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Russia Report: November 22, 2000

22 November 2000, Volume 2, Number 43
"RFE/RL Russian Federation Report" will not appear next week. It will resume publication on 6 December.
Following articles in a number of central newspapers about new powers being granted to Russian President Vladimir Putin's presidential envoys to the 7 federal districts, Interfax on 21 November cited a high-level source in the presidential administration as having said that the Kremlin is preparing a presidential decree about additional powers for the presidential representatives (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 25 October 2000). But the source denied media reports that the envoys would be given "superpowers" such as overseeing the transfer of federal monies to the regions. According to the source, "this is a function of the budget, which is formed by law." JAC

President Putin met with Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko on 20 November to discuss the situation regarding heating shortages in regions such as Primorskii Krai, Arkhangelsk, and Kamchatka Oblasts, ITAR-TASS reported. President Putin said that the federal government had not only transferred the full amounts necessary for the region to make adequate preparations for the winter but had even exceeded the necessary amount and "this is why the situation that has taken shape there is just outrageous." Last week, presidential envoy to the Far Eastern district Konstantin Pulikovskii called the krai's leadership incompetent because of its handling of the current teacher strikes and heating crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 2000). At that time, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko also criticized krai authorities for the continued backlog of wages to teachers, noting that federal transfers for such salaries had already been sent. She added that delays with the payment of wages in the city of Ussuriisk are connected with the forthcoming election of an Ussuriisk mayor. She charged, "The time has come for federal legislative and executive authorities, to state it openly and to call the conduct of those officials by its proper name." On 21 November, the State Duma held a session on the krai's heating crisis, at which Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, and krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko spoke. JAC

On the day before his arrival in Moscow, Nazdratenko had announced the cancellation of all business trips domestic and abroad for officials in his administration so that the extra savings could be channeled towards wages for state sector workers and for the purchase of fuel, ITAR-TASS reported. He also called on krai officials to reduce their expenditures on long distance telephone and cellular phone calls. Meanwhile, on 21 November, residents in the cities of Artem and Partizansk remained without heat. Also on 21 November, the krai's leadership announced that a number of federal agencies have outstanding debts to the region worth almost 3 billion rubles ($110 million) for heat, electricity, coal, agricultural products and communal housing, Interfax-Eurasia reported. These agencies are the defense, interior, education, and other federal ministries as well as the Federal Border Service. JAC

The first meeting of a full session of the State Council was scheduled to take place on 22 November, with President Putin chairing the session. Members were expected to discuss state symbols, such as Russia's national anthem, and a strategy for state development up to 2010. The presidium of the council met the previous day and listened to eight musical compositions from which a new national anthem is to be chosen. JAC

President Putin said on 17 November that he believes that the State Council could become a political center forecasting the country's development while the Ministry for Trade and Economic Development could become an economic center, Interfax reported. An unidentified Kremlin official told "Vremya Novostei" on 20 November that if the State Council becomes an "additional filter in the political decision-making process," and starts playing the role of an arbiter in regional relations, then the functions of Federation Council would start to disappear. At that point, it will be possible to change the constitution, the newspaper concludes, "for the sake of legalizing the status quo." JAC

On his way back from the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Brunei, President Putin spent 17 November in Novosibirsk, where he met with governors from the Siberian federal district as well as students and professors at Novosibirsk State Technical University. Putin took on a number of different topics there, among them, transportation, investment, and government policy. On the issue of transportation inside Russia, he lamented that "we tell foreign countries that Russia can be a link between Asia and Europe, while we fly from region to region within Russia [primarily] via Moscow," ITAR-TASS reported. Putin also rebuked Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko for manipulating rail transportation tariffs, "Vremya MN" reported on 18 November, while Aksenenko reportedly complained that Siberian rivers are still flowing to the north, rather than in the direction to which freight should be delivered. On Siberia's economic future, Putin noted that Siberia's main factor preventing a flow in investment capital is "high risks" rather than the region's remote location. "If there was a good business climate, we would witness an inflow of capital here," he said. He added that Siberia's main advantages are its intellectual potential and its natural resources. Putin also proposed distributing "areas of regional responsibility" among members of the cabinet, putting Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin in charge of Siberia and Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko in charge of the Far East. Putin also called for a specific development strategy for Siberia to be worked on by the cabinet and the Security Council, which would then be discussed by the State Council and with the population, Interfax reported. JAC

