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Russia Report: March 29, 2000

29 March 2000, Volume 2, Number 12
In addition to his hometown of St. Petersburg, President-elect Vladimir Putin performed best in the 26 March presidential elections in Russia's so-called ethnic republics. He polled 68.57 percent in Tatarstan, 79.97 percent in Daghestan, 85.42 percent in Ingushetia, 74.42 percent in Kabardino-Balkaria, 64.20 percent in Karelia, 60.34 percent in Bashkortostan, 59.91 percent in Komi, 56.38 percent in Kalmykia, 61.07 percent in Udmurtia, 67.35 percent in the Marii El Republic, and 59.86 percent in Mordovia, according to Federal Election Commission's website, RFE/RL's Saransk correspondent reported on 27 March that Mordovia's President Nikolai Merkushkin declared one week before the elections that "Mordovia should vote for Putin." A local analyst told RFE/RL's correspondent that Saransk authorities were eager to prove their loyalty to the Kremlin following the strong performance of the anti-Kremlin bloc Fatherland-All Russia in the 19 December State Duma elections. JAC

In the Far East and Siberia, Putin did less well than might have been expected, given the strong performance of the Putin-backed movement Unity in State Duma elections in those regions. For example, in Primorskii Krai, Putin won only 40.08 percent of the vote, compared with 36.36 percent for Zyuganov. In Novosibirsk Oblast, Putin squeaked by Communist Party leader Zyuganov with 39.91 percent versus 38.23 percent. (Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii scored an impressive 8.07 percent in Primorye and 7.94 percent in Novosibirsk.) In Khabarovsk, Putin won 49.97 percent of the vote, 41.96 percent in Buryatia, 49.33 percent in Amur, 46.72 percent in Sakhalin, 48.72 percent in Kamchatka, and 50.10 percent in Irkutsk. Sverdlovsk and Magadan Oblasts proved the exceptions, where Putin won 62.85 percent and 61.97 percent of the votes, respectively. JAC

Chelyabinsk Governor Petr Sumin hailed Putin's victory on 27 March, noting that it gives Russia "a chance for rebirth." Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov remarked the same day that by supporting Putin, Russian voters had expressed their backing for his decisive actions aimed at strenghthening government rule and Russia's territorial integrity. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev noted that Putin's strong performance in that region came about because of the president's recent visit and his positive evaluation of the power-sharing agreement between Moscow and Kazan, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2000). JAC

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov failed to secure the largest share of votes in presidential elections in some of the so-called "red" regions where the Communist Party traditionally had enjoyed strong support. For example, in Krasnodar Krai, Putin polled 51.5 percent of the votes compared with Zyuganov's 37.4 percent, RFE/RL's Krasnodar correspondent reported on 27 March. During the first round of the 1996 presidential election in that region, Zyuganov polled 42 percent of the vote, compared with former President Boris Yeltsin's 39 percent. According to RFE/RL's correspondent, Krasnodar Governor Nikolai Kondratenko (Communist) has so far maintained a "mournful silence" regarding Zyuganov's poor performance. Putin also won more votes in Stavropol Krai, Orel, and Ulyanovsk Oblasts than Zyuganov, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 March. According to "Zavtra" (issue no. 12), which is close to the Communist Party, Kondratenko is likely to be "removed" by Putin's government "with the help of the Interior Ministry; its on-site activities will be coordinated by Putin's Kuban campaign office," which is headed by two generals known for their participation in the first war against Chechnya. JAC

Zyuganov won more votes than Putin only in the Republics of Altai and Chechnya and in Lipetsk and Omsk Oblasts. He almost bested Putin in Chuvashia, where he polled 42.80 percent of the vote, compared with Putin's 44.31 percent. Fellow "Communist " Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev, who was also a presidential candidate, won only his own oblast, where he received 51.57 percent of the voter support. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 March, Tuleev didn't even manage to surpass the 10 percent barrier in any other region. But he still managed to place fourth in a field of 11 presidential candidates. Suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov also performed a bit better in his home region than nationally, gaining 3.28 percent of support in Buryatia, compared with 0.4 percent nationally. JAC

