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Russia Report: May 17, 2000

17 May 2000, Volume 2, Number 18
President Vladimir Putin on 11 May ordered the suspension of both a decree by Ingush President Ruslan Aushev providing for money to be deducted from tax payments to Moscow in order to cover central debts to the republic and an Ingush government resolution prohibiting the republic's migration service from issuing work permits to employees from abroad. Both actions, Putin's decree said, violated the Russian Constitution and Russian laws, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, President Putin signed another decree rescinding procedures introduced by Amur Oblast for Russian citizens to visit a trade center in neighboring China. The issue had been dealt with twice in Russian-Chinese intergovernmental agreements, and the action taken by Amur was seen to be outside the oblast's jurisdiction, according to "Izvestiya." And also on 11 May, President Putin, responding to an earlier missive from Bashkortostan's lawmakers, sent a letter to the speaker of the Bashkortostan parliament urging him to bring the republic's constitution into line with the Federation constitution and laws. In particular, Putin pointed to provisions of the republican constitution that promote the idea of Bashkortostan as a "full subject of international law" as well as ones dealing with issues such as citizenship, customs, credits, and calling a state of emergency. The Russian president warned that those provisions contravene the principle of the "spread of the state sovereignty of the Russian Federation over all its territory," Interfax reported. JC

Two days later, Putin issued a decree putting Russia's 89 federation subjects into seven administrative districts, namely the Central, North West, North Caucasus, Volga, Ural, Siberia and Far East districts (see "What's Where" below). Under the same decree, Putin dismissed his 80 plus presidential representatives to each region, explaining that he will name a presidential representative to each of the seven districts at a later date. According to ITAR-TASS, these new presidential representatives, who will be held directly accountable to the president, will ensure the compliance of each zone with decisions adopted by federal authorities. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 May, Anton Federov, the head of the department in the presidential administration for coordinating the activities and responsibilities of presidential representatives in Russia's regions, said the 13 May decree is "only the beginning of administrative reforms." But he also said that the reform will "not in principle" affect the current administrative-territorial divisions within Russia. He said that the main task of the reform is "first of all to lighten the administrative load of the federal center and federal budget." He also explained that part of the contemplated reforms might be to transfer certain federal structures, such as those dealing with the environment, to the jurisdiction of the local regional head or governor. According to Federov, defining the parameters of newly created administrative districts will require detailed legislative work and possibly changes to the Russian Constitution, but he added that the latter is a matter only for the "distant future." JAC

Regional leaders expressed mostly support for the introduction of the seven administrative districts, but other voices in the regions--particularly in the "ethnic republics" and not from among official ranks--have expressed fears that the reform will eventually do away with territorial divisions based on nationality. For example, a historian in Tatarstan told local television there that "it seems to me that these structures are aimed at the creation of so-called 'non-national' territorial entities in Russia," RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir service reported. Kremlin officials have not yet reacted to this charge, but one strong Putin supporter in the regions, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, commenting on the decree, said on 16 May that "there cannot be such a situation in the country where Tatars in Tatarstan have more rights than Tatars in Novgorod," Interfax reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is financed by Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, concluded that Putin's decree altered the "character" of the federation. The daily suggested that the president's decree, along with recent discussion of changing the nature of the Federation Council, indicates that Russia is in the midst of a transformation from a federative to a unitary government. JAC

Addressing a conference in Astrakhan on "Russian Parliamentarism and State Power in the Regions," Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev argued that while federalism is implicit in Russian legislation, unitarianism is inferred in financing, "Tribuna" reported on 5 May. One in five laws passed by regional administrations contradict federal legislation, Stroev said, adding that while the constitution does not provide for state agreements between the center and federation subjects, 47 such agreements exist. He also asserted that although officially there only eight donor regions, "no fewer than 50 regions are able to pay their own way," including Astrakhan. JC

