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Russia Report: July 26, 2000

26 July 2000, Volume 2, Number 27
Despite predictions to the contrary, members of the Federation Council voted overwhelmingly on 26 July to pass the compromise bill reforming the upper house. The vote was 119 votes in favor with 18 against and four abstentions, Interfax reported. Federation Council members had originally rejected the legislation and a conciliatory commission composed of members of both houses worked to forge a version acceptable to all legislators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2000). Under the legislation, the current members of the Federation Council will be replaced by two permanently working representatives, one named by each region's legislature and another appointed by its executive branch. The new representatives will be dismissed in the same way that they are selected. The bill requires that the new composition of the upper house be in place 1 January 2002. After this date, the current members of the Federation Council who are not members of local legislatures will also lose their immunity from criminal prosecution. JAC

Six regional leaders told Interfax on 20 July that they have doubts that former State Duma deputy and oligarch Boris Berezovskii will manage to attract many regional leaders to join his party. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, Ingushetia President Ruslan Aushev, Khakassia President Aleksei Lebed, and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev all said that they do not plan to do so. Lebed added that he didn't think many other regional leaders would want to risk such an open display of opposition to President Vladimir Putin and his team, while Tuleev also thought the general prospects for Bereozovskii's party were small. Only Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov said he thinks the chances of Berezovskii being able to form a "governors' party" are quite high, although he himself does not plan to join and does not agree with Berezovskii's view of President Putin's regional reforms. Ayatskov was one of the few governors to vote in favor of Putin's bills in the Federation Council. JAC

During a visit to Blagoveshchensk in the Amur Oblast, President Vladimir Putin called for sweeping changes in the government's policy for the Russian Far East and encouraged his presidential envoy to the Far East district to strengthen the area's ties with the rest of Russia, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 22 July. Putin complained that the region's economy has developed far too slowly and lacks sufficient infrastructure. Meanwhile, the region's vast natural resources and more skilled use of its industrial resources could turn the region into a zone of "prosperity." He noted that past programs to develop the region were implemented very badly: "If a presidential program does not work it should be reviewed," Putin said Putin called for urgent steps to aid the socio-economic advancement of the Russian Far East, otherwise "the future local population will speak Japanese, Chinese or Korean," Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC

The heads of several autonomous okrugs have recently declared their desire to join with larger federal subjects, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 July. The head of the Komi-Permyak, Nikolai Poluyanov, for example, has supposedly said that "it would be better for the okrug if it were part of Perm Oblast." And the head of the Buryat Ust-Ordinskii Okrug Valerii Maleev said that he is sure that if a referendum were held, residents of his okrug would vote to become part of Irkutsk Oblast, of which it was originally a part before the area received an upgraded status. According to the daily, which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii, the initiative to create larger regional entities has not met with any resistance in the okrugs' ethnic elite--not even in those okrugs where the titular nationality is actually dominant such as in Komi-Permyak. Instead, the opposition to the idea has been based mostly on economic considerations. The leadership of the oil and gas producing areas, Khanty-Mansii and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs, for example, maintain that they "have only won from independence." Those okrugs' legislatures are filled with representatives of Gazprom and of oil companies such as LUKoil, Sibneft, Rosneft, Sidanko, and YUKOS, and these legislators are not interested in merging with agrarians. According to the daily, any changes in the status of autonomous okrugs are likely to run into legal obstacles, since the Russian constitution recognizes the okrugs as full subjects of the Russian Federation, and any changes in their status could require constitutional amendments. In a survey of regions' quality of life conducted at the beginning of the year, Komi-Permyak scored the worst of all federation subjects with seven times less revenues, 21 times less living space, and three times as much crime as the city of Moscow (see "RFE/RL Federation Report," 26 January 2000). In that survey, four of the top 10 worst places to live were autonomous okrugs. JAC

Presidential envoy to the Northwest district, Viktor Cherkesov told reporters on 21 July that the number of federal employees working in regions will most likely be cut. He explained that the regional branches of federal organs are often now working efficiently and "it is necessary to carry out a kind of an inventory both of their qualitative and numerical staff. As a result, we would rather optimize these structures and cut the number of officials working in regions and republics."JAC

