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Russia Report: June 23, 1999

23 June 1999, Volume 1, Number 17
During a meeting with the chairmen of legislative assemblies in Russia's regions on 18 June, Russian President Boris Yeltsin proposed the creation of a federal agency or institute that would have the power to dissolve a regional parliament if its activity is detrimental to the unity of the Russian Federation, Aleksandr Uss, chairman of the Krasnoyarsk legislative assembly, told Interfax. According to Uss, the president envisions that the agency to be created would be a "sharp instrument." Uss added that "without such an approach to...the activities of local legislative assembly and executive organs, then we cannot preserve the state." According to Uss, the meeting with Yeltsin was unexpectedly frank. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day that Yeltsin's proposal did not raise the wrath of his listeners and concluded that either "the participants were deeply moved by the fact that they had been invited to the Kremlin" or "they do not put much faith in the vitality of Yeltsin's initiatives." JAC

The call for volunteers for Russia's peacekeeping unit in Kosova has proved irresistible in a number of Russian regions. In Tyumen Oblast, for example, more than 100 men and a few women showed up in the small village of Yalutorovsk. In Tula around 300 men showed up daily for three days in a row to volunteer for peacekeeping duty, "Vremya MN" reported on 16 June. Part of the reason peacekeeping has proved so popular is probably the salaries. According to the daily, Russian soldiers in peacekeeping units in Bosnia earned $1070 a month, while officers made as much as $1495-$1950 a month. "Chelyabinskii Rabochii" reported earlier in the month that the Urals military district had received instructions to begin the recruitment of 900 volunteers for the peacekeeping mission in Yugoslavia. According to the newspaper, the recruitment process should be completed by 20 June and soldiers should be ready to depart by 15 August. Meanwhile, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed said on 16 June that while dispatching a Russian paratrooper unit to Kosova was "certainly the right decision," Russia must also have soldiers present in areas adjacent to Serbia. Konstantin Titov, Samara governor and informal leader of Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia), on the other hand, said on 22 June that he is against dispatching Russian peacekeepers to Kosova. "A country is great only when it can support its troops abroad, using its own resources, and not when it does it at the expense of its population, people's health and living standards," he said, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

The State Duma passed on 16 June on the third reading a law on state support for the domestic space industry. The law also calls for state support for regions whose land is littered with debris from rocket launches. Ecologists in the Republic of Khakassia estimate that 30 tons of waste has fallen on the region from rockets and satellites launched at Baikonur space complex in neighboring Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 19 May 1999). Other regions affected by space waste are the Altai Krai, Astrakhan Oblast and the Republic of Bashkortostan. JAC

Greenpeace's Russian branch released a statement demanding that the International Monetary Fund link disbursement of money to the Russian government with the closure of ecologically harmful enterprises on the shores of Lake Baikal, Russian Television reported on 16 June. According to the television statement, the organization recently lost a lawsuit to close down the Baikal Cellulose Paper Factory because the court decided that closure of the factory would impose irreparable harm on the town of Baikalsk, where 17,000 residents are employed by the factory. The factory has been fined a total of $4.5 billion over the last 12 years, which, according to the station, will never be collected because the enterprise itself is worth considerably less. Earlier in the month, environmentalists in the Irkutsk Oblast reported that thirty dead seals had been discovered on the southern shores of Lake Baikal, where the factory is located (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 1999). That discovery followed a report earlier in June of another 100 dead seals. JAC

Almost 2,000 people participated in a march in the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii on 16 June to protest continuing electricity outages, "Trud" reported the next day. Earlier, Russian Television reported that residents were collecting signatures on a petition asking that the UN establish control over their peninsula (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 1999). On 16 June, the Japanese government responded by announcing that it would provide three diesel electrical generators to three institutions for the handicapped, mentally retarded and orphaned children, according to Interfax. According to a statement from the Japanese embassy in Moscow, the humanitarian aid will arrive at the beginning of September. After meeting with Kamchatka Oblast Governor Vladimir Biryukov on 17 May, Prime Minister Stepashin announced that a decision would be made that day on whether to allocate 50 million rubles ($2.1 million) to purchase fuel for the oblast, ITAR-TASS reported. On 22 June, a tanker filled with 5,000 tons of diesel fuel left for Kamchatka, ITAR-TASS reported. The previous day, Stepashin criticized officials at the Fuel and Energy Ministry for not ensuring a continuous flow of energy supplies to the oblast, and regional officials for "shifting local problems to the federal level." JAC

The former editor of "Valdai" tells an interesting tale about trying to run a local newspaper in an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony" on 8 June. According to Aleksandr Solennikov, the majority of newspapers in the Novgorod oblast survive only because of money from the local budget. When funds were cut at the end of 1998, despite rising prices for paper, typographical and other work, it was decided that "Valdai" would appear only three times a week and staff would have to be cut. Among those workers who were asked to leave was a "not especially talented" journalist, who happens to be the spouse of the head of the Valdai raion, Vladimir Korolev. Soon afterwards, the newspaper received a request from the raion administration asking that the charter of the newspaper be changed so that the raion head had the right to appoint the newspaper's editor. After the newspaper's journalists' collective rejected this bid, the raion's administration said it was pulling its support. Today, the new Valdai is governed by the raion administration and a new "Valdaiskii Information Center" rather than a journalists' collective. As a result, Korolev's spouse is still employed and the editor, Solennikov is out. Solennikov concludes, "My colleagues and I knew that it was forbidden to criticize the [raion's] leadership, our benefactor, but who knew that it was also unwise to offend his wife?" JAC