RFE/RL's correspondent in Syktyvkar reported on 6 May that "Kurer plyus" faces the threat of closure after the Komi prosecutor launched a civil suit against the newspaper. The official reason for that action was that the editorial staff failed, among other things, to announce from which election fund campaign advertisements were paid for during the run-up to the 26 March presidential elections. Most, if not all, publications in the republic were guilty of that offense, but legal action has been taken only against the independent "Kurer plyus," which has been critical of the local administration and supported Grigorii Yavlinskii's candidacy in the recent presidential ballot. "Kurer plyus" chief editor Nikolai Moiseev, who fears the court will impose such a large fine that the newspaper will be forced to close, sees the move as linked to Governor Yurii Spiridonov's recent statement that he might run for a third term in office. To do so, Spiridonov would have to bring elections forward to this year, ahead of the introduction in 2001 of the federal law allowing governors to hold only two terms in office. In the event of a re-election bid, he would clearly prefer to have as many local media outlets as possible backing his candidacy. JC

Boris Afanasiev, a 65-year old member of the mayoral campaign staff to elect State Duma Deputy (independent) Viktor Cherepkov, was found dead in his apartment in Vladivostok on 10 May, Interfax reported. Afanasiev had been collecting signatures to support Cherepkov's candidacy in one of Vladivostok's five districts. Signature lists were found surrounding his corpse. Local police said that a preliminary investigation shows no signs that Afanasiev was murdered, but Cherepkov said that he was not excluding the possibility that Afanasiev's death occurred by force. Meanwhile, city administration officials announced that they plan to give away free lottery tickets to voters who show up at the polls for the 18 June mayoral elections, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, local enterprises have provided prizes for the lottery that include cars, refrigerators, TV sets, video recorders, and washing machines. City officials hope that the free tickets will provide enough incentive for voters to show up in sufficient numbers for the ballot to be declared valid. JAC

Following his resounding defeat by incumbent Governor Vladimir Yakovlev in the 14 May elections, Igor Artemev wasted no time in announcing his intention to contest the results of that ballot. The joint candidate of Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces pointed to what he claimed were dirty campaign tricks aimed at keeping his electorate away from the polling stations. In an interview with "St. Petersburg Times" conducted on 15 May, Artemev said that during the last few days leading up to the elections, local newspapers and television had spread the incorrect information that the election would be valid only if 50 percent of voters took part. "My electorate did not come to the polling stations, showing their protest [against that vote]," he said. Artemev also said that two days before polling day, fliers appeared around the city alleging that Yakovlev had called on voters to boycott the ballot. According to preliminary unofficial results released by the St. Petersburg election commission, 47.71 percent of the city's voters took part in the ballot, Interfax reported. JC

The press service of the Central Election Commission (TsIK), meanwhile, announced on 15 May that it had received no complaints related to the elections, and TsIK member Olga Volkova, who observed the conduct of the vote, expressed her opinion that the ballot took place in accordance with the law, reported. According to preliminary unofficial results, incumbent Governor Yakovlev received 72.69 percent support, Artemev 14.68 percent, deputy chairman of the federal Audit Chamber Yurii Boldyrev 3.79 percent and London-based businessman Artem Tarasov 3.72 percent; 3.72 percent of voters voted against all eight candidates. JC

Before his re-election victory, St. Petersburg Governor Yakovlev declared his support for reintroducing the institution of governor-general. Interfax quoted his spokesman Aleksandr Afanasev as saying on 6 May that Yakovlev first made that proposal some three years ago. According to Yakovlev's view, the governor-general would combine the functions of governor and presidential representative. Earlier this year, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel came out in favor of the reintroduction of governors-general (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 1 March 2000). JC

