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Russia Report: July 12, 2000

12 July 2000, Volume 2, Number 25
Unidentified sources in the presidential administration told Interfax on 10 July that the administration is preparing a draft decree on the new State Council that would be composed of some of the members of the current Federation Council. These same sources said the main criterion for selection will be the size of the population of a given leader's region and the significance of that region's economy. They added that the Council will not be formed until autumn of 2000. Among the names listed as most likely members of the council were Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, Irkutsk Governor Boris Govorin, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, Chelyabinsk Governor Petr Sumin, Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishaev, Vologda Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev, and Khanty-Mansii Governor Aleksandr Filipenko. Noticeably absent from the list is current Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, who is the governor of Orel Oblast, and Tyumen Governor Leonid Roketskii. "Vremya MN" argued on 11 July that since the administration plans to establish the State Council via a presidential decree rather than a constitutional amendment, Council members "will not wield any real power or enjoy immunity" from criminal prosecution. The newspaper also suggested that the Interfax report is evidence that the Kremlin is trying to bargain with members of the Federation Council as the bill reforming the upper house is considered by the legislature's conciliatory commission. Last week, Boris Berezovskii said that he was conducting his own negotiations with some regional leaders, having discussed his plans to form a new political party and Duma faction with Federation Council Chairman Stroev, Sverdlovsk Governor Rossel, Kursk Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi, and Saratov Governor Ayatskov among others (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2000). JAC

Members of the Federation Council voted on 7 July to participate in a conciliatory commission together with members of the State Duma to forge a compromise on the law on reforming the upper house. That bill was rejected by the Federation Council after passing in three readings in the State Duma. On 10 July, senators sent a list of their objections to the draft bill to the State Duma. Deputy Valerii Grebennikov (faction?) told Interfax that the Federation Council had sent in "radical objections" and not "amendments to the draft law," which suggests that "the senators tend to complicate the work of the conciliatory commission, if not block it." ITAR-TASS reported the same day that the senators' first objection is that "there is no need to change the current principle of forming the Federation Council." Senators also suggested that the law not take effect until the election of a new State Duma, that regional governors be allowed to recall their representatives to the new Federation Council, and that the Constitution be amended accordingly regarding any changes to the upper house. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 8 July, one member of the commission, Chuvash President Nikolai Fedorov, has promised to make his other colleagues on the commission consider no fewer than 50 amendments. Commission members are supposed to produce a new draft bill in time for the Duma's extra plenary session on 19 July. JAC

Following criticisms by Berezovskii and a variety of regional leaders of President Vladimir Putin's proposed bills reforming how the Russian federation is administered, some figures in the State Duma have begun to make their own critiques of Putin's plans. Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, former leader of the Our Home is Russia faction, published an article in "Moskovskie novosti" (no. 26) arguing that attempts to break up the Federation Council will trigger a war between the federal center and regional elites and that the "path of confrontation [with these elites] is dangerous and senseless" to walk down. And, "it will unavoidably lead to the emergence of nationalistic divisions along the Volga and in the Caucasus and lead to separatism in Siberia," Ryzhkov concludes. Around the time that article appeared, Ryzhkov was expelled from the Unity faction for expressing a different view from his colleagues regarding Putin's federation reforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2000). On 11 July, in an interview with the same publication, Union of Rightist Forces faction leader Boris Nemtsov said that "Trying to make Russia a unitary state is senseless. It's impossible to run such a vast country from one center, and will inevitably lead to Russia's break-up." In an interview with RFE/RL last month, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said that while he and his party "are ready to support Putin" in his goal to combat the "feudalistic behavior" of some governors, Putin's approach to it "must be checked many times not to make mistakes because mistakes could bring us to complete disaster" (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 28 June 2000). JAC

