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Russia Report: July 14, 1999

14 July 1999, Volume 1, Number 20
At a meeting in Moscow on 6 July, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and 36 regional leaders discussed the problems confronting Russia's border territories, Russian agencies reported. Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishaev spoke out strongly against private ownership of land, commenting that if a draft law currently being considered by the State Duma is approved, "all land in Russia's Far East will be bought up citizens of the People's Republic of China." Samara Governor Konstantin Titov proposed that the sale of land to foreigners be prohibited, arguing that such a ban would not contravene the federal constitution. Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev proposed adopting a land law that would reflect the differences between the various regions. Stepashin, for his part, asked the governors to sum up their proposals for a new land law so that the government can discuss them next month and submit a bill to the parliament in September. JC

Vladimir Ryzhkov, leader of the State Duma faction of Our Home Is Russia (NDR), said on 8 July that it is too early to talk about the possible union of his party with Pravoe Delo (Right Cause), Novaya Sila (New Force), and Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia), Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 8 July 1999). He said that earlier this month in Salzburg the leaders of the four groups discussed the need to ensure rightist-centrist forces are represented in the parliament, but he stressed that no decision on uniting was made. Four days later, on 12 July, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais (Pravoe Delo), former Premier Sergei Kirienko (Novaya Sila), and Samara Governor Konstantin Titov (Golos Rossii) met in Moscow to discuss coordinating activities in single-mandate districts in the upcoming Duma elections as well as their parties' positions in gubernatorial, mayoral, and regional legislative elections. It had originally been reported that the NDR leadership would take part in that meeting. JC

With more than 1 million hectares of Russian agricultural land infested by locusts, regions bordering on Kazakhstan, from where an invasion of the insect originates, are seeking ways to protect their crops. Novosibirsk Oblast declared a state of emergency on 7 July and earmarked 1.5 million rubles from the regional budget for the purchase of insecticides and fuel, Reuters and Interfax reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 July reported that in Samara Oblast, the insect has been detected in 12 of the region's 27 raions, particularly in the central and southern parts of the region. Similarly, Orenburg and Saratov Oblasts, Altai Krai, and the Republic of Khakassia are battling with the pest. According to "Izvestiya" on 9 July, in Astrakhan Oblast and the Republic of Kalmykia, special stations for the protection of crops have exhausted all means of preventing the locusts from invading the regions' territories. JC

State Environment Committee head Viktor Danilov-Danilyan told journalists on 7 July that the construction of the Yumaguzinskii reservoir in the Republic of Bashkortostan violates the federal law on protected territories and has not received approval from his committee, AP reported. He urged that the project be abandoned, saying it would cause "devastating damage to the area." The environmental group Greenpeace, for its part, said the reservoir would submerge half a national park and threaten endangered animals and plants. Plans for constructing the complex were rejected by the Soviet environmental authorities in 1989, but the project was revived by the Bashkortostan administration last September to meet the region's growing water needs. JC

The trial of three suspects in the murder of journalist Larisa Yudina in the southern Republic of Kalmykia opened on 1 July and shortly thereafter adjourned when the defense accused the prosecution of "legal impropriety," AP reported, citing Russian television. The defense argued that the prosecutor must be replaced because he took part in the murder investigation, including interrogations. The court responded by ordering a week-long recess. An outspoken critic of Kalmykian President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and a member of Yabloko, Yudina was found murdered in the regional capital, Elista, one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 1998). JC

A group of Muslim clerics from Chechnya and Dagestan have sentenced Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev to death for converting from Islam to Christianity, Russian Television reported on 12 July. Tuleev told Interfax the next day that rumors about his alleged conversion were planted by his political opponents. He added that "he respects all religions" and that he has not converted to Orthodox Christianity. nor does he plan to. JAC

