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Russia Report: May 24, 2000

24 May 2000, Volume 2, Number 19
On 19 May, President Vladimir Putin submitted to the State Duma a package of draft bills that he pledged earlier would "strengthen the unity of the [Russian] state." Included in the package are three pieces of legislation, the first of which would alter the principles of how the Federation Council is formed. Currently, the upper legislative house is composed of the heads of regions and regional parliaments. Putin said that he believes these people instead "should concentrate on the specific problems facing their territories." Under the draft bill, members of the Federation Council would be selected on a permanent basis, not in direct elections but "at the suggestion of regional legislative bodies and the regional leader," Interfax reported, quoting Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev. The constitution stipulates that the upper house should be composed of one representative of the executive and one from the legislative branch from each of the 89 federation subjects. In an interview with "Trud" on 23 May, Sergei Sobyanin, chairman of the Federation Council's Committee on Constitutional Legislation, predicted that the new type of senators will appear in early 2001. JAC

The second bill Putin submitted to the Duma would introduce a mechanism for removing the heads of regions and dissolving legislative assemblies that adopt laws that contradict federal legislation, while the third draft bill would give regional leaders the right to dismiss lower-level authorities subordinate to them for the similar reasons. Aleksandr Kotenkov, the presidential representative to the Duma, defended the proposed changes, noting that "the president can adopt the decision [to dismiss a governor] only after two court rulings" show that the regional leader has broken federal laws. In an interview with "Trud" on 23 May, Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation Chairman Sobyanin agreed, saying that the president can dismiss a governor or disband a legislature only after the courts have found violations. The Putin government has said that it hopes the Duma passes the legislation before it goes on summer recess, which is now scheduled for 7 July. JAC

"Izvestiya," which is owned by Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group and LUKoil, reported on 19 May without reference to sourcing that Putin's recent proposals are only the beginning of his planned reforms and that "by autumn Russia will look like a completely different country." According to the daily, "in the near future" tax revenues collected for the federal budget will be redistributed--presumably in Moscow's favor. The daily also predicts that by this autumn among the most important posts in Russia will be the heads of the State Property Ministry and Federal Financial Inspectorate. "Segodnya" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that Putin will proffer legislation calling for the transfer of control over regional intelligence officers, police, and tax police from the regional leaders to the president's federal district representative. "Segodnya" is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most Group, while Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group holds a controlling interest in "Nezavisimaya gazeta." JAC

Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov told reporters on 18 May that the creation of a mechanism for removing governors who violate federal laws is a "serious steps towards a civilized state." According to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev said that most regional heads approve the law for removing regional heads as well as the one giving them the same right to dismiss their local subordinates because "they are tired of chaos." Kaluga Governor Valerii Sudarenkov said that there is "nothing tragic" about the president�s having the right to dismiss regional leaders, while Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak suggested that Putin needs to continue with his reform of the country's power structure, and in particular he "should have the right to appoint governors." JAC

On the opposite side of the rhetorical divide, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov harshly criticized Putin's proposals, telling reporters in Tel Aviv on 18 May that changing the principle of forming the Federation Council is a "mistake" which "runs counter to the constitutional norms the country lives by." Luzhkov added that "this is an arbitrary decision taken out of the framework of the law and constitution." Also critical was Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev, who said the same day that any attempt to remove a president of one of the national republics could cause "great problems" because "this would imply a vote of no-confidence in all of the people who elected the president. No one has the right to dismiss a president except the people who elected him." The chairman of Tatarstan's parliament, Farid Mukhametshin. made a similar point, declaring that if the president is given the right to disband regional parliaments and dismiss regional leaders, he will "usurp the powers of the constitutional territories." The Union of Rightist Forces faction in the Duma categorically opposes giving federal executive authorities the right to dismiss regional leaders because, it says, only the country's Supreme Court should have that right. JAC

