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Russia Report: June 14, 2000

14 June 2000, Volume 2, Number 22
In an interview with RFE/RL in Prague on 12 June, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said that so far he approves of the general direction of President Vladimir Putin's reforms of the Russian Federation: "Feudalistic rules and the feudalistic behavior of the governors is very widespread in Russia. So, from this point of view, to support the integrity of Russia, to support the integrity of Russian policies toward human rights and democracy, what Putin is doing is right. My party and I are ready to support him." However, Yavlinskii added that he "certainly has concerns" regarding the predominance of former personnel from the army and intelligence services among those appointed to serve as presidential representatives to the seven federal districts. "I don't understand completely how the generals appointed could be prepared or could adjust themselves to realize such tasks as protecting human rights, [federal] laws and the constitution." Yavlinskii also noted that Putin's goal is to transform Russia from an asymmetrical federation into a symmetrical one so that "Russian oblasts have the equal rights with the national republics." But this task is a "very delicate" one and Putin's approach to it "must be checked many times not to make mistakes because mistakes could bring us to complete disaster." He continued that "If [Putin] wants to strengthen central [authority]," he must "at the same time develop strong independent courts and a free press." He concluded, "If you do this at the same time as you are centralizing power, then that's okay--that wouldn't be dangerous." JAC

Writing in "Obshchaya gazeta" in issue No. 22, analyst Dmitrii Furman concludes that while President Putin's desire to "fight separatism" may make sense, the asymmetrical nature of the Russian Federation is not the cause of regional separatism. Furman argues that Putin and his administration are confusing cause and effect: "Russia's legal 'asymmetry' reflects its ethnic heterogeneity." Approximately 20 percent of the Russian population is ethnically non-Russian, according to Furman, and the hierarchy of the region's relations with the federal center is a reflection of "historical compromises." He notes that "if there were not one million Chechens but three million, their independence might have been secured long ago," and while there are many more Tatars than Chechens, "the Tatars do not have that cultural and psychological alienation from Russians that Chechens are known for." The Tatars also have not suffered the trauma of deportation like the Chechens. Furman argues that while few Tatars feel close to the Chechens now, they may start to do so if the "illusion of their sovereignty" is shattered. He concludes that "in the near future" Russia is likely to encounter separatist movements in republics ethnically stronger (more numerous) than Chechnya, more motivated and irreconcilable, more connected to each other and supportive of each other, and "at the very first convenient moment they will make Moscow pay the bill." On 12 June, the tenth anniversary of the Day of the Adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Federation, the moderate nationalist Tatarstan Public Center (TPC) held protest meetings in Kazan, Chally, and Naberezhnye Chelny, where maps showing the new seven federal okrugs were burned in protest, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported (see also "End Note" below). JAC

Russia's Constitutional Court ruled on 7 June that the constitution of Altai Republic violates the federal constitution. The court cited three articles, one declaring the republic's sovereignty separate from that of the federation, another which declared all land and natural resources of the republic to be the property of the republic, and another banning the storage of radioactive waste on its soil. Presidential representative to the court Mikhail Mityukov told reporters that day that "more than a small number of the constitutions of subjects of the federation contain norms [violating the federal constitution] similar to those of the Altai Republic and some have laws that go even further." Mityukov added that the ruling against Altai obligates all Russian regions making similar sovereignty claims to drop them. JAC

Meanwhile, some Russian regions are apparently speeding up their efforts to bring their laws into conformity with federal laws. On 9 June, Kalmykia's President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov announced that 10 of the republic's laws have been brought into accord with the federal constitution, "Vremya MN" reported the next day. The republic's legislature had informed Ilyumzhinov just hours earlier that the republic's laws were now 100 percent in compliance with federal laws. Bashkortostan is ready to introduce 31 amendments to its constitution, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 June. Buryatia, on the other hand, has decided not to rush. Mikhail Semenov, chairman of the republic's legislature, told ITAR-TASS the same day that the legislative assembly does not intend to discuss amendments to the Buryat Constitution during its June session because the one-month deadline set earlier by Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to bring the laws of federal subjects into line with federal laws was "an emotional move rather than a lawful one." Semenov did confirm that a commission has been set up to amend the constitution and other local laws. JAC