The fifth annual Russian Economic Forum opened in Yekaterinburg on 11 May. Sverdlovsk Governor Rossel opened the meeting by announcing that "everyone has come to realize that the development of Russia should not depend on foreign technologies, investments, or credits," but on Russia's own resources. He continued that economic growth is possible in Russia if all of domestic economic sectors and industries work together using internal resources wisely, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 12 May. According to that government newspaper, previous forum were marked by criticism of federal government policies and this year "it was decided to drop the criticism." However, Interfax reported that Rossel stated that decisions are being taken now, such as raising tariffs for energy carriers, that will inevitably lead to a jump in prices and an increase in the "dollarization" of the economy. The previous day, Rossel's press service issued a statement that following the governor's meeting with State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev on 11 May, Rossel believes that it is necessary for Russia to adopt a law on "budget federalism" because the country does not have a single government policy with regard to budget transfers to the regions. JAC

Governor Rossel announced on 10 May that his political organization, Transformation of the Urals, plans to join Our Home is Our City (NDNG), headed by his long-time opponent Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii, the Website reported. Chernetskii unsuccessfully competed against Rossel in the 26 March gubernatorial elections. According to Region-Inform, the mayor and governor discussed the planned merger at a recent one-on-one meeting. Local analysts suggest that the move is intended not only to improve the region's political atmosphere, as Rossel has suggested, but also to undermine Rossel's only real political opposition, the coalition of Our Home is Our City (NDNG), the May movement and the Communist Party that exists in the oblast's parliament. If NDNG joins with the Transformation of the Urals, that coalition would no longer have a majority. JAC

Aleksandr Dugin, who is an adviser to State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, told Tatarstan Television on 10 May that the possibility of designating Kazan as Russia's third capital is being "seriously discussed" in Moscow, RFE/RL's Tatar Service reported. Dugin said that implementing that proposal would contribute to Eurasian integration, indicate that Russia's interests lie in the East, rather than to the West, and appeal to Russia's Turkic minorities. He also suggested that the Federation Council might be moved to Kazan. Seleznev had proposed late last month that the Federal Assembly be relocated to St. Petersburg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2000). LF

The New Gang Of Seven?

By Julie A. Corwin

Less than a week after his inauguration, Russian President Vladimir Putin followed up on pre-election pledges to crack down on unruly Russian regions who flout federal laws. He issued a series of decrees rescinding local legislation, warned local lawmakers to pay attention to federal laws, and most important, established seven new administrative districts subsuming Russia's 89 federation subjects. These new districts will be headed by a new kind of presidential representative. Some regional leaders in their discussion of the new policy are already referring to these representatives as "governors-general," thereby suggesting that the new mini-Putins might have greater powers than those of the governors themselves or at least considerably more than their predecessors.

At least on paper, the new presidential representatives will have wide range of responsibilities as well as resources at their disposal. According to the text of Putin's 13 May decree, the representatives will be charged with coordinating the activities of federal bodies within the regions, analyzing the effectiveness of local law enforcement agencies, and organizing control over the implementation of decisions of federal organs. They will have the power to recommend to the president that he suspend specific local laws or decrees when they contradict federal laws. They will also have at their disposal personnel of the former 80 plus presidential representatives as well as the staff of the Kremlin's Control Department. President Putin headed the Control Department when he first came to Moscow, and Columbia University's Steve Solnick suggests that Putin will therefore "have some people he knows and trusts on the inside--which is clearly his modus operandum in general."

So far, though, regional leaders appeared less than overwhelmed, having responded to news of the new, improved administrative system with expressions of mild to enthusiastic support. For example, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev said that the new system will "serve as a more effective instrument for realizing the constitutional authority of the president of the Russian federation," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov echoed Shaimiev's sentiments, saying on 15 May that the new system would increase the effectiveness of how the country is ruled. Kurgan Oblast Governor Oleg Bogomolov called Putin's measure a "serious" reform and noted that "governors themselves had called for such steps long ago." A number of regional leaders such as the governor of Lipetsk also expressed the hope that the large number of federal officials operating on their territory would finally be supervised by someone--since Moscow is too far away to do the job properly.