Last week, Tuleev turned down the Order of Honor, which President Yeltsin had awarded him in a 6 July decree, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Tuleev explained his decision by pointing out that for many years he has opposed the reform course pursued by the Yeltsin administration: "I cannot accept the award when many people do not receive wages, when more people die than are born in the country, and and health care [are] paralyzed." Last year, Nobel Prize-winning writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn turned down the Order of St. Andrew, saying he was unable to receive an award from the authority that had "brought Russia to its present state of ruin" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1998). JC

Meat reserves in Krasnoyarsk Krai are exhausted and customers are forming long lines in stores for sausage, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 July. The reason for the crisis, according to the daily, is the refusal of the krai legislative assembly to provide the necessary guarantees in order to receive food assistance from the U.S. and EU. The deputies want to protect local farmers, whose cattle herds have dwindled to half the level during Soviet times. In the meantime, however, authorities need to buy meat from other regions, and Kemerovo Oblast has offered meat that it received as humanitarian aid for a higher price. JAC

The Ford Motor Company announced on 9 July that it has signed an investment agreement with the Russian government to build a car plant near St. Petersburg. Plans to sign such an agreement were announced last month following a meeting between Ford CEO Jacques Nasser and Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 30 June 1999). Construction of the Ford Vsevolozhsk plant is due to begin this month, according to a statement released by Alain Batty, president of Ford Russia and CIS. JC

The Novgorod Regional Court has ruled that gubernatorial elections can take place in September, instead of December, as originally scheduled, "Segodnya" reported on 7 July. It thereby quashed a challenge by the local Communists (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 July 1999). JC

In early June, Novosibirsk Mayor Viktor Tolokonskii officially announced his candidacy for the post of oblast governor (see �RFE/RL Russian Federation Report,� 16 June 1999). In its 29 June issue, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Regiony" reports that the timing of that announcement may be considered "felicitous." At the end of May and the beginning of June, several price hikes were introduced in the oblast, stoking popular discontent with the region's current administration, led by Tolokonskii's arch-rival, Vitalii Mukha: bread prices rose by 10 percent, the most popular gasoline brand by some 60 percent, and electricity by more than 20 percent for municipal residents. The newspaper also remarked that the local, pro-Mukha media have been able to launch only "weak" attacks against Tolokonskii, reproaching him for nothing more damaging than hailing from a family of bureaucrats and having received an education as an accountant. Predicting more attacks in the local media, the newspaper concluded that the current governor clearly has too serious an opponent to simply stand by and do nothing. JC

A journalist for the independent Lemma radio station, Yurii Stepanov, was severely beaten outside his home on 29 June, just one day after a story about a dispute between Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko and Vostoktransflot, Russia's largest refrigerated-transport company, was aired by the station, "The Moscow Times" reported on 8 July. In that story, Stepanov had included comments by the head of Vostoktransflot, Anatolii Milashevich, claiming that Nazdratenko had employed "illegal methods" in seeking to gain control over the company. Less than one week later, the daughter of another Lemma journalist was kidnapped and then released with a message advising her father to cease appealing on air for witnesses in the Stepanov incident. Lemma officials have blamed the attacks on "shadowy commercial interests threatened by independent reporting." JC

Returning to St. Petersburg on 12 July, some 20 months after his departure for Paris to undergo medical treatment, Anatolii Sobchak said he has "nothing to fear" about corruption allegations brought against him. The former St. Petersburg mayor confirmed his intention to take part in the upcoming State Duma elections but, according to Interfax, has not yet decided from which district he will run. The news agency also quoted him as saying he has not yet thought about participating in the St. Petersburg gubernatorial ballot since "there is still time" for that decision. Sobchak was reportedly taken ill during questioning as a witness in a corruption case. Last September, the Prosecutor-General's Office opened a criminal case against him on charges of bribe-taking and abuse of office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 1998). Sobchak has denied the accusations, claiming his political opponents are behind them. JC

