21 June 2000, Volume 2, Number 23
FEDERATION REFORM LEGISLATION TO BE BLOCKED IN UPPER HOUSE?Both "Moskovskii komsomolets" and "Segodnya" predicted on 21 June that the legislation reforming the Federation Council is likely to be passed by the State Duma but blocked by the Federation Council, since deputies have rejected the senators' proposal that members of the upper house be replaced gradually as their terms in office in the regions expire. The State Duma Committee for State-Building decided on 19 June to recommend that 83 amendments be accepted during the second reading of the law reforming the Federation Council, "Vremya MN" reported on 20 June. Committee members rejected another proposed 78 amendments, many of which were proffered by the Federation Council. According to "Vremya MN," the committee chairman, Anatolii Lukyanov (Communist), said that his fellow committee members supported only those amendments "which did not violate the concept of the legislation." The committee also rejected an amendment that would have kept the heads of legislative assemblies as members of the upper house. A second reading of the bill during a full session of the lower house is scheduled for 23 June. Although the bill won significant support from State Duma deputies during its first reading, some analysts have suggested that the damage done to Putin's domestic standing following the arrest of Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii may mean the bills will garner less support during the next round of voting. Shortly after Gusinskii's detention, State Duma deputy speaker (Union of Rightist Forces) Irina Khakamada said that in light of recent events, the faction leaders "will give more serious consideration" to three bills reforming the administration of the Russian Federation. And a hefty majority of Duma deputies would be needed to overcome a rejection by the upper house. JAC
SOME REGIONAL LEADERS REMAIN DISSATISFIED WITH PLANNED REFORMS.Boris Berezovskii's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" continues to publish interviews with regional leaders critical of Russian President Putin's plans to reform Moscow's administration of the regions (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 June 2000). In an interview on 15 June, Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Filipenko said that while "the effectiveness of federal authorities should be improved, it should not occur because of the weakening of regional authorities." Filipenko also spoke in favor of governors' retaining their diplomatic immunity, suggesting that "it is simply necessary for normal work." Meanwhile, in a series of interviews with "Profil" on 19 June, a number of regional legislative leaders voiced their opposition to Putin's plans. Yevgenii Porunov, chairman of Sverdlovsk's legislature, said "we do not welcome the [president's] initiatives and we do not understand them." Gennadii Dudaev, chairman of Kemerovo's legislature, said "regional leaders will accept everything Putin proposes as a new reality. I cannot, however, rid myself of the impression that we are adapting ourselves to the given situation and given ruler rather than improving the organizational structure of the country." JAC
AUDIT CHAMBER, ENVOYS TO MONITOR BUDGET FLOWS?In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 June, Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin explained his desire to establish regional branches of the chamber. According to Stepashin, the chamber had requested setting up regional branches two years ago but members of the Federation Council have blocked the effort. He added that "[given] that the seven presidential envoys will, in addition to everything else, be engaged with issues of spending budget monies, their interaction with the local branches of the Audit Chamber is absolutely necessary." JAC
THIEVES WHO RETURN GOODS IN THE NIGHT.Thieves who stole priceless items from the Museum of Decembrists in Noselingirsk have returned part of their booty, leaving it near the house of a local police officer, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 October. Among the items returned was an 18th century violin made by noted Italian violinmaker Guiseppe Guarneri, a prayer book, and a sword of a Irkutsk regiment hussar. According to the agency, the museum, like many other regional museums, does not have a reliable alarm system. "Kommersant-Daily" reported that experts at the federal Culture Ministry have doubts about the violin's authenticity. JAC