Putin also called for the integration of Siberia's power grid into Russia's single power complex. Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, who was also visiting Novosibirsk at the same time, also told an audience there it is important to develop a Siberian network of electricity that is connected to other regions of Russia. Under the Soviet system, Siberia was connected with Kazakhstan. Chubais said that a project for grid restructuring was discussed recently in Omsk and was supported by a number of governors. According to Chubais, Siberia generates 183 billion kilowatt hours of electricity which is 21 percent of Russia's aggregate electricity output, Interfax reported. Siberia's average electricity tariff is 18 kopeks per kilowatt hour compared with Russia's average of 32 kopeks. Chubais also stressed that in addition to Siberia's ample supplies of coal, oil and gas, the region also has great potential in the area of hydroelectric power generation. JAC

In an interview on 15 November with the website, launched by his group, the Fund for Effective Politics, fund head and unofficial presidential advisor Gleb Pavlovskii, praised President Putin's earlier presidential decree establishing the seven federal districts and presidential envoys to them. According to Pavlovskii, the decree set ups "constitutional aslyums" under the auspices of the federal districts in which citizens can oppose the "unconstitutional regimes that have formed in the regions." He noted that "in many cases we have local regimes or quasi-dictatorships controlled by groups espousing ethnocentric views. It is not nationalism but ethnocracy that constitutes the dominant mood in a number of republican staffs. In effect, citizens of Russia are subjected to segregation along ethnic lines in the Volga-area republics, Adygei, and other places." On the issue of the new presidential envoys, Pavlovskii states that they were created as a tool against local oligarchic elites: "They are no angels, but at least they are not corrupt." JAC

As had been widely predicted, the Commander of the Baltic Fleet, Vladimir Yegorov, easily beat incumbent Governor Leonid Gorbenko in the second round of the gubernatorial ballot in Kaliningrad Oblast on 19 November. Preliminary results reported the next day by ITAR-TASS gave Yegorov a 57 percent backing, compared with 33 percent for Gorbenko. Yegorov, who was believed to be the Kremlin's favorite in this race, enjoyed the support of the pro-Kremlin Unity (despite Gorbenko's membership in that party) and the Union of Rightist Forces as well as the indirect backing of the Communists. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 November that after failing to make it past the first round, communist candidate Vladimir Nikitin urged his supporters either to boycott the second round or vote against both candidates, but Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov went on local television before the run-off ballot to stress that the Communists opposed the incumbent governor. According to the Moscow daily, turnout was high, at 47 percent, and the communist electorate voted for the admiral (only 8 percent voted against both candidates). Yegorov, who has reportedly cultivated good ties with the West, indicated to journalists after his election success that he intends to orient the western exclave toward the EU. "Objectively speaking, Kaliningrad is the first Russian region that will cooperate with the EU, moreover permanently," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying. On the domestic front, he said his main objectives are addressing the situation of teachers in the oblast and ensuring that the population has adequate heating supplies for the coming winter. JC

Valerii Maleev, head of the Ust-Ordynsk Buryat Autonomous Okrug, was re-elected to that post on 19 November, ITAR-TASS reported the next day, citing the regional election committee. Maleev received some 54 percent of the votes cast according to preliminary results. Four candidates had competed in the election, not one of them a member of the titular nationality of the region, the Buryats, "Segodnya" reported on 15 November. According to the daily, Maleev was supported by the Union of Rightist Forces and the Boris Govorin, the governor of the neighboring oblast, Irkutsk. During the campaign, Maleev spoke in favor of joining the budget of the okrug with that of Irkutsk Oblast, while his main rival, Mikhail Matkhanov, general director of the Sobol alcohol spirits factory, expressed his support for the full legal merger of the okrug with Irkutsk Oblast. JAC

