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Russia Report: October 25, 2000

25 October 2000, Volume 2, Number 39
Just one day before the 22 October gubernatorial elections in Kursk Oblast, Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi was barred by a regional court from seeking re-election. Responding to complaints filed by two other candidates, the court ruled that Rutskoi had abused his office as governor during the run-up to the election and had submitted an incorrect property declaration by failing to mention a six-year-old Volga car that he had ceased to own but was still registered in his name. One of the candidates filing the complaints was Viktor Surzhikov, a former KGB agent who earlier this year was appointed main federal inspector in Kursk Oblast and is widely seen as the Kremlin's favorite to take over from Rutskoi in the region (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 26 July 2000). Surzhikov went on to place second in the 22 October vote, for which 51.7 percent of the oblast population turned out: he gained some 22 percent support, trailing State Duma deputy (Communist) Aleksandr Mikhailov (39 percent). Surzhikov and Mikhailov will now take part in a run-off on 5 November. Rutskoi, meanwhile, is appealing to the federal Supreme Court, but Russian media rate his chances of success as virtually nil-- particularly after Central Election Commission chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov commented to journalists that an election candidate should not "give erroneous information about [his] income and property" and Georgii Poltavchenko, presidential representative to the Central District, remarked that the governor "should have known the law." Rutskoi is reported to have been critical about some of President Vladimir Putin's reforms and to have infuriated the president by launching an initiative to help the families of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine disaster. He is also considered among Kremlin and other circles to have mismanaged the region. JC

From interviews conducted by Interfax one day after the Kursk ballot, it appears that Rutskoi can count on little support from his colleagues in the Federation Council. Aleksei Lebed, the head of the Republic of Khakasiya told the news agency that he is not inclined to interpret Rutskoi's removal from the ballot as "machinations on the part of the Kremlin." He noted that the oblast's population voted regardless of what happened the previous day. Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev argued that the federal Supreme Court, as the highest instance in the country, should give its verdict in the case. If it is confirmed that Rutskoi concealed something, then he should answer for this, Tuleev added, saying that the law "should be the same for everyone." And Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov took a similar tack. He noted that the matter should be decided by the Supreme Court, and he urged all election candidates to follow his example and declare "everything." "If Rutskoi wanted to sell his Volga, he should have de-registered it and not simply transferred [the ownership papers] to someone else," Titov commented. Meanwhile, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev told journalists after meeting with Putin on 24 October, that the president assured him that neither he nor anyone in his administration had anything to do with preventing Rutskoi from seeking re-election, ITAR-TASS reported. JC

At a press conference in Sochi on 19 October, following his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was asked why his visits to Russian regions have become less frequent, ITAR-TASS reported. Lukashenka responded his contacts with regional officials have not diminished--only now the flow of visits have reversed and "Russian governors visit the republic [of Belarus] once a week." JAC

During an impromptu visit to Khabarovsk, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko told reporters that according to current data, the number of Chinese immigrants to the Far Eastern part of Russia has risen 50-fold since 1990, ITAR-TASS reported. Matvienko described this as a "disturbing tendency" and noted that to normalize the situation the federal government needs to amend existing legislation. Meanwhile, in Moscow the same day, Olga Samarina, the head of the Labor Ministry's demography department, told reporters that Russia is experiencing a depopulation and that only three regions, the Republics of Ingushetia and Daghestan and Tyumen Oblast, are experiencing a positive population growth; however, in the first two cases, much of the population growth results from refugees, so they "cannot be regarded as favorable from the migration point of view." According to Samarina, all of Russia's regions can be divided into four demographic categories. The first consists of 13 regions, mostly in central Russia, where the death rate is higher than the birth rate and people are moving away to other areas. The second is mostly northern regions of Russia, where a large outflow of residents is not compensated by the birth rate. Moscow and about 50 regions of middle Russia and the central Black Earth zone constitute the third category, where an influx of the population cannot compensate for the death rate. Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Tyumen Oblast make up the fourth category. JAC

