Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia Report: July 28, 1999

28 July 1999, Volume 1, Number 22
A lack of fuel of all types is triggering a variety of problems in Russia's regions. In the Far East, shortages of gasoline and jet fuel are hampering efforts to fight forest fires, deputy head of the Federal Forestry Service Dmitrii Odintsov said on 23 July. According to ITAR-TASS, Odinstov reported that fire fighters lack enough fuel for trucks and airplanes. Shortages are particularly acute in Khabarovsk Krai, where the Governor Viktor Ishaev recently declared a state of emergency because of the spreading blaze. In the Republic of Kalmykia, 92 of 120 gas stations have no fuel, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 July. The remaining 28 are servicing long lines of drivers. As a result, local agricultural officials are concerned that the region's harvesting campaign will fall behind schedule. Stavropol Krai officials voice similar fears, RFE/RL's correspondent in Stavropol reported on 10 July. The krai's minister for agriculture told RFE/RL that fuel reserves are five times lower than at the same time last year and therefore the danger exists that some of the region's wheat crop, which specialists predict could be as large as 2.6 million tons, will be lost. However, the spouse of one private farmer revealed that her husband had managed to reach agreement with a local fuel company and was confident that they would have enough fuel for harvesting their crops. She said that practically all farmers she knows have made such arrangements, noting that it is the government that is still having problems. JAC

An 18-month dispute between the Canadian firm Archangel Diamond Corp. and Arkhangelskgeoldobycha (AGD) has ended with the signing of a new agreement, details of which are not yet available, "The Moscow Times" reported on 24 July. The dispute centered on the license to explore and mine a diamond deposit some 150 kilometers west of Arkhangelsk, estimated to be worth $2-5 billion. The Archangel Diamond Corp. had been insisting that the license be transferred to a joint-venture company in which it has a 40 percent share. JC

Articles in several Russian newspapers have speculated recently that Russian President Boris Yeltsin hopes to prolong his career in politics by seeking the presidency of a confederation of Russia and Belarus. However, if those plans don't work, he might want to consider running for office in Ufa, Bashkortostan, where results of recent poll showed he has his strongest support in all Russia's 89 regions, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 20 July. The poll was conducted in 11 cities, excluding Moscow. Yeltsin scored lowest in Yekaterinburg, where he launched his political career. JAC

After 14 months on the road, the Atlas of Tibetan Medicine was returned to the Museum of Buryat History in Ulan Ude on 20 July, ITAR-TASS reported. Last summer, news of the government's decision to allow the book to be sent on a touring exhibition of various U.S. museums caused local police to clash with protesting Buddhists, who consider the book sacred (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 8 March 1999). JAC

The energy crisis that has been afflicting Kamchatka is not quite over, "Trud" reported on 21 July. While electricity has been restored, supplies of fuel in some towns, such as Klyuchi, remain quite low. NTV reported on 19 July that more than 500 million rubles ($21 million) which the federal center transferred to the Northern regions were misused in 1998 and that federal authorities are considering enlisting the Prosecutor-General's office to discover what happened to the money. At a government meeting that day, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin declared that the regions use the budgets sums set aside for Northern deliveries unsatisfactorily. He added that while federal authorities are responsible for the Northern deliveries timetable, "regional authorities are also responsible and shifting responsibility in such matters is a crime." JAC

Both Rosneft and Transneft plan to support Krasnodar Mayor Viktor Samoilenko in the upcoming gubernatorial election, "Versiya" reported in its No. 26 (July) issue. According to the publication, sources "close to the companies' management" claim that the oil company and pipeline firm are annoyed by the incumbent Governor Nikolai Kondratenko's economic policies and his "nationalist escapades." The companies are also likely displeased by the governor's attempt to impose regional control over the key oil port of Novorossiisk. JAC

Anatolii Yezhelev, vice president of the International Confederation of Journalist Unions and a leading member of Vadim Gustov's campaign team for the upcoming gubernatorial ballot in Leningrad Oblast, was recently beaten by unidentified attackers in the town of Vsevolozhsk, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 July. Yezhelev sustained a broken leg in the attack and lost several teeth, while the attackers made off with campaign documents he had been carrying. Just days later in Vsevolozhsk, a bomb exploded at the dacha of Anatolii Ponidelko, a former St. Petersburg police chief and also a candidate in the elections, "The Moscow Times" reported on 24 July. No one was injured in the attack. As the newspaper remarked, Ponidelko made a lot enemies when, after being appointed police chief in 1996, he announced that members of the notorious Tambovskaya criminal organization had infiltrated the administration of St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev. He was fired from that post last summer. JC

