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Russia Report: May 31, 2000

31 May 2000, Volume 2, Number 20
Presidential representative to the Duma Aleksandr Kotenkov said on 25 May that some governors are pressuring their representatives from single-mandate districts to oppose Russian President Vladimir Putin's reforms to strengthen national unity in part because they are afraid of losing the immunity from criminal prosecution that comes with membership in the Federation Council. He explained that as soon as Putin's federal reform legislation is passed "at least 16 governors will be prosecuted while many more will face similar proceedings a little later." The same day, Kotenkov singled out the republics of Sakha, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Tuva, saying that warnings about bringing their local laws into compliance with federal ones had been ignored. JAC

Addressing participants at the Unity congress on 27 May, President Putin responded to criticisms of his proposed legislation that would introduce seven new administrative federal districts and remove regional leaders that violate federal laws. He said the "steps that we are taking are aimed at strengthening the unity of Russia" and eradicating the emergence of "'states within the state' with their own laws which run counter to the constitution of Russia." He claimed that it was because of these mini-states that "medium-sized and small businesses have failed to develop." During a meeting with the leaders of 16 regions in Siberia on the same day, Putin stressed that the purpose of his reforms is not to "interfere in the internal affairs of the region but to ensure the more efficient work of federal structures." He added that "you can call the reforms managerial--not federal, not constitutional--but managerial." JAC

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 May that some regional leaders are working with legislators in the State Duma to sidetrack or delay the bills that President Putin submitted to the lower legislative house. According to the daily, Deputy (Communist) Alevtina Aparina reminded her colleagues on 26 May that by law the bills could not be considered without supporting government documents. According to "Segodnya," Aparina also drew her fellow deputies' attention to the fact that the introduction of a new bureaucratic layer will entail expenses. Deputy (Unity) Vladimir Ryzhkov responded that the Duma "will have to make amendments to the 2001 budget" if the package of bills are passed but the sum "will be paltry in comparison with the total budget." That newspaper reported on 30 May that deputies have a variety of amendments to offer to the legislation. Among the possible amendments is one reducing the powers of the Federation Council so that its members can no longer approve the appointments of federal judges and prosecutors or endorse presidential decrees on a state of emergency or martial law. Deputies also reportedly want to rule out the possibility of disbanding regional legislatures or giving the president to right to appoint governors when one has been dismissed. "Moskovskii Komsomolets" reported on 31 May that three Duma deputies--Valerii Gartung (independent), Dmitri Saveliev (Union of Rightist Forces), and Ivan Zhdakaev (Agro-Industrial Group)--had sent a letter to Putin asking him to guard them against pressure from governors, some of whom oppose the bill concerning the Federation Council. Also on 31 May, First Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Lyubov Sliska (Unity) told reporters that she expected that package of bills would likely be approved by the Duma that day during their first reading with 260 votes in favor and that amendments would be introduced during the bill's second reading. JAC

"Obshchaya gazeta" argued in its issue No. 21 that Putin's reform is risky because he may lose the support of regional leaders who may retaliate by opposing his military campaign in Chechnya. The publication reported that at a recent funeral of local riot police officers ambushed and killed in Chechnya, Perm Governor Gennadii Igumnov accused the federal government of giving police units tasks outside their traditional realm of responsibility. Analyst Gleb Pavlovskii told ITAR-TASS on 29 May that a potential opposition group for Putin are "regional and shadow elites" who realize that Putin is "lethal for them." Pavlovskii also noted that only six members of the Federation Council were selected for the 205-member Political Council of Unity. JAC

Complementing the establishment of seven federal districts, a number of federal agencies have announced plans to form branches at the level of the federal districts. Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov announced on 24 May the formation of prosecutors' offices in the seven newly created districts. Two days later, Justice Minister Yurii Chaika announced that his ministry will establish offices in each district, and on 27 May Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin announced his agency will set up regional structures in the newly created seven districts. He pledged that amendments to the law on the audit chamber, including a provision on the new structures will be drafted by 20 June. Tatarstan's Prosecutor-General Saikikhan Nafiev said it is unimaginable that establishing the district prosecutorial offices will mean the closure of the office of republican prosecutor-general, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. But he admitted that he does not know how their establishment will affect his office since no decrees or instructions have been issued. JAC

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov told reporters on 25 May that he has suggested that the new seven presidential representatives be given the power to coordinate financial flows, such as "the distribution of transfers, the drafting and signing of federal districts budget, and handing questions related to the transparency of contacts between federal districts." But an unnamed representative of the Ministry of Finance told Interfax-AFI on 29 May that the chief department of the federal treasury of the Ministry of Finance is so far not planning to change its structure in connection with the forming of seven federal administrative districts. According to the official, since the Russian Constitution calls for only three levels of power--the federal, federation subject, and local self-rule--the administrative districts are not eligible for their own budget and the presidential representatives "cannot act as financial intermediaries" between the federal center and the regions. JAC