Speaking at the 2 July closing ceremony of the Urals Expo Arms '99, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel said that contracts to be signed by the oblast's arms producers this year may be worth a total of $1 billion, ITAR-TASS reported. In such a case, he noted, this would mean that the oblast would become the leading arms exporter among all Russian regions. Revenues from Sverdlovsk arms producers increased 2.7 times in the first five months of 1999, while 70 percent of the oblast's arms companies are reported to be profitable, according to the news agency. Rossel also said that some 40,000 jobs must be "restored" in the region in order to fulfill defense contracts. JC

The State Council has released a statement sharply criticizing the Federal Council resolution on the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Kosova, "Trud" reported on 8 July. The State Council argues in that statement that Russia's participation in KFOR is "amoral and hypocritical" given the deep socio-economic crisis in Russia, as evidenced by the constant ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus and the fact that thousands of refugees and resettlers are "moving all over the country." The statement also objects to the participation of Tatars in the Russian peacekeeping contingent. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov described the statement as "too emotional," pointing out that the decision on sending peacekeepers to Kosova was taken by the Federation Council, which represents all of Russia's regions. JC

RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 8 July that representatives of political parties and social organizations in Tula have sent a letter to President Yeltsin requesting that Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev be removed from office. Starodubtsev has been charged with tax evasion estimated to have caused losses to the state totaling 130 million rubles but has not yet appeared in court (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 24 March 1999). JC

The Mercedes Factor In its July issue, "Profil" reveals the makes of official cars of Russia's regional leaders. The top choices of car appear to be Mercedes and Volgas, with only Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov favoring the Moskvich "Knyaz Vladimir." Kursk Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi claims not to have an official car and drives around in his own Lincoln Navigator. Several other governors have more than one car, usually one domestic and one foreign. Tula Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev, who is facing tax evasion charges (see above), has the largest fleet: a Cadillac, Toyota Land Cruiser, Volga (GAZ-3102), and a Chaika. Chelyabinsk Oblast Legislative Assembly Chairman Petr Golenishchev perhaps has the smoothest ride to work in his Lexus 340. U.S. cars are not overly popular, with only one Chevy Blazer, one Cadillac, and one Ford Taurus parked in the official garages of Russia�s regional elite. JAC

Volga Moscow City Duma Chairman Vladimir Platonov, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed, Krasnoyarsk Legislative Assembly Chairman Vladimir Beketov, Orlov Oblast Duma Chairman Nikolai Volodin, Stavropol Krai Duma Chairman Aleksandr Shiyanov (he also has a five-door Niva), Stavropol Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov, Kalingrad Oblast Duma Chairman Valerii Ustyugov, Kursk Oblast Duma Chairman Viktor Chernykh, Saratov Oblast Duma Chairman Aleksandr Kharitonov, Samara Oblast Legislative Assembly Chairman Leon Kovalskii, Tula Oblast Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev, Orel Governor and Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, Novosibirsk Oblast Governor Vitalii Mukha, Perm Oblast Governor Gennadii Igumnov, Perm Legislative Assembly Chairman Yurii Medvedov, Lipetsk Oblast Governor Oleg Korolev, Lipetsk Duma Chairman Anatolii Savenkov, Belgorod Oblast Governor Evgenii Savchenko, Belgorod Duma Chairman Anatolii Zelikov, Voronezh Oblast Governor Ivan Shabanov, Voronezh Duma Chairman Anatolii Goliusov, Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Ivan Sklyarov, Nizhnii Novogorod Legislative Assembly Chairman Anatolii Kozeradskii, Volgograd Oblast Administration head Nikolai Maksyuta, Volograd Duma chairman Viktor Prepisnov.

Mercedes Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, Tatarstan State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin, Orel Governor and Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Leonid Gorbenko, Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov, Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev, Kemerovo Oblast Council Chairman Gennadii Dyubyaev, Byransk Oblast Governor Yurii Lodkin

Volvo Leningrad Oblast Governor Valerii Serdyukov, Chelyabinsk Governor Petr Sumin, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel

Saab Tula Oblast Duma Chairman Igor Ivanov, Samara Oblast Legislative Assembly Chairman Leon Kobalskii

BMW Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov

Source: "Profil," No. 25, July 1999