Ayatskov and Shaimiev both also suggested that a council composed of the heads of Russian territories be formed that would be chaired by the Russian president. Ayatskov suggested that the body meet as the necessity arises to discuss domestic issues and work out Russia's stance on certain international issues as well. After a meeting with Putin on 22 May, several governors said that Putin had accepted the idea of creating a new state council for regional heads, AFP reported. And, "Segodnya" reported on 24 May that a building to house the new body is already being looked for in Moscow. According to the daily, its sources say that a State Council will not be created but the Kremlin is considering establishing a kind of ancient Greek-style tribunal with wide responsibilities composed of members of all branches of power, not just governors. JAC

"RFE/RL Russian Federation Report" of 17 May cited an incorrect initial report from ITAR-TASS that Vladivostok will be the center of the new federal administrative Far Eastern district. That center will be Khabarovsk.

"Vedomosti" reported on 22 May that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Fatherland has already begun "serious work" on forming a future party-territorial structures along the principle of the federal administrative districts. JAC

The Social Council of Kamchatka Oblast has appealed to President Putin to relieve Kamchatka Governor Vladimir Biryukov of his post and introduce direct presidential rule, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 23 May. According to a copy of the appeal sent to the news agency, Kamchatka residents are demanding the restoration of heat and electricity in their homes. Last week it was announced that electricity would be turned off for a 13-15 hour period each day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2000). Authors of the appeal also noted that the reduction of energy supplies from May-June 1999 led to a sharp decline in the living conditions for residents that resulted in the deaths of 271 residents. JAC

Many regional leaders have sought to bring forward gubernatorial elections, apparently in a bid to ensure they regain office, but Aleksandr Rutskoi is reportedly working on how to postpone the Kursk ballot by two months. According to APN on 19 May, unnamed sources within the oblast administration told "Profil" that Rutskoi's associates in the Unity caucus of the local parliament are to propose moving the ballot back from October to December of this year to coincide with elections to the legislature. Rutskoi's detractors maintain this move is aimed not at saving money but at deflecting attention from the embattled governor (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 12 April and 10 May 2000). JC

Retired Navy Captain Aleksandr Nikitin recently returned to the Kola Peninsula for the first time since 1995, when he publicized data on the Russian Navy's environmentally hazardous handling of nuclear waste, In an interview with AFP, he commented that the situation there "is even worse than five years ago," adding that he is "increasingly concerned" about the decommissioned nuclear submarines left to rot in ports on the peninsula. According to the news agency, there are currently some 100 such vessels around Murmansk, and that figure is expected to rise to 120 in the near future. Nikitin was accused of espionage and treason for his role in revealing data about Russia's nuclear fleet but was acquitted by a St. Petersburg court last December. JC

RFE/RL's Pskov correspondent reported in the 13 May edition of "Korrespondentskii chas" that the oblast newspapers "Panorama" and "Tak nado" have come under pressure from the local authorities during the past several weeks after publishing articles critical of Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov and his associates. The oblast printing-house has unofficially warned the newspapers' editorial staff that it may be forced to cease printing the two publications, and more recently the "Panorama" editors were told they should start looking for new premises. "Korrespondentskii chas" noted that during the run-up to the 19 December State Duma elections, "Panorama" and "Tak nado" had supported Mikhailov's favored candidate, Mikhail Kuznetsov, and that to a large extent, it was owing to this support that Kuznetsov went on to become State Duma deputy for Pskov Oblast. JC

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 May that President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree suspending an oblast administration order to fine foreign companies and individuals whose vehicles pollute the environment. According to Putin, the imposition of such fines violates the Russian Federation's tax code, the law on the protection of the environment, and various government resolutions. JC