First deputy speaker of the State Duma (Unity) Lyubov Sliska told reporters on 15 November that she believes that governors should be appointed rather than elected, Interfax reported. According to Sliska, who was a close associate of Saratov Governor Ayatskov, appointments would prevent the current trend by which a number of regional leaders are trying to lengthen their terms in office. Also, governors who are appointed to office by the president "will work rather than hide behind the trust of the population." JAC

"Novye izvestiya" reported on 17 November that the local branch of the Communist Party is pondering the possibility of boycotting the 26 November gubernatorial ballot. The reason why they're considering that move is that support for the leftists in what is regarded as one of Russia's Red Belt regions appears insufficient to unseat incumbent Governor Anatolii Guzhvin. A no-show of communist supporters at polling stations could mean the ballot would be invalidated. Under local election legislation, at least 50 percent of the electorate must cast their ballots. The Communists enjoy some 25-30 percent backing in Astrakhan; if all those supporters were to stay away on election day, turnout could be lowered by some 10-15 percent, in which case securing the required turnout figure might become very difficult. Guzhvin has been in office since 1991, when he was appointed by presidential decree; five years later, he was elected governor, garnering more than 50 percent of the ballot. One of the main achievements of the market reformer, who enjoys the support of the Union of Rightist Forces, is considered to be the construction of a port on the Caspian Sea. Many jobs are expected to be created at the port, while it is hoped that the port itself will prove a powerful stimulus to the development of the oblast economy. JC

The "dirtiest" campaign the city of Kostroma has ever experienced--that's how local residents describe the run-up to the 10 December gubernatorial election, according to RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" on 11 November. Incumbent Governor Viktor Shershunov and Kostroma Mayor Boris Korobov, both of whom are candidates in the upcoming ballot, are locked in an "information war" that "Korrespondentskii chas" says began last year, when Shershunov set up within his administration a Department for Mass Media Affairs and began to seek to bring the oblast's newspapers and broadcasting outlets under his control. A local television program produced by RFE/RL's correspondent in Kostroma was taken off the air after its first appearance; the producer was unable to get a satisfactory answer as to the reason for that move but noted that such tactics are typical of Governor Shershunov and his team. Moreover, the only newspaper that reportedly has not taken sides in the governor-mayor conflict, "Kostromskaya narodnaya gazeta," appears to have been targeted for closure. The local department of the Federal Security Service (FSB) recently announced that it found telephone tapping devices at the newspaper's premises. The founder of the publication, Oleg Lebedev, has publicly accused Kostroma's FSB of kowtowing to local officials. JC

Former Vice Governor of Kursk Oblast Sergei Maksachev has been hospitalized for injuries he says he sustained during a severe beating at the Kursk regional administration building on 19 November. Maksachev said he went to that building to submit his resignation; while there, he encountered Oleg Oleinikov, who introduced himself as a lieutenant-general with the Main Intelligence Department and the new vice governor and who asked Maksachev to disclose details about former Kursk Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi's alleged "financial machinations." When Maksachev refused to do so, he was beaten up "for three hours" and subjected to anti-Semitic remarks (his father is Jewish). According to Maksachev, former Kursk Oblast prosecutor Nikolai Tkachev was present and questioned him between beatings. And in a statement circulated by Rutskoi, former federal Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov was also visiting the regional administration building at the time Maksachev was there and "seems to have needed the testimony about me [Rutskoi]." Newly elected Kursk Governor Aleksandr Mikhailov denies any knowledge of the alleged 19 November beating, but on 21 November local law enforcement officers arrested Oleinikov, although no official charges have been brought against him so far. The day before, President Vladimir Putin had asked federal Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to take personal charge of the investigation into Maksachev's claims, Interfax reported. Earlier this month, Mikhailov, a member of the Communist Party, claimed that he and President Putin were both seeking to rid Russia of Jewish "scum," among which he included Rutskoi, who has a Jewish mother (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 November 2000). He later apologized for those remarks in a statement to ITAR-TASS, saying he "sincerely regrets that my answers to straightforward questions were understood negatively." Mikhailov's apology appeared after he had been summoned to meet with presidential representative to the Central Federal District Georgii Poltavchenko. Putin himself did not respond to Mikhailov's allegations. Meanwhile, the new governor's anti-Semitic utterances have already taken their toll on the oblast's Jewish community. "Kommersant-Daily" on 16 November quoted the head of that community as saying that unidentified persons recently came to the community's meeting place, shouting "We're Mikhailov supporters," and blockaded the door from outside with a log. Such incidents had not taken place earlier, according to the Jewish community head. JC

Putin's Regional Policy: An Emerging Consensus?

