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Russia Report: April 14, 1999

14 April 1999, Volume 1, Number 7
In his address to the heads of Russia's republics on 9 April, Russian President Boris Yeltsin stressed the need for regional leaders to have more rather than less independence, Interfax reported. He repeated his earlier rejection of Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's suggestion that regional heads be selected rather than elected directly, saying that "now is not the time to give up direct elections for the leaders of Russian territories and return to their being appointed by Moscow." In addition, Yeltsin expressed his concern about growing religious extremism in the north Caucausus. He also pledged to take into account the interests of republics in foreign policy matters, particularly with regard to the CIS, and that a draft of the unification treaty with Belarus would be sent to regional leaders as soon as it is ready. After the speech, Chuvash President Nikolai Federov told reporters that the majority of the republics' leaders are against the impeachment of the president and are ready to persuade others of the need for stability in the Russian government, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 April. JAC

Mayors of Russian cities have won the support of at least some federal authorities in their battle with governors over control of financial resources, "Vremya MN" reported on 7 April. The previous day, officials from the Ministry for Regional Policy signed an agreement with the Congress of Municipal Formations under which both sides pledged to strengthen economic, social, and legal relations between subjects of the federation and to participate in the process of drafting new laws. According to the daily, the ministry has already shared with the congress the packet of new draft legislation and suggested amendments to old laws that it had sent to the State Duma. And the congress, in turn, made several suggestions, such as transferring the management of the sales tax, tax on real estate, and imputed incomes to municipal authorities. JAC

People in Russia's regions are continuing to express their opposition to NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia and are starting to organize assistance efforts to the region. In Sverdlovsk, local Cossacks organized a blood drive and plan to send the donated blood to Yugoslavia, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 6 April. A local blood bank official, however, told the agency that such a shipment across international borders would be dauntingly complex, since different countries have different standards for blood donations. In St. Petersburg, city authorities announced on 11 April that they are sending 20 tons of humanitarian assistance to Yugoslavia via plane, acccording to ITAR-TASS.

In Yaroslavl, Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn announced that his oblast was prepared to take in Serbian children, "Vremya MN" reported on 9 April. Rostov-on-the-Don the next day expressed its willingness to shelter displaced Serbian families, and Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed decided to admit more than 60 children from Yugoslavia and provide schooling for them at a local cadets' academy. "Krasnoyarskii rabochii" reported on 4 March that more than 200 newborns are abandoned every year at one of the krai's hospitals. JAC

According to the organizational committee of the Right Cause movement, tens of thousands of people from St. Petersburg, Saratov, Penza, Tver, Krasnodar, and other Russian cities and towns have signed a statement condemning NATO's action, "Komsomolskaya Pravda" reported on 9 April. In Nizhnii Novgorod, organizers of a rally of students and young people claimed that 5000 people gathered in a central square on 12 April for a protest against NATO "aggression" in Yugoslavia, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Meanwhile, volunteer military detachments in the regions continued to be organized. According to the Liberal Democratic Party headquarters, 15,000 volunteers have signed up in Moscow and 55,000 more have registered across Russia, "Segodnya" reported. While all of these "regiments" are being formed in support of Serbs, a group in Tatarstan is forming a battalion to support the Kosovars, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 8 April. JAC

The federal Ministry of Justice issued a warning on 8 April that recruiting volunteers for Yugoslavia will be considered a violation of the law prohibiting the formation of illegal militias. In Kemerovo, where almost 200 men have signed up to go to Yugoslavia, Governor Aman Tuleev said on 5 April that he opposes sending volunteers to the conflict, although he said he believes that the U.S. might target Russia next, Interfax reported. He said Russia should follow the U.S.'s example and carry out only air strikes without committing ground troops. In Tatarstan, President Mintimer Shaimiev denounced the idea of Russia sending any kind of volunteers, noting that "it is unacceptable to send volunteers from such a multiethnic country as Russia under any pretexts or mottos," Interfax reported on 8 April. JAC

Altai Krai Governor Aleksandr Surikov told reporters on 6 April that federal government officials approached krai officials with a request to provide help to those regions that were without seeds because of last years crop failure, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 6 April. The federal authorities appealed to the krai on the basis that its ban on wheat exports outside of the krai created a need for it to help its neighbors with seeds. According to Surikov, Altai Krai will supply these regions with 100,000 tons of seeds--possibly within 15 days when the ban will be lifted. ITAR-TASS reported the next day that the Altai Republic will receive about 400 tons of a 100,000 ton shipment of U.S. food aid this summer and fall. Included in the shipment will be rice, lentils, vegetable oil, dry milk, green peas, and flour. JAC

