement continued that although it is said that Islam is not an enemy in this war, it is a Muslim population that will suffer. The statement added that there is a real danger that the current military campaign might become a world war against Islam. The leader of the Tatarstan Republican Party, Mukhammat Sabirov, and the leader of the Kazan branch of the Tatar Pubic Center, Rashit Yagafarov, made similar comments about the fury of Muslim people being ignited. In Bashkortostan, the head of the local branch of the Eurasia Party, Zahir Hakimov, told RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent on 8 October that the U.S.'s recent actions have "given Islam the status of some terrorist faith, [and] we cannot ignore this." JAC

Ulyanovsk Governor Vladimir Shamanov, who was a former military commander in Chechnya, called the U.S.'s military's recent actions in Afghanistan "brilliant," Interfax-Eurasia reported on 9 October. He said that he has great respect for the U.S. president and all branches of power, as well as the population of the country who have declared that terrorists will be found and destroyed. "We here could learn from the Americans on this question," he told reporters in Ulyanovsk. Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Vladimir Butov told Interfax on 8 October that while he considers the position of Russia in the conflict to be correct, he does not think the U.S. strikes will be effective. He suggested that the "peaceful population, not the Taliban will suffer the most; therefore, it is possible that some other kind of approach should be tried." JAC

Butov also said that he supports the provision of Russian military advisors to the U.S. as well as the tightening of the visa regime with Central Asian countries. Pskov Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov, whose oblast borders Estonia and Latvia, also called for the immediate introduction of a strict visa regime with Central Asian countries, Interfax-Northwest reported on 8 October. Meanwhile, in Novosibirsk, which borders Kazakhstan, the head of the oblast's Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate, Sergei Savchenkov, told reporters that the flow of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan and neighboring countries into Russia has already increased. Savchenkov told Interfax-Eurasia on 9 October that the work of the FSB will be strengthened with a special emphasis made on "work among refugees from Muslim countries with the goal of preventing opportunities to conduct various types of extremist actions." JAC

The interregional economic cooperation associations, such as Siberian Accord and the Greater Urals, face a troubled future, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 October. The daily cites the less-than-celebratory atmosphere at the 10th anniversary gathering of the Greater Urals association in Yekaterinburg last month, as well as the fact that two of the heads of the "richest regions in Russia, Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenets autonomous okrugs, have declared their regions' withdrawal from the Siberian Accord." At the Greater Urals meeting, the association's head, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, noted that internal and external opposition to the group exists (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 October 2001). According to the daily, Rossel also said that the association has three basic choices for its future: dissolution, working under the old rules of operation, or reforming itself to adapt to current circumstances. He also suggested that an appeal be sent to the president asking for a decree laying out the future "rules of the game" and conditions for the cooperation of interregional associations with the presidential envoys to the federal districts. JAC

Meanwhile, Rossel's sometime nemesis, presidential envoy to the Urals federal district Petr Latyshev, has declared that if the Sverdlovsk Oblast legislative assembly does not bring local regulations into compliance with federal law by 12 October, he will ask President Putin to order its dissolution, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 October. According to the daily, normal work in the oblast's duma has been suspended for the past six months by a political struggle over speaker Yevgenii Porunov. Since the spring, the duma has not held a working session because one party, Unity-Urals, wants to unseat Porunov. Porunov is an ally of Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii, who is a rival of Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel. Latyshev is trying to force the deputies to resolve their dispute by invoking a law passed last year that gives the president the right to dissolve local legislatures (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 24 May 2000). JAC

Of the 16 regions located in the Siberian federal district, only Buryatia has a power-sharing treaty with the federal center that does not violate the Federal Constitution, first deputy presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Anatolii Shcherbinin announced on 2 October. Shcherbinin was speaking at a joint session of the council of the federal district with the interregional economic association, Siberian Accord, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Shcherbinin, seven regions in the district have prepared proposals about ending their agreements, while Omsk Oblast has already canceled its treaty. In June, President Putin signed a decree establishing a commission to review the various power-sharing agreements negotiated between regions and Moscow (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 June and 1 August 2001). JAC

The Orel Oblast Election Commission refused on 3 October to register two candidates from Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), Vyacheslav Alekseev and Vladimir Kapustyanskii, for 23 October gubernatorial elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 October. The commission charged that the signatures submitted supporting their candidacy contained many inaccuracies in passport information, and many people were included who either don't live in the oblast or do not exist. Alekseev is the head of the Orel Oblast branch of SPS, while Kapustyanskii is deputy governor of Pskov Oblast. According to the website, SPS's press service issued a press release that charged that the decision is "proof of the weakness of Orel Oblast Governor Yegor Stroev and the Communists." The party also promised to file a Duma inquiry with the Central Election Commission (TsIK). The two candidates have already filed their own complaints with the TsIK about Stroev misusing his office during the campaign. JAC

