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Russia Report: October 13, 1999

13 October 1999, Volume 1, Number 33
Federal Council Deputy Chairman Vladimir Platonov told reporters on 6 October that a working group of the upper legislative chamber is considering requiring that the office of chairman of the Federation Council and his deputies as well as the chairmanships of committees rotate. Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov went so far so to suggest that the council should not be headed by just one governor, since this leads to inequality among the Russian Federation subjects, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 October. Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev had proposed earlier that all senators should be able to head the Federation Council." Aushev has accused Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev of making "announcements on behalf of the entire senate" when many regional leaders have different opinions. Aushev also accused Stroev, who is the governor of Orel Oblast, of using his office to ensure that special projects are carried out in his region. (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 July 1999). JAC

In an interview with "Segodnya" on 7 October, Andrei Fedorov, director of political programs at the Council for Foreign and Defense Policies, said that each governor in the new interregional bloc Unity (Edinstvo) will receive "additional financial aid" from Moscow intended for use in paying wages and pensions and controlling the local media. According to Fedorov, Unity will fight the Fatherland-All Russia bloc "first and foremost" and primarily in the single-mandate districts "where much depends on governors." The next day, in an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets," Our Home Is Russia (NDR) faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov said that the Kremlin applied pressure on governors who are members of NDR to persuade them to leave NDR and join Unity. He added that the three NDR deputies who are to run in single-mandate districts as Unity candidates will all remain members of NDR. JAC

According to "Segodnya" on 8 October, those fleeing from Chechnya will be sent to Saratov, Tambov, Orenburg, Orlov, Astrakhan, and Vologda Oblasts as well as Altai Krai rather than the nearby regions of Stavropol Krai and Rostov Oblast. The newspaper reported that the first seven regions have already received some 120,000 forced migrants from Chechnya since 1992. "Izvestiya" reported earlier that Stavropol Krai and migration service authorities decided that the krai will not offer shelter to any more refugees from Chechnya, who will instead be given the means to travel to one of 17 other regions in the country. The rationale for the decision, according to the daily, was that the krai has already sheltered about 370,000 fugitives and migrants from Chechnya during the mid-1990s. This increased the krai's population by about 25 percent and strained local infrastructure. It also led to rising social tension. "Izvestiya" reported last July that 70 percent of respondents in an opinion poll conducted among krai residents in February and March admitted that they "would participate in an ethnic conflict on the side of their ethnic group." JAC

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 October that deputies in the republic's legislative assembly voted against including a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia on the local election commission; however, federal law requires that all parties and movements with factions in the State Duma should have a representative on such commissions. According to the daily, local LDPR activists have already complained about the situation to the Central Election Commission. JAC

In its 25 September edition, "Korrespondentskii chas" reported on the continuing developments surrounding "Severnyi Kurer," which is considered the only independent weekly in the republic and whose status as such is increasingly under threat. Petrozavodsk entrepreneurs loyal to the republic's administration have used a variety of means, including blackmail and psychological pressure, to purchase stakes in the publication (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 July 1999). Recently, the press service of the Karelia government sent a selection of articles "recommended" for publication to the editorial offices of newspapers in the raions. Those articles discredited "in every possible way" the editor in chief of "Severnyi Kurer," Sergei Kulikaev, and asserted that the impending change of both the editorial leadership and ownership of the newspaper is both legal and "essential." A majority of the raion press refused to publish the articles. JC

Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shcherbak said last week that 15 Russian regions have produced enough grain to meet their own needs and share it with other parts of the country, but some regional administrations have banned the shipping of any excess grain outside these regions. He called such actions illegal and said the country's prosecutors are demanding that such decisions be rescinded (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 6 October 1999). Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 October that one region with a surplus of grain is Krasnoyarsk Krai. According to the daily, krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed is nevertheless prohibiting sales to neighboring regions, including to the Republic of Khakassia, which is headed by his brother, President Aleksei Lebed. Khakassian authorities reportedly plan to retaliate with their own measures against Krasnoyarsk interests and reduce the supply of milk and meat products to the krai and even introduce a licensing transportation regime. "Vremya MN" reported on 6 October that the government of Khakassia earlier invested some 28 million rubles ($1.1 million) in agricultural enterprises in Krasnoyarsk--a not inconsiderable sum for such a small, poor republic. JAC