Gazprom Chairman Rem Vyakhirev and Arkhangelsk Oblast Governor Anatolii Efremov concluded an agreement on 8 April to pursue several joint projects, including the construction of a $400 million gas pipeline from Nyusenitsa in the Volgograd Oblast to Arkhangelsk, "Vremya MN" reported the next day. Gazprom also agreed to become a shareholder in the local company Severgaz, which, in the governor's opinion, should enable it to attract credits and investment for the construction of the pipeline. According to the newspaper, the oblast has also invited Gazprom to invest in the development of the Lomonsov diamond deposit (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 March 1999). JAC

Unified Energy Systems (UES) plans to launch its second merger with its coal suppliers in the republic of Buryatia, UES Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Remezov told reporters on 6 April, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Remezov, the State Duma Industry Committee has already given the project its approval. Under the plan, the Gusinoozerskaya hydropower station will form a 50-50 venture with the Tunguiskii and Kholboljinskii coal mines. The merger is expected to yield about 300 million rubles ($12 million) in additional annual revenues. Remezov said that in the near future UES plans additional mergers in the Chelyabinsk Oblast and Krasnoyarsk Krai. JAC

Coal miners in the Pechora coal-mining region signed an agreement with federal authorities on 6 April pledging that they will not call "unlawful protest acts, which could cause economic damage to the state and mining industry," ITAR-TASS reported. In return, the federal Ministry of Fuel and Energy promised to provide priority financing for investment projects submitted by coal companies in 1999. In addition, miners' wages will be indexed, "Vremya MN" reported. The agreement was signed by Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov, Komi Republic President Yurii Spiridonov, the heads of the administrations of Vorkuta and Inta, the general directors of the region's leading mines, and heads of local trade unions. Minister Generalov, according to the daily, is taking personal responsibility for fulfillment of the agreement and resources from the ministry's budget have already been set aside. JAC

A prominent local opponent of Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed is now facing criminal charges for money laundering, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 April. Krasnoyarsk Aluminium Chief Anatolii Bykov, who is currently in the U.S. undergoing medical treatment, according to the agency, said that he would return to the krai to meet with First Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Kolesnikov, who has been heading up a task force investigating crimes in the region. As soon as Bykov started openly battling with Lebed, "Kommersant-Daily" reported last month, he attracted the attention of the Interior Ministry which sent brigades of investigators to perform checks on all of his enterprises (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 24 March 1999). After the former Krasnoyarsk Coal (Krasugol) company director was arrested, the regional office of the MVD told the newspaper that more arrests would soon be forthcoming. Meanwhile, back in Moscow investigators from the office of the city's Prosecutor-General raided the offices of the National Reserve Bank and the SB Konus private security enterprise to search for information about the creators of the Kogot and Kogot-2 web sites, "Izvestiya" reported. The latter contained compromising material about Bykov, alleging that he was connected to organized crime (see JAC

Two days later, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Lebed signed an agreement between the federal government and the krai government on stabilization of the coal sector in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Interfax reported. Under the agreement, the federal government will coordinate with the regional administration terms for the sell-off of government stakes in coal companies, ITAR-TASS reported. In addition, the government will appoint at least half of the representatives to the boards of directors of coal mining enterprises in Krasnoyarsk, "Novye Izvestiya" reported. Although Lebed had earlier claimed that he had won Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's support at a meeting in January, the Primakov government withheld any decisive display of its support until a key meeting of the board of directors of Krasugol on 20 March, when Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov backed Lebed's plan to save the company from bankruptcy (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 24 March 1999). Bykov had been trying to assume control over Krasugol through one of his companies to which it had an unpaid debt. JAC

Local officials and media outlets in Murmansk Oblast have been flooded with angry letters about the vocal support for NATO actions in Yugoslavia of their representative in the Duma, Andrei Kozyrev, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 April. The council of a regional public action group decided that day to organize efforts to recall Kozyrev, who is a former Russian foreign minister, NTV reported. In addition, leaders of several local branches of national political parties and movements have also made statements condemning Kozyrev. JAC

