1 March 2000, Volume
PAN-REGIONAL ISSUES: REGIONAL LEADERS OVEREAGER IN THEIR SUPPORT FOR PUTIN?
"Vremya MN" reported on 22 February that eagerness to support Unity is so fierce in some regions, including Tula, Krasnodar, Samara, Sakhalin oblasts and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, that competing Unity branches have been formed. RFE/RL's correspondent in Irkutsk reported on 19 February that two branches of Unity have simultaneously been established there. According to "Vremya MN," the national Unity organization is cooperating most closely with regional heads who supported the pro-Kremlin movement since its inception. In those regions whose governor did not support Unity, opposition groups are being formed with Moscow's backing. In both Samara and Irkutsk, local businessmen have established alternative Unity groups that appear to be favored by the Kremlin (see item below and "End Note," "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 23 February 2000). "Vedomosti" reported on 25 February that some officials in the Kremlin administration fear that regional heads, eager to earn acting President Vladimir Putin's gratitude, may go too far and give other candidates in the race grounds to feel cheated and initiate legal action. According to the daily, one governor began his report at a recent conference on wage debts chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko by citing Putin's presidential approval rating in his region. JAC
THREE GOVERNORS CALL FOR LENGTHENING PRESIDENTIAL TERM...
In an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 February, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, Kurgan Governor Oleg Bogomolov, and Belgorod Governor Yevgenii Savchenko proposed that Russia's presidents spend seven years in office rather than four. In an interview with Russian Television on 28 February, Prusak explained that such a step was necessary because the country is going through a transition period and too many elections should not be held in such a short period. He also suggested that the president should appoint the heads of the power ministries, while the prime minister should name the heads of the economic ministries. On 28 February, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev called for extending gubernatorial terms from four years to seven, saying that it takes seven years to implement a project. He also advocated taking some powers away from presidential representatives to regions and giving it to governors. Yakovlev is up for re-election on 14 May (see items below). JAC
...AS ANOTHER REGIONAL LEADER SPEAKS OUT IN FAVOR OF FEWER REGIONS.
Vitalii Vishnyakov, chairman of the Chita Oblast's legislative assembly and deputy chairman of the Federation Council's Committee for Federation Affairs and Federative Agreements, told reporters on 24 February that he believes "the right to sovereignty can be used not only for disintegration but also for unification." Vishnyakov made his remarks following a "round-table" the same day in the Federation Council devoted to a State Duma draft law on the establishment of new subjects of the Russian Federation. The law attempts to define the legal requirements for the merger of two or more adjacent subjects as well as establish the norms for abolishing existing subjects. Vishnyakov said that he believes that 89 regions is simply too many and the number should be reduced. At the same time, other participants in the round-table asserted that not all subjects in the federation are tending toward integration--for example, the opposite trend was occurring in Tyumen Oblast and its two autonomous okrugs. Vishnyakov suggested that the eight interregional associations might serve as a prototype for the strengthening of Russia's regions. Presidential candidate and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev proposed earlier that the number of regions should be reduced to 30-35 because 89 is too unwieldy (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 23 February 2000). JAC
SVERDLOVSK GOVERNOR CALLS FOR REVIVING OFFICE OF GOVERNORS-GENERAL.
Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel told reporters on 24 February that he favors reintroducing the institution of governors-general to oversee large economic regions, Interfax-Eurasia reported. In his opinion, it is impossible to rule 89 regions and Russia has lost "controllability." However, Rossel said that he does not support the idea of appointing governors because "Russia has started down the path to building a democratic society and one attribute of such a society is elections." JAC
FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR SINGLE FOREIGN POLICY.
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told ITAR-TASS on 29 February that while Russian federalism may continue developing, "the country must have a single foreign policy." He explained that "Russia's foreign economic relations have lately multiplied and become more diversified." He hailed this development as "a positive fact" but noted that the process must be streamlined. According to the agency, the Russian government has decreed that Russian regions will not receive the cabinet's consent to establishing economic ties with foreign states without approval of the Foreign Ministry. JAC
BURYATIA: JAPAN HOPING TO REVIVE PAN-MONGOLISM?