Presidential envoy to the Central federal district Georgii Poltavchenko told reporters on 20 July that he has not discovered any serious discrepancies between regional and federal laws. However, "there are 140 local laws that do not correspond in one way or another to federal legislation," but regional authorities in his district are taking corrective measures. When asked about the propiska system in place in Moscow and other regions, Poltavchenko recalled that the Constitutional Court had previously ruled that such systems are unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 & 13 March 1998). He continued that "if there is a court decision, then it should be observed." Poltavchenko also revealed that some 114 people work in his apparatus with some 40 of these based in Moscow. JAC

The mayor of the city of Yarovoe in Altai Krai, Mikhail Chekhonadskikh, was found dead in Novosibirsk Oblast on 21 July, ITAR-TASS reported. Chekhonadskikh, who was elected several months ago, sent a telegram to territorial administration several days before the discovery of his body. In the cable, Chekhonadskikh said "under the pressure of unexpected circumstances, I have to leave the city." Interfax-Eurasia reported three days later that local law enforcement officials believe the mayor took his own life. They also disclosed that in his telegram, Chekhonadskikh asked for police protection for his family in Yarovoe. JAC

While addressing a conference on problems of Kamchatka Oblast on 24 July, President Putin blamed the region's poor economic situation on excessive bureaucracy. He noted that cargo ships frequently take their vessels to Korea rather than the port at Kamchatka because it takes 3 days to re-load in comparison with just 3 hours in Pusan. According to Putin, incomes in the rest of the country are rising, but in Kamchatka they are actually falling. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko also attended the meeting and reported that 45 percent of Kamchatka's population live below the poverty level--compared to about 35 percent nationwide. Unemployment in Kamchatka is also 60 percent higher than the national average. According to Matvienko, wage debts remain high in region, and currently only 9 percent of Kamchatka's 12,500 teachers have been paid for their summer vacation. According to "Vremya novostei" on 25 July, when Putin first spied crowds of local residents who had been waiting for hours to see him in chilly winds (the temperature was 9 degrees Celsius), he "stiffly clung to his guards." Later Putin approached an old woman from the audience who was so overcome with joy that she couldn't speak. After skiing on a local volcano, Putin said he had never seen anywhere as beautiful as Kamchatka either in Russia or abroad and suggested that the oblast's tourism industry should be expanded. JAC

Komi Republic head Yurii Spiridonov has sent a telegram to federal Prime Minister Kasyanov urging that the decision to abolish the federal forestry service, Rosleskhoz, be revised, Interfax Northwest reported on 22 July. That decision was taken by the Ministry for Natural Resources in a resolution dated 13 July 2000. Spiridonov argued that the abolition of Rosleskhoz will mean the loss of control over the forestry sector, which, he maintained, is "significantly more difficult to regulate than the fuel and energy complex." In his opinion, the Ministry for Natural Resources, to which the service was subordinated, is unlikely to be able to effectively deal with the issues facing the sector. Spiridonov was addressing journalists on the subject of the forest fires that have been raging in various part of Russia this summer on account of unusually hot weather. He revealed that almost 10 million rubles ($360,000) have already been allocated from the republican budget to deal with such fires in Komi so far this year. JC

The website reported on 25 July that Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii plans to challenge Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Kondratenko at the region's next gubernatorial elections. Last year, Zhironovskii competed unsuccessfully for the governorship of Belgorod Oblast. He was disqualified from running in Sverdlovsk Oblast. Earlier reports that he would run in Kirov Oblast proved to be false (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 26 June 2000). JAC

According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 22 July, the Kremlin is seeking to ensure that Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi is not re-elected in the ballot expected to take place in October. The newspaper reported that Major General Viktor Surzhikov will give up his office as head of the Volgograd branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and take up the post of chief federal inspector under the presidential representative to the Central District. In that capacity, Surzhikov will reportedly supervise Kursk Oblast. But according to unidentified sources in the Volgograd branch of the FSB, several weeks ago the Kremlin took the decision to support Surzhikov in the October gubernatorial ballot and for this reason orchestrated his transfer from Volgograd to Kursk. When questioned by "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Surzhikov did not refute rumors of his impending candidacy. Until late last year, he had held the post of presidential representative in Kursk but, according to the Moscow daily, had been forced out of the oblast by Rutskoi, who apparently was uncomfortable with a counterintelligence agent not under his control. JC

