29 November 2001, Volume
SAKHA OFFICIALS AGAIN DEFY FEDERAL COUNTERPARTS...
Supreme Court justices in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) again failed on 28 November to cancel incumbent Sakha President Mikhail Nikolaev's registration in upcoming presidential elections, Interfax-Eurasia reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). According to ITAR-TASS, the judges decided to again refer consideration of the issue to the federal Constitutional Court. Sakha's Supreme Court had been ordered by the federal Supreme Court on 20 November to reopen its consideration of Nikolaev's candidacy by 25 November. Meanwhile, Central Election Commission head Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters in Moscow on 28 November that there is no possibility of rescheduling the republic's 23 December presidential elections. JAC
...AS PROSECUTOR THREATENS AGAINST ANY ATTEMPTS TO PLAY ETHNIC CARD.
Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov commented on 28 November that any attempts to foment interethnic strife during presidential elections "must be stopped from the very beginning." The previous day, investigators from the office of the republic's prosecutor raided the hotel rooms of visiting public relations specialists, who had prepared campaign leaflets slandering Nikolaev's rival candidates in the race, including Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov. Kolmogorov is considered to be the Kremlin-backed candidate in the republic's presidential elections scheduled for 23 December. According to Interfax-Eurasia, three election specialists are being charged with slander, inciting ethnic hatred, and vandalism. JAC
ANOTHER PUTIN PAL FROM ST. PETERSBURG TO TRANSFER TO MOSCOW...
Aleksandr Nazarov, deputy head of the Federation group in the Federation Council, announced on 28 November that his group is considering nominating Sergei Mironov, speaker of St. Petersburg's legislative assembly, for the post of speaker of the Federation Council, RIA-Novosti reported. However, a final decision will not be made until the eve of the group's 4 December meeting. Valerii Goreglyad, head of Federation, said the same day that consultations on the question are continuing and include the presidential administration. Goreglyad has himself been touted as a possible nominee. Mironov is considered a long-time ally of President Vladimir Putin from the latter's tenure as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. JAC
...AS SKURATOV'S COMEBACK PROVES SHORT-LIVED...
Members of Buryatia's legislative assembly voted on 28 November to repeal a resolution of 19 November appointing former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov as the Buryat legislature's representative to the Federation Council, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 20 November 2001). Legislators took the action in response to a protest from the republic's prosecutor, who had charged that procedural violations occurred during the vote confirming Skuratov. Skuratov said that he will challenge the vote in court and that he believes that the republic's legislators were pressured from two sides -- by Buryatian President Leonid Potapov and by Moscow bureaucrats. JAC
...AND MORE NEW SENATORS SELECTED.
Meanwhile, Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev announced on 27 November that he will tap the first deputy head of the krai's administration, Andrei Chirkin, to represent him in the upper legislative chamber in January. On 22 November, deputies in the Kemerovo Oblast legislature selected former State Duma deputy Svetlana Orlova as their representative, according to RIA-Novosti. Orlova was previously elected from Primorskii Krai. JAC
REGIONAL MEDIA FALTER IN ATTRACTING NATIONAL AND LOCAL ADVERTISING REVENUE.
Writing in "The Moscow Times" on 27 November, commentator Aleksei Pankin reported that the advertising market in Russian regions lags far behind that in Moscow. Last year, the regional advertising market grew by 2 percent compared with the 45 percent growth recorded in Moscow (where advertising may be sold through the market nationwide). According to Pankin, the 20 largest Russian media markets -- excluding the city of Moscow and Moscow Oblast -- account for 43 percent of the total market and less than 24 percent of the advertising market. Pankin explained that advertising budgets are being spent centrally rather than regionally, and are therefore not particularly well-targeted to their audience. JAC
GOVERNOR MAY HAVE OPTIONS SOUTH OF THE BORDER.
RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 28 November that Karishal Asanov, a well-known Kazakh dissident, told reporters in Almaty that he has sent a letter to Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev calling on him to resign and hold early presidential elections. Asanov said that such political figures as Amangeldy Tuleev -- an ethnic Kazakh, who is now Kemerovo Oblast governor -- should take part in the new elections. JAC
NORILSK'S 'CLOSED CITY' STATUS STILL UNCLEAR.
Adding to recent confusion, on 25 November, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed declared the industrial city of Norilsk of "strategic importance," and announced that as of 26 November the city will be closed to all non-Russian citizens except Belarusians, NTV television reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 13 November). A city of 200,000 located north of the Arctic Circle, Norilsk is home to the world's largest nickel producer, Norilsk Nickel. Under the new regulations, the Federal Security Service (FSB) is in charge of issuing special permits to foreigners who plan to fly to Norilsk, and the local airline KrasAir will no longer sell tickets to the city to foreigners. Lebed also said foreigners currently living in Norilsk as well as foreign visitors who arrived prior to his declaration will be asked to leave the city. VC
DEPUTY ENVOY CHARGES ONE-FIFTH OF LEGISLATIVE CANDIDATES TIED TO CRIME.
A candidate in upcoming elections for the krai's legislative assembly, Nikolai Golik, has accused his competitors of trying to murder him, NTV reported on 27 November. The station also reported that a deputy presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, Aleksandr Drozdov, brought a document to a recent session of the krai's election commission listing the names of almost 50 candidates for the krai's legislature who are alleged to have links to organized crime. According to polit.ru, some 252 candidates are signed up to compete in the 9 December election. However, Valerii Manilov, the krai administration's representative to the Federation Council, told reporters in Vladivostok on 28 November that not a single candidate in the legislative race has ties to criminal groups. JAC
PUTIN GIVES THUMBS DOWN TO MERGER WITH LENINGRAD.
President Putin has declared that he is against joining the administration of the city of St. Petersburg with that of Leningrad Oblast, polit.ru reported on 22 November. St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev has spoken in favor of such a merger; however, Leningrad Oblast Governor Valerii Serdyukov reported that during a recent conversation Putin declared that such a merger would violate the Russian Constitution. JAC
CREDITORS COUNCIL TO OVERSEE SAMARA FINANCING.
Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel told reporters on 28 November that in a recent conversation with Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, Titov spoke favorably about introducing external administration over the finances of the city of Samara, ntvru.com reported on 28 November. Samara Oblast Deputy Governor Viktor Kazakov had announced in early November that the oblast authorities were taking over the finances of the city of Samara because of the city's excessively high level of indebtedness (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2001). The website cited Region-Inform as saying that a council of creditors for the city will soon be appointed to oversee the city's financial flows. JAC
LANGUAGE GIVEN LOWER STATUS IN LOCAL LAW?
Deputies in Udmurtia's legislative assembly approved on 27 November a law establishing the republic's state language, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to the republic's constitution, the state languages in Udmurtia were Russian and Udmurt. Under the new law, state organs can use Udmurt along with the Russian Federation's state language, Russian. Official signatures within the republic's borders should be made in both languages, but beyond the republic borders in Russian. Signs for towns, cities, rivers, and national parks should be written in both languages -- Russian first, then Udmurt. Street signs do not have to be written in Udmurt. In 1979, over 75 percent of the approximately 750,000 Udmurts in the USSR claimed Udmurt as their native language, and only 64.4 percent claimed fluency in Russian. JAC/LF
MAYOR WANTS LOCAL MEDIA TO VET THEIR MATERIALS WITH CITY HALL...
NTV reported on 23 November that from now on all printed and video materials produced by Novovoronezh newspapers and television station on the work of local authorities must be approved by the city administration. Novovoronezh Mayor Vladimir Sinitsyn told the network that his directive applies only to interviews with local officials. Two years ago, Sinitsyn issued another directive requiring local policemen to inform local authorities of the arrival of any press representatives from other cities and accompany them to city hall. That directive was later annulled by the prosecutor's office. JAC
...AS CAPITAL CONSIDERED ON VERGE OF BANKRUPTCY.