Beginning 1 August, some 20 "legal policemen" will take up their duties in the oblast, the local police chief Vladimir Rakitin told "Vremya MN" of 23 July. Those duties will initially include protecting judges and witnesses as well as ensuring order is preserved in the court room, but eventually the officials may be asked also to track down debtors and carry out interrogations (for which amendments to federal legislation would be necessary). By the end of December, the "legal police" will number 60--which Rakitin considers "sufficient" for a population of 1 million. Murmansk is the first region to introduce such a force. JC

In what has been described as the months-long "battle of compromising materials," three deputies of Omsk Mayor Valerii Roshchupkin resigned earlier in July, "Vremya MN" reported on 21 July. A leading role in the events that led to these resignations was played by First Deputy Prosecutor-General Viktor Grin, considered a supporter of Governor Leonid Polezhaev and currently investigating alleged illegal activities at several companies regarded as "close" to the Mayor's Office. Grin, who himself was accused--wrongly, as it turned out--of bribe-taking in a program broadcast by a pro-Roshchupkin television station, recently revealed the names of individuals who have tried to put pressure on him in order to influence the ongoing investigations. Among those named were Deputy Omsk Mayors Vladimir Volkov and Yurii Fedotov, both of whom immediately resigned. Within 24 hours, First Deputy Mayor Gennadii Kopeikin, who heads the board of directors of one of the companies under investigation, also threw in the towel. Claiming he had submitted his resignation a month earlier, Kopeikin accused Roshchupkin of "getting carried away with politics." Gubernatorial elections are due in Omsk on 5 September, and according to "Vremya MN," both Polezhaev and Roshchupkin intend to run. JC

The St. Petersburg branch of the right-centrist movement Pravoe Delo is split over whether former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak should head its list for the upcoming State Duma elections. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 July that several members of the branch's Coordinating Council made that proposal in a letter to Anatolii Chubais, leader of the movement and head of Unified Energy Systems. However, other members of the council are opposed to Sobchak's heading the list, arguing that the decision should be put to discussion and approved not only in St. Petersburg but also in Moscow. Sobchak, whom the federal Prosecutor-General's Office is investigating on charges of corruption and abuse of power, returned to St. Petersburg from Paris earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 14 July 1999). JC

Director of the Baltic Financial Industrial Group Pavel Kapysh was shot dead by unidentified assailants who fired on his car with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles in downtown St. Petersburg on 26 July. "The Moscow Times" reported that the murder took place less than a week after the municipal anti-monopoly commission charged a subsidiary of Kapysh's company, as well as 10 other gasoline traders, with price-fixing and initiating a gasoline shortage in May. That month, "Kommersant-Daily" had blamed the "artificially made" fuel crisis on competition between Kapysh's company and the Petersburg Fuel Co. for market shares. JC

Former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 19 July officially declined an invitation from Sverdlovsk Oblast to seek the governor's office there in elections scheduled for 29 August. On 22 July, Andrei Brezhnev, grandson of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and head of the All-Russian Communist Socio-Political Movement, arrived in Yekaterinburg to register as a candidate for gubernatorial elections, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Meanwhile, the attempt of Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii to enter the oblast's governor race officially failed when election commission officials in Sverdlovsk Oblast determined that many of the signatures collected to support Zhirinovskii's candidacy are fakes, Russian Public Television reported on 24 July. Two thousand of the 29,000 signatures that were submitted had been written by one person and more than 200 lists of signatures violated electoral laws, according to the station. So far, officially registered candidates include incumbent Eduard Rossel, Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii, State Duma Deputy and member of Pravoe Delo (Right Cause) Andrei Selvanov, and Igor Kovpak, president of a local supermarket chain. Kovpak is a disenchanted former member of Otechestvo, which is backing Chernetskii, the leader of its local branch. Kovpak, who had wanted a seat on Otechestvo's Central Council, announced in April that he would himself run for governor and deprive Chernetskii of the votes of local pensioners who receive a discount on goods at his stores (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 May 1999). JAC

The legislation on elections to Tatarstan's State Council or legislative assembly that prompted representatives of 15 of the republic's opposition movements to stage a hunger strike passed in its third and final reading on 21 July, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 1999). Among the 15 parties and movements represented are the nationalist opposition parties Ittifak and Omet as well as Tatarstan's Communist Party. Opposition leaders object to the bill's abolition of election to the State Council on the basis of party lists. They also insist that the legislation include a provision prohibiting the election of raion administration heads as State Council deputies. A law on introducing a Latin-based alphabet for the Tatar language passed in its second reading the same day. The election bill will abolish party lists and move State Council elections to December so that they occur simultaneously with State Duma elections. Yabloko member and State Duma Committee for Local Government Sergei Mitrokhin condemned the legislation as "another strike at the federal center" and called for the "the president and cabinet to take urgent steps with regard to events in Tatarstan," "Izvestiya" reported on 22 July. The daily claimed that Yabloko is the only national party to respond publicly to developments in Kazan. JAC