By Julie A. Corwin

Several of the Russian specialists who gathered in Denver, Colorado, for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in mid-November spoke about the regional policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Their presentations suggest that there is an emerging consensus about what the new Russian president hopes to do with respect to the regions.

That consensus consists of four points: First, most of the scholars agreed that Putin is pursuing a very different policy than his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Second, they believe that Putin had no choice but to try to rein in the regions because Yeltsin had allowed them too much leeway. Third, they argued that Putin's approach so far has been the Soviet-era one of throwing more personnel and structures at the problem. And fourth, they agreed that Putin's policies had only a slim chance of succeeding.

Among those who discussed Moscow's regional policies, there was general agreement that Putin's approach has been more proactive than any other policy area during this first 200 days as president. Soon after his election, Putin proposed legislation disbanding the Federation Council as it is currently constituted and granting him the right to dismiss elected regional leaders who violate federal law on more than one occasion. In addition, he established by decree a new system of presidential representatives in seven super-regions or federal districts.

That President Putin had to take these actions or something like them because the Russian central state had weakened so much under Yeltsin was the near unanimous view. Lynn D. Nelson of Virginia Commonwealth University said that he has concluded that without greater centralization, Russia would face the probability of greater fragmentation. Kathryn Stoner-Weiss of Princeton agreed, arguing that "without a stronger central state, Russia won't get the benefits of federalism" or of market preservation, such as the enforcement of property rights. And Peter Reddaway of George Washington University suggested that there was a realization in Russia that some recentralization was necessary and reasonable because Russia had become more decentralized than at any point in history.

Another point of agreement among scholars seemed to be the enormous increase in federal bureaucracy under Putin. Stoner-Weiss noted that Putin's solution to the regional dilemma is in fact a "very Soviet" one: He "has grown the size of his presidential administration" with his presidential envoys, when, she notes, a better solution might have been to streamline the federal bureaucracy, making it more efficient rather than just larger. Another panelist suggested that one factor motivating Putin's reforms was likely Moscow's desire to regain control over the legions of federal bureaucrats in the regions who are more responsive to their regional leader than to their putative employer, the federal government.

On the issue of Putin's introduction of this extra layer of bureaucrats, Elizabeth Teague of the Jamestown Foundation, stressing that she was expressing only her own point of view, emphasized the extralegal nature of Putin's action, noting that he has created a "virtual constitution" within the structures of the real one, "by creating a whole level of bureaucracy extraneous to the constitution." She suggested that Putin will be forced to rewrite the constitution eventually, but in the meantime Russia may be stuck with "the forms of democracy set in place but filled with a different content." Both Teague and Archie Brown of Oxford University also noted that for all of Putin's rhetoric about establishing a dictatorship of the law, loyalty appears to be more important test when evaluating the center's reaction to regional leaders than their adherence to federal laws.

But is Putin's "cure" worse than the disease? Most scholars appear to be reserving judgment, but Reddaway concluded that the recentralization under Putin has already gone too far. He argued that it threatens democracy in part by deepening the gulf between citizens and the main interlocutors of power. Brown also took Putin to task for foisting the reform unilaterally on the regions from above. Without reference to whether the practice is democratic or constitutional, Stoner-Weiss questioned whether Putin's right to dismiss individual regional leaders will ultimately solve the problem. She argues that these governors or presidents of republics are usually representatives of local business elite, which can easily find another front man. And the same problems or practices of the former governors will be replicated all over again. She suggested that a more effective fix to the excesses of decentralization would be to strengthen the courts, taking regional courts out of the direct influence of regional governors.

In her comments on one presentation, Juliet Johnson of Loyola University posed what might be the most incisive question of all: "Why should we trust the state this much? Why will centralization be any better? Why will it not just change the nature of the rent-seeking game?"