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Russia Report: July 7, 1999

7 July 1999, Volume 1, Number 19
As the 10 percent value-added tax on sugar, meat, poultry, and fish was doubled on 1 July, officials in a number of regions were already trying to stem the expected increase in food prices. In Altai Krai, Governor Aleksandr Surikov issued a decree calling for prices on socially important goods to increase no more than 5 percent, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 29 June. Local government agencies were instructed to regulate prices by establishing a fixed or maximum wholesale price. Five days earlier, the Kirov Oblast legislative assembly voted in favor of price controls on certain food products, industrial goods, and services (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1999). JAC

Meanwhile, Republic of Buryatia President Leonid Potapov called on regional officials to regulate the buying up of bread supplies, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 28 June. Consumers started to hoard bread supplies after the price of bread products in the region rose from 12-30 percent. Republican officials believe that there will be no reason for such behavior once the republic has a sufficient supply of flour: more than 5,000 tons of wheat are expected to arrive any day. Earlier in the month, residents of Kemerovo Oblast began hoarding bread for fear of more price increases (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 30 June 1999). JAC

Anatolii Chubais, a leader of Pravoe Delo (Right Cause), said on 2 July in Salzburg, Austria, that four right-of-center groups have agreed in principle to form one bloc to participate in parliamentary elections scheduled for December, ITAR-TASS reported. Chubais, who is also the head of Unified Energy Systems, made the announcement along with former Premier Sergei Kirienko, leader of Novaya Sila (New Force), Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, who heads Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia); and Vladimir Ryzhkov, leader of the State Duma faction of Our Home Is Russia. Grigorii Yavlinskii, head of Yabloko, reportedly turned down an invitation to join the bloc. At a meeting at the end of May in Samara, Titov and Kirienko had agreed to set up a joint working group on forming an election alliance that would include other political organizations (see "RFE/RL Federation Report," 9 June 1999). JC

The majority of Russian regions witnessed a hike in industrial output during the first four months of 1999, compared with the same period the previous year, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 28 June. In only 27 regions, industrial output fell. The Republic of Kalmykia experienced the biggest drop--28 percent. Top performing regions, which recorded a growth rate in industrial output higher than 15 percent, included Rostov and Chita Oblasts, Karelia, Adygei, and Altai Republics, Krasnoyarsk Krai, and Taimyr Autonomous Okrug. Regions with growth between 0.7-14.5 percent were Leningrad, Smolensk, Tula, Yaroslavl, and Magadan Oblasts, Stavropol Krai, and Ust-Ordynskii Buryat Autonomous Okrug. And the following regions saw growth rates between 5.0-9.4 percent: Murmansk, Pskov, Novgorod, Bryansk, Moscow, Orlov, Ryazan, Belgorod, Tambov, Penza, Ulyanovsk, Astrakhan, Kemerovo, Irkutsk, and Kursk Oblasts, Kabardino-Balkaria and Mordovia Republics, and Khabarovsk and Altai Krais. JAC

Former Federation Council Speaker Vladimir Shumeiko announced on 30 June that he will run for a seat in the legislative assembly of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug, and that he intends to return to "big-time politics," ITAR-TASS reported. According to local observers, if Shumeiko wins, he could then run for the office of speaker of the assembly and in that way return to the Federation Council. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the same day that Shumeiko recently successfully defended his PhD dissertation on the topic of the problems of economic federalism. JAC

In its 19 June edition, RFE/RL's "Korrespondentskii Chas" reported that by chance, the local trade unions recently discovered that federal monies intended to pay public sector wages in the oblast this spring did not reach their targeted recipients. A letter signed by Deputy Finance Minister Tatyana Nesterenko referred to 14 million rubles (some $572,000) dispatched to Kostroma in April "to pay wage arrears to public sector workers with a view to normalizing the situation in the regions." Verifying payments for that month, the unions concluded that they had been cheated out of that sum. Some public sector workers in the oblast have not been paid for up to seven months. The situation appears particularly critical in the health-care sector. Half of the staff of the oblast's main hospital have threatened to resign because of the backlog of unpaid salaries. JC

Citing sources within the oblast election commission, Interfax reported on 28 June that 23 people have announced their intention to take part in the 19 September gubernatorial elections and will seek to gain the necessary signatures supporting their candidacy. Among the 23 are Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, who made known his plans to run after his trouncing in the Belgorod ballot at the end of May (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 2 and 9 June 1999), former governor and former Russian First Deputy Premier Vadim Gustov, incumbent governor Valerii Serdyukov, and former presidential representative in Leningrad Oblast Fedor Shkrudnev. JC

Authorities in Magadan Oblast are warning that the region may soon experience an energy crunch similar to the one that paralyzed neighboring Kamchatka, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 29 June. Currently, the region has no more than 30,000 tons of coal, which will last only one-and-a-half to two weeks if rationed. A ship carrying 5,000 tons of diesel fuel arrived in Kamchatka on 28 June, and NTV reported that residents will start getting five hours of electricity a day, compared with the three hours they have received every other day for several days. First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko told reporters on 30 June that that region's energy crisis is the fault of the region's governor, Vladimir Biryukov. According to Aksenenko, the region is rich in oil and gas but a project to develop them has not been implemented. JAC