The oblast Duma has passed a new version of the law on local government that provides for raion administration heads to be elected from among the ranks of local deputies, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 July. The law also grants the governor the right to nominate those officials. The daily argues that this amounts to nothing more or less than a "revision" of parts of the federal constitution--namely those placing local government outside the system of state power and granting local government bodies the freedom to choose their own form and means of self-organization. In April, addressing a gathering of local government heads, Governor Ivan Shabanov had said he is against direct elections, "particularly under the current economic conditions" (prices in the oblast are generally higher than in any other region of the Black Earth Region) and with the impending "all-Russian provisions crisis" (a reference to this year's expected poor harvest). The daily comments that "under the pretext of harvest failure, local government is being liquidated in Voronezh Oblast." JC

END NOTE: The Sedaka Doctrine Versus the Law of Entropy
by Julie A. Corwin

In coming weeks, the unexpected announcement on 23 July that leaders of the self-proclaimed right-center groups have formed a coalition may seem a little less surprising. After all, Anatolii Chubais, leader of Pravoe Delo (Right Cause), Sergei Kirienko, leader of Novaya Sila (New Force), and Konstantin Titov, informal leader of Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia), have agreed only to a "Declaration of a Union" and its theses. They have not yet approved something more substantial--a common party list and platform. As a result, the new and as yet unnamed coalition consists primarily of an agreement to agree sometime later.

Indeed, on Russian soil, just the opposite of Neil Sedaka's song appears to be true: breaking up is NOT hard to do. If any general rule applies, it may be the law of entropy--that organized systems tend to become disorganized. As the date of the election approaches, fears of smaller groups that they may not overcome the 5 percent barrier could drive them together, but until that happens, personal ambition and conflicting philosophies appear more likely to cause fragile alliances to fall apart.

In recent weeks, for example, the Democratic Party of Russia opted to leave Golos Rossii, and both the Agrarian Party and the Movement to Support the Army have declared their intention this time around to run independently of the Communist Party in upcoming State Duma elections. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has pooh-poohed these announcements, hinting at that time that he had some mysterious plan to somehow unite all left forces. With the announcement on 27 July of the new coalition called Za Pobedu (For Victory), Zyuganov appears to be putting a new label on old package since both leaders of Agrarian Party and Movement to Support the Army continue to insist that they will participate in election separately.

Regardless of how these moves work out, the right-center's announcement of a new union might have a galvanizing effect on the efforts of Otechestvo and Vsya Rossiya (VR) to unite. At their next meeting, leaders of those two groups may be tempted to issue their own press release declaring a meeting of minds similar to that supposedly experienced by the right-center groups. They may also want to counter increasing skepticism in the Russian media and among political analysts about an Otechestvo-VR alliance.

On 23 July, "Izvestiya" declared that the situation around the proposed coalition had become "more tense," noting that numerous negotiations between the two blocs have not yet yielded any noticeable results. The previous day, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued that Otechestvo "is the only realistic partner" left for VR, since the VR governors cannot find points of agreement with Golos Rossii or former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home is Russia (NDR). However, according to the daily, many governors "dislike" Luzhkov and display a certain envy of Luzhkov's successes in Moscow. Of course, "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which receives financial backing from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, may not have the most objective view of either Luzhkov, an enemy of Berezovskii, or Luzhkov's potential allies. But even more disinterested sources, such as "EWI's Russian Regional Report," have concluded that Luzhkov's current battle with the Kremlin could put him at odds with Shaimiev, who is more supportive of President Boris Yeltsin.

At the level of policy, the two so-called governors' groupings, VR and Golos Rossii, also appear to have more in common with each other than with any of the other established political movements such as Otechestvo or NDR. Both groups are seeking increased power for the regions. In the most recent example of this aim, Golos Rossii leader Titov at a recent meeting in Khabarovsk suggested that an amendment to the law on presidential elections be adopted that would require the country's leader to win the popular vote in at least 45 of Russia's 89 regions in order to become president. VR members made a similar suggestion in May at their founding congress in May, proposing that all deputies from the State Duma be elected on the basis of the country's 450 electoral districts--rather than half by party lists, as under the current system.

On economic policy, the view of the two groups tend to diverge, with VR favoring "state capitalism" and Golos Rossii hewing to a more liberal economic line. But the real bloc-breaker is more likely personality and/or personal ambition. Shaimiev is only VR's de facto leader; officially, the group has no head and claims that its ranks are free of members with higher political ambitions or claims to top Kremlin posts. However, Titov, like Luzhkov, is believed to be a presidential contender.

Because the forces driving the politicians apart appear stronger than those driving them together, announcements of new unions are likely to be more frequent than the actual formation of genuine new parties or even electoral coalitions. But the fact that various groups are talking to one another highlights the growing power of elections in and of themselves: As every politician knows, it is usually better to be on the winning side even if one has to change his label or even his positions in order to be there.