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Russia Report: June 7, 2000

7 June 2000, Volume 2, Number 21
As some analysts predicted, regional leaders have begun to follow the lead of Boris Berezovskii and are openly criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin's plan to restructure administrative control of Russian regions. On 31 May, Berezovskii published an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin in "Kommersant-Daily," a newspaper which he controls, slamming Putin's plans as undemocratic, ill-thought-out and likely to lead to Russia's disintegration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2000). Two days later, in another of Berezovskii's newspapers, "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Tyumen Governor Leonid Roketskii expressed his fear that "in our general support [for Putin's plan] we have gone too far" because the Finance Ministry will have exclusive control over the country's finances, thus undermining the concept of self-rule. On 6 June, in the same newspaper, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev voiced his own criticism of the legislation restructuring the federation that is now pending before the State Duma. He noted that the law on reforming the Federation Council contains discrepancies with the constitution, while other bills contain loopholes and inconsistencies. Echoing Berezovskii's criticisms, Stroev questioned whether the proposed reforms have been carefully considered and discussed. He concluded "the legal mistakes in the text, vagueness of many of the issues raised during the discussion of the legislation in the Duma makes it clear that they have not." JAC

While presenting his new presidential representative to the Volga administrative district on 2 June, President Putin told regional leaders that he does not want his newly created administrative districts to turn into "quasi-states," ITAR-TASS reported. He said that he is "concerned" about a possible expansion of the functions of the new envoys, adding that federal functions will continue to include questions of "defense, security, foreign affairs, customs policies, and [the maintenance of] a single legal space." He also stressed that the appointment of presidential representatives to the districts will "not lead to a weakening of regional bodies of administration." Putin said that strengthening vertical power is "not an end in itself" and that the main goal was to preserve the integrity of the federation. JAC

"Rossiya," which is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, reported on 30 May that anonymous sources in the presidential administration have identified five regional leaders likely to be dismissed. These are Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev, Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Leonid Gorbenko, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev and Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko. Both Aushev and Ilyumzhinov have laws in their republics which contradict federal statues, while Gorbenko rules over a haven for crime. However, "Vedomosti" argues on 1 June that under the current draft law pending before the State Duma on removing regional heads, the process for dismissal is so long and involved that "for the situation to deteriorate to an actual dismissal, a regional leader must demonstrate unprecedented obstinacy, audacity, and even stupidity." According to the daily, a regional head can be dismissed only under three circumstances. One, he must on two different occasion ignore presidential decrees, two, allow the passage of two bills with provision that violate federal laws. or, three, make use on two different occasions of regional acts previously denounced by the president or the courts. And, in each of these cases, a court verdict is required ruling that these actions constitute violations of federal law. JAC

Commenting on Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov's earlier instruction to regional prosecutors that Russia's 89 federation subjects or regions have one month to ensure that their laws do not conflict with federal legislation, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev said on 5 June that his republic as well as several others will require more than one or even two months, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 1 June 2000). Shaimiev said that he and representatives from Bashkortostan had already discussed this with the presidential representative to the Volga district, Sergei Kirienko. He added that the process should be bilateral and that proposals on changing federal legislation should also be prepared. Kirienko himself commented earlier that it might be necessary to change some federal laws, but "as long as they remain unchanged, we are to obey them." JAC

With the adoption of the 2001 budget, the government of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov wants to begin a new stage of reform of interbudgetary relations. The goal of the reform will be to "increase the accountability of regional and local authorities for the effective use of budget resources," provide "equal access for all residents to budget services and social guarantees," and reduce the conflict around the distribution and use of budget resources, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and Interfax reported on 1 June. One result of this reform will be that VAT will no longer be split into federal and regional proceeds. Instead, all the proceeds will go the federal budget. JAC

According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," a Compensation Fund will be established to distribute VAT proceeds "equally" to the regions, so that the "rich" Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug receives as much as "poor" Primorskii Krai. According to the text of President Putin's budget message to the Federation Council published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 3 June, the government believes that financial assistance to the regions "is either inadequate or excessive -- and is not provided on a regular basis. In a situation where more than 60 percent of tax revenue is concentrated in 12 regions, it is hard to ensure the minimum requisite equalization of economic conditions in the country. Many regions -- both by dint of objective factors and because of their own irresponsible policies -- are drowning in debts." JAC

At a closed session of the Congress of Municipal Organizations in Moscow on 1 June, a number of mayors reportedly decided to fight President Putin's proposed legislation that would allow regional heads to dismiss their lower-level counterparts for violations of federal law, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 June. At the session, which was attended by only 50 of the "strongest" municipal heads, mayors expressed the opinion that the presidential bill violates the Russian constitution as well as international charters on local self-rule. According to the daily, the mayors will try to set up a personal meeting with President Putin to explain their objections. They also plan to seek amendments to the law as it wends it way through the State Duma. JAC

