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Russia Report: June 28, 2000

28 June 2000, Volume 2, Number 24
The next issue of the "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report" will appear on 12 July due to the observance of a Czech national holiday on 5 July.

Members of the Federation Council on 28 June rejected the bill reforming the upper legislative chamber by a vote of 129 against and 13 in favor, Interfax reported. The ballot was held in secret and followed harsh criticism of the law by a majority of the senators present, according to the agency. Before the vote, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak and Deputy Speaker Vladimir Platonov both called for the creation of a coordinating commission composed of members of Russia's upper and lower legislative chambers to rework the law, Interfax reported. However, senators rejected the call for creating such a body by a vote of 69 against and 44 in favor. On the same day senators also voted to initiate the acceptance of a law on holding a constitutional assembly. Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, addressing his fellow senators, said that it is necessary to revise the constitution not only with regard to the Federation Council but also "to perfect all branches of power." Constitutional Court Judge Tamara Morshchakova told Interfax on 28 June that the court would likely be willing to consider a request from senators about whether the new order of forming the upper chamber contradicts the Russian constitution. However, "Kommersant-Daily" concluded the same day that the court is not likely to want a confrontation with the president. In contrast to their colleagues, before the vote, Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev, Chukotka Governor Aleksandr Nazarov all spoke in favor of the law reforming the upper legislative chamber. JAC

In an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 21 June, Komi President Yurii Spiridonov expressed his concern that President Vladimir Putin's federal reform will have a negative impact on investment in Russia's regions. Noting that investors in the West had responded to the broadening of the regions' powers under former President Yeltsin by injecting "colossal sums" into regional projects, he observed that many investors are now uncertain what will become of those undertakings. At the same time, Spiridonov said he hopes that the creation of seven super-districts will help promote projects in the North West that have "general federal significance," such as the rail link "Belkomur" and the Northern Transport Corridor. With regard to federal Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov's inclusion of Komi among those regions whose constitutions conflict with the federation's basic law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2000), Spiridonov said he is confident that when Ustinov "takes a deeper look" at Komi's constitution, he will cease to be concerned. ITAR-TASS reported on 23 June that the provision on "state sovereignty" is expected to be removed from Komi's constitution when legislators vote on 10 amendments to the republic's basic law. Komi Prosecutor General Viktor Kovalevskii has long campaigned for that document to be brought into line with its federal counterpart (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 June 2000). JC

The State Duma's Budget Committee decided on 22 June to recommend that the Duma again allow local authorities to grant tax breaks for part of federal taxes going to local budgets, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 June. From 1 January 1999, regions have had the right to grant local enterprises relief from certain taxes. According to the daily, regions which know how to manipulate tax privileges successfully experience a growth in manufacturing and higher investment activity. In Vologda Oblast, for example, separate branches of industry experienced growth of 24-25 percent a year, which compensated for the lower tax revenue flowing to the local budget. The final decision on the tax breaks will be made by the full State Duma when it considers the second part of the Tax Code, the newspaper said. JAC

In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 26 June, Valerii Velichko, head of an association of former KGB officials, said that the KGB's successor organization, the Federal Security Service (FSB), has an important role to play in Putin's attempts to re-establish central authority over Russia's regions. According to Velichko, the FSB is the only federal institution that has resisted the influence of the governors and is therefore the perfect engine to establish top-down authority. He explained "the KGB, its regional departments, didn't submit to local power but reported to Moscow. That's why [the KGB's] regional head was free in his evaluations. He did not look to the governor or the regional administration for approval but communicated directly with the central organ." Velichko also praised Putin's appointment of Viktor Cherkesov, a former FSB official, as presidential envoy to the North West macro-region. He said Putin did not "let himself be bothered by the fact that, for obvious reasons, this appointment won't please the city's intelligentsia." Velichko added that he is hoping that Putin will install "enlightened autocracy" in Russia which is "neither the coarse militarized communism of [former Cambodian leader] Pol Pot, nor is it the fascist or half-fascist regime of [former Chilean dictator Augusto] Pinochet." JAC

Tankred Golenpolskii, a member of the Russian Jewish Congress, told Keston News Service on 22 June that the new agreement between the Hasidic Federation of Jewish Communities and the federal Culture Ministry could give the Hasidic federation increased access to historic synagogues in places such as Siberia, which never had a strong Hasidic presence before 1917 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2000). The Federation, which is headed by a Lubavitch rabbi, Berl Lazar, has been accused of receiving support of the presidential administration to the detriment of Russia's chief rabbi, Adolf Shaevich, and more mainstream Jewish groups in Russia. Federation head Berl Lazar responded that while his supporters and Shaevich's will now compete for control of Jewish congregations and synagogues in the regions, secular authorities rarely play a role in deciding the fate of old synagogues. A supporter of Shaevich's told Keston that Lazar-supported factions have already expelled Shaevich-supported factions from local synagogues in Rostov-na-Donu, Smolensk, and Kostroma. The source, a reform rabbi, predicted that governors and mayors will choose sides in these disputes according to "who has the most money." JAC