Citing unidentified sources within city hall, "Segodnya" on 19 May reported that the Kremlin is intending to divest newly re-elected Governor Vladimir Yakovlev of most of his powers, replace many of the city's leaders, and create a new, all-powerful post, namely that of prime minister. Those same sources say that Dmitrii Kozak, staff head of the federal government, has been tapped for that new post, and together with presidential representative for the Northwest, former Federal Security Service First Deputy Director Viktor Cherkesov, will ensure that the Kremlin has full control over St. Petersburg. According to the Moscow daily, this is the price that Yakovlev has to pay for Putin's de facto support for his re-election bid. "Segodnya" is part of Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-MOST Group. Yakovlev, for his part, is reported to be unfazed by Cherkesov's appointment. The governor was quoted by Interfax as saying that "if somebody else wants the power to sign documents, let him have it. Meanwhile, we have plenty to do in this city." JC

Valentina Karpova, the deputy mayor of Ulyanovsk and chairperson of the committee overseeing the privatization of municipal property, was hospitalized last week following a brutal attack in which she was hit over the head with a hammer. According to "Izvestiya" of 17 May, many observers link that crime to the mayor's intent to put up for auction some of the most important buildings in downtown Ulyanovsk, in a campaign aimed at filling the dwindling city coffers. The oblast administration, which has long been at loggerheads with the city authorities, is strongly opposed to such plans, accusing the Mayor's Office of squandering municipal assets. Earlier this month, tensions between the oblast and the city authorities intensified after Communist and former State Duma deputy Oleg Kazarov, an outspoken critic of Governor Yurii Goryachev, was elected first deputy mayor in charge of economic issues. The City Duma has halted its work as a sign of protest at Kazarov's election, while five deputies have resigned reportedly under pressure from the oblast administration, which appears intent on seeing the Duma disbanded and new elections called. JC

Insisting on what they say are their rights as taxpayers, a group of entrepreneurs are refusing to pay the 5 percent sales tax introduced in the oblast last year, "Nezavisimaya gazeta--Regiony" reported on 16 May. The recalcitrant businessmen cite the law on state support for small businesses, which contains an article stating that if any changes are made in tax legislation to the detriment of small businesses, the latter are to be considered subject during the first four years of their existence to the taxation system that existed when they were first registered. The local tax authorities, however, do not believe this article is applicable to the sales tax and have successfully argued in court that the new levy is not detrimental to small businesses. Meanwhile, those entrepreneurs well versed in federal legislation are standing their ground, saying they are prepared to fight the issue all the way to the Constitutional Court. JC

Anatolii Lisitsyn has been named head of the All-Russian Council for the Support and Development of Hockey, a new body that was formed last week following Russia's disappointing performance in this year's World Championship. Under Lisitsyn's leadership, the oblast had sought to gain the right to stage the championship but was passed over in favor of St. Petersburg. Other regional leaders sitting on the hockey-promoting council include Omsk Governor Leonid Polezhaev and chairman of the Tatarstan State Council, Farid Mukhametshin, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 May. JC

Meet the New Gang.

On 18 May, President Putin named his new presidential representatives to the recently created seven federal administrative districts (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 17 May 2000). Five of the seven appointees are from the army or security services. However, in comments to "Vremya MN" on 20 May, State Duma Banking Committee Chairman Aleksandr Shokhin noted that the personalities of the presidential representatives are quite different and predicted that within six months Putin will see which envoys using diplomatic skills, economic methods or force perform the best and make changes accordingly. JAC

DISTRICT: Northwest


BACKGROUND: Cherkesov, 50, headed the St. Petersburg directorate of the Federal Security Service from 1992 to 1998. In 1998 he was transferred to Moscow, where he was second-in-command of the Federal Security Service's domestic intelligence bureau. When he worked for the KGB, Cherkesov was one of the Leningrad's most active agents with the Fifth Directorate, the KGB arm responsible for surveillance of the mass media, church, schools, trade unions and general public, according to "The Moscow Times" on 24 February. Cherkesov's wife is the editor of the St. Petersburg newspaper, "Chas Pik." Reacting to news of Cherkesov's appointment, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak said that he knew of no negative opinions of Cherkesov, while Arkhangelsk Governor Anatolii Yefremov said that Cherkesov "perfectly matched" his hopes. However, Leonid Romankov, head of the Culture Committee for St. Petersburg's legislative assembly, was less enthusiastic, recalling the "negative role" that Cherkesov had played while investigating dissidents for the KGB in Leningrad.



