3 March 1999, Volume 1, Number 1
BURYATIA: SHAMANS GATHER TO COMPARE NOTES.Ulan Ude hosted a three-day seminar on Shamanism that began on 23 February, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Attendees from Buryatia, Ust-Ordinskii Autonomous Okrug, and Aginsk Autonomous Okrug acquainted themselves not only with the history, mythology, and ethics of Shamanism but also with practical tips on how to treat diseases with nontraditional methods. "Vremya MN" reported on 26 February that shamans in Buryatia, who are locally referred to as "boo," would convene an important congress in the summer to elect a chief boo. One of his major tasks will be to render an opinion on a task set forth by local authorities. They want the shamans to compile a list of real shamans, since too many "pseudo-boos" are circulating in the region. JAC
CHELYABINSK: FROM GRADERS TO BULLDOZERS?"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 February that a buyer may finally have been found for at least part of the Chelyabinsk Tractory Factory (ChTZ). One of the oldest enterprises in Chelyabinsk Oblast, the holding company Lider (formerly ZDM), which produces mainly road construction vehicles, has announced its intention to begin producing bulldozers next month. Since Lider does not possess the necessary equipment with which to produce bulldozers, observers have drawn the conclusion that it will buy part of neighboring ChTZ, which does have such equipment. ChTZ was declared bankrupt in February 1998; having failed to find a buyer for the company as a whole, management decided to sell the firm's constituent parts separately. Lider had shown an interest in buying ChTZ in its entirety but was unwilling to pay the asking price--3 billion rubles ($140 million). JC
CHUVASH: WORLD BANK CONSIDERS HEALTH LOAN FOR CHUVASH REPUBLIC.A World Bank delegation arrived in Cheboksary on 23 February on a working visit to determine whether the republic should be granted a $30 million loan for the reform of its health care system, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The delegation will meet with members of the republic's Health Ministry and visit its disease-prevention clinics. JAC
KALININGRAD: SHUMEIKO PROPOSES FOURTH 'BALTIC REPUBLIC.'Former Federation Council Chairman Vladimir Shumeiko has proposed raising Kaliningrad Oblast's status to that of "Baltic republic within the Russian Federation," Interfax reported. Addressing journalists in the exclave on 24 February, Shumeiko argued that in the near future Kaliningrad may be confronted with "serious problems" related to neighboring countries' joining the EU and NATO. Conferring such a status on the oblast, he continued, would increase the "political role" of its leadership both in Russia and in Europe. Kaliningrad Governor Leonid Gorbenko has also been voicing his views on the oblast's future. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 February, he argued that Kaliningrad should strive for economic self-reliance. And he told the Baltic Sea States Council that Kaliningrad will seek to enlarge the visa-free zone in the Baltic region to create a "Baltic Schengen," ELTA reported the same day. JC
NIZHNII NOVGOROD: NO SALES TAX IN NIZHNII AFTER ALL.At the urging of Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Ivan Sklyarov, the oblast's Legislative Assembly has decided not to introduce a 5 percent sales tax, as originally planned, Interfax-AFI reported on 25 February. Sklyarov was quoted as saying that the decision took into account the objections of trade unions, residents, entrepreneurs, and industrialists, as well as the fact that prices would have gone up by 15-20 percent. Instead, he suggested introducing throughout the oblast a tax on imputed earnings (which is currently levied only in three raions). The oblast authorities may well need the income from such a tax. The 1999 budget, adopted on 26 February, foresees a deficit of just over 1 billion rubles ($43 million or 15 percent of expenditures), of which 177 million rubles is the shortfall resulting from the non-introduction of the sales tax. JC