One explanation for the governors' nonchalance may be that they are confident they can elude control of a new "center" even if it is as close as the next oblast rather than three or five time zones away in Moscow. After all, the "center" for the new Far Eastern administrative okrug will be Vladivostok. While that may be a good location for monitoring activities in Primorskii Krai and possibly neighboring Khabarovsk, the capitals of Sakha and Magadan will still be more than 1000 kilometers away.

Regional leaders may also be saving their fire for more important battles: A variety of Russian newspapers reported this week that the State Duma will considering changing how the Federation Council is formed by eliminating the right of governors and leaders of regional legislators to membership in the upper legislative house. Similar reports have circulated about draft legislation requiring the dismissal of a regional governor or president should he violate federal law on more than one occasion.

Another possible explanation for their comments so far is that regional heads see little point in complaining when they have had so little good to say about the previous system of presidential representatives. Moreover, they know only the broad outlines of the new position. Although representatives will have wide ranging responsibilities, it is not yet clear what will be the source of their power. Joel Hellman of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development suggests that it is likely Putin will give his new representatives a very effective tool: discretion over financial flows from the center to the regions. According to Hellman, "The question is whether [Putin] just wants to improve the monitoring capacity of the presidential administration over the regions or whether he really wants to gain greater power over the governors.... The likelihood is that he will give [the presidential representatives] the only thing that will give them real power control over money."

Regardless, the administrative reform of representative post may mean, at the very least, fewer headaches for President Putin. As Columbia's Solnick explains, "The stage is now set for Putin to begin saying to [Samara Governor Konstantin] Titov and [Tatarstan President Mintimer] Shaimiev and [Saratov Governor Dmitrii] Ayatskov: 'I don't handle these details; talk to [your local presidential representative] and work it out."

Provided that the mini-Putins don't develop independent power bases of their own--a development that Putin's former colleagues in the Control Department will at least be able to monitor, if not prevent--Putin will be freer to concentrate on matters closer to Red Square.


The following table shows how Russia's 89 federation subjects have been placed in the new schema of 7 administrative districts (okrug) laid out under the 13 May presidential decree.

District: Central

Center: Moscow

Regional members: Belgorod, Bryansk, Vladimir, Voronezh, Ivanovo, Kaluga, Kostroma, Kursk, Lipetsk, Moscow, Orel, Ryazan, Smolensk, Tambov, Tver, Tula and Yaroslavl Oblasts, and Moscow city

District: Northwest

Center: St. Petersburg

Regional members: Karelia and Komi Republics, Arkhangelsk, Vologda, Kaliningrad, Leningrad, Murmansk, Novgorod, and Pskov Oblasts, the city of St. Petersburg, and Nenets Autonomous Okrug

District: North Caucasus

Center: Rostov na Donu

Regional members: Adygei, Daghestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachai-Cherkessia, North Ossetia and Chechen Republics, Krasnodar and Stavropol Krais, Astrakhan, Volgograd and Rostov Oblasts

District: Volga

Center: Nizhnii Novgorod

Regional members: Bashkortostan, Marii El, Mordovia, Tatarstan, Udmurtia, and Chuvash Republics, Kirov, Nizhnii Novgorod, Orenburg, Penza, Perm, Samara, Saratov and Ulyanovsk Oblasts, and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug

District: Ural

Center: Yekaterinburg

Regional members: Kurgan, Sverdlovsk, Tyumen, and Chelyabinsk Oblasts and Khanty-Mansii and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs

District: Siberia

Center: Novosibirsk

Regional members: Altai, Buryatia, Tuva, and Khakassia Republics, Altai and Krasnoyarsk Krais, Irkutsk, Kemerovo, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tomsk, and Chita Oblasts, Taimyr, Ust-Ordinskii and Evenk Autonomous Okrugs

District: Far East

Center: Vladivostok

Regional members: Sakha Republic, Primorskii and Khabarovsk Krais, Amur, Kamchatka, Magadan, and Sakhalin Oblasts, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, and Koryak and Chukotka Autonomous Okrugs