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Russia Report: December 19, 2001

19 December 2001, Volume 3, Number 36

"RFE/RL Russian Federation Report" will take a break for the holidays and reappear on 7 January 2002.
Following the withdrawal of incumbent Sakha President Mikhail Nikolaev from the 23 December presidential race on 12 December, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day how Nikolaev may have been finally persuaded to bow out. Citing unidentified Kremlin sources, the daily reported that Nikolaev promised President Vladimir Putin during a meeting on 10 December that he would withdraw from the race provided the Kremlin retract its support for Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov. Nikolaev and ALROSA head Vyacheslav Shtyrov were both in Moscow on 10 December for a high-level government commission meeting about the diamond sector. And on 15 December, Kolmogorov duly announced his withdrawal from the race, as did Sakha Interior Minister Semen Nazarov. Sakha Education Minister Yevgenii Mikhailov withdrew from the race earlier. And, noted on 16 December that Shtyrov no longer has any significant competition in the race. On 18 December, the All-Russian Party of Unity and Fatherland, or Unified Russia, announced that it will support Shtyrov in the elections. JAC

As expected, Chavash Republic President Nikolai Fedorov was re-elected in presidential elections on 16 December. Fedorov collected 40.37 percent of the vote compared with 37.37 percent for his closest rival, State Duma deputy (Communist) Valentin Shurchanov. According to "Kommersant-Daily," urban voters favored Shurchanov, while the rural vote went to the incumbent. In the last presidential election, Fedorov also beat Shurchanov but by a much wider margin -- by over 21 percent compared to just 4 percent in this race. Federal Security Service (FSB) Lieutenant General Stanislav Voronov came in third, polling some 11.8 percent of the votes. "Izvestiya" reported on 14 December that Voronov had tried to present himself as the Kremlin's candidate, however, he in fact did not appear to be such. JAC

Vladimir Torlopov, who chairs the Komi Republic's legislature, won the 16 December presidential elections in that republic, according to preliminary results. Incumbent President Yurii Spiridonov, who ran the republic for the last 12 years, polled some 34.99 percent of the vote compared with Torlopov's 40.31 percent, Interfax-Northwest reported. Almost 10 percent of voters voted against all candidates. According to, the southern portion of the republic voted solidly in favor of Torlopov, while the northern region favored Spiridonov. State Duma deputy (Yabloko) Sergei Mitrokhin told Interfax that Yabloko was the only party in Russia that "openly" supported Torlopov, and that Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky had traveled to the republic to campaign for Torlopov. Both the Unity and Fatherland parties recently expressed their support for Spiridonov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2001). RFE/RL's Moscow bureau political correspondent Mikhail Sokolov reported on 17 December that during the campaign, some of Torlopov's opponents had tried to use ethnic Russians' fears of Finno-Ugric nationalism against Torlopov, who is an ethnic Komi or Zyryan, but they were unsuccessful. JAC

In presidential elections held on 16 December, Agrarian party leader and State Duma deputy Mikhail Lapshin won 22.98 percent of the votes, while incumbent Altai head Semen Zubakin polled only 15.20 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, ITAR-TASS reported. Neither candidate won the more than 50 percent of the votes necessary to avoid a second round, which will be held on 6 January, the agency reported. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 December, observers were surprised at how poorly Altai Interior Minister Aleksandr Berdnikov fared, garnering only 9.6 percent of the vote. Berdnikov's campaign headquarters stressed in recent weeks that Berdnikov had the support not only of the presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district, Leonid Drachevskii, but also of President Putin himself. A top Unity party official, Aleksandr Karelin, came to the republic to campaign for Berdnikov. JAC

Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told reporters on 12 December that although "cardinal changes are not on the agenda," the Russian Constitution needs some amending. Fellow council member Aleksandr Nazarov (Chukotka) also called for setting priorities for revising the constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. And Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev told Interfax the same day that he also considers it necessary to change the constitution. In particular, he believes that the State Council should be given constitutional status. Aushev also noted that the current constitution was written eight years ago for a "specific person" -- then-President Boris Yeltsin. Federation Council member Aleksandr Kalita (Ulyanovsk) said he too favors changes, and that the current constitution was adopted when the situation in Russia was still in a transition period. Two senators, Aleksandr Pleshakov (Penza) and Mikhail Odintsov (Ryazan), expressed similar opinions, suggesting that the constitution needs improvements because of the changes that have occurred over the past eight years. JAC

