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Russia Report: October 18, 2000

18 October 2000, Volume 2, Number 38
Following a flurry of articles in central newspapers making the case for the presidential administration's pivotal role in regional elections and speculating which candidates have the Kremlin's backing, the presidential administration finally issued a comment of sorts in a background interview with Interfax. An unidentified source in the presidential administration told the agency on 13 October that the Kremlin has no ideological preferences among future governors and will not interfere in the elections scheduled in more than 30 regions before the end of the year. The source also claimed that the increased number of military and intelligence officers seeking regional office is not part of any Kremlin scheme but is simply a normal development. In fact, the source said, the Kremlin does not necessarily back these candidates and "learned that General [Vladimir] Shamanov will run for governor of Ulyanovsk from a television report." The source added that there is only one reason for which the Kremlin would interfere in a regional election campaign, that is, if a criminal was attempting to come to power. JAC

On 15 October, Aleksandr Volkov won Udmurtia's first-ever presidential elections. Volkov, who is chairman of the region's legislative assembly, did not have the support of the local branch of the pro-Kremlin party Unity (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 11 October 2000). However, he managed to win some 37 percent of the vote compared to only 12.4 percent for Unity's candidate, Prime Minister Nikolai Ganza. Volkov has been accused of engaging in "dirty campaign" tactics, including smear campaigns against his closest rivals, Ganza and deputy chairman of Udmurt's regional legislature Pavel Vershinin. One day after the election, State Duma deputy (Yabloko) Sergei Mitrokhin announced that he was going to appeal to the Prosecutor General because Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov and presidential envoy to the Volga district Sergei Kirienko both had violated election laws with their visits to Udmurtia right before the elections, during which they reportedly called on voters to support Volkov, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. On 12 October, "Segodnya" reported that after a meeting between Volkov and Putin in Moscow on 30 September, Udmurt media trumpeted the meeting as evidence of Putin's support for Volkov. The daily concludes that Putin should consider calling a moratorium on meetings with leaders from regions facing elections. JAC

"Kommersant-Daily," in which Boris Berezovskii owns a controlling interest, reported on 12 October without reference to sourcing that the presidential administration has prepared legislation that would enable regional leaders such as Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, who are currently serving their second terms in office, to seek a third. A federal law prohibits third terms for regional leaders, but a number of regions, such as Tatarstan, have laws on their books which do not. The new bill would set 19 October 1999, as the date when governors' first terms began. Therefore, Shaimiev, who is, by most standard calculations, in his second term, could run again. When asked about the controversy over a third term for Shaimiev, Central Election Commission Aleksandr Veshnyakov suggested such an interpretation (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 11 October 2000). According to the daily, the draft law has already been submitted to the Duma. JAC

In an interview with "Segodnya" on 13 October, Republic of Khakasia President Aleksei Lebed explained how his relationship works with presidential envoy to the Siberian district Leonid Drachevskii. According to Lebed, "presidential envoys do not control financial channels, which deprives them of influence. They can only use persuasion. In other words, it's like this: if local authorities and the presidential envoy reach an agreement, that's good. If they do not, that is that. Nobody can force anyone to do anything." Lebed did not elaborate on which scenario was relevant regarding his relationship with Drachevskii. Never one to mince words, Lebed said last August that he was not planning to use Drachevskii as a conduit for communications with Moscow (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 16 August 2000). Lebed will be seeking re-election on 24 December 2000. JAC

At a 16 October meeting of the Greater Urals interregional association in Ufa, Bashkortostan, Governor Eduard Rossel and Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov expressed their opposition to the federal government's attempts to leave them out of cadre decisions, Interfax-Eurasia reported the next day. Rossel called the recent practice of appointing regional heads of the military and mass media without consulting regional leaders "inappropriate." He noted that in such cases "the governor will be unable to cooperate closely with [these appointees] or trust such persons sent from above, with no real experience of administration or any knowledge of the region, which will influence negatively the results of the work." Rakhimov agreed, saying that he will not tolerate such appointments made without his consent. "Since the head of a territory is responsible for all under his administration, his powers should be equal to his high title," he argued. He added that "[w]e should be busy putting our economy in order, not bringing into line [with federal laws] such laws that are functioning well as they are." Rakhimov recently announced that he will not be seeking re-election when his term expires in 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2000.) In a recent interview, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak voiced complaints similar to Rossel's and Rakhimov's (see item below). Interfax-Eurasia reported on 16 October that presidential envoy to the Urals district Petr Latyshev has expressed his "negative attitude" towards the Greater Urals association on more than one occasion. According to the agency, Latyshev believes that the organization is obsolete and all of its functions should be transferred to state organs. JAC

