Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia Report: May 26, 1999

26 May 1999, Volume 1, Number 13
The State Duma's Committee for Social Movements is to investigate why governors of some regions are violating federal legislation by participating in political activities, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22 May. According to the agency, the committee will focus on the activities of Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, among others. The daily cites Article 11 of the law on the tenets of state service in the Russian Federation, which says that civil servants are forbidden to use their political position in the interests of political parties and social or regional associations. Titov appeared nonplussed by the investigation, telling the daily that "deputies like to waste time on superfluous questions rather than do what the people elected them to [do]: pass legislation." JAC

Yabloko's central party authorities have reportedly decided to close their regional branches in the republics of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Dagestan, and Sakha, the oblasts of Kursk, Novgorod, Volgograd, Sverdlovsk, Tomsk, Omsk, Voronezh, and Magadan and the Koryak Autonomous Okrug, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 20 May. The Yabloko official in charge of regional activities, Aleksandr Kynev, said that when the party decided to transform itself from a movement to a party, it was decided to "conduct a check-up of the regions" and to prohibit Yabloko members from simultaneously belonging to other parties or movements. Regional Yabloko members say that upcoming Duma elections are motivating the "purge." According to the daily, "Yabloko's Moscow chiefs have decided to fight those who entered the movement only in order to obtain a seat in the Duma or at least in regional administrations." At present, the newspaper reports, all Yabloko deputies want to be kept on the party list. JAC

Members of Vsya Rossiya held their first constituent congress in St. Petersburg on 22 May. According to ITAR-TASS, more than 500 delegates from 82 regions and over 500 guests, including Golos Rossii chairman Konstantin Titov, attended. Vsya Rossiya leader Mintimer Shaimiev confirmed earlier announcements that his movement will form an alliance with Otechestvo and that the movement's key goal will be to secure at least 15 percent of votes in parliamentary elections. "Izvestiya" reported on 22 May that the leaders of Vsya Rossiya have not yet decided whether they want to forge an alliance with Golos Rossii, whose leadership earlier declared interest in doing so. According to the newspaper, relations between Golos Rossii and Otechestvo are frosty. Some Golos Rossii members at their constituent congress declared their opposition to Otechestvo leader Yurii Luzhkov. JAC

The number of forest fires in the Far East has more than tripled over the last two days, an official with the forest service for the Far East told ITAR-TASS on 19 May. According to the agency, up to 7,500 acres in Khabarovsk Oblast were on fire. The next day, the agency reported that almost 5,000 acres of forest in Irkutsk Oblast are engulfed in flames. On 21 May, Interfax-Eurasia said that 344 acres of forest in Khakassia had been destroyed because of spring fires. On 25 May, ITAR-TASS reported that more than 2,000 acres of forest in Buryatia had been destroyed. Forest service officials are concerned that their agency's chronic lack of fuel and equipment will lead to the destruction of more of the region's taiga as the fire season sets in. Last year, more than 400,000 acres of forest were destroyed, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

Chelyabinsk's prosecutor-general is again attempting to quash an attempt by the administration to increase the price of passports issued in the oblast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 May, citing "Vechernii Chelyabinsk." The prosecutor is protesting as "illegal" a resolution whereby citizens must pay up to 62 rubles for a full-fledged passport, compared with some 40 rubles in the rest of the federation. Citizens who do not wish to fork out that sum can apply for a six-month identity card--albeit one that allows them neither to marry, travel abroad, or enter an institute of higher education. An earlier resolution providing for a similar price hike was abolished last December following a protest by the prosecutor. With some 300,000 applications for new passports received annually in Chelyabinsk, the local administration argues that federal funds are insufficient to pay for that number of application forms. JC