A professor of linguistics in Japan, Katsukhiko Tanaka, has suggested that Buryatia return to the name of Buryat-Mongolia in order to attract more investors in East Asia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony" reported on 22 February. According to the semi-monthly, Tanaka says that Buryatia is virtually unknown in Japan, while Mongolia enjoys very warm relations with his country. He also maintains that Buryats should speak in their native language, and Japan will be happy to help the "Mongol-speaking" population. Tanaka has on several occasions pressed the idea that the Japanese are genetically closer to the Buryats than to Koreans, Chinese, and even the Ainus (who live on Kurile Islands.) Tanaka also expresses the hope that the old "enthusiasm" for pan-Mongolism, which Soviet authorities squashed, can be revived. The newspaper notes that Tanaka is an academic and therefore his views cannot be equated with that of the Japanese government. However, it notes that while Tanaka's earlier visits to Buryatia took place within the confines of a cultural and scientific mission, this time his trip was sponsored by the Japanese Embassy in Russia. JAC
LOCAL LEADERS CALL ON PRESS TO BE LOYAL TO PUTIN.
Journalists in Buryatia fear that they will face pressure to slant their coverage of federal presidential elections in favor of acting President Putin, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 29 February. According to the daily, three deputy prime ministers in the republic's government recently took vacation so that they could head local campaign headquarters for Putin. In its most recent issue, the popular local weekly "Inform-Polis," claimed that "any sound-minded individual understands that the levers of influence remain in [the deputy premiers'] hands." It reported that the representatives to the republican committee for media have advised local press to "be more loyal" to Putin. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," local newspapers are vulnerable to government pressure since they lease facilities at the House of Publishing and other buildings that the government owns. The newspaper also notes that the republic has traditionally been sympathetic to the Communist Party. In addition, presidential candidate and suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov also has some pockets of local support since he is from Buryatia originally. JAC
IRKUTSK: UNITY TAPS BUSINESS ELITE FOR SUPPORT...
The first founding congress of the Irkutsk branch of the pro-Kremlin movement Unity was held on 19 January, "Korrespondentskii chas" reported on 19 February. Three weeks later on 11 February another founding congress was held by a different group that is also vying to be considered Unity's Irkutsk organization. The "first" Unity is made up of members of the local political elite. They elected as their chairman the head of the legislative assembly of the city of Irkutsk Gennadii Khoroshilov. Members of the local business elite compose the second Unity. They selected the president of Irkutsk Aviation Industrial Association Aleksei Fedorov as chairman of their Unity grouping. RFE/RL's Irkutsk correspondent concludes that the second Unity is the real "party of power" in Irkutsk, controlling the regions' "real authority and resources". JAC
...AND ELECTS LOCAL CRIME FIGURE.
Meanwhile, according to the correspondent, both Unity groups are maintaining their silence about the criminal past of recently elected State Duma deputy Bashir Kadzoev, who was listed as the number one candidate on Unity's regional list. Just before the 19 December Duma elections, a local newspaper, "Otkrytaya gazeta," published that he was arrested for swindling in 1996. Although no one has challenged the veracity of the report in "Otkrytaya gazeta," Irkutsk's city prosecutor launched criminal proceedings against the newspaper's editor Viktor Prokopiev. On 11 February, police searched Prokopiev's home, taking personal correspondence and the newspaper's archives. According to RFE/RL's correspondent, the criminal case against Kadzoev has never been closed; documents for his case take up 35 volumes in the Interior Ministry's Irkutsk directorate. Kadzoev, who as a legislator now has immunity from criminal prosecution, was suspected of financial "manipulations" connected to deliveries of oil products to the north. He was recently named deputy chairman of the Committee on Northern Affairs. Sibneft head Roman Abramovich is the committee's chairman. JAC
LENINGRAD: NUCLEAR PLANT WORKERS POSTPONE PROTEST.
Workers at the Leningrad nuclear power station have postponed a labor protest planned for earlier this week after the plant's director refused to approve their proposal to reduce maintenance work to a "minimum" until the government agrees to a 50 percent wage hike, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 February. Workers have suggested halting work on the renovation of the plant's first reactor (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 23 February 2000). Plant director Valerii Lebedev was quoted by the news agency as saying that "there exist the necessary instructions and a timetable for the repair of power equipment approved by the State Nuclear Industry Supervision Authority and they must be complied with." The plant workers say the action will now begin on 11 March, unless acting President Vladimir Putin responds to their appeal to resolve the dispute. JC
MORDOVIA: OFFICIALS CONDUCT SHAM TRIAL OF INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER.