In a survey of 1500 respondents conducted on 7 October by the polling agency Public Opinion, some 77 percent of respondents that they thought regional leaders should be elected rather than appointed, Interfax reported on 12 October. Some 15 percent were in favor of making the office an appointed one. In a poll conducted in January 1997 by the same agency, some 85 percent of respondents were in favor of elections and only 7 percent favored appointments. Experts at the fund attributed the change to the public's high trust in their current president. On the question of whether regional leaders should be allowed to serve three terms, 53 percent of respondents in the recent poll were opposed while 30 percent were in favor. JAC

State Duma deputy (independent) and former Sibneft head Roman Abramovich intends to run for the governor's seat in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, the district which he currently represents in the lower legislative house. An initiative group in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug nominated him for elections scheduled for 24 December, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 17 October. According to the agency, Abramovich is the third candidate to register after Vladimir Yetylin, a worker at the scientific research center Chukotka, and Sergei Tsyplakov, general director of the International Tender Center. Candidates have until 29 October to gather the signatures of 1,000 residents for the 24 December elections, the agency reported the next day. It also reported, citing unidentified sources in Chukota's administration, that incumbent Governor Aleksandr Nazarov plans to seek re-election. "Segodnya" reported on 18 October that the local branch of Unity has pledged its support for Nazarov. The government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" speculated on 13 October that Abramovich is seeking the governorship so that he will be to consolidate and coordinate the efforts of his and Boris Berezovskii's allies in the Federation Council and other state bodies and build an opposition group to President Putin based on Russian regional leaders. JAC

Citing the press service of the Karelian Legislative Assembly, the website reported on 10 October that deputies have appealed to the presidential representative to the Northwestern District, Viktor Cherkesov, and to federal Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to examine whether the federal law on fundamental guarantees of voters' rights is being respected in the republic. In doing so, the lawmakers cited "numerous violations" of that legislation during recent elections to the City Council. They also requested an assessment of the role of the Karelian prosecutor, the republican interior minister, and election commissions in ensuring that existing election legislation is implemented. JC

Local doctors in Kemerovo Oblast believe that only 7 percent of new births in the area can be considered healthy and the number of infants born with defects is growing, RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" reported on 7 October. According to the oblast's bureau of medical statistics, the number of premature births from 1997 to 1999 accounted for 3 percent of the total births, compared with more than 9 percent during the first eight months of 2000. Of the babies weighing less than 1 kilogram, only 16 percent survive; of that figure, 64 percent die during their first week. Part of the problem is that hospitals do not have incubators. In addition to lacking the proper equipment, hospitals also have to care for abandoned babies, the majority of which are not adopted because they have neurological disorders. JAC

In an interview with "Obshchaya gazeta" in its issue number 41, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak complains at length about the various negative consequences of President Putin's federation reforms. Prusak acknowledges that while he was once an ardent supporter of Putin and held out great hopes for reforming the federation, he now feels that Putin "and I are on a different wavelength." According to Prusak, the economic and federation reforms that Putin is pursuing are ill-advised. The draft 2001 budget contains major holes; for example, it "fails to stipulate...expenditures on electricity, gas and heating for budget-dependent organizations." Prusak also considers its basic philosophy flawed. He explains: "The budget is not all about revenues and expenditures. It is also a philosophy for the nation, set down on paper. In order for Russia to develop normally, where should we direct money? To local government, which satisfies the public's major needs. However, we are now witnessing the reverse process: for some unknown reason, the federal government has decided to take over social welfare payments." What's more, Prusak notes that Putin has the energy to consolidate all of Russia's elites, but instead he chooses to fight the Federation Council. Prusak also complains that political leaders have been politically disenfranchised also in terms of personnel decisions. For example, he says "[n]ow even the head of regional TV company is appointed without prior coordination with the regional leaders, let alone the appointments of the chiefs of the local Federal Security Service, police, and tax police." And Prusak criticizes some of Putin's personnel decisions, noting "Look at the current number of military generals in top civilian posts! What are we to expect from them? They do their best, but they are not capable of much." He explains that Sberbank and Rostelecom have created entities to match up with the new federal districts, concentrating people, resources and departments in a way that he says is "typical of military psychology." JAC

Relations between the oblast administration and the independent media have long been tense, but as the gubernatorial ballot looms, they have deteriorated significantly. In August, the head of Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov's administration was suspended after he physically attacked a journalist from the independent newspaper "Tak nado!" who had been barred from attending a public meeting with Mikhailov (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 30 August 2000). Following that incident, "Tak nado!" appealed to the Glasnost Defense Fund, which responded by sending a representative to the oblast to investigate the situation there. Aleksandr Osipov told RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" that his organization has decided to launch a pilot scheme in the oblast entitled "The Mass Media and Elections" in the hope that the presence of "detached observers" might prevent further such incidents. Osipov also told RFE/RL that when "Tak nado!" filed a complaint with oblast law enforcement organs over the treatment of its journalist, it was informed that no criminal proceedings would be launched because no crime had been committed. Gubernatorial elections are scheduled to take place in the oblast on 12 November. JC

RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 10 October that an editor for "Vechernii Ryazan" has been threatened with dismissal for publishing an article about the 17 September attack by some 15 youths on a Jewish Sunday School. Viktor Petrenko's article appeared in "Priokskaya gazeta" 10 days after the attack; during that period, the local press had refrained from reporting on the incident. Petrenko was informed that his decision to publish his article, which examined the growth of anti-Semitism in the region, warranted his dismissal. While the journalist has not yet been given notice, his articles have been subject to censorship by the chief editor of "Vechernii Ryazan." RFE/RL's Russian Service notes that "Vechernii Ryazan" is supporting the candidacy of Valerii Ryumin, a former mayor of Ryazan and a well-know anti-Semite, in the 3 December gubernatorial ballot. JC

RFE/RL's Samara correspondent reported on 11 October that a new directorate is being established in the oblast that will control information security for the region. The new entity, the Department for the Coordination of Information Policy and Cooperation with the Mass Media, was created by a decree of Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov. The head of the new directorate, Valerii Lebedev, told a press conference on 3 October that the agency's primary task is to "prevent materials of the mass media that would inflict harm on Samara Oblast from ever being published." According to Lebedev, articles and stories in the central mass media about the intense worsening of the criminal situation in Samara can lower the investment rating of the region and could lead to actual monetary losses. He explained that workers in his department will examine a variety of media sources and rate them for their objectivity. The department will then "begin work with those outlets, who discredit the Samara region." Commenting about the department's creation, one local journalist commented that "soon, independent journalists in Samara will discontinue their work with local publications and write for central mass media, because [in Samara] each of your words will be analyzed on the basis of how it creates an image of Samara Oblast." When RFE/RL's Samara correspondent called the office of the chairman of the region's union of journalists for a comment on the situation, her secretary asked the journalist "Who gave you permission to work with Radio Liberty? And why have you never shown the union [an advance] text of your reports?" JAC

Tyumen Governor Leonid Roketskii has reportedly turned to Nobel Prize winning author and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "Izvestiya" reported on 14 October. According to the daily, the two men had a phone conversation of unspecified length and of unspecified subject matter. Last month, President Putin met with Solzhenitsyn for a three-hour conversation at which a variety of subjects were discussed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 26 September 2000). Solzhenitsyn reportedly praised Putin's federation reforms, noting that "what is absolutely necessary to do and what the president has already begun doing is to replace the election of the heads of the constituent members of the federation with their nomination. The constitution does not say that they should be elected." JAC

Earlier this month, three U.S. missionaries were denied registration at their temporary place of residence in Vladimir, despite having been invited to Russia by a religious organization registered with the federal justice ministry, the Keston News Service reported on 12 October. When the missionaries arrived in Moscow, where the Association of Evangelical Christians Blagovest is located, they successfully registered with the authorities. But in Vladimir, the city authorities denied them registration because although the church with which they were to work is a member of the Association of Evangelical Christians Blagovest, it has not yet been registered locally, having been unable to find 10 Russian citizens willing to submit applications to join. The news service notes that even though the law does not empower them to do so, local authorities frequently refuse to register foreign missionaries if the religious organization that invited them is not registered in the region. JC

RFE/RL's Kyzyl correspondent reported on 7 October that Kyzyl, the capital of the Tuva Republic, does not have enough school buildings. According to "Korrespondentskii chas," the number of schoolchildren has been constantly growing as people leave their villages to live in the city, but no new schools have been built. As a result, classes have to held in three shifts. Local teachers, however, are unhappy with the plan and are objecting to efforts to put them in a new building for the night shift classes and are on strike. Legislators in Kyzyl's Duma and in the republic's national assembly, the Verkhovnii Khural, have also weighed in on the controversy, thus prolonging the labor action. JAC


Pump Prices Rise Across Russia.

The following table shows the percentage change in the average price of one liter of the highest quality gasoline for consumers and for factories and enterprises from the beginning of the year to the end of August. In Russia overall, the average price of the highest quality of gasoline rose 3 percent for consumers and 6 percent for industry. In St. Petersburg, prices actually fell but that city already had a relatively high price of 7.07 rubles per liter in January--higher than any of the other cities listed at that time. JAC

Region_____________Price for Consumers

_______________________% change


St. Petersburg_____________-0.4

Nizhnii Novgorod___________+9



____________________Price for Industry

________________________% change

Moscow Oblast____________+14

Leningrad Oblast___________+3

Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast______+15

Samara Oblast_____________+21

Krasnoyarsk Krai____________+45

Source: State Statistics Committee as cited by Interfax on 22 September 2000