The city of Ivanovo is facing severe financing problems because of this year's redistribution of tax receipts among municipal, oblast, and federal authorities, RFE/RL's "Korrespondentskii chas" program reported on 15 May. For expenditures totaling 733 million rubles ($29.8 million) in 1999, Ivanovo received only 476 million rubles. The city owes 52 million rubles for child benefits and another 30 million for wages to state workers. From May to June, area teachers will be taking a recess for which they were supposed to be paid three months in advance, but the city authorities do not have the money and oblast authorities will not release the federal transfer intended for their salaries. The city is not only unable to pay teachers' wages, but it also cannot pay heat and water bills. Since 12 April, heat and hot water were turned off in homes and residents were told not to expect the resumption of supplies until September at the earliest, according to RFE/RL's Ivanovo correspondent. JAC

Vladimir Mironov, head of the leading vodka distillery in northwestern Russia, was killed in a car bomb explosion outside his dacha on 17 May, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Local law enforcement officials believe the attack was carried out by a contract killer, possibly a former member of the security services or the military. The newspaper notes that Mironov had many potential enemies, having consistently and unambiguously called for a crackdown on the sale of cheap, surrogate liquor on the black market. He took over the management of the Petrovsk distillery some three years ago, at a time when the company was experiencing major difficulties. Mironov succeeded in pulling the company out of its crisis, and, despite the preponderance of cheap imported vodka in the republic's stores, Petrovsk's products remain popular both within and outside Karelia. JC

Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin instructed First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko to investigate the disappearance of "a $100 million external credit that did not reach the Kemerovo region," ITAR-TASS reported on 20 May. Aksenenko will leave for Kemerovo next week accompanied by representatives from the Finance, Economics, and Fuel and Energy Ministries. After a meeting with Stepashin the same day in Moscow, Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev told "Interfax-Eurasia" that the two officials discussed the problem of interbudgetary relations between the center and the regions and Tuleev reported that the Ministry of Finance is constantly trying to cut funds to the regions almost as if it wants to trigger a social explosion there. He also told Stepashin about the necessity of investigating "millions of rubles [for the coal sector] that simply evaporated in commercial banks." JAC

Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin has signed a resolution authorizing the sale of 75.6 percent of a federally owned 51 percent stake in Krasnoyarsk coal company (Krasugol), Interfax reported on 24 May. The stake will be sold in a single package via a commercial tender. According to the agency, the government will retain a special right to manage the company for two years. JAC

The number of people suffering from diphtheria or carrying the bacterium that causes the disease has doubled in Lipetsk Oblast over the past 12 months, "Izvestiya" reported on 19 May, citing doctors from a local medical center. In particular, the medics are alarmed by three recent cases in which the infected were all children from one kindergarten who had received the obligatory vaccination against the disease. JC

When South Korean President Kim Dae Jung visits Russia on 29 May he will bring with him a proposal to lease 330 hectares (132 acres) of land in Nakhodka Raion in Primorskii Krai, "Izvestiya" reported on 19 May. According to the newspaper, a group of South Korean firms plan to invest roughly $1 billion to construct office buildings and sites for industrial enterprises on the land. The South Korean Land Corporation and the administration of Nakhodka will choose firms on a competitive basis to perform the construction work, the daily reported. According to the newspaper, the lease of the land will not reduce Russia's $1.5 billion debt to South Korea. On 20 May, "Segodnya" reported that a variety of bad loans have been taken out by the administration of the free trade zone in Nakhodka, according to the regional Interior Ministry directorate. The daily claims that the supervision of loans has been lax and that one person currently undergoing psychiatric treatment and acknowledged by his doctors to be insane managed to get a loan for 700 million rubles ($28.5 million). JAC

Vladivostok's city election commission announced on 20 May that by-elections for seats in the city's legislative assembly in four districts will be held on 20 June, ITAR-TASS reported. The commission announced earlier that the results of elections held on 16 May had to be declared invalid in eight of the city's districts because of low turnout. Under federal and local legislation, new elections in these districts must be held no later than the end of September. One candidate in the election, former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov, may be in Moscow come July, according to Radio Mayak on 20 May. The station claims that he has been offered the position of minister for labor and social development at the recommendation of Right Cause movement leaders Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. "Vremya MN" reported on 18 May that a Municipal Economic Council composed of 70 directors of large industrial enterprises, banks, trading firms, and educational institutes "may become a substitute representative authority in the city," as acting Mayor Yurii Kopylov announced at the council's meeting. JAC