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov is taking Rutskoi to court over comments the latter made on Kursk television and radio shortly before the March 2000 presidential elections, in which Zyuganov unsuccessfully ran against Vladimir Putin. In an address overtly in favor of Putin and the pro-Kremlin Unity, Rutskoi accused Zyuganov of having "run away" from the White House on 25 September 1993 "to stir up the people" while he himself had remained to oppose the "arbitrary rule" of Boris Yeltsin's government--an act for which he was imprisoned. In his address, Rutskoi described the Communists as "opportunists, cowards, and timeservers" and accused Zyuganov of "betrayal," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 July. Zyuganov is demanding 100,000 rubles ($3,600) in damages from Rutskoi for offending his honor, dignity, and professional reputation. Late last month, the Kursk governor was fined for insulting the oblast police chief Aleksei Volkov, according to the Moscow daily. JC

The heads of some 85 leading companies and organizations, including seven deputies of the oblast legislature, have sent a letter to Omsk Mayor Valerii Roshchupkin asking him to voluntarily resign his office within one month, Interfax and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 and 20 June, respectively. The authors of the letter accused Roshchupkin of following "unwise financial and tax policies that do not take into account our problems and difficulties." They also accused City Hall officials of seeking to solve their own personal problems, rather than those of the city, and complained of the mayor's "irrepressible ambitions and intrigues." The time limit for Roshchupkin's resignation was set at one month, according to the authors of the letter, taking into account the "extremely dangerous situation connected to preparations for the winter." According to "Kommersant-Daily," opponents of the mayor began collecting signatures for a referendum on his dismissal. Roshchupkin was re-elected as mayor last September, garnering more than 6O percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 8 September 2000). Earlier, he had withdrawn his bid for the governor's seat under pressure from members of Governor Leonid Polezhaev's team. After that, relations between Roshchupkin and Polezhaev reportedly deteriorated. JC

"Vremya novostei" reported on 21 July that the Omsk Oblast authorities have succeeded in keeping the region free of Wahhabism, despite the fact that Muslims constitute more than 10 percent of the local population. Working together with the head of the Spiritual Board of Muslims in Siberia, Zulkarnai Shakirzyanov, the authorities recently thwarted the efforts of "missionaries" from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Kuwait to establish a base in the region for spreading Wahhabist propaganda. Based on information received by Shakirzyanov, those missionaries wanted to set up a special school in the oblast, but before they could even begin to make preparations for such an establishment, the local authorities "recommended" that they leave the region. Shakirzyanov noted that while Omsk has successfully kept Wahhabism at bay, "radical missionaries" were able to organize some 20 youth camps throughout Russia in 1999 alone. JC

Some 400 protestors blockaded the main highway out of Nakhodka in Primorskii Krai on 23 July to protest the lack of electricity to their homes, ITAR-Tass reported the next day. According to the agency, power has been cut-off to residences for as long as 18 hours a day during the last several days. On 24 July, a newborn baby died in a hospital in Vladivostok because a power cuts caused his artificial respirator to fail. A chief engineer for local utility company Dalenergo blamed the power cut on a malfunction, saying that "despite the severe situation in the energy system, we do not shut off hospitals and baby wards." On the same day, Vladivostok Mayor Yuri Kopylov appealed to President Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to ease the region's energy crisis. Primorskii Krai authorities and Dalenergo officials have locked horns over the last few weeks over unpaid debts to the utility, while Unified Energy System head Anatolii Chubais called Primorskii Krai the darkest spot in the nation's electricity grid (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 19 July 2000). JAC

Yurii Shutov, a local parliamentary deputy who has been in detention since February 1999 on suspicion of organizing several high-profile contract killings, is to run a third campaign to become a member of the State Duma, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 21 July. He will take part in the ballot in District No. 209, which Sergei Stepashin had represented until his appointment to the State Audit Chamber earlier this year. Another participant in that by-election is likely to be Ruslan Linkov, the aide to slain Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova. Shutov has already run unsuccessful campaigns to be elected in Districts Nos. 210 and 211 (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 8 December 1999 and 15 March 2000). JC