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told Interfax on 8 October that Sakha Republic (Yakutia) President Mikhail Nikolaev does not have the legal right to run in 23 December presidential elections. Veshnyakov said that, after analyzing the republic's presidential election laws, he has concluded that they do not correspond to federal legislation. Nikolaev had earlier expressed his desire to seek a third term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2001), and so far neither he nor his administration have commented on Veshnyakov's ruling, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 October. Opinion polls in the republic show that 40 percent of the population supports Nikolaev's candidacy, according to "Vremya novostei." The daily cites unidentified Kremlin sources who claim that the federal center intends to replace Nikolaev with Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov, who has already declared his desire to run. But polls suggests that he would face an uphill struggle since so far only 5 percent of the population would support him. Kolmogorov is from Sakha but has "lost his ties with his motherland." But, according to RFE/RL's political analyst Mikhail Sokolov, Kolmogorov has already shown his loyalty to the Kremlin and assumed much of the "dirty work" associated with the handling by the Prosecutor-General's Office of the case against Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii and NTV. JAC

A local leader of a Tatar nationalist group was beaten last month by unknown assailants who threatened his life and the lives of his children if he participated in an organizing session for the Milli Mejlis public organization scheduled later this month, Tatar-Inform reported on 3 October. Shakirzyan Zalyaev said he was warned that making a fuss would not be in his best interest. Meanwhile, the presidium of Milli Mejlis has issued a statement that the attack on Zalyaev is "the beginning of a terror against Tatar national movement activists that may lead to the most unpredictable consequences." The local Federal Security Service directorate has said that it will join the police investigation of the incident if a political link is established. JAC

The Tatarstan Supreme Court ruled on 3 October that parts of the republic's constitution violate federal legislation, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 4 October. According to the bureau, the court accepted major parts of the argument made by Aleksandr Zvyagintsev, the deputy prosecutor-general for the Volga federal district, but rejected some other elements. According to Interfax-Eurasia, Zvyagintsev had charged that some 42 articles of the constitution do not comply with federal law. According to Tatarstan Supreme Court Deputy Chairman Ilgiz Gilazov, articles concerning representative and executive powers, in particular, do not coincide with the legal principle of separation of powers, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

Deputies in Udmurtia's legislative assembly decided on 8 October to send an appeal to the Prosecutor-General's Office, asking it to look into the conflict that is occurring at Udmurtia's Television, an affiliate of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), Interfax-Eurasia reported. On the evening of 6 October, all broadcasts from the Udmurtia television company were stopped because of a management dispute at the station, RFE/RL's Russian service reported. VGTRK opted not to renew the contract of the current director of the company, Aleksandr Ushakov, but he is refusing to transfer his authority to the VGTRK representative appointed from Moscow Ushakov is being supported by Udmurtian legislators and the republic's presidential administration. JAC

VGTRK head Oleg Dobrodeev has said that he believes the leadership of the republic wants to gain control over the company because of the impending 21 October mayoral elections in Izhevsk. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 9 October, Dobrodeev said that Ushakov was being let go in part for his role in the station's coverage of the October 2000 presidential election. Dobrodeev said that he heard many complaints that the election campaign was "characterized by an absence of opportunities for all candidates" to access the airwaves at Udmurtia. Dobrodeev also complained that although he has met with Udmurt President Aleksandr Volkov three times, "unfortunately, the head of Udmurtia, clearly, does not know Russian laws and as before believes that the nomination of the head of VTRK (Udmurtia) should be checked first with him." According to "Vremya novostei," the battle over the television station was recently the subject of a conversation between President Putin and Volkov. JAC


By Floriana Fossato

In the Siberian city of Tomsk, the founder of a well-respected local television station is about to embark on an experiment -- TV-2 Chairman Arkadii Mayofis has sold part of his station to a large private investor and he wants to maintain the station's editorial independence. If he is successful, other media outlets could follow his lead, launching a new era in the development of the Russian media.

TV-2's website currently carries a message from Mayofis: "Dear Friends, TV-2's main inspiration since 1991 has been the idea of freedom. We have depended only on you, our audience." Many of the channel's almost 100 employees are concerned that Mayofis's recent sale of a controlling stake in the channel to the oil major YUKOS could change the station's focus from its audience to its owner, transforming one of country's best regional television stations into a tool of influence for YUKOS. Mayofis hopes to prove them wrong.