When the independent weekly "MK v Saranske" recently lost a court case that the local human rights officer has described as a "farce," the chief editors of three newspapers in Saransk sent letters to republican head Nikolaya Merkushkin and acting presidential representative Valentin Konakov protesting the "unhealthy state of affairs" in Mordovia's media sector, RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chac" reported on 19 February. The court case was brought by Yurii Filev, the head of the city's customer service, after the weekly had published a series of articles incriminating Filev in the embezzlement of a large sum of money at his former workplace and on the basis of which legal proceedings were instigated before being dropped "in a very strange manner." Documentary evidence of the embezzlement was submitted to the court considering the case against the weekly but was not produced during the trial. Moreover, the trial was concluded in "record time," just ahead of elections to the city council. Backed by both the city authorities and the republican administration, Filev went on to be elected in that ballot. "MK v Saranske," which after losing the trial is likely to experience financial difficulties, is one of the few publications in the republic that is not controlled by the republican administration. JC
PSKOV: MAYOR COMES IN THIRD FOLLOWING SEX SCANDAL.
Aleksandr Prokofiev failed to retain his post as mayor of the city of Pskov in the 27 February elections. Citing preliminary results, Interfax reported the next day that Prokofiev gained only 14.4 percent of the vote, trailing first deputy head of the Pskov administration Mikhail Khoronen and director-general of the company Pskovkabel Valerii Yevdokimenkov, who won 36.1 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively. Khoronen and Yevdokimenkov will now compete in a run-off ballot on 12 March. The mayoral ballot in Pskov was preceded by a scandal surrounding Prokofiev's deputy, Vladimir Ivchenko, who was arrested in late January on suspicion of raping school girls. Ivchenko has denied those charges, saying they are politically motivated. Prokofiev, for his part, sees Ivchenko's arrest as part of the ongoing tensions between the oblast administration and the city's Mayoral Office. "Kommersant-Daily" on 3 February quoted Prokofiev as pointing out that Ivchenko opposes the system of "mutual settlements" between the oblast and city budgets, which, he noted, results in the city losing up to 30 percent of its funds. "In my opinion, a definite link can be found between the arrest and those mutual settlements," he told the newspaper. JC
PRE-ELECTION PURGE OF PUBLIC BROADCASTERS?
In its 19 February edition, RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chac" reported that staff at Pskov Radio were recently presented with a new chief editor, just two months or so after a new man had been brought into take over that post. The official reason for the rapid change in the top editorial slot was given as "production needs." The Pskov Radio journalists protested in an open letter to the administration, which was published in a local newspaper. Fearful of losing their jobs, however, the protesting journalists chose to remain anonymous and later refused to give an interview to RFE/RL. Changes have also been taking place at the Pskov public television station, with the position of first deputy chairman going to a journalist who only recently arrived in the region from Volgograd. And the second most influential television company in the oblast, the private Telekom-7th Channel, has experienced a change in its information policy following the oblast administration's acquisition of a stake in the company. Gubernatorial elections are due in the oblast later this year. JC
ST. PETERSBURG: STEPASHIN REFUSES TO COMMIT...
After months of refusing to commit himself either way, former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin told Interfax on 25 February that he is prepared to run for the post of governor of St. Petersburg but said that his final decision depends on the consolidated support of democratic parties and the Kremlin's position. Stepashin met with acting President Putin twice over the past week but refused to confirm that the question of the St. Petersburg ballot arose during their talks, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 January. According to that newspaper, Stepashin pledged to reveal his final decision in St. Petersburg on 1 March. JC
...WHILE MATVIENKO MAY HAVE KREMLIN'S SUPPORT.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko has announced she may run for the post of St. Petersburg governor, Russian Television reported on 29 February. Rumors that Matvienko is the Kremlin's favorite for that post began circulating when she accompanied acting President Putin on a trip to the city early this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2000). "Kommersant-Daily," which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii, commented on 1 March that Matvienko's announcement suggests Putin has decided not to support Stepashin if he opts to run in the May ballot. JC
SAKHA (YAKUTIA): MOSCOW NEWSPAPER BOTHERED BY ENGLISH-LANGUAGE POLICY...