Every incumbent governor up for re-election in 26 March elections won. Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov, Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatksov, Altai Krai head Aleksandr Surikov, Jewish Autonomous Oblast Governor Nikolai Volkov, Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug head Aleksandr Filipenko, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug head Yurii Neelov, and Kirov Oblast Governor Vladimir Sergeenkov were all re-elected. Volkov and Sergeenkov polled the least support--56.9 and 58.5 percent of the vote, respectively--while Yevdokimov, Filipenko, and Neelov attracted more than 86 percent of voter support in their regions. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 March, Murmansk voters turned out in record numbers with a "fantastic" 98.17 percent voting for their governor. Voting results in Jewish Autonomous Oblast showed an erosion of support for the incumbent governor, despite his re-election: The number of voters backing him dropped 15 percent in comparison with the fall 1996 gubernatorial election there. Saratov Governor Ayatskov also lost support, with just 67.39 percent voter support in this race, compared with 81.35 percent in 1996 (see below). Some analysts suggested prior to the election that incumbents had an unfair advantage in these races because the elections were held with such short notice that challengers had little time to organize. Governor Ayatskov's re-election bid was originally scheduled for September 2000, while the remaining governors' races were slated for the last quarter of 2000. JAC

Acting President Putin and Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov signed an agreement on 23 March in Ufa in which Bashkortostan agreed to funnel all money through the federal treasury and relinquish its right to collect federal taxes and directly finance federal programs, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 23 March 2000). The agreement also enumerates the conditions for the center to provide financial aid to Bashkortostan, according to Interfax. Commenting on his visit to Ufa and Kazan, Putin said that the leaders of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan have agreed "to function in the framework of a single Russian law." According to "Segodnya" on 24 March, Putin said that Tatarstan President Shaimiev is ready to sign an agreement similar to that signed by Bashkortostan, which, the newspaper concluded, "can be considered a major victory for the Kremlin." JAC

RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" commented in its 11 March edition that rural dwellers have become so impoverished in Komi Republic that there is virtually no money in circulation there. Last year, some 26 branches of Sberbank closed in rural regions of the republic, while in the first three months of this year alone, no fewer than 40 have shut up shop. Because local residents were not opening bank accounts, it had become unprofitable for those branches to continue paying rent and employees' wages. The apparently impecunious state of the republic also seems to have resulted from the "total breakdown" of the system of consumers' cooperatives in villages. Today, according to "Korrespondentskii chas," only private entrepreneurs are to be seen peddling their wares at those cooperatives --at inflated prices. JC

Four local leaders have sent a letter to the Kremlin in a bid to have republican President Vyacheslav Kislitsyn removed from office and the republic placed under the direct rule of Moscow, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 March. The mayors of Ioshkar-Ola and Volzhsk as well as the heads Volzhsk and Zvenigovsk Raions complain that the republic will "fall apart" within one or two years if Kislitsyn's rule is not curtailed. They point to the sorry state of the industrial sector--every second enterprise is running at a loss--and the fall in the output of grain and the number of livestock. The only spheres of activity that are profit-making, according to the authors of the appeal, are those controlled by the president's relatives and close associates. Two-thirds of the population of the republic live in the areas controlled by the four local leaders. Meanwhile, 10 heads of towns and settlements elsewhere in the republic have issued a statement in support of Kislitsyn, apparently under pressure from the republican president, "Izvestiya" reported on 29 March. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 March, in terms of both per capita revenue and per capita expenditure, Marii El occupies 84th position among the federation's 89 subjects. JC

The interregional association Siberian Accord and the administration of Novosibirsk Oblast have created a working group to prepare a "Human Encyclopedia of Siberia," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 March. The goal of the project is to present a more complete history of Siberia from the point of view of its peoples and personalities. Included in the group are officials from the Museum of Siberian Military District, the Siberian departments of the national Academy of Sciences, journalists, historians, veterans, and members of local governments. JAC

After suffering a series of setbacks late last year in his attempts to participate in a variety of races, Former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov finally managed to win election to a new political office. In 26 March repeat elections for the State Duma, Cherepkov managed to win the most votes, beating out a field of competitors that included former krai Duma speaker Sergei Dudnik. The website reported that according to sources close to Primore Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, krai authorities were ordered to support Nazdratenko's longtime foe, Cherepkov, with the possible aim of trying to get him out of the region and out of the governor's "hair". However, "Segodnya" reported on 28 March that Cherepkov's victory may be challenged in court by Orysya Bondarenko, whom the local election commission excluded from the elections at the last minute, accusing her of trying to buy votes. Bondarenko is reportedly close to Governor Nazdratenko. JAC