President Putin signed a decree on 8 June suspending several resolutions of Adygei President Aslan Dzharimov because they violate Article 78 of the Russian Constitution, which gives federal organs the right to create their own territorial bodies and appoint personnel to them, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 June. According to the daily, Dzharimov had decreed himself and his government the right to appoint heads of territorial organs of federal departments and extra-budgetary funds without the agreement of Moscow. Five days later, Putin suspended a resolution of Tver Governor Vladimir Platov because it runs counter to federal regulations, ITAR-TASS reported. That decree of 28 September 1999 set electricity tariffs for the population of the oblast. The same day, Putin met with Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais to discuss the situation in the country's energy market. Last month, Putin signed a decree overturning orders in Ingushetia, and in Smolensk and Amur Oblasts (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 17 and 24 May 2000). JAC

In an interview with "Profil" on 5 June, Deputy Finance Minister and federal Treasury head Tatyana Nesterenko said that the Treasury does not plan to create branches in the new seven federal districts since monies from the federal budget are "principally" dispersed through the regional departments of federal ministries. And, unless these ministries create a new level of departments at the level of the seven districts, she said, the Treasury has no need to do so (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 May 2000). JAC

A number of regional leaders are not pleased by their placement in particular federal districts. For example, Perm Governor Gennadii Igumnov has written to President Putin asking that his oblast be switched from the Volga district to the Urals district, citing the existence of stronger economic ties with regions within that area, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 June. Bashkortostan reportedly also wants to switch to the Urals district for the same reason. Volgograd Governor Nikolai Maksyuta also earlier expressed his displeasure at his region being placed in the North Caucasus district. According to the daily, Volgograd has stronger economic ties to regions in the Central District but was traditionally part of the Greater Volga interregional economic association and the Volgograd administration considers the Volga the optimal transportation route. JAC

In its 23 May issue, "Sovietskaya Chuvashiya" reported on the emergence of censorship at Tekstilmash, a local machine-building company, following a visit to that enterprise by republic's President Nikolai Fedorov. The in-house publication, "Mashinostroitel," covered Fedorov's visit in an article that mildly rebuked the company's management for not having implemented various promised improvements and gratefully noted how Fedorov himself had helped ensure that wages and benefits are paid on time. Moreover, the article noted that Fedorov remains concerned about the future of the enterprise and has sought on several occasions to change its management. Shortly after the appearance of that article, a so-called "editorial council" was formed under the leadership of one of the company's managers; in subsequent issues of "Mashinostroitel," material deemed inappropriate has been cut by the "censors." "Sovietskaya Chuvashiya," for its part, points out that in the last presidential elections in the republic, Fedorov was challenged by a potential president-vice president team that included one N. Grigorev--namely, the director-general of Tekstilmash. JC

"Vedomosti" reported on 8 June that the Republic of Komi is planning to invest $1.5 million in the construction of a deer slaughterhouse that is intended to export venison to European countries, particularly Scandinavian ones, where local supplies are unable to meet demand. The republican administration will have a controlling stake in the new plant, while the remaining shares will be sold in installments to producers of venison. Equipment for the slaughterhouse is to be provided by the Finnish company Kometos. According to "Vedomosti," the Swedish company Nor Frus Polarica has been engaged in the venison business in Murmansk Oblast since 1995, when it invested $1.7 million in a slaughter house in that region. Some 90 percent of the world's deer population are to be found in Russia, the newspaper also reported. JC

Leningrad Oblast Governor Valerii Sergyukov called a meeting of members of his government and the heads of municipal establishments on 9 June to point out the alarming financial situation facing the region next year, "Izvestiya" reported on 10 June. According to the daily, all regions will be left with only 30-36 percent of total tax revenues under the draft 2001 budget. This is a total reversal of the situation facing the oblast this year; now the federal government receives only 37 percent of total taxes collected in the oblast while the remaining 63 percent stays. The governor is therefore predicting that the oblast's revenues will drop by half, although the federal government has promised that three federal funds will be available to regions to somehow compensate for the decline in revenues. The regions may obtain money for road construction from what the daily is calling a "reincarnation" of the Federal Road Fund. A second fund is available to help regions pay for assistance to children and veterans, while a third is the fund for regional support from which regions have traditionally had to beg for support, according to the daily. The newspaper notes that the center's attempt to grab more funds has caused the city authorities to side with their counterparts at the gubernatorial level. Previously, the two levels clashed, turning to the center to mediate. JAC