The decision by Novgorod Oblast deputies to bring forward the date of gubernatorial elections from December to September (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 9 June 1999) is being challenged by both the local branch of the Communist Party and the Central Electoral Commission, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 June. The newspaper notes that the matter is now in the hands of the oblast court. In May, a Belgorod court ruling supporting a similar decision by the region's deputies was overruled by the Russian Supreme Court, only to be upheld by that body's Presidium. The incumbent, Yevgenii Savchenko, went on to win a resounding victory (see "RFE/RL Federation Report," 26 May and 2 June 1999). The current governor in Novgorod, Mikhail Prusak, is thought likely also to have few problems in winning the election, early or otherwise, although some of his opponents are contesting his right to take part in the ballot at all. Prusak was appointed governor in October 1991 and elected to that post some four years later. According to his opponents, that means he would be running for a third term in office. His supporters, however, maintain that his 1991 appointment cannot be counted and point out that the oblast constitution does not bar a candidate from running for a third term. As the daily comments, comparisons with the president of the federation are "irrelevant" in this case. JC

Six months before gubernatorial elections, the movement For the Rebirth of Tambov Residents, which brings together diverse parties and groups opposed to incumbent Governor Aleksandr Ryabov, has held a conference in the oblast capital, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Regiony" reported on 29 June. Since its founding one year ago, the newspaper reports, the movement has become a force to be reckoned with, boasting 20 branches throughout the oblast and notching up 21 percent popular support (compared with 26 percent for the local Communists) in opinion polls. Its members blame Ryabov for neglecting the oblast's economy (Tambov is one of the worst economic performers in the Black Earth Region) and are also outraged by a recent scandal surrounding the deputy head of the oblast administration. Conference delegates stressed that priority must be given to social policy and suggested that cooperation may be possible even with those raion branches of the Communist Party that understand the pressing need for economic reform in the oblast. JC

Speaking in Kaluga Oblast on 28 June, Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov said that the cause of the radioactive leak at the Tomsk-7 nuclear plant earlier this month was an emergency system failure, not human error, as claimed at the time of the incident, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The minister noted that the radiation remained within the central area of one of the facility's two reactors, which had been temporarily closed for repairs, and that the leak was given a rating of two on a scale of seven (the 1986 Chernobyl accident received seven). Two workers at the reactor were exposed to an unspecified amount of radiation. It is planned to close down both reactors once the problem of supplying heating to the nearby town of Seversk has been resolved. JC

The Union of Unemployed Engineers of the Tula Cartridge Factory has sent a letter to business magnate Boris Berezovskii asking him compete in the State Duma elections from the Tula Electoral District No. 176, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 June. The engineers believe that as a successful businessman and effective manager, Berezovskii would be able to revive the Tula economy and improve the lives of the oblast's residents. So far, there has been no reply to the invitation. "Izvestiya" points out that in the past, two prominent political figures took advantage of similar invitations to win election to the Duma from Tula Oblast: Aleksandr Lebed, currently governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, and Aleksandr Korzhakov, former longtime bodyguard of President Yeltsin. JC

The third-ranking spiritual leader in the Buddhist hierarchy, Bogdo-gegyan Dzhebzun Damba Khutukhta IX, will visit the Republic of Tuva at the beginning of July, "Interfax-Eurasia" reported on 28 June. Sources in the Tuvan government said that Bogdo-gegyan's visit is compensation for the postponement of a visit by the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama last visited the republic in the early 1990s, according to the agency. Bogdo-gegyan spent 30 June in the Republic of Kalmykia, ITAR-TASS reported. According to that agency, he is considered the spiritual patron of Mongol-speaking nations. JAC

In a letter to Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, Tyumen Governor Leonid Roketskii accused BP Amoco of "seriously infringing on the social, political, and economic stability in the regions hosting Sidanko subsidiaries," ITAR-TASS reported on 30 June. BP Amoco owns a 20 percent stake in Sidanko, according to the agency. Roketskii charged BP Amoco managers within Sidanko of trying to reap and then repatriate maximum profits. He suggested that the government instruct the Federal Bankruptcy Service to appoint an interim administrator at Sidanko to protect the state's interests. Roketskii is chairman of the board at Tyumen Oil Company, which is trying to gain control of Chernogorneft, a company controlled by Sidanko. JAC

"Vremya MN" reported on 29 June that Andrei Kokoshin, former head of the Federal Security Service and a member of the political council of the Otechestvo movement, was recently in Vladimir Oblast to talk with heads of defense enterprises ahead of the State Duma elections at the end of this year. According to the daily, he had with him a draft law, drawn up by Otechestvo, on paying the state's debt to the military-industrial complex for defense orders. The newspaper, however, quoted a regional leader of the movement as expressing doubt as to whether Kokoshin's idea would suffice to win the "unconditional support" of the traditionally communist-leaning defense bosses. JC

The former mayor of Sayanogorsk, Sergei Bondarenko, was arrested on charges of abuse of office, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 June. Bondarenko reportedly arranged for a 35 million old ruble promissory note from a local electric plant and passed the money on to businessmen in Krasnoyarsk, who are closely associated with criminal groups, "Izvestiya" reported on 1 July ... KRASNOYARSK. Law enforcement officials in Krasnoyarsk Krai have initiated a criminal investigation into the activities of a recently dismissed deputy of Governor Aleksandr Lebed, Aleksandra Kurenkova, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 29 July. Kurenkova is accused of arranging the transfer of shares in the Artemov gold mine to private commercial structures for an excessively low price. Kurenkova denies the allegations and told a local television station that she had been dismissed for too many absences from work (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 30 June 1999) ... ST PETERSBURG. Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation on charges of bribery and abuse of power against traffic police chief Colonel Vladimir Mashnin, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 June.