TV-2 started broadcasting in May 1991, three months before the failed putsch against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Thanks to the hard work of its journalists and management, it soon became one of the most successful examples of a non-state TV company in Russia. Its weekly analytical program, "Chas Pik" was awarded the prestigious TEFI -- Russia's equivalent of the Emmy award -- last year. This writer used to watch TV-2 broadcasts in 1999 with a sense of refreshment. In sharp contrast to the broadcasts of Moscow-based nationwide channels, such as NTV and ORT, TV-2's programs were clearly oriented to the station's 700,000-strong audience. At that time, the so-called "information wars" between media moguls Boris Berezovskii and Vladimir Gusinskii were at their peak, and the broadcasts of the central TV stations were tailored first and foremost to advancing their owners' agenda.

For journalists at TV-2, their independence has been rewarded by audience loyalty. In Tomsk, opinion polls show that the local audiences rely mainly on TV-2 broadcasts to obtain their information. And, despite working in the distorted Russian advertising market, TV-2 has even managed to become profitable.

Last month, at the third annual regional television competition of the U.S.-funded NGO Internews, some 350 representatives of Russia's regional and national media had an opportunity to discuss the fate of TV-2 with YUKOS chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovskii. And while the focus of the remarkably frank two-hour discussion was TV-2, the dialogue provided insights into why big businesses invest money in Russian mass media. It also suggested possible outlines for the future of other television stations, particularly in other oil- and gas-rich regions.

Khodorkovskii was almost candid -- at least as candid as a big businessman in Russia can be. Asked to explain why he wants to buy TV-2, Khodorkovskii was careful to stress that he does "not intend to deal with media business, as Gusinskii or Berezovskii did." But he added that "in the regions where YUKOS operates, we work with the media very closely.... We want to be able to influence the situation." In Tomsk, YUKOS is a huge presence. It has oil-production companies and refineries contributing up to some 70 percent of the regional budget.

In Tomsk, according to political analysts, YUKOS could indeed be running into problems in the near future. Khodorkovskii said YUKOS doesn't care too much about the political orientation of various governors, "as long as they are not criminals, fascists, or Communist." But he said he is concerned that in Tomsk the Communists seem to be strengthening their positions. Tomsk Governor Viktor Kress, who is widely seen as a political pragmatist, will not be able to run for a third term in office in elections to be held in two years time. And already, an alliance between the Communist Party and the local branch of the democratic opposition party, Yabloko -- reportedly with the financial support of Gazprom-Vostok -- has produced a candidate considered inimical to the interests of the oil industry, Soviet-era Politburo member Yegor Ligachev. Ligachev, a hard-liner who was once Mikhail Gorbachev's main foe, is currently serving as a State Duma deputy elected from a single-mandate district in Tomsk.

The outcome of regional legislative assembly elections scheduled for December of this year will provide an important indicator of the electorate's political mood, and Khodorkovskii did not conceal his intention to be prepared for the event. "Since for the time being in our country 70 percent of the electorate still votes for left candidates, or for those who are perceived as being such, we [businessmen] and [liberal-minded] journalists still have much work to do," he said.

Of course, Khodorkovskii's description of the situation is reminiscent of the one facing the Russian media in the 1990s: Then, tycoons invested in the media in order to advance their political and financial agenda. But this time, there are a number of differences.

In the first place, the "rules of the game" have clearly changed since the state tamed Gusinskii's NTV. Khodorkovskii -- whose Menatep Bank in the mid-1990s was part of a consortium of banks holding shares of Russia's main nationwide television channel, ORT -- is now quick to make clear that he has no interest in becoming a media magnate. His reluctance is perhaps a reflection of the tacit agreement between the Kremlin and big business that while nationwide channels must remain under the Kremlin's unchallenged control, at the regional level competition between business investors in the media is tolerated. Such competition promotes a pluralism of opinions and provides revenue that the increasingly monopolized advertising market could not create for the regional media.

In the second place, the attitude of business investors seems to have changed. "We don't intend to interfere with your editorial line," Khodorkovskii told TV-2's skeptical journalists. "We will invest money in order to allow the development of a station that has positions similar to ours," he added. Mayofis, who owned TV-2's controlling stake, explained the deal in more detail. He said that his negotiations with YUKOS to sell the oil company a controlling stake has been going on for the last two years, and that he is retaining a blocking share. In order to defend the station's editorial independence, Mayofis persuaded Khodorkovskii to agree to work together with the management and the journalists to create a process that would reassure everyone. According to anchor Julia Muchnik, this process will include, among other things, the launch of a new program and/or regular opinion polls in which TV-2's viewers will report on whether or not they believe the station's editorial line has changed with the appearance of YUKOS.

In addition, Mayofis has also agreed to write a regular monthly piece for the specialized media publication "Sreda," in which he is expected to describe developments in the relationship between TV-2 management and the new owner. With such transparency and the presence of safeguards to ensure editorial independence, it is possible that a civilized and healthy relationship may at last be developing between private business and the Russia media.

Floriana Fossato is a former RFE/RL Moscow correspondent and expert on the Russian media.