An oblast court has overruled a lower court decision in favor of Vladislav Pisanov, a correspondent for the Moscow-based newspaper "Trud," who some 18 months ago brought a suit against members of the local department of the Federal Security Service (FSB), RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" reported on 14 October. Pisanov had written an article about a December 1998 incident in which local police stopped a car containing drunken FSB officers and a lightly-clothed young man who had been bundled into the trunk. The FSB officers had been unable to refute the story but later hit back at Pisanov by claiming publicly that he was a hireling of foreign secret services. The maligned journalist sued the officers, and in May of this year a raion court ruled in his favor, ordering the officers to apologize and to pay Pisanov 200 rubles ($7.20) compensation for moral damages. Some four months later, however, the oblast court announced the case was being sent for revision. No date has yet been set for those hearings. JC

A week after State Duma deputy (independent) and former Sibneft head Roman Abramovich declared his intention to seek the governor's seat in upcoming elections in Chukokta Autonomous Okrug, federal tax police officials have summoned incumbent Governor Aleksandr Nazarov for questioning regarding suspected abuse of office, Interfax reported on 24 October. Nazarov also recently declared his intention to seek re-election. According to the agency, which referred only to "information of law enforcement services," Nazarov is suspected of involvement in the illegal sale of quotas for procuring water resources granted to local enterprises. Nazarov's interrogation had been scheduled for 26 October (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 October 2000). JAC

Following the appointment of a former secret services officer turned entrepreneur as director of "Vash oreol," it is feared that one of the oblast's very few independent publications is about to lose its autonomous status. In fact, that status all but disappeared even before the appointment, when the weekly's journalist-founders sold a major share in the publication to one of the firms owned by banker and former deputy mayor of Omsk Vladimir Volkov. Volkov resigned from the Mayor's Office in summer 1999, following an investigation by the pro-gubernatorial prosecutor-general into his business activities (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 28 July 1999); according to RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" on 14 October, the "interest" shown by the oblast law enforcement agencies in Volkov's companies also manifested itself in pro-gubernatorial articles that suddenly appeared in "Vash oreol" and were signed by an unknown "Skvortsov." In protest at the publication of such articles, deputy chief editor Sergei Bogdanovskii, who is largely credited with securing the weekly's reputation as a counterbalance to the predominantly pro-gubernatorial press, resigned his post. According to "Korrespondentskii chas," several of his former colleagues are currently looking for employment elsewhere. JC

The Legislative Assembly is to consider a draft law extending the governor's term in office from four to five years, Interfax reported on 23 October. Governor Aleksei Chernyshev, who initiated the bill and has been in office for almost one year, told the news agency that he suddenly realized that four years is not sufficient to fulfill all his promises to the electorate. But if a candidate were elected for two five-year terms, Chernyshev argued, his 10 years in office would suffice not only to keep those promises but also to allow voters to make those elected responsible for their mistakes and failures. Chernyshev stressed that he will respect current legislation restricting regional leaders to two terms in office, as long as each of those terms is for five years, according to "Novye izvestiya" on 24 October. JC

Pskov Oblast's population is shrinking, largely as a result of the poor health and/or unhealthy life style of the local residents, according to RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" on 14 October. Over the past 10 or so years, the region's population has decreased from some 850,000 to 800,000. One of the principal reasons for the decline is considered to be contamination of the soil and water supplies and the high level of radiation following the 1986 Chornobyl disaster. Psychologists maintain that high levels of stress are evident on account of unemployment and a pessimistic outlook on life. Alcoholism among the male population has become "the norm," while drug abuse is growing among the oblast's youth, including heroin consumption. And while the influx of migrants from the neighboring Baltic states, Central Asia, and the Caucasus might help boost population numbers, xenophobia in the oblast remains strong, as does the fear that the new arrivals might snatch away jobs from the locals. JC