President Putin has received another letter from the Republic of Marii El complaining about the behavior of republican President Vyacheslav Kislitsyn, "Izvestiya" reported on 7 June. A second letter, authored by members of the Central People's Council of Marii El and organizers of the 9-10 June convention of the local population in Ioshkar-Ola, warned that Kislitsyn intended to use that meeting to present a distorted picture of the socio-economic situation in the republic to promote his own political goals. Most of the delegates to the convention, the letter's signatories noted, were to come from outside the republic and would therefore be ill-informed about the true state of affairs within Marii El's borders. Earlier this year, four local leaders sent a letter to the Kremlin requesting that Kislitsyn be removed from office and the republic placed under the direct rule of Moscow (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 29 March 2000). According to "Izvestiya," the authors of that letter have still not yet received an official reply from the Kremlin. JC

The private television station STV-3, a long-time thorn in the flesh of Leonid Polezhaev's administration (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 August 1999), has lost the right to continue broadcasting on the frequency it had used until recently. In a competition for the right to use that frequency, STV-3 lost out to the Moscow television station Kultura and Omsk Television-3, which was founded two months ago by the oblast administration and a private firm. RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" commented on 3 June that Governor Polezhaev now has control over four out of five local television stations. The fifth was recently bought by an American company and "to the best of its ability" has maintained independence from the local administration. JC

Just months ahead of the gubernatorial ballot, scheduled for this fall, Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov has switched allegiance from Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia to the pro-Kremlin Unity, "Vremya MN" reported on 9 June. According to the newspaper, most members of the oblast administration have followed suit: during the previous week alone, the local branch of Unity saw its membership grow by 1,800. Other measures undertaken by the governor in a bid to ensure his re-election include sending his unpopular deputy, Mikhail Gavunas, who, among other things, is held responsible for the illegal privatization of a local distillery, on an extended trip outside the oblast. And the legislative assembly recently passed legislation in accordance with which a second round of voting will not be necessary if a gubernatorial candidate receives at least 25 percent of the vote. A recent poll showed Mikhailov with 28 percent support and his closest challenger, State Duma deputy (unaffiliated) Mikhail Kuznetsov, with 12 percent. JC

Two years after Yurii Kravtsov was removed as speaker of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, local lawmakers have finally succeeded in electing a new head. "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 9 June that Sergei Tarasov, leader of the Our City faction, was chosen for that post, receiving 29 votes from the 34 lawmakers present at the 7 June session. Tarasov, a 41-year-old local businessman who was elected to the parliament in a controversial ballot in 1994, is considered a close associate of Governor Vladimir Yakovlev. His deputy is Sergei Mironov, head of the Legality faction, who has frequently opposed the incumbent governor. Mironov was also Vladimir Putin's personal campaign representative for St. Petersburg during the runup to the March presidential ballot, according to the newspaper. JC

The Prosecutor-General's Office has cleared Larisa Kharchenko of all charges of corruption, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 9 June. The former aide to the late St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak had been accused of arranging bribes from local real estate agents to unnamed officials in the Mayor's Office to illegally privatize luxury apartments, according to the newspaper. Both she and Sobchak had denied those charges. Kharchenko spent five months in prison in 1997, where she suffered a stroke after being deprived of medical treatment, and another two years or so under investigation. She told the newspaper that she was informed in February that the case against her had been dropped but had not had the energy even to inform the media. The U.S.-based Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, which, along with other human rights organizations, had supported her over the past three years, announced the prosecutor's decision early last week. JC

How Will Putin's Territorial Reform Affect Tatarstan?

By Liz Fuller

President Vladimir Putin's plans to divide the Russian Federation into seven territorial okrugs, each to be administered by his personal representative, and his proposal to strip the elected leaders of the 89 federation subjects of their ex officio membership in the Federation Council have met with mixed reactions in Tatarstan. Those reactions will, in turn, have a major impact on local politics in the run-up to the presidential election in March 2001.

Putin's stated rationale for his new territorial-administrative model focused on the need to reimpose strong vertical power in order to prevent the disintegration of the federation. But many Tatars from across the political spectrum have interpreted Putin's statements as directed against the unique status that Kazan negotiated with Moscow in February 1994.