"Vremya MN" also reported that the council's members have already announced their support for Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko's re-election bid. According to the council, the governor is a "patriot who opposes wild privatization and the plunder of regional resources." JAC

Water from the Lena River flooded the streets of Yakutsk on 21 May, ITAR-TASS reported, despite attempts to break up ice blocking the river with the use of combat jets. Sakha Republic officials appealed to Russian air force commanders for help in destroying ice blocking the junction of the Lena River and one of its tributary with overhead bombing, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 May. According to the daily, an Il-75 plane delivered 150 bombs weighing 250 kilograms each to the Yakutsk airfield. According to ITAR-TASS, the flooding has closed a power station and brought most of the city's traffic to a halt. JAC

"Kommersant-Daily" on 21 May reported what it described as rumors that Yabloko's organization team in St. Petersburg want Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii to run for governor there in 2000 and then for president of Russia in 2004. According to the daily, Yavlinskii himself, when asked about the possibility, said only that "this question has not been properly discussed." Interfax had reported the previous day that the Yurii Boldyrev Bloc, which performed well in elections for the city's legislative assembly, will participate in State Duma elections in December 1999. According to the agency, Boldyrev is not excluding the possibility of forming an alliance with another party or movement. JAC

The All-Tatar Public Center issued a statement on 19 May calling on voters to boycott the upcoming State Duma elections and next year's Russian presidential poll, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The statement also called for a ban on all "pro-Russian parties, movements, and media" in Tatarstan. The newspaper interpreted the appeal as a direct response to Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev's unequivocal support for the recently created Vsya Rossiya political bloc. LF

Speaking in Tomsk on 21 May, Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev announced that the export pipeline carrying Russian gas to China will start in Tomsk Oblast, Interfax-ANI reported. Vyakhirev was in Tomsk to mark the commissioning of the Myldzhinskii gas-condensate deposit. That event signaled the beginning of the realization of the oblast's gas program, approved in 1995, which is aimed at satisfying consumer demand in Tomsk Oblast, Novosibirsk Oblast, and parts of Kemerovo Oblast. The program also foresees the construction of the Lugenetsk gas-compression station, the gas pipeline "Lugenetsk-Parabel," and the pipeline "Lugenetsk-Tomsk," which will carry raw materials to the Tomsk oil-chemical plant. Investments totaling an estimated $932 million are needed to implement the program over the next seven years. To date, some $400 million has been invested. JC

Governor Yurii Goryachev and oblast parliamentary speaker Sergei Ryabukhin have issued a statement informing their constituencies that because they consider it their duty to defend the interests of the oblast and all its residents, they have declined--and will continue to decline--to join any all-Russian party, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 19 May, citing the local media. At the same time, they reserve the right to support those parties, movements, and blocs in the upcoming State Duma elections that most "correspond" to the interests of both Russia and Ulyanovsk Oblast. JC

by Jan Cleave

Joining the campaign trail in Belgorod, where he is to contest the 30 May gubernatorial elections, Vladimir Zhirinovskii told voters that he would have no difficulty making the transition from heading a national party to running a region. Changing a "Mercedes" for a "bicycle," as the leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) put it, is "easy." With Zhirinovskii behind the handlebars, the economically depressed and traditionally communist-leaning oblast would be guaranteed "order" and "prosperity."

Zhirinovskii has made no secret of the fact that he views Belgorod as a springboard to the presidency. As the RFE/RL Russian Service's "Vybory-99" reported, the two-times unsuccessful presidential candidate has assured voters that a number of European and Asian states are ready to invest millions of dollars in Belgorod. In the one year remaining until the presidential ballot, Zhirinovskii claims he would turn around the Belgorod economy and show at the regional level what he would be capable of doing nationwide.