NOVOSIBIRSK: MAKASHOV TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR IN NOVOSIBIRSK.State Duma deputy and Communist Party member Albert Makashov plans to run for governor in Novosibirsk Oblast, "Noviye Izvestiya" reported on 17 February. Makashov, who is perhaps best known for anti-Semitic remarks that put both the Duma and his party in the world spotlight, said that he also plans to seek the Russian presidency in 2000. JAC
ROSTOV: BREAD PRISES ON THE RISE.The price of a loaf of bread in Rostov Oblast rose by about 23 percent, "Vremya MN" reported on 26 February. Behind the rise is the soaring cost of wheat flour, according to the newspaper. For example, at the beginning of the harvest season, wheat cost 650 rubles ($28) a ton, it now costs nearly 2,100 rubles ($90) a ton, according to the report. JAC
SAKHALIN: TUBERCULOSIS OUTBREAK IN YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK.Every fifth person in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is suffering from tuberculosis, "Izvestiya" reported on 26 February, according to data from a specialized clinic. Seven residents recently died of this disease. JAC
SAMARA: ARSON RULED OUT IN DEADLY BLAZE.Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov announced on 24 February that investigators have almost proven that the blaze which killed at least 57 people at regional Interior Ministry headquarters on 10 February was not deliberately set. NTV reported the same day that the building's heavy felt insulation had decayed over the past 60 years into a highly flammable substance. JAC
STAVROPOL: STAVROPOL CONSIDERING BAN ON NAZI SYMBOLS.Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov told "Izvestiya" on 24 February that his administration, together with the Krai's Duma, would soon consider regulation on banning Nazi symbols, including the symbol of the group Russian National Unity. According to the newspaper, RNE's Stavropol branch is one of its largest. JAC
SVERDLOVSK: INFECTIOUS DISEASES SPREADING.The Sverdlovsk Oblast is experiencing a dangerous outbreak of infectious diseases, such as German measles, hepatitis, tick-borne encephalitis, and rabies, while supplies of vaccines are at especially low levels, RFE/RL's correspondent in Yekaterinburg reported on "Korrespondentskii Chas" on 13 February (see http://www.svoboda.org/programs/CH/1999). As of mid-February, local authorities had found rabies in 22 foxes, three dogs, one horse, and one sheep, while the previous year they had not discovered a single case among either domestic or wild animals. A local health center doctor told RFE/RL that the number of people bitten by dogs has been growing each year, but this year it was not possible to give every individual the rabies vaccine because of lack of supply. The situation with tick-borne encephalitis and measles is similar. In the spring, a half million doses of vaccine for encephalitis is needed but local authorities have only 100,000 ampules in stock. JAC
TATARSTAN: RUSSIA, TATARSTAN STILL AT ODDS OVER RENEWING BUDGET AGREEMENT.A session of the Russian-Tatar working group charged with renegotiating the terms of the bilateral inter-budget relations agreement has been postponed from 25 February to 4 March, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 26 February, quoting Tatarinform. That agreement was one of 12, all concluded for a period of five years, that complemented the power-sharing treaty between the Republic of Tatarstan and the federal center on 15 February 1994. Agreement on prolonging 10 of the 12 agreements has been reached, but despite several weeks of talks Russian and Tatarstan government officials have failed to reach a compromise on amending the terms of the original budget agreement, which Moscow refuses to prolong. Those terms allowed Tatarstan--one of the few net donors to the federal budget to retain all taxes [aktsizy] it levied on oil, gas, and alcohol, plus 50 percent of VAT and 1 percent of income tax.