Rashit Yagafarov, chairman of the moderate nationalist Tatar Public Center, said on 31 May that the proposed reorganization "ruins everything that Tatarstan has achieved over the past 10 years." Other commentators anticipate further measures to annul the privileges Tatarstan enjoys. For example, the Kazan newspaper "Vremya i dengi" on 30 May reported that the Center for Strategic Development headed by Putin's close ally German Gref has drafted plans for annulling the power-sharing treaties that Bashkortostan and Tatarstan concluded with Moscow and abolishing Tatarstan's Yelabuga offshore zone.

Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev initially expressed approval of Putin's proposed new system of seven okrugs, which, he said, would prove "a more efficient instrument" than the previous "flawed" system of presidential representatives for each of the 89 federation subjects. Shaimiev subsequently told journalists in Moscow after meeting with Putin on 17 May that he believed that the regional and republican leaders would support Putin's supplementary plans (announced that day) to revise the principles upon which the Federation Council is based, At the same time, Shaimiev and Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov also suggested that a new state council composed of the heads of Russian territories be formed that would be chaired by the Russian president.

But Tatarstan's parliamentary speaker Farid Mukhametshin, who like Shaimiev had publicly endorsed the proposed division of Russia into seven okrugs, suggested that Putin's draft mechanisms for recalling elected heads of federation subjects, and his plans to vest regional leaders with comparable powers to remove their own elected subordinates, are undemocratic and unconstitutional and will likely provoke a storm of protest from the radical Tatar opposition. "Republika Tatarstan" on 20 May quoted Mukhametshin as suggesting that Putin's proposal may in fact have been intended to provoke a backlash at the local level that Moscow could then adduce as the rationale for removing recalcitrant governors and presidents.

It is unclear, however, whether Shaimiev's initial positive response to Putin's 13 May decree establishing the seven okrugs and their heads was prompted by the assumption that he would be named head of the Volga okrug. (That mega-region comprises the Bashkortostan, Marii El, Mordovia, Tatarstan, Udmurtia, and Chuvash Republics, as well as the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug and Kirov, Nizhnii Novgorod, Orenburg, Penza, Perm, Samara, Saratov, and Ulyanovsk oblasts.) According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 June, the governors of those regions proposed Nizhnii Novgorod governor Igor Sklyarov for that post, whereupon Putin countered by suggesting Shaimiev. Finally former premier and head of the Union of Rightist Forces Sergei Kirienko was named to that position.

Being appointed okrug head would have put Shaimiev in a strong position to prevent the erosion of the privileges he had won for his home republic over the decade since he was first elected its president. But at the same time, Shaimiev's spokesman Irek Murtazin was quoted in "Vechernyaya Kazan" on 7 June as saying that Shaimiev made his acceptance of Putin's offer conditional of his retaining the post of president of Tatarstan and on Kazan being named the okrug center. Predictably, Putin rejected those conditions.

Having lost out on the chance of becoming okrug head--assuming he really aspired to it in the first place--Shaimiev still has not announced a decision on whether he will run for a further term as president of Tatarstan in the elections due in March 2001. Nor is it clear whether he can legally do so: he was first elected president in 1991, and the Russian Constitution limits to two the number of terms a president may serve. Shaimiev's advisors, however, argue that the present Russian Constitution was adopted only in 1993 and is not retroactive, so that there are in fact no legal obstacles to Shaimiev running for re-election.

As for the Tatar opposition, it is now split. The moderates, including the Tatar Public Center, have no great affection for Shaimiev, and some of its members consider his endorsement of Putin's proposals a betrayal of Tatarstan's interests. The TPC held a rally in Kazan on 31 May at which they accused Shaimiev of being "soft with Moscow and iron-hard with Kazan." But at the same time, the moderate opposition nonetheless considers Shaimiev the sole figure strong enough to shield Tatarstan from the anticipated negative impact of Putin's proposals.

The radical wing, including the Communists and the so-called Round Table, see Putin's proposals as an opportunity to get rid of Shaimiev, whom they have accused of corruption and protectionism. The Round Table has already appealed to Kirienko to abolish the presidency in Tatarstan and introduce a parliamentary system on the grounds that the legislation on the presidential elections (passed in the first reading on 31 May) makes fair elections impossible.