BACKGROUND: Colonel General Latyshev, 51, was most recently Deputy Interior Minister, where he investigated corruption in St. Petersburg's administration and traveled to the North Caucasus. Early in his career, Latyshev worked in Interior Ministry departments in Perm and Krasnodar Krai. Andrei Selivanov, a deputy in Sverdlovsk Oblast's legislative assembly, called Latyshev a "strong competent individual, who has participated in the investigation of many notorious cases, and does not appear to be a lobbyist on behalf of any particular interest in the Urals region," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 May. Chelyabinsk Governor Petr Sumin said that he has known Latyshev for many years and he is "an experienced general, open and honest."



BACKGROUND: Kirienko, 37, was most recently a State Duma deputy and head of the Union of Rightist Forces. He was named acting Prime Minister of Russia by Boris Yeltsin in March1998 after spending four months as Fuel and Energy Minister. Kirienko resigned as prime minister in August 1998 shortly after the financial crisis that began on 17 August. Kirienko was born in Sukhumi but spent most of his professional life before coming to Moscow in Nizhnii Novgorod, where the Volga federal district will have its center. Prior to moving to Moscow, Kirienko, who trained as an economist, headed the Norsi oil refinery in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. Kirienko's appointment as presidential representative elicited praise from most of the regions' leaders including Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov.



BACKGROUND: Formerly a presidential representative to Leningrad Oblast, Poltavchenko, 47, also held positions in the KGB (for 13 years) and with the tax police, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 May. While a lieutenant-general in the tax police in St. Petersburg, Poltavchenko got to know President Putin, who was then deputy mayor of that city. According to "Kommersant-Daily" Poltavchenko was chosen primarily for his personal loyalty to Putin since his record in St. Petersburg is undistinguished with neither stunning successes nor major blunders However, "Vedomosti" argued on 22 May that although Poltavchenko has never worked in Moscow, he is very familiar with tax and budget questions and can approach such matters in Moscow and the Central district with the required level of professionalism.

DISTRICT: North Caucasus


BACKGROUND: Until April 2000, General Kazantsev, 54, was the commander-in-chief of Russia's armed forces in Chechnya. Kazantsev also served in Afghanistan. Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev said on 20 May that while he personally has nothing against Kazantsev, who is a "normal, accessible and simple person," he wished that a person better versed in national and religious problems had been selected, "Kommersant-Daily" reported.



BACKGROUND: According to "Kommersant-Daily," on 19 May, Drachevskii's selection was the most puzzling since none of Drachevskii's professional experiences have touched either on Russian regional politics or on Siberia. A career diplomat, Drachevskii, 58, was a general consul in Barcelona, director of the CIS department at the Foreign Ministry, Russia's ambassador to Poland, deputy minister for CIS affairs and most recently, minister for CIS affairs. (That ministry was eliminated only last week.)



BACKGROUND: Lieutenant General Pulikovskii oversaw the presidential campaign for President Putin in Krasnodar Krai, according to "Vedomosti" on 22 May. From 1994-96, he was a commander in the Chechen war and served as acting commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya during the three weeks in August 1996 when the Chechens launched a major offensive and retook Grozny. In an interview with "Trud" on 23 May, Pulikovskii revealed that he was born in Ussuriisk in Primorskii Krai and he is happy to return to his roots. Pulikovskii added that he had expected that one of Putin's first moves as president would be to strengthen vertical power in Russia since "it is no secret that several governors understood too literally [then President Boris] Yeltsin's offer to 'take as much sovereignty as they can swallow.'" According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 May, Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko refused to comment on Pulikovskii's appointment, saying only that he "fully supports the president's actions to restore vertical power." JAC