Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia Report: August 30, 2000

30 August 2000, Volume 2, Number 31
Vladislav Surkov, deputy director of the presidential administration, told Interfax on 24 August that the new State Council may convene in September, once President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree on its creation. According to Surkov, two possible variants on the composition of that body are being considered: one, all executive heads of the regions, possibly including Chechnya, will make up that new body; and two, besides the governors, its members will include leaders of political parties and leading social organizations. The first of these options is "more preferable," Surkov commented. With regard to the functions of the new body, he said that its members will discuss the most important economic and political problems "related to the internal situation of the country" as well as issues related to state-building. Surkov was speaking after a meeting with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who, he said, is drawing up proposals for the new body and will forward them to the president. JC

In an interview with RIA-Novosti cited by "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 26 August, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev came to the defense of President Vladimir Putin, who has been subjected by some media outlets to fierce criticism for his handling of the "Kursk" disaster. Tuleev commented that it is "so unpleasant to see that a national tragedy is being used for partisan purposes, in order to defame the president, to harass him, to incite people against him, to make all kind of sick suggestions." Arguing that Putin cannot be held responsible for the lack of emergency and rescue services or for the "lamentable state" of the armed forces, Tuleev stressed that he believes the president is "doing his best to improve the situation, to pull the Russian army out of the abyss into which it was driven by previous leaders." JC

"Izvestiya" reported on 24 August that the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts appear to be experiencing difficulties appointing chief federal inspectors, as the former presidential representatives in the regions are now called. According to the daily, only 30 such inspectors have so far been selected, presumably because of the daunting task of finding candidates for those posts who are not compromised by their links to regional heads and/or leading enterprises. For this reason, the newspaper argues, the governors-general are looking to the secret services to fill those positions. Recently, Major General Viktor Surzhikov quit as head of the Volgograd branch of the Federal Security Service to take up the post of chief federal inspector for Kursk (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 26 July 2000). He is likely to run against incumbent Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi in the gubernatorial ballot scheduled to take place in October. JC

Aleksandr Nazarov, the governor of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug and head of the Federation Council Committee for Northern Affairs, told "Trud" in an interview published on 25 August that he believes it is essential to limit the number of settlers to the Far North and to ensure that everyone living there has work. Viewed in terms of employment currently available, he argued, the North is "supersaturated" with potential workers. He went on to say that he believes that only native peoples who have lived in Chukotka for centuries should be allowed to stay permanently in the okrug. Nazarov urged the government to change its approach toward opening up the Far North, saying that the authorities underestimate the mineral and natural resources of the region as well as the sums required to exploit them. JC

In a survey conducted by the Kaliningrad Sociological Center among 1,200 residents of the exclave, 23 percent of respondents said they would vote for Baltic Fleet commander Vladimir Yegorov if elections were held now, Interfax reported on 22 August. Kaliningrad Mayor Yurii Savenko came a close second with 20 percent backing, while incumbent Governor Leonid Gorbenko occupied third place with only 9 percent of the vote. Savenko, however, has not yet confirmed his intention to run in the 5 November ballot. JC

Responding to a request by the local Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia has suspended the activities of the local branch of Russian National Unity (RNE) for three months, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 August. The ministry, which warned RNE twice before appealing to the court, cited three reasons for the suspension: the organization's lack of a correct postal address, its failure to include publishing details (circulation, price, publisher, and so forth) on its press releases and other published materials, and its attempts to create rifts between different national groups, in particular by referring in its leaflets to the superiority of one race over another. If the organization is able to produce a postal address and starts including publishing details on its printed matter within three months, it will be allowed to resume its activities. According to the Moscow daily, citing representatives of the Prosecutor-General's Office, the blatantly racist comments printed in RNE's leaflets are in themselves insufficient grounds to ban the organization in the republic. JC

First Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Antipov has refused to meet with Anatolii Bykov, the former head of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant (KrAZ), who is charged with money laundering and complicity in murder and was released on bail last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2000). "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 August that immediately after his release, Bykov applied to meet with Antipov in order to give testimony, having declined to do so during the four months he spent in a krai detention center. Circles close to Bykov told the Moscow daily they believe that the reason for Antipov's refusal is that he fears Bykov will bring up a "sensitive" subject that the prosecutor would rather not see included in the protocol: Antipov allegedly met several times with Bykov in prison not to seek to extract testimony from him but to act as a go-between on behalf of one of the potential buyers of Bykov's 28 percent stake in KrAZ. JC