A Danish candy company, Dandy, will open a $97 million chewing gum factory in Novogorod Oblast on 12 June--two months ahead of schedule, "The Moscow Times" reported on 10 April. The early opening was made possible because of an unanticipated lack of bureaucratic and logistical problems, according to the general director of the new factory. According to the daily, Novgorod has one of Russia's most attractive investment climates, in part because investors there get a break of up to 20 percent on their overall tax bill until the costs of establishing their enterprise are recouped. JAC

The deputy governor of the Sakhalin Oblast, Vladimir Shapoval, told Interfax-Eurasia on 8 April that his entire oblast will be without electric energy by 15 April because the local government lacked the money to buy fuel. The federal government failed to transfer 350 million rubles ($14 million) to the oblast for its energy supply purchases, according to Shapoval. The pending blackout will affect not only residences but also hospitals, schools, and kindergartens. Already, in the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, where some 170,000 people live, lights are on for only three to four hours a day. According to Shapoval, the oblast is poised on the edge of a humanitarian and ecological disaster. Meat, fish, and milk products are quickly going bad, and the region is witnessing a sharp increase in intestinal illnesses, according to "Izvestiya" on 9 April. In addition, some 30,000 pre-school and school children are going without breakfast or lunch. JAC

Voronezh Oblast Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Frolov has declared 21 decrees of Governor Ivan Shabanov illegal, including a recent enactment that 7 million rubles be taken from the oblast budget to help pay for the restoration of a local Russian Orthodox cathedral (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 1999), "Vremya MN" reported on 9 April. According to the daily, Frolov declared 2,217 acts by local authorities illegal in 1998. Shabanov appeared nonplussed by the charge, however, according to the newspaper. He said, "21 illegal acts -- that's funny. I issue 5-6 decrees a day. The cathedral was restored on account of arrears. The debtors don't have any money to pay, but they can do construction work..." JAC

A court in the Perm Oblast is currently trying a criminal case against former Deputy Governor Leonid Valko for conspiring with local commercial enterprises to deprive the federal budget of almost 4 billion undenominated rubles, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 7 April.

For Sicker, For Poorer Percentage increase in typhus cases in Primorskii Krai in last year: 170 percent

Percentage increase in cases of hemorrhagic fever: 160 percent

Percentage change in expenditures on health care in Saratov Oblast's in 1999 from the previous year: -32 percent

Percentage of those residents of Kursk Oblast under the age of 29 afflicted with syphillis: 48 percent

Percentage of those residents of Kursk Oblast under the age of 17 afflicted with syphillis: 12 percent

Rank of the Tula Oblast in terms of highest infant mortality rate in Russia: 1

Rank of Pskov Oblast in terms of highest death rate: 1

Percentage change in the population's disposable income in 1998, adjusted for inflation:

-21.2 percent in Vologda Oblast

-19.6 percent in Chuvash Republic

-18 percent in Kostroma Oblast

-18 percent in Pskov Oblast

-18 percent in Altai Krai

-17.5 percent in Perm Oblast

-17.4 percent in Kurgan Oblast

-17 percent in Arkhangelsk Oblast

-16 percent in Tyumen Oblast

-15 percent in Krasnodar Krai

-15 percent in Primorskii Krai

-14 percent in Bashkortostan

-11.1 percent in Omsk Oblast

-9.8 percent in Irkutsk Oblast

-9 percent in Orlov Oblast

-8.8 percent in Voronezh Oblast

-6.5 percent in Murmansk Oblast

-3.4 percent in Kalmykia Republic

Sources: "Utro Rossii" (Vladivostok), "Saratov," "Khoroshiye Novosti" (Kursk), ITAR-TASS, "Krasnyi Sever" (Vologda), "Sovetskaya Chuvashiya," "Severnaya pravda" (Kostroma), "Pskovskaya pravda," "Altaiskaya pravda," "Kapital-weekly" (Perm), "Novii Mir" (Kurgan), "Pravda Severa" (Arkhangelsk), "Tyumenskaya pravda," "Kubanskiye Novosti," "Sovetskaya Bashkiriya," "Kommercheskiye vesti" (Omsk), "Vostochno-Sibirskaya pravda" (Irkutsk), "Orlovskaya pravda," "Kommuna" (Voronezh), "Murmanskii vestnik," and "Izvestiya Kalmykii."