In an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 31 May, Igor Lisinenko, deputy chairman of the State Duma's Committee on Property (Fatherland-All Russia) argues that in order to effectively resurrect state power, it is necessary for local media to be independent of local authorities and loyal to the center -- although the latter isn't necessarily required since the primary goal is for local residents to have an alternative view of local events. According to Lisinenko, regional heads practically order up public opinion in their territories since currently local media operate under the strong influence of regional powers. One way to create more independent regional media is through the expansion of central or Moscow-based media to the regions. Lisinenko concludes that "in the struggle against governors' information monopoly, it is necessary for the center to launch a campaign in defense of free speech." JAC

Orel Governor Yegor Stroev, who is also speaker of the Federation Council, has signed an agreement with the investment group Russkie Fondy to launch an Internet grain exchange, Reuters reported on 1 June. The exchange, which is to be known as MTS Zerno (Inter-Regional Trading System Grain), is intended to involve the participation of Russia's regions. Its aims include providing a forum for exchanging market information and for trading grain in Russia on the Internet and opening the market for grain producers and distributors to the federal level. According to a statement issued by the Orel administration and Russkie Fondy, the venture will "effectively give grain the status of an exchange-tradeable commodity," paving the way for "futures trade in grain, credits guaranteed by grain, and the sale and purchase of grain on an exchange." JC

As the gubernatorial elections slated for December draw closer, the local authorities appear to be stepping up their campaign to bring local entrepreneurs to heel. "Vremya MN" on 31 May reported on the large number of criminal cases that have been brought by the tax police against the heads of some of the leading and most successful companies in the oblast over the past 12 months -- that figure, in fact, exceeds the number of similar cases registered in Moscow over the same period by no fewer than six times. Frequently the reason for launching legal proceedings is a delay, sometimes of only a few months, in paying taxes. The most recent example of such action, according to the newspaper, involved the company headed by State Duma deputy (independent) Valerii Gartung, considered one of the strongest rivals to Governor Petr Sumin and an apparent favorite of the Kremlin for the post (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 May 2000). Tax police recently entered the offices of Gartung's company along with cameramen from a local television station, which later showed the footage on its newscast, saying that the firm had failed to pay its taxes. It later transpired that the company had fallen into arrears totaling only two months, largely because of last month's holiday period. JC

The Nordic Council of Ministers is planning to open an information office in Kaliningrad next year, BNS reported on 31 May. Russian Foreign Ministry officials told the news agency that the ministry has given the go-ahead to that project. The main purpose of the office will be to inform the exclave's population about the activities of the council, whose members are Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. In 1995, the council opened an information office in St. Petersburg in a bid to promote ties between the five member states and Russia's northwestern regions. JC

Criminal proceedings have been launched against Vladimir Shrabov, editor-in chief of "Krasnoe znamya," a newspaper that opposes the krai authorities, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 June. Shrabov has been accused of slandering Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko. Prior to Nazdratenko's re-election in December 1999, "Krasnoe znamya" called on voters to support Nazdratenko's chief foe in that race, Aleksandr Kirilichev. Also offensive to krai authorities was a special issue of the newspaper put out the eve of elections which contained information about Nazdratenko's misdeeds during the re-election campaign illustrated with caricatures of the governor and his circle. JAC

Governor Mikhail Prusak has appointed Gennadii Burbulis, former State Duma deputy and a onetime presidential aide under Boris Yeltsin, as his deputy, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 June. Citing the press office of the regional administration, the news agency reported that Burbulis will be in charge of communications between the local administration and the two houses of the Russian parliament. In last December's federal parliamentary elections, Burbulis was Prusak's favored candidate for the single-seat in Novgorod but lost to Yevgenii Zelenov (Russian Regions). JC

Mikhail Nikolaev, president of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), announced on 31 May that he is reorganizing his republic on the basis of seven territorial districts, which will subsume the existing 35 raions, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Nikolaev noted that before 1917, the territory of Yakutia was divided into 5 districts. Nikolaev explained his administrative reform by citing the need to strengthen the republic's vertical structure of power, according to "Novye izvestiya" on 2 June. The deputy director of Sakha's Information Agency told Reuters that Nikolaev "is in absolute solidarity with all reforms being carried out by President Putin." JAC

The Legislative Assembly has passed in the first reading a bill that would grant legislators the right to approve the heads and deputy heads of all City Hall committees, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 2 June. Currently, lawmakers can approve only Governor Yakovlev's candidates for those posts. According to the newspaper, however, it is unlikely that enough support could be mustered in the assembly to override a veto by Yakovlev. Thirty-four out of the total 50 lawmakers would have to vote in favor of the bill in the third reading to circumvent the gubernatorial ban, and that outcome is considered "extremely unlikely." JC

Citing "confidential sources," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 2 June that following the failure of former State Duma Deputy Albert Makashov to register for the upcoming gubernatorial elections, the leadership of the local communist party is considering supporting the candidacy of its long-time rival, Konstantin Titov. A major rift is reported to have emerged within the once tight ranks of the Samara branch of the party, and it is that division that observers hold responsible for Makashov's failure to collect the necessary 50,000 signatures supporting his candidacy. According to a poll conducted by Center for Sociological Research at the Samara State University, Makashov was running neck-and-neck for second place with Viktor Tarkhov, vice president of the Alyans company and president of the oblast Development fund. Both had just below 8 percent support, while Titov easily led the field with some 63 percent backing. JC

Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel told reporters on 31 May that he formed a working group of local officials to prepare a new power-sharing agreement between the federal center and Sverdlovsk Oblast, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The current agreement, which was signed in 1996, expires this year. The governor's press service declined to comment on when it expects a new agreement to be signed. "Vremya MN" reported the same day that according to the agreement signed between Moscow and Yaroslavl Oblast, the federal government is obliged to informed the region when "any territorial departments of federal executive bodies are established, structured, or closed" and to submit "all nominations for heads of regional departments, institutions, and organizations for the approval of state power organs" in the oblast. JAC

Sverdlovsk Governor Rossel has asked the Czech government to set up a consulate in his oblast, CTK reported on 30 May, one day after a requirement that Russian citizens have visas before traveling to the Czech Republic came into effect. According to "Kommersant-Daily" that day, the new requirement will make it very difficult for would-be tourists in Russian regions to arrange a trip to Prague. JAC

"Izvestiya" on 6 June cited rumors claiming that Moscow has decided whom it will back in the gubernatorial ballot scheduled for this fall. According to hearsay, the Kremlin's favorite will be Vladimir Kulakov, the director of the regional directorate of the Federal Security Service. The incumbent governor, Ivan Shabanov, is deemed highly unlikely to regain his post. Having broken with the Communists, he can no longer expect support from those quarters. Nor can he hope that Putin, whom he supported in the March presidential ballot, will back his candidacy, since the president has reportedly blamed Shabanov's administration for the oblast's economic ruin. "Izvestiya" commented that Georgii Poltavchenko, the newly appointed presidential representative for Central Russia, may make known the Kremlin's choice for governor during his upcoming visit to the oblast. JC

Militarizing Politics, Politicizing The Military

By Paul Goble

Russian President Putin's recent decisions to make his new federal districts correspond to military district lines and to appoint generals to head all but two of them open a new era in that country's civil-military relations, one likely to lead to the militarization of politics and the politicization of the military.

Many observers have been struck by the coincidence of the seven federal districts and existing Russian military districts, on the one hand, and by the appointment of generals and former generals to head five of them, on the other. But now one of Moscow's leading military analysts is arguing that this combination points to the transformation of Russian political life.

Writing in the current issue of "Russia Journal," Aleksandr Golts notes that this arrangement gives Putin's appointees access to the "capabilities of the military staffs -- operative links with the armed forces and Moscow, communications possibilities, and armed units 'at hand.'"

Moreover, because most of the new federal district heads are generals, Golts continues, "they are used to governing by decrees that are carried out by subordinate officers without question." There is no reason to think that any of them have experienced a sudden change of heart now that they occupy nominally political positions.

And Golts points out that this reliance on the military and security bodies is transforming the central government in Moscow as well. He argues that the Kremlin does "not intend for Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's cabinet to be the real Putin administration. It will instead be the Security Council" which is dominated by the military and security agencies.

This approach, Golts suggests, reflects both Putin's obvious belief that "the greatest threat Russia faces is disintegration" and his equally obvious conviction that a "military system of subordination" will solve "automatically" the country's problems because both the military and the population will simply follow orders.

Both of these beliefs are problematic, Golts argues. On the one hand, the country's integrity may not be as much at risk as Putin appears to think and its unity may not be promoted by military means. Indeed, Golts implies, the use of the army to impose unity may have just the opposite effect.

And on the other hand, Golts writes, "only people with no real military experience could believe" that the military can be used in this way. Those with such experience, he continues, "know full well" that commanders can "'twist' orders that they do not wish to carry out."

Thus, the introduction of military command methods for political ends may not work as intended.

Moreover, Golts argues, Putin's arrangements are likely to have a negative impact on the chain of command of the Russian military as a whole. "If the armed forces become subordinate to the presidential envoys, not only will the governors have their authority undermined, but so will the heads of the armed forces who have only just been appointed."

And those generals in Moscow are unlikely to be happy with such a "forked" administrative hierarchy, not only because it will weaken their authority but because it could make "the effective management of both civilian and military bodies" difficult or even "impossible."

The heads of Russia's existing regions "cannot fail to understand this," Golts insists, implying that they are likely either to exploit these tensions in the command structure to advance their own ends or alternatively to form alliances with one part of the Russian military against the interests of another.

Either could lead to problems of command and control far more serious than Russia now faces, as well as exacerbating some of the very problems Putin's new arrangements were put in place to overcome.

This use of the military for openly political ends may prompt some commanders to try to play a greater political role than Russian generals have normally done in the past. But that politicization of the military over the longer term may prove to be an even greater problem for Moscow than the militarization of politics Putin appears to be sponsoring now.