In his state of the union speech on 8 July, President Putin continued to characterize his reforms as primarily administrative or managerial: "The essence of this decision [establishing 7 macro-districts] is not to enlarge the regions, as this is sometimes being interpreted or presented, but to enlarge the structures of the president's [structures] in the territories, not to remake the administrative and territorial borders but to raise the efficiency of the authorities, not to weaken regional authorities but to create conditions for streamlining federalism." JAC

Following earlier reports that Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo was planning on making local law enforcement officials operate independently of local leaders (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 23 February 2000), Rushailo announced on 4 July that each of Russia's seven federal districts will have a department for combating organized crime, ITAR-TASS reported. The new departments will function under the supervision of the presidential envoy to the districts and will also be directly subordinated to the Investigation Committee at Interior Ministry headquarters in Moscow. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 July that subdivisions of the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime have already been formed in the respective capitals of the Ural District and Southern District, Yekaterinburg and Rostov-na-Donu. The daily concluded that the presidential envoys will now have security structures to rely on which are independent of local authorities. JAC

Presidential representative to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko on 6 July introduced his four deputies: German Petrov, Valentin Stepankov, Vladimir Zorin and Aleksandr Yevstefeev, ITAR-TASS reported. Yevstefeev is the former head of the Yekaterinburg School of Law, while Stepankov was the Prosecutor-General for the Russian Federation from 1991 to 1993. Zorin is the former first deputy chairman of the territorial administration of federal executive organs in Chechnya, and Petrov previously held leading posts in several major banks. JAC

Addressing journalists on 7 July, Viktor Cherkesov announced his plans to launch a television station for the entire region over which he now presides (the city of St. Petersburg, Karelia and Komi Republics, Arkhangelsk, Kaliningrad, Leningrad, Murmansk, Novgorod, Pskov, and Vologda Oblasts as well as the Nenets Autonomous Okrug), "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 11 July. Cherkesov said that the station would offer only "government-approved coverage," based on reporting from ITAR-TASS, the state-owned news agency. "There is no common information space either in the region or the country," he complained. And he went on to say that a new broadcast doctrine being developed by the Kremlin should "seriously change the information environment," adding that "assumptions that [the doctrine] will limit freedom of speech and access to information are wrong." JC

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 July that Karelia plans to issue its own bonds in the last quarter of this year. The issue is to be worth 250 million rubles ($9 million) and the bonds will have a five-year maturity. The St. Petersburg Promstroibank won the tender to organize the issue, beating out, among others, the MFK bank and the Karelia Sberbank. JC

A court in Leninsk-Kuznetsk found the former Mayor of Belovo, Evgenii Parshukov, not guilty of accepting bribes, Interfax reported on 7 July. Criminal proceedings were launched against Parshukov by the oblast's prosecutor in January 1999. He was accused of taking some 62,000 rubles ($2216 at today's exchange rate) of a credit from Belovo branch of the Kuzbass transportation bank during the mayoral campaign in that city in 1997. The money was supposedly intended to encourage Parshukov to give the bank "favorable conditions for its work" after he was elected. The court did find Parshukov guilty of negligence for his administration's incomplete use of a 700,000 ruble credit from the Fuel and Energy Ministry, which had been earmarked for the creation of new jobs for miners in the city. For that charge, he was fined 100 minimum wages. JAC

After heated debates between Governor Vyacheslav Kislitsyn's supporters and opponents in the local legislature, a law bringing forward the gubernatorial ballot by two months has been passed by that body, "Izvestiya" reported on 11 July. This means Kislitsyn's re-election bid will take place on 8 October, at the same time as elections to the local parliament. In an address to the republic's citizens after the law's passage, Kislitsyn said the early ballot will help save budget funds, and he claimed that during the last couple of months, both he and the State Assembly have received "numerous requests" from local organizations, city and raion authorities, and even "ordinary citizens" that the vote take place earlier. Also during recent months, Kislitsyn has come under increasing pressure from the opposition. Local leaders have sent two letters to President Vladimir Putin, complaining about the governor and the sorry state of the republic's economy under his rule and, in the case of the first missive, asking that the region be put under Moscow's direct rule (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 29 March and 14 June 2000). JC