Unity leader Boris Gryzhlov and Volga Cossack Ataman Boris Gusev agreed on 22 June to work together to draft a law on Cossacks for the State Duma's fall session, "Izvestiya" reported on 24 June. (The State Duma had earlier debated such a draft that was subsequently torpedoed by the Federation Council. President Putin had called in March for the drafting of a new law on the Cossacks.) The new law would provide a legislative basis for the revival and development the Cossack community in Russia. According to the newspaper, Unity's meeting with the Cossack leader was not accidental and is part of the party's effort to create a solid regional base of support to offset the loss of regional leaders' support following President Putin's plans reforming the federation. Meanwhile, the Cossacks are looking for new support among the government since the resignation of Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, under whose patronage many Cossacks' commercial activities have operated. Titov is running in the gubernatorial elections in that oblast scheduled for 2 July. JAC

Bashkortostan's prosecutor registered his protest on 27 June against a series of provisions in that republic's constitution that he says violate federal laws, Interfax reported. On the same day, the agency reported that a commission, which will include federal as well as local representatives, will be created in the near future to reconcile local laws with federal laws. The head of Bashkortostan's parliament, Konstantin Tolkachev, said that officials are not talking about bringing Bashkortostan's laws into line with federal norms but about the coordination between the [different] pieces of legislation. "Today is not the Soviet period, and the federal organization [of Russia] has its own peculiarities, which are necessary to take into account," he continued. He emphasized that it is necessary to understand the mentality of Bashkirs, who "do not want to give up gains achieved since the time of Ivan the Terrible." However, he said it would not be correct to accuse Bashkortostan of "separatism" since "no one wants to leave Russia or is planning to." JAC

Elections for the oblast's legislative assembly on 25 June failed to attract the necessary 25 percent of registered voters and were declared invalid in 17 districts, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 26 June. Of the 45 electoral districts, only 28 had a sufficient level of voter participation, according to that agency. The cities of Irkutsk and Bratsk had especially low levels of participation, ITAR-Tass said. JAC

A collegium of judges, which acts a professional licensing body, voted on 21 June to dismiss Arbitration Court Chairman for Primorskii Krai Tatyana Loktionova and strip her of her status as a judge because of a criminal investigation pending against her husband, "The Moscow Times" reported on 23 June. Loktionova's husband is suspected of accepting two bribes totaling $502,000 to influence Loktionova's rulings. Loktionova has repeatedly locked horns with Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, who had previously called on the Prosecutor-General's office and the Supreme Court to remove her. Loktionova claimed last year that Nazdratenko was trying to intimidate her and other members of her court to change her rulings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 1999). She said that she had received death threats and had been forced to send her two daughters into hiding. Last April, 24 of Loktionova's 36 colleagues in the krai court system declared a hunger strike to protest oppression by the governor (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 19 April 2000). According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 June, Loktionova plans to appeal to the Supreme Court over the decision dismissing her. JAC

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 23 June that his commission does not yet have a basis for challenging the results of 18 June mayoral elections in Vladivostok, Interfax reported. But he added that the commission is still examining all the documents from the election, including complaints of voters. The previous day, the Union of Rightist Forces announced that it was going to appeal to the commission and to the office of the Prosecutor-General to examine the election's results. Leader of the SPS's Primorskii Krai department, Nikolai Morozov, told Interfax that since the city administration "didn't have any possibility of winning the elections legally, it used its forces to prepare the total falsification of the election's results." JAC

A Pskov oblast printing house has made it clear to "Panorama" that it will no longer print that publication. "Vremya MN" on 22 June reported that the printing house recently told the weekly that owing to the breakdown of its color printing equipment, the publication would have to appear in black-and-white. Half an hour after the editor of "Panorama" had agreed to that arrangement, he was informed that the printing house's generator had broken down, as "Vremya MN" put it, "for a long time, and in the case of 'Panorama' possibly forever." "Panorama" is financed by State Duma Deputy Mikhail Kuznetsov, who intends to run in the upcoming gubernatorial ballot against the incumbent, Yevgenii Mikhailov. The publication had been recently warned that the oblast printing house may be forced to cancel its contract to print the weekly (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 24 May 2000). According to "Vremya MN," the editors of "Panorama" are now looking at the printing possibilities in neighboring Novgorod Oblast. JC