On 27 May, President Putin signed a decree naming the seven presidential representatives to the Security Council. In addition to membership on the Security Council, the new presidential representatives will reportedly be given extensive staff and resources. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 May that the envoys are being given a free hand in staffing their offices and will have as many assistants as desired. "Izvestiya" reported on 26 May that presidential representative to the Volga district Sergei Kirienko has already revealed that his staff will number 120 persons, with 20 in Moscow, the existing staff of the presidential representative in Nizhnii Novgorod, and five to six persons in each of the 15 oblasts and republics located in the district. Both presidential representative to the Far East district Konstantin Pulikovskii and presidential representative to the Urals Petr Latyshev are looking for buildings for respective staff that are no less than 3,000 cubic meters, "Izvestiya" and "Vremya novostei" reported on 26 May. On 1 June Putin will present Petr Latyshev, presidential representative to the Urals, Interfax reported. According to the agency, Latyshev during his career headed a series of interdepartmental working groups devoted to the decriminalization of economies of the regions. For example, he headed large-scale special operations in the port cities of Novorossiisk and St. Petersburg. JAC

After meeting with President Putin on 25 May, a number of governors told reporters that Putin had expressed his support for the creation of a new body called the State Council, which would be partly composed of regional heads (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 24 May 2000). According to the head of Lipetsk Oblast's legislature Anatolii Savenkov, Putin reportedly favors life membership in the State Council for governors who have already been elected twice (and are therefore ineligible for re-election) so that these governors' experience would continue to service the public rather than find employment in new commercial structures, Interfax reported. Ivanovo Governor Vladislav Tikhomirov said that Putin also agreed that membership in the State Council should carry with it immunity from criminal prosecution which Federation Council members currently possess. Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, however, said such immunity is not necessary. He also suggested that leaders of 30 of the largest regions constitute two-thirds of the State Council's membership. On 29 May, Sergei Sobyanin, chairman of the Federation Council's Committee on Constitutional Legislation, suggested that creation of the new State Council was the "most logical step" and that the organ could be formed simply by a presidential decree or by adopting a special law defining its functions. JAC

At their most recent session in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, the leaders of the south Russian and North Caucasus federation subjects that comprise the "North Caucasus" Association for Social-Economic Cooperation focused on the growing threat to their economies posed by desertification, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 May. Desertification threatens only a small portion of the Russian Federation, but the areas at risk include a significant portion of the population and contain much of the country�s arable land. And while it is possible to abandon land that has become barren and sow grain elsewhere, it is more difficult to relocate the population of areas hit by desertification, which is blamed for higher than average rates of respiratory disease, falling birthrates, and higher mortality. Daghestan, Stavropol Krai, and Kalmykia are particularly badly hit by erosion and desertification, with up to 50 percent of their surface area affected: Kalmykia is the site of the sole anthropogenic desert in Europe. But Krasnodar Krai, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachaevo-Cherkessia are also affected to a greater or lesser degree. At their meeting in Elista, the local leaders complained that their budgets are inadequate to halt the process of desertification, let alone reverse it. Terming that process a threat to Russia's national and ecological security and its future ability to feed its population, they called for the drafting of a federal program to address the problem. LF

Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov has filed a lawsuit against Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii and two of his advisers because campaign literature that was distributed by opponents of Rakhimov's in the State Duma elections that characterized Rakhimov's regime as "nomenklatura feudalism," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 May. The leaflets also accused Rakhimov of "smothering independence" and "trampling on human rights." Rakhimov is seeking 800,000 rubles ($28,000) in damages. According to the newspaper, the leaflets were written by two of Yavlinskii's advisers during a trip to Ufa. JAC

A member of Buryatia's legislature, Andrei Butyugov, beat up the deputy editor of the local newspaper "Vechernii Ulan-Ude," Dmitrii Rodionov, last month, "Versiya" reported in its issue No. 18 dated 16-22 May, citing the Fund for the Defense of Glasnost. Butyugov, who has immunity from criminal prosecution as a legislator, explained his action by expressing his indignation over the publication of a series of articles by the journalist in a number of central and local publications. Last March, Butyugov threatened to kill a journalist from a local television company (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 March 2000). The threat was captured on video cassette and has been forwarded to local law enforcement officials. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Butyugov himself once worked as a journalist at the Buryatia State Television and Radio Company. JAC

Without citing a source, "Izvestiya" suggested on 30 May that the Kremlin is planning to promote the candidacy of Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko in gubernatorial elections in Chelyabinsk Oblast. According to the newspaper, the State Duma faction People's Deputy is already clearly supporting an alternative figure to the current Governor Petr Sumin, local businessman and State Duma deputy (independent) Valerii Gartung and a "public relations campaign" supporting Khristenko has already started to take its course. The newspaper notes that the current Governor Sumin has close ties to the Communist Party and delivered one of the smallest percentages of support of any region in Russia for President Putin during the 26 March presidential election. Gubernatorial elections in Chelyabinsk are slated for December 2000. JAC

Citing local media, Interfax reported on 29 May that examiners at Tomsk State University have positively assessed the doctoral dissertation submitted by Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev. The news agency reported that Tuleev's treatise, which he still has to defend, is entitled "Political leadership in the Regions of Contemporary Russia." JC