To date, Tatarstan has come up with three alternative proposals, details of which are not known. President Mintimer Shaimiev told journalists in Kazan on 23 February before talks on the deadlock with Russian government representatives that he was optimistic a compromise of some sort would be reached. But at the same time he made it clear that Tatarstan would not agree to any proposals that would significantly reduce the volume of the republic's budget. "This is our principled position," Shaimiev said, "We cannot let the standard of living in Tatarstan deteriorate." LF
TULA: GOVERNOR BACKTRACKS ON PRIVATIZATION OF COMMUNAL APARTMENTS.Vasilii Starodubtsev has revoked a November 1998 resolution stipulating that the privatization of communal apartments in Tula Oblast requires the consent of all tenants, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 February. That resolution had been announced some three weeks after the Russian Constitutional Court lifted restrictions on privatizating such dwellings. In this way, the daily commented, Starodubtsev had "annuled" the court's decision on the territory of the oblast. JC
TUVA: TUVANS GREET NEW YEAR.Residents of the Republic of Tuva, who are predominantly Buddhist, observed the first day of the lunar new year on 24 February, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to local beliefs, it is necessary to consume white foods and drinks, such as milk and cottage cheese. On the first morning of the new year, residents of the capital Kyzyl traditionally set out for the banks of the river Enisei to greet the first sunrise. JAC
ON THE WEB: ALL THE NEWS THAT'S UNFIT TO PRINT?This site (http://www.krasnobykow.com/), a successor to the controversial Kogot 1 or "Claw," which closed in mid-February, features compromising materials about Anatolii Bykov, Krasnoyarsk Krai aluminum magnate and a political foe of Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed. The anonymous contributor/s to the web page allege that Bykov is linked with international crime organizations and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. The site is proving almost as popular as its predecessor, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 February. Almost 6,000 people have visited it since it first appeared on 29 January. JAC
EYE ON LEBED: BESIEGED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED.When the Krasnoyarsk Coal Company (Krasugol) board of directors meets to elect a new director on 4 March, the outcome of Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed's struggle to gain control over Krasugol may become a little clearer. That meeting should shed some light on whether the central government, which currently controls 75.6 percent of Krasugol's shares, will approve the transfer of its shares to Unified Energy Systems (EES), headed by former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, or elect to keep ownership as is, a decision which would favor Lebed.
So far, Lebed's effort to elicit Moscow's--specifically Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's--support have foundered. Last week, the governor slammed members of Primakov's cabinet for backing a plan to transfer 60 percent of the stock in Krasugol to a group of private investors led by Lebed's regional political foe, aluminum chieftain Anatolii Bykov (see item above), in exchange for payment of a 72 million ruble ($3.1 million) debt. Lebed had only a few days earlier lambasted EES Chairman Chubais in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" for not living up to his pledge to save the company from bankruptcy--although a local court granted a limited reprieve, delaying that action for at least the short term.
Already the conflict over Krasugol has surpassed Lebed's optimistic forecast of 28 January, when he told NTV that his conflict with members of the region's business community would be wrapped up in 10 days. At the time, Lebed seemed confident that he had Prime Minister Primakov's backing after having met with him in Moscow. Judging by Moscow's actions, Lebed may have read too much into Primakov's artfully worded phrases of qualified support.
Lebed's frayed temper and failed attempts to attract federal backing for his plan to preserve the state's stake in Krasugol has inspired many local correspondents of Moscow-based newspapers to declare the death of Lebed's chances of attaining the presidency of Russia in 2000 elections. In fact, ever since Lebed's troubles with Bykov first began, most of the Moscow newspapers--those backed by Boris Berezovskii being the notable exceptions--have been closely following the twists and turns of the Krasugol saga with what might be best described as "Schadenfreude."
But until the vote happens, much remains in the air. Lebed did manage to defuse the standoff around Krasnoyarsk Television by reaching an agreement with All Russian State Radio and Television Company Chairman Mikhail Shvydkoi, and the channel is now reportedly giving Lebed better coverage. And Lebed could still find a way to triumph over Bykov. But one thing is certain: the resolution won't be quiet, subtle, or deftly orchestrated behind the scenes--unless, that is, Lebed finally manages to enlist Prime Minister Primakov in the fight. JAC
REMINISCENCE:Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov on his experience as a soldier in the Russian army ("Kommersant-Daily," 23 February 1999): "Naturally, there were many comic and tragic episodes during my service in the army, but what I remember most of all occurred at the beginning of my stint, during training in Kuibyshev. Like all other soldiers we did not get enough to eat. One time in the fall we saw a field of unharvested beets. We gathered them all up and ate them without pausing, even though their leaves appeared spotted with some kind of metallic coating. That evening we went to the movies but we could barely watch because our stomachs were in agony."