STUDENT BEATS GOVERNOR IN COURT--TWICE.A local law student has won a case he recently brought against Governor Petr Sumin over a resolution requiring alcohol products to carry a local stamp. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 June that Denis Zavyalov convinced the court that Sumin's resolution violated his rights as a citizen since the cost of acquiring the stamp is reflected in the price of the product, meaning that the buyer ends up paying more for that product. Also, Zavyalov argued, the rights of consumers are violated since they in effect find themselves paying an additional charge without their knowledge. This is the second court case that Zavyalov has won against Sumin within 12 months. Last June, he successfully challenged in court Sumin's resolution temporarily requiring local stamps on compact discs, audiovisual equipment, and computers. The administration appealed the ruling in the Supreme Court but that court canceled the resolution, resulting in a sizable loss of revenue for the oblast budget. JC
LAWMAKERS GIVE INITIAL APPROVAL TO NEW CONSTITUTION.The State Council has approved in the first reading the draft of a new republican constitution, Interfax reported on 16 June. Under that draft, an individual can spend no more than two terms in office as president of the republic, while the post of vice president is abolished. And whereas until now the president named the prime minister, the appointment of a candidate as head of the government must be approved by the State Council. The news agency noted that the new basic law is intended to replace the one adopted in 1978, many of whose provisions are in conflict with federal legislation. It also reported that it is hoped to adopt the new republican constitution by 24 June, celebrated in Chuvashiya as the Day of the Republic. JC
CAN THE AMUR TIGER BE SAVED FROM EXTINCTION?Officials in Khabarovsk Krai have launched a campaign to protect the krai's dwindling Amur tiger population, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 June. There are an estimated 60-70 Amur tigers living in wildlife reserves in the south of the krai and another 250 in neighboring Primore. An anti-poaching squad has been set up to patrol those reservations, and the World Wildlife Fund has allocated $60,000 toward funding a separate firefighting unit to protect the tigers' habitat from forest fires. A photograph of the tiger is available at: http://www.fegi.ru/PRIMORYE/index.htm LF
PROSECUTOR PREVAILS--THANKS TO FEDERAL DIRECTIVE.Following Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov's 1 June directive that the federation subjects must bring their laws into line with federal legislation within one month, Komi Prosecutor Viktor Kovalevskii has stepped up his on-going campaign to make the republic's legislation comply with its federal counterpart, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 June. In contrast to the past, when Kovalevskii's protests were largely ignored--even when backed up by court rulings in his favor--the executive and legislative branches are now displaying a newfound willingness to examine the republican legislation. On 5 June, Governor Yurii Spiridonov issued an order on fulfilling Ustinov's directive, while the legislature has scheduled a session for the end of this month at which deputies will examine those laws considered to be in conflict with federal legislation. Kovalevskii, for his part, has since protested to the republican parliament over 24 articles in Komi's Constitution that conflict with Russia's basic law and intends to launch similar protests over a number of laws and legislative acts. JC
CLEANER DRINKING WATER FOR ST. PETE.Reuters reported on 16 June that the UN Development Program and Leningrad Oblast have reached an agreement aimed at improving the quality of the drinking water in St. Petersburg within six years. A UNDP official told the news agency that the bulk of the $90 million project will be financed by the French company SNF Floerger. That company's technology and equipment will be used in the construction of several water purification factories. The contamination of local drinking water supplies is one of the causes of the high disease rate in St. Petersburg. JC
ECOLOGICAL DATA TOO SENSITIVE FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION.Specialists from the Siberian State Geodesy Academy have begun a comprehensive survey of the ecological situation in Novosibirsk Oblast, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 June. But its initial findings are so alarming that the specialists believe the oblast authorities do not realize how dangerous the situation is. They have designated the data as "for restricted circulation only" in order to avoid frightening the local population. LF