Right Cause (Pravoe Delo) will take part in gubernatorial elections in St. Petersburg, according to Right Cause member and Unified Energy Systems chief Anatolii Chubais, "Izvestiya" reported on 16 June. The newspaper speculated that Chubais' open criticism of incumbent Governor Vladimir Yakovlev suggested that Chubais himself intends to run. The previous day, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that Chubais's "compatriots believe that only Chubais himself can compete" with Yakovlev. Meanwhile, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev refused to confirm his participation in the race, telling ITAR-TASS on 17 June that the question was still being studied and a decision has not yet been made. For the office of mayor in St. Petersburg, a Yabloko press spokesperson told Mayak Radio that the movement will nominate Igor Artemiev. Last January Yabloko recalled Artemiev from the post of St. Petersburg deputy governor and chairman of the city finance committee, declaring that it will now be in opposition to Governor Yakovlev and his government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 1999). JAC

In an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 15 June, Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov criticized the federal policy under which republics have more powers and often more federal monies transferred to them than do the oblasts. He claimed that "the economic, agricultural and demographic potential of Saratov Oblast is seven to ten times greater than that of the Marii El Republic, but this republic has its own flag, emblem, and tax privileges, and as for us..." He said that "specialists in ethnic politics" argue that the ethnic republics need large subsidies in order to prevent a rise in separatist sentiments; however, he maintains that it was the Baltic nations that initiated the disintegration of the Soviet Union "after the entire USSR worked to turn that area into a developed region." He added that "a lot of resources are currently being spent on ethnic groups, while the Russian people are forgotten" and if this "unbalanced policy" continues, he concluded "I doubt that Russia will maintain its integrity." To further underscore his point, he noted that "the constitution of Sakha stipulates the republic's right to form its own armed forces and the constitution of Tuva envisages the possibility of withdrawing from the Russian Federation." JAC

During talks in Tbilisi on 17 June with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Ayatskov proposed creating a confederation of former Soviet republics, "Segodnya" reported the following day. Ayatskov said such a body would contribute to economic integration and to strengthening the security of member states. In an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 15 June, Ayatskov had argued that the CIS has outlived its usefulness. LF

Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov recently signed a decree establishing a new annual holiday, the day of Stavropol Krai, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony" reported on 8 June. The holiday will commemorate when Tsar Nikolai I signed a decree in May 1847 renaming the Caucasus oblast the province of Stavropol. Delegations from all North Caucasus regions will arrive for the holiday and participate in fairs, exhibitions and theatrical productions as well as a scientific conference on the "Caucasus, Our Common Home." JAC

Aman Tuleev "does not exclude" the possibility of running for president in Tatarstan in next year's presidential poll, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported, citing APN of 14 June. Tuleev was born in Turkmenistan. His father was Kazakh and his mother Tatar, but he speaks neither of those languages. LF

The Ulyanovsk Oblast administration is conducting a campaign to reduce the number of telephones in enterprises and organizations in the region so that these telephone numbers can be reassigned to needy citizens, such as war veterans and invalids, RFE/RL's "Korrespondentskii chas" reported on 12 June. Tatyana Snezhinskaya, an advisor to Ulyanovsk Governor Yurii Goryachev, explained that the redistribution of phone numbers is needed because there is not enough capacity on local switches. The regional telephone company does not have enough money to invest in increased capacity because tariffs for phone service are extremely low and the number of organizations who don't pay their bills is high. Local businessmen are protesting the disconnection of some of their lines, claiming that their businesses are suffering and, as a result, local authorities will collect less taxes. JAC

The city of Voronezh is one of Russia's largest transportation bases for drugs, "Vek" reported in its June issue. According to the publication, poppies arrive daily from Ukraine, marijuana from Kazakhstan, raw opium from Tajikistan and heroin, LSD, and other hard drugs via foreign students. JAC

REGIONAL INDEX: Fuel Pump Politics
Despite pleas from Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, State Duma deputies recently rejected a key piece of legislation from a package drafted by the government in accordance with its agreement with the IMF that would have imposed a new tax on gasoline stations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 1999). Legislators argued that the bill would lead either to even higher gasoline prices or shortages. The chart below suggests that gasoline prices vary widely from region to region with some oblasts protected from the recent increases.

Price for 1 liter of A-76 gas (in rubles)

Makhachala 2.8

Saratov 2.8

Ufa 2.9

Ekaterinburg 2.9

Irkutsk 3.0

Voronezh 3.0-4.0

Vologda 3.1

St. Petersburg 3.1-3.4

Omsk 3.2

Novosibirsk 3.2

Nizhnii Novgorod 3.2

Tula 3.2

Stavropol 3.3

Kemerovo 3.3

Orenburg 3.4

Samara 3.5

Krasnodar 3.51

Chelyabinsk 3.6

Kazan 3.6

Vladivostok 3.6

Rostov na Donu 3.8

Arkhangelsk 4.0

Krasnoyarsk 4.3

Source: "Kommersant-Daily," 17 June 1999