Meanwhile, Voronezh Mayor Aleksandr Kovalev has suggested that his city be declared bankrupt and external administration be imposed since the city cannot pay for heat and energy for 2002 or make good on past debts to the local electricity supplier, presscenter.ru reported on 27 November. Kovalev placed the blame for the situation on the oblast's governor and legislators. The oblast legislature recently passed a budget that provided for only 35 percent of the city's financing needs. Earlier this month, the Samara Oblast administration imposed external financial control over the city of Samara because it said that city is effectively bankrupt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2001). JAC
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
By Oleg Rodin
The election of a former first secretary of the Communist Party's oblast committee, Gennadii Khodyrev, to the post of governor of Nizhnii Novgorod last summer inspired a parade of foreign visitors to the region. During Khodyrev's first hundred days in office, some 15 diplomatic representatives from countries in the EU, Great Britain, Japan, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, and other countries, together with representatives from governmental and commercial delegations from the U.S., visited the city. As Khodyrev himself noted, the "foreigners would like to persuade themselves that I am a normal person and not the devil with horns."
The foreign representatives appeared to have been convinced that Khodyrev is no one to fear. The new governor not only welcomed them but solicited their views about how they might best work with oblast enterprises. In addition, he promised any potential foreign investors that their taxes would be lowered and their investments would be safe. Oblast administration officials are currently working on ways to improve the legal basis for guaranteeing investments in the region
So far, foreign visitors are not the only ones impressed. Moscow observers and Nizhnii Novgorod residents have given Khodyrev high marks. According to Moscow political analysts, Khodyrev has displayed a healthy pragmatism, foregoing any kind of overtly ideological tendencies. And in a recent interactive opinion poll conducted by the local Volga television station, more than 70 percent of respondents approved of the activities of the new governor.
Despite the positive initial reviews, the first days of his administration were not completely smooth for Khodyrev. At the beginning of his tenure, many leading specialists in the oblast administration went on leave as a sign of solidarity with the former governor, Ivan Sklyarov. Khodryev termed those absences as "either sabotage or thoughtlessness."
Khodryev went on to characterize the four years of Sklyarov's reign over Nizhnii Novgorod as "a period of stagnation." And Khodyrev has cleaned house -- retaining only Construction Minister Valerii Limarenko and Agriculture Minister Boris Smetov from the previous administration. Yurii Sentyurin, who formerly oversaw regulation of natural monopolies, antimonopoly policy, and support for entrepreneurs, was named minister of industry. For the key posts of minister of economy and finance, Khodyrev invited specialists from Moscow, and he chose as his representative to the Federation Council former Deputy Finance Minister Yevgenii Bushmin. (Bushmin had served under Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin).
Another change Khodyrev sought was restoring the original powers of the region's governor. Under Sklyarov, most powers had been transferred to the oblast's administration. Under a kind of arrangement more commonly associated with the British monarchy, the head of Nizhnii Novgorod's oblast administration, Sergei Obozov, had the most power in the region. Obozov had worked for Sergei Kirienko, presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, whose offices are based in Nizhnii Novgorod.
But perhaps more appreciated by Nizhnii residents was Khodyrev's achievement of an agreement with the leadership of Unified Energy Systems (EES). EES officials agreed to restructure the oblast's debts, which amounted to more than 1 billion rubles ($35 million), and as a result, residents are guaranteed supplies of electricity and heat this winter. Also well received has been an experimental program of alternative military service launched by the mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod with the support of the new governor.
Speaking at his inauguration last August, Khodyrev declared that he "has returned to his old office not to return to the past but to build a new future." If his first hundred days in office are any indication, Khodyrev's success in doing so seems assured.
Oleg Rodin is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Nizhnii Novgorod.