The head of the Ryazan Jewish community, Leonid Reznikov, has come under attack in the local press for allegedly giving a distorted picture of the 17 September incident in which a group of youths stormed a Jewish Sunday school in the oblast. According to a 20 October press release by the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, "Vechernyaya Ryazan" recently published an article in which Reznikov is accused of deliberately lying about the incident in order to convince local residents that anti-Semitism is a problem in the oblast and thus damage the prospects of Ryazan Mayor Valerii Ryumin in the upcoming gubernatorial ballot. "Vechernyaya Ryazan" is supporting the candidacy of Ryumin, a well-known anti-Semite. JC

Kremlin property department manager Vladimir Kozhin told reporters on 18 October that the Konstantinovskii Palace in St. Petersburg will be restored and used as a presidential palace, as reported earlier. However, funds for the restoration will come from charities being set up by a number of St. Petersburg firms (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 September 2000). In addition, he said, a large part of the structure will be permanently used as a museum open to visitors, while only a small part of the premises will be used for state functions. JAC

Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov was re-elected in elections held on 22 October, Interfax-Eurasia reported the next day, citing preliminary results. According to the oblast's election committee, he won 56.5 percent of the vote, compared with his chief rival the Mayor of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Fedor Sidorenko, who won only 21.4 percent. Farkhutdinov was supported in his re-election bid by the pro-Kremlin party Unity. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 October attributed Farkhutdinov's success to the fact that "practically all economic indicators" during the four years of his first term showed improvement. JAC

Inmates at the corrective labor camp in Dimitrovgrad have launched their own television newscast, Interfax reported on 23 October. The weekly program, written and produced by four inmates serving sentences for particularly grave crimes, reports on the progress of those who have been released from detention and on those who have just begun to serve their sentences, as well as on production levels in the camp and upcoming sports and cultural events. According to the one of the camp officials, there are no taboo themes: "If a fight takes place, [the newscast] reports who took part and who received what punishment," the news agency quoted him as saying. JC


By Julie A. Corwin

Since it has been almost six months since President Vladimir Putin appointed seven envoys to his newly created federal districts, it might finally be time to ask exactly what these officials do. The Magnificent Seven, five of whom are former military or intelligence officers, as yet do not have many accomplishments to their credit. But it is already clear what at least some of them hope to create--a new state order in which the seven federal districts will constitute a thick, bureaucratic layer separating Russia's 89 federation subjects or regions from Moscow. If their wishes become reality, the seven federal okrugs will each have their own media, their own long-term economic plans, and their own State Councils. While the goals of the seven envoys may already be apparent, their ability to achieve these goals remains less than clear.

To date, the presidential representatives to the regions appear to have done little other than set up their offices, hire personnel, gather facts about their regions, and organize meetings and conferences. But their public comments reveal how they see their jobs evolving. Currently, they have four key tasks: ensuring regional laws conform with federal legislation, overseeing cadre issues, developing economic strategies for their macroregions, and organizing new bureaucratic and other structures at the new district level, including media organizations. The first two tasks are expected to take the most time initially, but as the disparities between regional and federal laws are gradually eliminated and corrupt or incompetent federal-level officials replaced with better candidates, the latter two tasks will take precedence.

Each envoy has already presented each region within his district a list of local laws that do not conform with federal legislation. The presidential representative to the Northwest district, Viktor Cherkesov, recently gave regions in his district until 1 January to bring their laws into accord with federal laws. And regional leaders in his district are quickly trying to comply.

On cadre issues, the district envoys have moved more slowly, possibly because they anticipate a stronger negative reaction. In the Urals district, envoy Petr Latyshev dismissed the head of a customs office in Yekaterinburg and is reportedly preparing to dismiss a local prosecutor and police chief there as well. Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel did not take the news quietly, calling Latyshev's moves inadmissible "muscle-flexing." Latyshev has responded that he was given the right to make such appointments and intends to keep doing so.