FOR VLADIVOSTOK, NEW ELECTION MEANS NEW CONTROVERSY.The chairman of Vladivostok's election commission, Veniamin Shichayev, announced on 18 June that mayoral elections in that city can be declared valid since 26.87 percentage of eligible voters had participated, Interfax reported. A 25 percent turn-out was required. According to preliminary results, acting Mayor Yurii Kopylov is leading with more than 50 percent of the votes. Vladivostok has witnessed successive failures to elect a city council or mayor, and this election is similarly fraught with controversy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September and 17 December 1999). Voting in this latest ballot began on 3 June: persons planning to be out of town on election day, 18 June, were allowed to vote early. Seven of the 10 candidates for mayor objected to this arrangement, accusing Kopylov's administration of trying to falsify election results. "The Moscow Times" reported on 13 June that busloads of teachers, doctors, and others whose salaries come from the city budget have been arriving at polling stations since 3 June. JAC
NAKHODKA RESIDENTS TO APPEAL FOR NATIONAL MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM?A fuel leak from an intercontinental ballistic missile caused the contamination of 12 people at the port of Chajma, AFP reported on 18 June. According to the agency about 26 gallons of fuel leaked from the missile and formed a 1,000-1,600 foot cloud of yellow toxic gas. Residents of the neighboring town of Nakhodka were told not to go outdoors and to close their windows and doors. Officials reported that by the end of the day the cloud had mostly dissipated. JAC
ANOTHER REPUBLICAN CONSTITUTION TO BE FIXED.Vice President Aleksei Melnikov told reporters on 15 June that the republic's constitution will be brought into conformity with the federal laws by 25 June, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Melnikov, 59 violations of the federal constitution were found in 25 articles of region's basic laws. JAC
Governor/Felon Speaks Out in Favor of Legislative Immunity.Amid all the public focus on media magnate Vladimir Gusinskii's detention last week, the release from jail of an ex-member of the Federation Council went virtually unnoticed.
Former Vologda Governor Nikolai Podgornov was freed under an amnesty, having served less than one year of a seven-year sentence. In March 1996, then President Boris Yeltsin had issued a decree dismissing Podgornov as governor on suspicion of abuse of office and misuse of federal funds. More than two-and-a-half years later, in December 1998, an oblast court sentenced him to a one-year suspended jail term for using public funds to buy new parts for his jeep. All other charges--including embezzling public funds--were dismissed for lack of evidence. But the Russian Supreme Court overturned the oblast court's ruling and ordered a re-trial. Last fall, the lower court found Podgornov guilty on nearly all counts and subsequently handed down a seven-year prison term.
"Moskovskii komsomolets" spoke to Podgornov shortly after his release from a Vologda jail. In particular, the newspaper asked the former governor to give his views on the possibility that, under President Vladimir Putin's proposed reform of the upper house of the legislature, members of the Federation Council will lose their immunity from prosecution. Podgornov responded as follows:
"It seems to me that a huge mistake is being committed. A governor cannot work without immunity. He is not in a position to take decisions that satisfy everyone, and if he is deprived of his immunity, those who are dissatisfied will begin to settle accounts with him. A clear mechanism must be worked out [for] 'investigating' the governors...so that it doesn't happen that any sergeant can stop you [or] arrest you. In the end, putting governors into this position means humiliating Russia even more than they humiliate you in prison."
Podgornov also commented that he believes governors should be appointed, not elected, and given "absolute power." Today, he continued, there are "more than 20 federal structures in each region that are not subordinated to the governor. Who, then, is ruling that territory? ...The governor must be responsible for everything. It is not possible to seat a person in a car that has neither a steering wheel nor gasoline."
On the subject of conditions in prison, Podgornov clearly agrees with Gusinskii, who, following his four-day stay in Moscow's notorious Butyrka prison, announced he will lobby for greater protection of the rights for criminal defendants. Podgornov, who was held in prisons in the capital and Vologda, complained, above all, about attempts to exert psychological pressure on inmates and to "break" them. Russia's detention centers, he argued, are "academies for breeding criminals." Inmates are "maimed," and only the strongest manage to survive, he concluded.
With regard to his own case, Podgornov declined to discuss any details. He indicated, however, that he is appealing to the Plenum of the Supreme Court to overturn the oblast court's ruling. JC
Industrial Output, First Quarter of 2000 Versus First Quarter of 1999
Source: PlanEcon, Washington, D.C. (data are seasonally adjusted).