In a statement distributed among the republic's population, President Vyacheslav Kislitsyn confirmed that he will take part in the 8 October presidential ballot in Marii El, Interfax reported on 28 August. According to the secretary of the republic's Central Election Committee, at least nine hopefuls have announced their intention to contend the presidency, including Ioshkar-Ola Mayor Veniamin Kozlov and head of the Marii El presidential secretariat, Oleg Dmitriev. The last day for submitting registration documents is 2 September. JC

Meanwhile, Marii El Prosecutor-General Nikolai Piksaev has appealed to the republican Supreme Court to rule on the legality of holding early elections in the republic, Interfax reported on 24 August. Last month, Kislitsyn succeeded in bringing forward the vote to coincide with elections to the local legislature (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 12 July 2000). Piksaev argues, however, that the move violates federal legislation. According to Interfax, the local legislature, which passed the law moving up the ballot, received in early August a letter from the federal Central Election Committee pointing out the disparity between the new republican law and federal legislation. JC

The federal Supreme Court on 24 August upheld a decision by a collegium of judges to dismiss Arbitration Court Chairman for Primorskii Krai Tatyana Loktionova and strip her of her status as a judge (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 28 June 2000). Loktionova's husband is suspected of accepting two bribes totaling some $500,000 to influence Loktionova's rulings. Loktionova, for her part, claimed that she had come under pressure from Primore Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko to change some of her rulings, particularly with regard to bankruptcy cases. In her appeal to the Supreme Court, she had pointed out that the collegium of judges' ruling was based solely on witness accounts. The Supreme Court decision can be appealed within 10 days to the appeals collegium of that body. JC

Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov has suspended administration head Yurii Kusov over an incident in which Kusov both assaulted and insulted local journalists. According to "Kommersant-Daily" of 23 August, the incident took place during a meeting between Mikhailov and a group of agricultural workers. Security guards allowed everyone to enter the room where the meeting was being held, with the exception of journalists from the private newspaper "Tak nado!" and a local news agency. When "Tak nado" journalist Tatyana Mustaikina tried to persuade security guards to allow her through, Kusov intervened, pulling the journalist by the hair and seeking to push her to the ground--all the while ordering her to "bow down." He then pursued a cameraman from the local news agency who had filmed the incident. Stumbling in his attempt to get hold of the camera, Kusov proceeded to show his bare backside to the cameraman and urged him to film it. Reporting on Mikhailov's decision to suspend Kusov "until all circumstances have been clarified," the official newspaper "Pskovskaya pravda" described Kusov's actions as "inappropriate." Kusov has been oblast administration head since Mikhailov was elected governor in 1996. Their relations soured earlier this year when Mikhailov quit the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia to join the pro-Kremlin Unity, but the two reportedly patched up their differences ahead of the upcoming gubernatorial ballot. JC

The Saratov branch of Russian National Unity (RNE), local Cossacks, and the oblast union of war veterans have formed a regional bloc called Obereg (Protection), "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 August. The leaders of the new bloc put its membership at 10,000, of which three-quarters are estimated to be Cossacks. At a press conference held in what the Moscow daily described as the best hall at the oblast Chamber of Trade and Industry, local RNE leader Grigorii Trofimchuk announced that everyone is welcome to join the bloc, "including Jews who are born in Russia, grew up here, and consider themselves to be Russians." Many of the new formation's members are Tatars and Bashkirs, he said, noting they had not been required to convert to Orthodoxy. Trofimchuk was also quoted as saying that he enjoys "ideal" relations with the current local administration: "The local branch of Unity has suggested more than once establishing solid ties," he claimed. "Kommersant-Daily," however, noted that officials representatives of the pro-Kremlin party rejected that claim as false. JC

"Nevskoe vremya" reported on 5 August that following a recent meeting of the Northwestern Association under the chairmanship of President Putin, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev announced he has found a "formula of mutual understanding" with the center. Asked to define that formula, Yakovlev declined, saying only that now the city's budget "will not lose one kopeck." Some two months ago, Yakovlev had bitterly complained that as a result of the government's tax reforms, the St. Petersburg budget would lose up to 30 percent of its tax revenues. JC