Meanwhile, on 18 December, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that a number of senators have prepared plans to restructure the Federation Council even before the upper house has started working on its new basis. According to the daily, one common feature of the proposals is to create more leadership chairs, such as committee chairs, commission heads, and deputy speakers. Another proposal is to create a Council of Chambers in which the Federation Council chairman, his deputies, the heads of regional committees, and the chairmen of permanent commissions would meet. All of the proposals have been submitted to new Chairman Mironov. JAC

As the deadline nears for regions to appoint their new representatives to the Federation Council, more and more regions are confirming their choices. The legislature in Buryatia selected on 18 December Vladimir Bavlov, deputy chairman of Buryatia's committee on natural resources, as its representative. And in Altai Krai, Governor Aleksandr Surikov named as his representative Vladimir Germanenko, a deputy governor in the krai. On 17 December, legislators in Amur Oblast selected Galina Buslova, the general director of the aviation agency Aviatrast, to be their representative in the Federation Council. On the same day, deputies in Khabarovsk Krai's legislature confirmed the selection of Viktor Ozerov as their representative to the Federation Council. Ozerov was former chairman of the krai legislature. Andrei Chirkin, first deputy governor of the krai, will represent the krai administration in the upper legislative house. Viktor Stepanov, former head of the Karelia Republic, was selected to represent that region's presidential administration, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 December. JAC

Kurgan Oblast's representative to the Federation Council, Andrei Vikharev, told reporters in Moscow on 17 December that he believes the seven regions that comprise the Urals federal district are likely to merge eventually and form a single territorial entity, ITAR-TASS reported. Vikharev added that the unification process will be facilitated by the recently passed bill that amended the law on the order for adopting and establishing new federation subjects (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 16 December 2001). JAC

President Putin signed on 18 December a federal constitutional law "on the order of adopting and establishing new federation subjects," Interfax reported. The bill had been approved by the State Duma on 30 November and by the Federation Council on 5 December. Under the law, if two or more federation subjects would like to combine, then the issue must first be put to a referendum for citizens within the relevant regions. JAC

"Novaya gazeta" (no. 91) reported that Magomed Yandiev, a specialist at Moscow State University, has devised a means of measuring the relative level of corruption of Russia's 89 subjects. Leaders of the oblast and republics are asked questions about their regions' finances, debts, and budget subsidies, and a numerical value is assigned to each according to their degree of openness. According to the weekly, Chelyabinsk and Belgorod oblasts, Khabarovsk Krai, and the Chuvash Republic refused to answer any questions, which could mean that their leadership feels that it has something to hide. Regions with the least corruption were deemed to be Kurgan, Penza, Perm, Tambov and Amur oblasts. JAC

Ten years ago, terrorist Osama bin Laden's brother, Tariq, contributed $20,000 toward the construction of a new mosque in Ulyanovsk, a city he also visited, "Obshchaya gazeta" reported on 6 December. According to the weekly, the construction of the mosque led to a split in the local Muslim community there, as questions were raised about how the presiding mufti for the oblast, Ayup Deverdeev, was spending the money. As a result, there are now two competing Muslim religious administrations in the oblast: One is run by Deverdeev, and the other by Fatykh Alliulov. Allegations of Wahhabism are also being made, according to the weekly. Last month, the home of an emigre from Iraq was burned down. The Iraqi emigre is perceived by some people in the city to be an "unselfish man wishing to leave behind a good memory of himself" as he helps with construction of the new mosque, while others believe he is a "wandering Wahhabi" intent on stirring up trouble. JAC