One day after another St. Petersburg businessman was slain in the northern city, federal Deputy Interior Minister Petr Latyshev told state-run Russian Television (ORT) that "everything that is going on in St. Petersburg today is directly linked to the [city] authorities." Latyshev was speaking on 23 March following his return to Moscow from St. Petersburg, where he had revealed that his ministry has information potentially damaging to St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev's administration (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 and 22 March 2000). The same day, in an interview with "Kommersant-Daily, Latyshev remarked that one of the reasons for the "criminalization" of St. Petersburg was the "weakness" of the city authorities. Sergei Krizhan, the director-general of the ORSTG joint-stock consulting company, was shot dead in his car in a southwestern suburb of St. Petersburg late on 22 March. His friend and former colleague, Dmitrii Varvarin, head of the Orimi company, had been gunned down outside his home earlier this month in what some argued was a politically motivated contract killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2000). JC

Despite the Kremlin's ongoing campaign to discredit Yakovlev, the incumbent governor would still win comfortably in the first round if gubernatorial elections were held at this time, according to a poll conducted by the Scientific-Research Institute of the St. Petersburg University and cited by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 March. Some 60 percent of respondents in the poll support Yakovlev, while federal Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko received only 9 percent backing, followed by Yurii Boldyrev, head of the eponymous Bloc of Yurii Boldyrev (5 percent) and local Yabloko leader Igor Artemev (2 percent). All other candidates received less than 1 percent of the vote. JC

Samara Governor Konstantin Titov finished sixth in the field of 11 candidates in Russia presidential elections, winning only 1.5 percent of the vote. In Samara Oblast, Titov fared a little better, capturing 20.53 percent of the vote. However, President-elect Putin and Communist Party leader Zyuganov were more successful with 44.0 percent and 29.05 percent, respectively. JAC

Just a week before the 26 March gubernatorial elections, Saratov Governor Ayatskov quickly paid the wages of all state sector workers, provided veterans with a 100 ruble ($3.50) increase in their pensions and authorized the production of a 20 ruble bottle of vodka, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 March. Even more helpful to Ayatskov's chances was the local election commission which pulled the registration of Ayatskov's main competitor, Valerii Rashkin, first secretary of the oblast committee of the Communist Party. Ayatskov won but with 14 percent less support than during the 1996 election. In addition, more than 20 percent of voters voted against all gubernatorial candidates. JAC

Residents of the Republic of Udmurtia voted on 26 March in favor of a referendum to transform the office of the head of the republic's administration into a presidency. Some 70.2 percent of voters favored the proposal while 27.34 voted against it, according to Interfax-Eurasia. The next step for the government will be to amend the region's constitution. JAC

Suspicion of seeking to exploit links with President-elect Putin to finance his own election campaign has fallen heavily on Vasilii Galushkin, State Duma deputy and leader of the local branch of the pro-Kremlin Unity, following the publication in the Volgograd press of a photocopied letter bearing Unity's stamp and Galushkin's signature, according to "Novye izvestiya" on 24 March. The letter, sent just days before the 26 March presidential elections, requested that a Volgograd enterprise make a 300,000 rubles ($11,000) donation to the local branch of Unity to help fund the development of the movement's organizational structure in the oblast. According to the newspaper, this was just one of a number of such letters dispatched by the local Unity leader--without the knowledge of the movement's Moscow headquarters. Observers speculate that Galushkin may be seeking to use such funds to boost his chances as a potential candidate in the gubernatorial ballot scheduled for December. And it seems he will need all the campaign funds he can get: polls suggest that the former first deputy governor of Volgograd currently has only 6 percent backing. JC

REGIONAL INDEX: Housing Prices Across Russia.
The following table shows the average asking price per square meter for housing in selected cities across Russia. Prices are quoted in dollars. From the first of August 2000, Gosstroi will start to issue a quarterly review of housing costs across Russia, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 March. (JAC)

City____Dec. 98____June 99_____Nov. 99____Feb. 00

St. Petersburg____560_____380____360_______n/a

Nizhnii Novgorod__370_____245_____265_______n/a




Source: Russian Realtors Guild