The local Legislative Assembly has announced that gubernatorial elections will take place in the oblast on 24 December, two days after incumbent Governor Yurii Goryachev's term in office expires, Interfax reported on 24 August. According to local experts cited by the news agency, the main contenders for the governor's seat are considered to be Goryachev and Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov, one of the Russian army commanders in Chechnya. Shamanov, however, has yet to confirm his candidacy in that ballot. JC


By Paul Goble

Russia can become a genuinely federal state only if Moscow and the regions agree to divide responsibilities, to respect the rights of both sides, and to learn from each other. Otherwise, the country is likely to remain trapped in a zero-sum game--one in which gains by one side will threaten the status of the other and in which Moscow's efforts to recentralize or the regions' bids to achieve independence could point to disaster.

This was the disturbing message Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev delivered in media interviews over the weekend. As he has done for more than a decade, the Tatarstan leader struck a middle course between those who favor recentralizing power in Moscow and those who want the regions and republics to gain ever more authority.

On the one hand, Shaimiev urged the creation of "a single legal space in Russia," one of the key elements of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin's efforts at recentralizing authority in Moscow. Indeed, the Tatarstan leader added that he fully approves Putin's plans to use federal power to implement political and economic reforms in the country's far-flung regions. Achieving those goals will be impossible, he said, if central authority remains "weak."

On the other hand, Shaimiev sharply criticized those in Moscow who "want to rule the regions from the center, like in old times, when we were dictated to about absurd things like the percentage of fat in milk and butter we sold." Many people making that argument, Shaimiev continued, now "call themselves democrats but in financial and economic matters, they represent the central planning system at its worst." And he stressed that his Republic of Tatarstan is now ready, willing, and able to "increase our autonomy" just as it was when it declared its sovereignty and independence from Russia a decade ago.

At one level, Shaimiev's argument represents only the latest example of his efforts to steer a middle course, to avoid offending both the powers that be in Moscow and those in his own republic who are more nationalistically inclined.

But more important, Shaimiev suggested a way out of the last decade's struggle between Moscow officials who have seen their power decline and regional leaders who have sought to grab as much power as they can over as many issues as possible. Former President Boris Yeltsin initiated that process by telling the leaders of the federation subjects "to take as much sovereignty as you can swallow."

In extremely pointed language, the Tatarstan president argued that both the central government and the regional authorities must be strengthened, something possible only if they agree on who is responsible for what rather than fighting over everything. His words justifying an increase in power for Tatarstan are striking in this regard: "Now I think we can increase our autonomy," Shaimiev said, "so that the federal center can deal with strategic problems only, which is what it is supposed to do."

If Moscow and the regions can agree to divide responsibilities rather than fight over power, Shaimiev argued, both sides can win and the country can benefit.

Moscow will be spared involvement in many local matters that local officials can more effectively address. And the central government can also benefit from regional experiments, such as Tatarstan's law allowing for the private ownership of land. Indeed, Shaimiev said, he and his fellow Tatars had expected that Moscow would do that much earlier, even taking into account Tatarstan's Constitution when the center drafted its own. "Unfortunately," he added, "this did not happen."

And the regions will gain as well from this arrangement, Shaimiev insisted. A single legal space will in fact improve the economic conditions of all, not by taking money from the wealthier regions--his own included--but by enlarging the marketplace.

Shaimiev's proposal thus represents a plan to overcome one of the most unfortunate features of both the totalitarian past and the efforts of the past decade to escape from it.

Under Soviet totalitarianism, no higher organization ever recognized the unique powers and responsibilities of lower organizations. Instead, each institution in the hierarchy had the power to overrule those below it. That frequently meant that decisions were simply bucked up the line, often to the Politburo of the Communist Party Central Committee--even when they concerned very specific local matters. And when Soviet power collapsed, officials at all levels tried to assume the role of the topmost body in the new pyramids rather than dividing responsibilities between themselves and the regions.

Shaimiev has simultaneously identified the problem and pointed toward a solution. But the political experiences of both the recent and more distant past make it uncertain that Russians either in Moscow or in the regions will be able to follow his lead.