Members of the Legislative Assembly on 21 June voted to approve Yurii Antonov, who had been vice governor responsible for overseeing the fuel and energy complex in the last city government, as first vice governor. At the same time, the deputies passed a law on the government providing for that position. "The St. Petersburg Times" on 23 June quoted a member of the opposition Yabloko faction as saying that deputies believe that if there were no first vice governor, "high-ranking authorities would compete with each other to become favorites of the governor." According to the newspaper, Governor Vladimir Yakovlev does not want a first deputy, but he may not be able to get his way. As "Kommersant-Daily" pointed out, there would be little point in Yakovlev's vetoing the recently passed law on the government: in accordance with the city statutes, the speaker of the legislature is empowered to sign laws into force. Earlier this month, deputies finally filled the position of speaker after two years of in-house wrangling (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 14 June 2000). JC

Mikhail Botnar, head of the cult called Party of Communists--Unity Vsevolod, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for premeditated murder, "Izvestiya" reported on 21 June. Botnar was found guilty of killing a local school teacher whom the sect had chosen to become his wife in accordance with an "order received from the cosmos." When Botnar took possession of his bride's house and locked her out, the young woman challenged him by going to court in a bid to regain her property. She was later found dead on one of the Volga islands. The Party of Communists--Unity Vsevolod draws on a dozen or so creeds, ideologies, and esoteric doctrines. It has tried twice--unsuccessfully--to become officially registered with the oblast department of justice. According to one of its leaders, as many as 6,000 people attend its spiritual meetings and prayer sessions. JC

Putin's Day at the Races.
Russian President Putin traveled on 23 June to Kazan, where he held talks with Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev. The following day Putin, dressed informally in a green T-shirt, accompanied Shaimiev and Bashkortostan's President Murtaza Rakhimov to the spring festival of Saban Tuye [Scythe Festival] held in the forest on the outskirts of Kazan. Putin spent some time with Shaimiev watching the horse races--one of the Tatarstan president�s great passions. He also won an arm-wrestling bout with a Tatar woman and tried his luck at the traditional pastime of trying with his teeth to extract good-luck coins from a bowl of fermented milk. (For a photo of Putin dancing in casual apparel see

Putin and Shaimiev appeared relaxed and at ease with each other, despite their recent discord over Shaimiev's possible nomination as governor of the Volga mega-region (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 14 June 2000), according to a member of RFE/RL management who attended the Saban Tuye festivities. That RFE/RL staffer also noted that the police presence along the route from Kazan to the festival location and at the festival itself was the strongest he has ever witnessed during eight years of regular visits to Tatarstan.

Some political observers have suggested that Putin and Shaimiev have reached an agreement whereby Shaimiev will soon be appointed either to succeed Sergei Kirienko as presidential envoy to the Volga region or to head the new state council, being pushed by Shaimiev and Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev, that would include the heads of the federation subjects. In exchange, Shaimiev would agree not to run for re-election in 2001, leaving the way clear for Kazan Mayor Kamil Ishakov, whom those observers consider to be Putin's favored candidate to succeed Shaimiev in that post.

Such an outcome would certainly ease one item on the Russian president�s future schedule: Putin is chairman of a committee to prepare for the celebration, tentatively scheduled for 2004, of the 1000th anniversary of Kazan's foundation. And in that capacity, he has promised substantial federal funds to complete construction of Kazan's metro system and to finance reconstruction in the old quarters of the city. LF


EVENK. The Office of the Prosecutor-General has launched criminal proceedings against deputy governor of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug Galina Semenova on suspicion of swindling, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 June. Semenova allegedly did not declare that she already owned two apartments, one in Evenk and one in Saratov, when the presidential administration and the Moscow city government each granted her an apartment in Moscow. She also received an additional apartment in Moscow Oblast under the government program for resettling peoples of the North. ... OMSK. Lieutenant-Colonel Nikolai Prishets of the tax police has reportedly been caught "red-handed" in the act of accepting a bribe from a local businessman, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 June.


HIV Infections Spread

Percentage rise in the number of cases of HIV-infection in Orenburg Oblast during the first five months of 2000 compared with last year: 537%

Percentage of HIV cases transmitted through use of intravenous drugs in Orenburg: 92%

Percentage rise in the number of cases of HIV infection in Omsk Oblast since the beginning of the year: 133%

Number of cases of HIV infection in Sverdlovsk Oblast as of 1 June: 521

Number of cases in Sverdlovsk Oblast last year: 801

Percentage increase in number of HIV cases in Ulyanovsk Oblast during first five months of 2000 compared with same period 1999: 945%

Number of HIV-carriers in Ulyanovsk under the age of 25: 75%

Rank of Kaliningrad among Russian regions with high rates of HIV-infection: 2

Percentage of Moscow prostitutes infected with HIV: 15%

Sources: "Korrespondentskii chas," RFE/RL Russian Service, 10 and 17 June 2000; Interfax-Eurasia, 26 June; ITAR-TASS, 29 November 1999; AP, 25 May 2000.