Political analyst Sergei Markov told "The Moscow Times" that he rates Zhirinovskii's prospects of taking Belgorod as "pretty good," not least because the oblast's voters are "unsophisticated" and will find to it difficult to resist the "campaign onslaught" from Zhirinovskii's well-funded LDPR. As practice shows, Markov points out, federal-level leaders win "easily" over their local-level counterparts.

But Markov and other analysts note that another reason why Zhirinovskii may fare well in the Belgorod ballot is that the leftist vote is split between the two main local candidates: Governor Yevgenii Savchenko, an independent who has the support of some local Communists and Agrarians, and Mikhail Beskhmelnitsyn, the official candidate of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). (The other two candidates in the 30 May contest--Vladimir Naboko, the head of the Belgorod branch of the Federal Migration Service, and local writer and entrepreneur Vladimir Bezymyannyi--are considered to have negligible chances, at best.)

Savchenko has held the top office in Belgorod for some five-and-a-half years, having been appointed governor in December 1993 and elected to that office two years later. In the December 1995 election, he won 41.9 percent of the vote. A former agrarian and the current chairman of the Federation Council's Committee for Agrarian Policy, Savchenko enjoys considerable authority in an oblast that largely depends on agriculture. Last week, he reportedly turned down the post of deputy premier with responsibility for agriculture in Sergei Stepashin's government, pointing to the "difficult situation" in the oblast.

Beskhmelnitsyn, an official at the federal Audit Chamber and a former chairman of the oblast Council of People's Deputies, came second in the 1995 ballot, garnering 24.29 percent of the vote. Four years ago, however, he ran without the backing of the KPRF.

While leftists in Belgorod are divided over allegiances, they have displayed unity in seeking to thwart Zhirinovskii's electoral bid. On 23 April, shortly after the LDPR leader announced his candidacy, the oblast witnessed the founding of a movement initially called "Belgorod Citizens Against Zhirinovskii" and later renamed "A Local Person [Zemlyak] for Governor." No fewer than 25 political parties and social organizations have joined the movement, all of them concerned about the possibility of Zhirinovskii winning the election.

That concern is shared by a not insignificant number of regional leaders. At a meeting in Penza in early May, Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Ivan Sklyarov, Penza Governor Vasilii Bochkarev, and Republic of Mordovia President Nikolai Merkushkin all agreed to back Belgorod's incumbent governor--in order to keep "extremists" out of the region. Recent visits to Belgorod by both Ayatskov and St. Petersburg Mayor Vladimir Yakovlev were intended to reinforce that message.

Just days before the election, it had seemed that anti-Zhirinovskii electioneering in Belgorod and the nearby regions could be overtaken by events in the capital. Earlier this month, the Russian Supreme Court declared invalid the Belgorod Duma resolution bringing forward gubernatorial elections from 19 December (the date of the State Duma elections) to 30 May. The court based its decision on federal election legislation stating that early elections are permitted mainly as a cost-saving measure (for example, holding two votes simultaneously to cut down on expenditures). The Belgorod resolution, however, increased, rather than reduced, the cost of staging the local and the national vote--hence the Supreme Court ruling.

The Belgorod Duma, which is reportedly controlled by Savchenko, protested the ruling, and on 26 May, the Supreme Court's Presidium ruled that the election could go ahead as planned.

Location: Southwestern Russia, part of athe Central Black Soil Region; borders Ukraine as well as the Kursk and Voronezh oblasts

Oblast Center: Belgorod (population: 322,000)

Total Population: 1,458,200 (92.9 percent Russian, 5.5 percent Ukrainian)

Size: 27,100 square kilometers, divided into 21 raions

Main Industries: Machine-building, ferrous metallurgy, food, chemical and petro-chemical, construction materials, light

Agriculture: breeding of dairy and beef cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep; cultivation of wheat, barley, sugar beets, vegetables

Source: "Rossiiskii Kto est Kto," 14 May 1999