The local arbitration court has ordered the St. Petersburg television company Russkoe Video to pay city hall 48,000 rubles ($1,700) for furniture and a tea set that allegedly went missing after the company rented a local palace, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 25 July. Russkoe Video is part of Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-MOST group, and Gusinskii himself has been accused of embezzling funds during its privatization. According to the newspaper, city hall was quick to note that the fine imposed on Russkoe Video has nothing to do with the federal government campaign against Gusinskii's media holdings. The newspaper quoted a member of the St. Petersburg's Committee for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments, which rented the premises to Russkoe Video, as saying that an audit revealed three years ago that various items had gone missing. She said that the company failed to meet a 12-month deadline to produce the missing items, and when earlier this year the committee's inspector was denied entrance to the company's premises, the committee went to the arbitration court. JC

The 10 small radical political parties and movements aligned in the Round Table appealed on 20 July to President Putin to dissolve Tatarstan's parliament because of procedural violations in nominating deputies, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 July. The Round Table claims that 55 of the total 130 deputies are simultaneously members of the executive directly appointed by President Mintimer Shaimiev. The opposition appeal also calls for amending Tatarstan's electoral legislation and Constitution to confirm with those of the Russian Federation. LF

Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn has won a case brought against him by a local doctor who objected to his February resolution requiring wine and vodka products to carry a local stamp, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 July. The plaintiff argued that the resolution contradicted the Russian Constitution and other federal laws, Lisitsyn had overstepped his authority, and the stamp requirement amounted to the imposition of a new tax. Shortly before the case came to court, however, Lisitsyn pushed though amendments to the resolution so that the stamp is in effect no longer mandatory. At the same time, he left in place the provision that 20 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the stamps are channeled to the oblast budget, while 80 percent go to the state enterprise Zashchita, which supplies wholesalers with the stamps. The court ruled in favor of Lisitsyn, deeming the newer version of the resolution to be in compliance with the law. Last month, a student in Chelyabinsk Oblast won a case he brought against Governor Petr Sumin over a similar resolution (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 June 2000). JC!emp


Governors Go Online to Defend Their Interests

By Julie A. Corwin

Governors may be in danger of losing their most widely-watched public forum, the Federation Council, but the proliferation of new websites in Russia suggests that they still have at least one alternative forum. For example, the private website just opened on the World Wide Web, "Kommersant-Daily" recently reported. So far, the site bears only a photograph of Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev along with an e-mail link to the address The anonymous creator of the site claims that it is a private initiative to provide objective information about Tatarstan and its leader.

But Shaimiev's press secretary, Erik Murtazin, said that the owner of the domain name hinted that its creator might have more remunerative goals in mind. According to Murtazin, the domain name owner approached his office, offering to sell the name and hinting that if it was not bought, the site might be used to dispense harmful information about the president. Murtazin said that he responded that they weren't interested and would respond to any slander with a law suit. Murtazin suggested that any of the readers of "Kommersant" who really want to know more about Shaimiev should consult his personal page on the site That site shows Shaimiev engaged in a variety of pastimes--but not gambling.

If Shaimiev had bought his own domain name, he might have found himself in the company of several other governors, including Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel (see, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov (see, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev (see and Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko (see Nazdratenko's site is perhaps the most fun with its unabashed self-promotion, its opening photo of Nazdratenko posed pompously over a city skyline, and frequent references to Nazdratenko's "manliness." The photo is at least realistic, since not a single light appears to be on in the city (see item above). Nazdratenko, who is known for his rocky relationships with the media, among other things, has a link on his media page to the publication "Vladivostok," which at one time provided negative coverage of the governor's activities (although that habit appears to have stopped).

Under the heading "personal qualities," visitors may learn that Governor Nazdratenko "works from six or seven in the morning to 10 or 11 at night." He doesn't smoke or drink and leads a healthy lifestyle. Despite his long work hours, Nazdratenko is a "remarkable family man, a loving husband and father." The site also contains testimonials to Nazdratenko's qualities from sundry figures such State Duma deputy (Communist) Viktor Ilyukhin, Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishaev, and Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel. Of course, none of them accuse the governor of being easily approachable; and under the category "return link," visitors are directed to use the e-mail address