In the longer term, the envoys for the most part hope to concern themselves with their macroregions' economic development. Latyshev reported that at a meeting with the envoys last month, President Putin advised them to establish Centers for Strategic Development in their districts' capitals, along the lines of the Moscow-based think-tank of the same name headed by Minister for Economic Trade and Development German Gref. As head of the center, Gref coordinated the creation of a 10-year plan for Russia's economy. Presumably, the districts' seven centers will each draft such a long-term development plan.

But judging from the envoys' statements, a key ingredient to fostering economic success, in their view, lies not in plans but in getting the regions to think of themselves as smaller units of a larger whole, namely, the federal district. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" this month, Cherkesov complained that one problem with the local media, particularly newspapers, is that 80 percent of the information is about local news and 20 percent about national developments but there is no information at all about neighboring regions. He noted that "for the development of large business, it is necessary to push forward business information beyond an oblast's or republic's borders."

Cherkesov was one of the first envoys to suggest the creation of district-level media with district-wide broadcasting and distribution capabilities, but others soon followed. Latyshev recently has cottoned onto the idea, hosting a conference, together with Media Ministry officials, on how to create a "single information space" in Russia's federal districts (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 September 2000). According to a local Siberian newspaper, one conference participant, the president of a local government television station, volunteered to broadcast to her entire district.

District-wide media, however, is only a small part of a much larger plan. Soon after he was appointed, Putin's envoy to Siberia, Leonid Drachevskii, announced that he is forming a council of all the leaders of the regions in his district. And this month, Georgii Poltavchenko, envoy to the Central district, announced the formation of a similar council for leaders in his district. What's more, according to Poltavchenko, analogous bodies are being planned in the remaining federal districts. The new mini-State Councils will co-exist next to a series of new district level entities of Sberbank, Rostelecom, and the All Russia State Television and Radio Company.

Of course, having such ambitions is not the same thing as achieving them. Almost as soon as the new office of presidential envoys for the federal districts was created, analysts were wondering what powers--if any--the presidential representatives would be given to enforce their will. Khakasiya Republic President Aleksei Lebed in a recent interview suggested that the new envoys are mostly "paper lions" and that regional leaders cooperate with them only when it suits them (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 October 2000). However, Rossel's negative reaction to Latyshev's dismissing some of his local appointees suggests the paper lions do have teeth. In fact, the ability to hire and fire local officials may be one of the envoy's most effective weapons, since it may eventually undercut the ability of regional leaders to distribute jobs and contracts to their local associates, thus diminishing their influence with local elites.

And, the ultimate weapon--control over money--may soon become part of the envoys' arsenal. At a recent press conference in the Sakha Republic, Far East Envoy Konstantin Pulikovskii declared that envoys will have the ability to "guarantee" the transfer of federal monies to the regions. He also implied that the envoys would ensure the money would be used properly. Regional leaders will likely watch with intense interest to see whether this power ever materializes.

In a recent interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta," presidential envoy to the Volga region Sergei Kirienko suggested that rather than being given more powers, the office of the presidential envoys may simply fade away. He asserted that the position is by no means permanent and is merely an instrument to further the government's current strategy. But his other comments suggest that he thinks the districts or some kind of consolidation of the regions is and will remain necessary--if only for the sake of the federation's governability. So while the office of the envoys may disappear, the number of the district-level organizations and personnel may continue to proliferate.

If that happens, it may become increasingly clear to Russia's 89 governors and presidents that the Kremlin's aim is nothing less than to create a new hierarchy in which regional leaders are bumped down one step lower in the chain of command. Soon regional leaders will be deprived of their forum at the Federation Council and the attention from the central media that came with it. Governors and presidents of republics may have at least one comforting thought, however: there remains one level below them, namely that of city leaders; these officials, with few weapons at their disposal, have battled against the governors for their fair share of tax proceeds--usually in vain.