Irkutsk Oblast Deputy Governor Andrei Burenin demanded on 13 December that either the federal government transfer enough money so that state sector workers' wages can be raised, or introduce external administration over the region, reported. According to Burenin, the oblast needs 3.7 billion rubles ($123 million) to raise wages -- money it simply doesn't have in its budget. The website suggested that Burenin's demand was probably a rhetorical one, and that Burenin knew that it is more than likely that Moscow will transfer the money rather than assume full responsibility for the oblast's finances. JAC

ANOTHER RUSSIAN CITY ON VERGE OF BANKRUPTCY. reported on 11 December that the city of Kurgan could be facing a repeat of the situation in Samara, where oblast authorities have taken control of the city's finances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 29 November 2001). An unnamed source in the Kurgan city administration told Uralinformbyuro that the city does not have enough money to pay both teachers' wages and its electricity and heating bills in full. According to the website, in order to fully pay teachers' wages, the city would have to disburse about 30 percent of the city's budget; however, the city also owes money to Kurganenergo. The city has paid Kurganenergo only 64 percent of the cost of its current consumption, and the power supplier has limited heating supplies to consumers as a result. The mayoral administration has appealed to the oblast government for help so the city can avoid a teachers' strike on the eve of the new year. JAC

Lev Ponomarev, head of the all-Russian Movement for Human Rights, told journalists in Moscow on 18 December that law enforcement officials and prosecutors in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) have openly violated election laws and have jailed Moscow-based journalist Irina Volkova and sociologist Pavel Stepanov, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Volkova and Stepanov were working for the campaign of one of the local presidential candidates. According to Ponomarev, neither Volkova nor Stepanov are represented by a lawyer. They are accused of inciting interethnic strife and slander -- charges which Ponomarev claims have no basis. JAC

Parents and Tatarstan Republic Education Ministry officials participated in a public discussion of obligatory Tatar-language and -literature lessons under the auspices of the daily "Vechernyaya Kazan," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 18 December. According to the bureau, many of the staunchest critics of the lessons argued that they distract children from learning other languages and weaken their speaking and writing skills in Russian. Despite the use of Russian in all classes aside from Tatar language and literature, the parents said the policy violated pupils' democratic freedoms. (Other subjects are taught in Tatar in only a few secondary schools in the republic.) Meanwhile, Education Ministry officials admitted during the discussion that there is a lack of highly qualified Tatar teachers and good textbooks, but emphasized that current federal and republican legislation allow for compulsory learning in Tatar. JAC

The presidium of the moderate nationalist group Tatar Public Center has sent an appeal to the Tatar people protesting against the recent decision to divide ethnic Tatars into six separate groups in the countrywide census to be conducted next year, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 13 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2001). According to the appeal, census organizers are attempting to "divide the [Tatar] nation." The previous day, former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that he does not believe it is possible for Tatarstan to become a "classic" independent state, and suggested that Tatarstan officials should instead seek more rights, freedoms, and broader national autonomy as part of the Russian Federation. Kravchuk also recalled that during negotiations for a new union treaty in 1991, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev had a more "progressive, more democratic" point of view than the leaders of other autonomous republics, many of whom were trying to preserve the Soviet Union. JAC

Former deputy head of the main administration of the Central Bank for Altai Krai, Lyudmila Zaitseva, has been arrested on suspicion of embezzlement, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 15 November. Zaitseva had reportedly been hiding out in Kazakhstan. ... BASHKORTOSTAN. The local prosecutor has completed a year-long investigation of two former managers of state enterprises, Bashkir Airlines head Vilmir Gaziev and Bashimpeks head Nadir Valeev, who have been charged with embezzlement and forgery of official documents, RIA-Novosti reported on 1 November.... MARII EL. Vladimir Usynin, head of the customs department for the republic, has been sentenced to five years in prison for accepting bribes, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 18 December. ... NOVOSIBIRSK. A criminal case against former Novosibirsk Governor Vitalii Mukha on suspicion of abuse of office that was launched last year has been stopped because the governor retains immunity, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 13 December. PRIMORE. The local prosecutor has discovered more irregularities in the activities of the Vladivostok committee for the management of municipal property; RIA-Novosti reported on 29 November. As a result of contracts concluded by the committee, the premises of some kindergartens and schools are being used for dentists' offices, shops, warehouses, and commercial offices. JAC