EXTREME RIGHT LEADER ARRESTED. Igor Semenov, leader of the local branch of the Russian Party, who reportedly has ties to the local authorities, was recently arrested by the Federal Security Service on charges of disseminating Nazi propaganda, "Izvestiya" reported on 6 July, adding that a large number of weapons were found at his apartment. Two years ago, the 36-year-old Semenov and four other members of the Russian Party were tried for the murder of a young woman and her son. Semenov's four cohorts received lengthy sentences for the killing, but Semenov himself was acquitted of that charge and found guilty only of inciting racial hatred. He received a two-year sentence but was immediately freed, having already served that amount of time in pre-trial detention. One year later, the Orel justice department registered the local branch of the Russian Party. Semenov, who has publicly called on his comrades to arm themselves for the "final solution of the Jewish question," appears to have the support of Governor Yegor Stroev's administration. During Semenov's trial, for example, "Orlovskaya pravda"--the organ of the local executive, which, according to the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, frequently publishes anti-Semitic articles--openly defended the neo-Nazi. JC

Deputies in Sakha's legislative assembly voted on 7 July to introduce changes and amendments to the republic's constitution, bringing it into conformity with the federal constitution, Interfax reported. The new constitution no longer proclaims the primacy of local laws over federal; the president of the republic also lost his right to declare a state of emergency. However, deputies rejected the proposals of the local prosecutor that they eliminate the right of local authorities to agree to questions about the dislocation of troops on the republic's territory and the ban on the placement or testing of weapons of mass destruction within Sakha's borders. According to the agency, deputies will return to these issues during the legislature's fall session. (For more information on Sakha and the structure of its government, see JAC

In the 2 July gubernatorial elections, former Governor Konstantin Titov, a member of the Union of Rightist Forces, succeeded in snatching a first-round victory, gaining some 53 percent of the vote (more than 50 percent was required to avert a run-off). Titov's strongest challenger, Viktor Tarkhov, who had headed the oblast Council of People's Deputies in the early 1990s, won 29 percent backing; he was supported by the local branches of both the Communists and Yabloko. Gennadii Zvyagin, director-general of Samaratransgaz and the candidate of Unity, finished third with 9 percent of the vote. Titov resigned as governor in early April, saying that the low level of support he had received in the oblast during the March presidential elections also suggested he no longer had the confidence of the region's population in his capacity as governor. At the time, his opponents suggested the move was aimed at bringing forward the ballot, originally scheduled for December, to deprive his competitors of the necessary time to prepare their challenge for the governor's seat. Shortly before the ballot earlier this month, those opponents were to be heard again, this time suggesting the former governor was using unfair tactics to secure his re-election. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 June that the election teams of Titov's challengers had gathered evidence showing that the administration had been making "recommendations" to municipal workers, doctors, teachers, and others about whom they should vote for. In some cases, according to the Moscow daily, buses were organized to transport those voters to polling stations where early voting was taking place. JC

"Trud" reported on 7 July that the Samara Regional Court has annulled the results of last December's election to the State Duma in the oblast's single-mandate district. That ruling follows a Russian Supreme Court decision that the regional election commission's disqualification of General Albert Makashov from the ballot had been incorrect. Makashov, at the time a Duma deputy of the Movement to Support the Army, had paid in cash for his campaign materials; under the law, however, he should have paid for those materials from a special bank account. Barring an appeal by the regional election commission, new elections will now be called in Samara. Makashov recently failed in his bid to run in the 2 July gubernatorial ballot, having been unable to collect the necessary signatures in support of his candidacy (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 May 2000). JC