Orenburg Oblast Governor Aleksei Chernyshev is to contest the 25 May election of Uraineftegaz Director-General Azat Shamsuarov as president of the ONAKO oil company, Interfax reported, citing sources within the oblast administration. According to those sources, Chernyshev wants that post to go either to the acting president of ONAKO or one of the three vice presidents who ran for election. To achieve that goal, the governor reportedly intends to seek meetings with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and President Vladimir Putin. ONAKO is 85 percent state-owned. JC

Dalenergo announced on 30 May that it will not turn off electricity to the city's tram network as it was threatening to do the previous week, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Because Vladivostok's municipal transportation department owes the company some 35 million rubles ($1.2 million), the company had been promised that it would put the city's trams on a restricted schedule of operating only during morning and evening rush hour. Trams and buses in the city have not charged fares for more than three years and the municipal budget was supposed to make up for the shortfall in revenue but had failed to do so. Last week, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported that the region is experiencing a shortage of diesel fuel and Dalenergo decided that the first users to experience a cut off in supplies will be those who owe them money. And as a result, services along two routes were suspended. Dalenergo's press service reported on 30 May that the company had reached an agreement with the municipal transportation authorities. Mayoral elections in Vladivostok are scheduled for 18 June. JAC

Head of the Russian Audit Chamber Sergei Stepashin told ITAR-TASS on 27 May that auditors are currently in St. Petersburg to scrutinize the use of budget funds in the construction of the Ice Hockey Palace, the venue of the world championship earlier this month. Some 500 million rubles ($18 million) in federal budget funds were used for that project, which was executed under Governor Vladimir Yakovlev. In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 30 May, Stepashin commented that "he did not doubt" that sum could have been better spent, adding it is probably something that the presidential representative for the northwest will want to look into. Stepashin also raised the possibility of a probe into what happened to the federal funds set aside for the St. Petersburg subway system, noting that he signed all the necessary papers when he was prime minister. Earlier this year, Stepashin had been considered a likely candidate for this month's gubernatorial ballot but was reportedly passed over as the Kremlin's favorite for the governorship (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 March 2000). During a recent visit to St. Petersburg, he was quoted as saying he might take part in the next such ballot in the city. JC

The number of candidates in the upcoming gubernatorial ballot has been narrowed down to four, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 30 May, the deadline for submitting supporting signatures. Konstantin Titov, the clear favorite for the post that he resigned in the wake of the presidential elections, will compete against Viktor Tarkhov, vice president of the Alyans company and president of the oblast Development fund; Nikolai Sorokin, president of the Samara Anti-Crisis Center; Gennadii Zvyagin, director-general of Samaratransgaz; and Sergei Nikitin, director-general of the Middle Volga Gas Company. Former State Duma deputy Albert Makashov, who had earlier announced his intention to contest the upcoming ballot, failed to submit the 50,000 signatures necessary to register as a candidate. According to ITAR-TASS, Tarkhov has some 10 percent backing, compared with the 55-70 percent enjoyed by Titov. JC

Two months after elections to the Yaroslavl Duma, the local legislature still has no chairman, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 May. Two rival groups within the Duma have been assiduously lobbying for their candidates. One of those groups is headed by the "young oligarch" Nikolai Tonkov, who is head of the regional branch of Unity and director-general of the Yaroslavl Tire Factory, and his candidate for the post, Andrei Krutikov, director-general of a local firm that Tonkov and some of his business associates recently acquired. Among those supporting Krutikov are Yaroslavl Mayor Viktor Volonchunas, who reportedly intends to run for governor in the upcoming ballot. The second group wants to see Yevgenii Zayashnikov, executive-director of a local oil and gas company, take over the duties as head of the legislature. Zayashnikov is also reported to be considering running for governor. Tonkov, meanwhile, has been pushing for amendments to the oblast statutes whereby the speaker of the parliament would be re-elected each year--a proposal that Zayashnikov opposes and on which no decision can be taken until the new legislature chairman is installed in office. JC

Bread prices in the Russian regions held mostly steady in May, compared to March, with only Krasnoyarsk residents experiencing an increase, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 May. On 23 May, representatives of Tatarstan's Tatkhlebprodukt asked the government to increase retail bread prices, claiming that their industry is facing bankruptcy because prices have been held down for too long, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. On 30 May, the Tatarstan government announced that prices of bread and dairy products would rise by 20 percent from 1 June and that 900,000 low-income residents would receive subsidies, according to the bureau. Prices in the following table are in rubles (today's exchange rate is 28.27 rubles/$1). Also listed is the percentage change between the price of bread as reported on 19 May compared with 17 March (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 23 March 2000). JAC

Region Price of a loaf of bread % change

Moscow_______________5.5 rubles_________-5%

St. Petersburg___________5.4 rubles_________-4%

Novosibirsk_____________3.8 rubles_________0%

Yekaterinburg___________4.3 rubles_________0%

Vladivostok______________6.3 rubles________-3%

Krasnoyarsk_____________6.0 rubles________+3%

Samara_________________5.1 rubles_________0%

Kazan___________________3.5 rubles_________0%

Rostov___________________5.2 rubles_________0%

Ufa______________________5.5 rubles_________0%