Mocking a recent decree of Sakha Republic President Mikhail Nikolaev, "Komsomolskaya pravda" published a long article written in a style reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh's novel "Scoop," about a reporters' journey to a fictional African country. On 7 January, Nikolaev signed a decree making English a mandatory language for instruction in schools as well as one of the "working languages" at official functions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2000). The special correspondent dispatched by the daily to the republic reported that she encountered a waitress in a restaurant in downtown Yakutsk that did not understand the most elementary Russian. She concluded that this was because "instruction is in Yakutian in middle schools up to the eighth grade." The correspondent also confessed to experiencing "secret pleasure" when two Russian officials at one state institution had to spend 10 minutes in order to find the village of Churapcha on a map of Yakutia that was only in English and Yakutian. JAC
... AS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER CALLS DECREE UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
On a more serious note, the daily noted that publication of Nikolaev's decree immediately raised many questions that have not yet been answered by the presidential administration. For example, does making English a working language of the government mean that all official documents should be translated into three languages, Russian, Yakutian, and English? The daily also cites Vasilii Pavlov, a deputy minister for external relations in Yakutia and one of "ideologues behind the decree," who explains that the decree is linked to another decree about the Internet. According to Pavlov, one way to provide education to students in remote villages where there are few teachers is via the Internet. He said that government would like each Russian village school to have an Internet connection. The daily notes that not one Internet connection has been established in part because none of the schools have phone lines. Vladimir Kartashkin, chairman of the federal Commission for Human Rights, said that Nikolaev's decree "violates the Russian Constitution. It is impossible to force people to study a particular language. This is a scandalous violation of their human rights. Only one thing is clear: this decree does not strengthen Russia as a federation." JAC
SVERDLOVSK: TATAR NATIONALISTS ACTIVE IN SVERDLOVSK CAPITAL.
"Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony" reported on 22 February that pamphlets are being distributed to the more than 300,000 Muslims living in Yekaterinburg calling on them not to vote in presidential elections. Sverdlovsk Oblast Mufti Sibbatula Khazrat said that the pamphlets "are being distributed by a well-known nationalist extremist organization that represents neither the government nor religious authorities." According to the semi-monthly, which is financed by Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ, the pamphlets are signed by Rafis Kashapov, chairman of the Tatar Public Center in Naberezhnye Chelny, Tatarstan. JAC
ULYANOVSK: BARKASHOVITES TO FIND LIFE MORE EXPENSIVE.
The oblast Legislative Assembly has passed legislation stipulating penalties for those who produce, distribute, and display fascist symbols, Interfax reported on 25 February. Anyone found guilty of such activities can be fined between 20 and 50 minimum wages. In the case of repeat offenders, the fine will be increased. The legislation must still be signed into law by Governor Yurii Goryachevyi. JC
VLADIMIR: JAPANESE SECT ADHERENTS REPORTED TAKING OVER VILLAGE.
ITAR-TASS reported on 27 February that members of the Japanese sect Aum Shinri Kyo, which is banned in Russia, are buying up properties in the semi-abandoned village of Yeltsy. The first sect adherents arrived in the village from Moscow in 1995, shortly after the sect was outlawed in Russia in the wake of the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway, in which Aum Shinri Kyo was implicated. Since then, according to a local official, they have gained ownership of some 24 houses in the village, leaving only four or five houses in the hands of non-sect members. Residents of neighboring villages, where the Aum Shinri Kyo members do their shopping, report that the newcomers have "money galore" to spend. The public relations department of the Federal Security Service's Vladimir branch, for its part, told the news agency that it lacks detailed information on the sect members. Before it was outlawed, Aum Shinri Kyo had six branches in Moscow and seven in other cities throughout the federation (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 19 April 1995). JC
YAROSLAVL: TURNCOAT GOVERNOR CAMPAIGNS FOR PUTIN.
The Yaroslavl branch of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Fatherland has appealed to the oblast's residents to vote for acting President Vladimir Putin in the 26 March elections, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 February. That move was taken at the initiative of Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn, a founding member of Fatherland, who shortly before the 19 December State Duma elections and the gubernatorial ballot in Yaroslavl on the same day, had urged that Fatherland join the pro-Kremlin bloc Unity (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 2 February 2000). The appeal was also signed by heads of leading companies in the oblast and the Yaroslavl mayor. Fatherland has not come out in favor of any presidential candidate, while Luzhkov has said that regional branches of the movement should nominate their own candidates for president. JC
Region___Percentage Change/4Q___Percentage Change/Year-to-date North_______+17.8%_____________+10.3%
Source: PlanEcon, Washington, D.C.