Russian President Putin has signed an order suspending resolutions issued by the oblast administration on introducing quotas for the sale of grain to the center and limiting "grain exports" beyond the borders of the oblast, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 1 July. Voronezh was one of some 20 regions that took such measures last year (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 1 September 1999). According to the presidential press service, the offending resolutions contravene the Russian Constitution, the civil and tax codes, as well federal laws on local government and the purchase and sale of agricultural goods. Putin recommended that the administration of Ivan Shabanov bring the resolutions into line with federal legislation. JC

For Russia's Regional TV Journalists, Self-Censorship is the Rule

by Floriana Fossato, RFE/RL London correspondent

Manana Aslamazian is fighting an uphill battle. As the director of the non-governmental organization Internews Russia, she and her team have helped fund and train journalists and managers of hundreds of television stations across Russia. Since its inception in 1992, Internews has awarded grants to hundreds of start-up media projects and given free courses for regional journalists and managers. Under her tutelage, regional news broadcasters have learned a more professional style, and many stations now include balanced news and socially oriented analysis. There is a great demand for professionally produced local news, as many Russian viewers have said the news from Moscow is too far removed from their lives. Even government authorities recognize the power of regional news stations. Recently, Aslamazian joined the influential Russian Media Ministry commission that deals with licensing of news organizations at the national and regional level.

But even as regional television becomes more popular, it faces increased challenges from government -- both a general tightening of Kremlin control and pressure from regional governments. Aslamazian says Internews will have to meet these challenges by strengthening independent thinking among journalists. She says regional reporters are censoring themselves. "I am, possibly, influenced by a certain feeling that is in the air [these days] concerning the big television networks," Aslamazian continued. "I mean that everybody seems to have become cautious. Everybody seems to understand what can be broadcast and what shouldn't. Young journalists come to our courses and I start talking enthusiastically about the journalist's mission, about responsibility and so on. And they reply very calmly and extremely judiciously that such and such is impossible, such and such is forbidden, this will not get through, that will not be broadcast."

Most local TV broadcasters, Aslamazian says, are sticking to what they consider a more traditional approach. This means they strive to emulate Russia's main television channel, ORT. This partly state-controlled company alternates popular entertainment programs with heavily biased news and analyses, whose political orientation is often determined by its majority private shareholder, Boris Berezovskii. Aslamazian says that teaching regional journalists how to correctly hold a camera and microphone is not enough. Even more important is to encourage them to think independently.

Last year, Internews, in collaboration with the Russian National Association of Television and Radio Broadcasters and the Russian Television Development Fund, organized a regional competition called News: Local Time. The contest consisted of nine rounds, held in different geographic regions, with a final round in Moscow. This year, the competition is being repeated in six regional rounds. During every round, Russian journalists and other professionals analyze each other's broadcasts. A jury or Russian and foreign experts scrutinizes all the submissions and discusses the reasoning behind every decision. Participants also attend seminars on the rights and responsibilities of journalists.

One of the most controversial goals of the jury, says Aslamazian, has been to determine the best "reporting on power," which refers to reports on the work of political figures."The report on power is like an indicator. [We can see whether] in a certain region journalists are trying to analyze the way local authorities work, are trying to portray powers-that-be as they really are. When they aren't, we can see two extreme tendencies. [One is] never-ending praises, odes, etcetera, when the camera literally follows local authorities at any level all day long, emphasizing each meaningless move they make. The other tendency, on the contrary, is when a television company enjoys the governor's favor and therefore allows itself to engage in mudslinging at [his opponents] 24 hours a day," Aslamazian said. This tendency, she says, has visibly increased over the last year. During the first competition, television reports were often less professional and there were more technical mistakes. But the content of the reports was often more spontaneous and unconventional. Now, the reports are better produced but less penetrating.

Some of the participants in the last round of regional television judging, which took place in the city of Kostroma last month, told RFE/RL that recent political developments have influenced regional television companies no less than nationwide ones. According to some participants, who asked to remain anonymous, it is clear that the rules of the game are changing.