A new communist party that will reject the traditional tenets of class struggle, dictatorship of the proletariat, and the forcible overthrow of the existing system will be formed in Kursk, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 October, quoting Vice Governor and oblast parliamentary deputy Aleksandr Fedulov, who is one of the party's founders. The new group, to be called the Communist Party of Social Justice, advocates "constructive cooperation" with federal power structures and the regional administration, Fedulov said, adding that the reason for setting up the group is that "serious contradictions" exist between the leadership of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and its rank and file. Nikolai Ivanov of the local branch of the KPRF expressed the view that the setting up of the new party is a "well-planned provocative action by the federal authorities" that is aimed, above all, at splitting both the KPRF and the Communist vote in the upcoming State Duma elections. JC

Sergei Knyazev, chairman of Primorskii Krai's election commission, announced on 11 October that the head of Vladivostok's administration, Yurii Kopylov, should rescind his resolution calling mayoral elections on 19 December, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Kopylov suggested earlier that mayoral elections should be held simultaneously with gubernatorial and State Duma elections to save money; however, Knyazev noted that holding mayoral elections in the absence of a city charter "will create more doubts about the legality of the activity." "Izvestiya" reported on 9 October that it is possible that Vladivostok voters will have to choose new deputies for the State Duma, the Krai governor, members of the city's legislative assembly, and mayor as well as vote on a referendum on the city charter all on the same day. JAC

Tatyana Loktionova, the chief judge of Primorskii Krai's arbitration court, was attacked by an angry mob last week, "The Moscow Times" reported on 9 October. According to the daily, about 100 protestors who have been gathering outside the Vladivostok courthouse for more than two weeks tried to tip over Loktionova's mini-van, screaming "We'll stay here until we kill you." The crowd was reportedly angry by the court's appointment of a temporary manager at Vostoktransflot. Loktionova, who earlier accused Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko of trying to intimidate her, said in an interview on 8 October that Nazdratenko is trying to make her a scapegoat for the bad regional economy (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 4 August 1999). Articles in the krai-controlled press have criticized the court's handling of Vostoktransflot and other local enterprises. The governor's office told the daily that Loktionova's charge is "absurd" and groundless. JAC

Russian law enforcement officials believe that Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Company head Anatolii Bykov supplied the Central Elections Commission with incomplete information about his possessions, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 11 October. According to the agency, Bykov, who is listed as number two on the party list for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, did not provide information about his Jeep Cherokee and two Ladas (VAS-2109) or about a house in the U.S. worth an estimated $1.3 million. In addition, he did not divulge that he was given an identity card as a Greek citizen in 1996. ITAR-TASS, on the other hand, reported that Bykov did not provide accurate information about the size of his house in Krasnoyarsk. However, both agencies reported later that the Central Election Commission rejected the entire list based on inaccurate property declarations from Bykov and candidate number three, State Duma deputy Mikhail Musatov. JAC

Thieves seized more than 10 kilometers of power cables in five raions during the night of 10-11 October, leaving a dozen settlements in Ryazan Oblast without electricity, ITAR-TASS reported. The electric company Ryazanenergo told the news agency that it has no cables to replace the stolen ones. It added that a total of 100 kilometers of power lines has gone missing since the beginning of the year. Thefts of cables and other metals are widespread in Russia. Thieves sell the stolen goods to metal dealers, whose activities some local authorities have tried to limit. In the meantime, a lobby has emerged for the reintroduction of the state monopoly on the purchase and sales of metals as a means of putting a stop to the thefts. JC

Following a recent resolution prohibiting the sale of grain and grain products outside the oblast's borders, Vasilii Starodubtsev has imposed a similar ban on milk, "Izvestiya" reported on 5 October. Anyone violating that ban will be severely punished, the governor warned. JC

Low pay and delays in receiving wages are draining the Tula labor force of tram drivers, sewage workers, and such specialists as roofers, "Izvestiya" reported on 5 October 1999. While the driver of a tram or trolleybus earns some 800 rubles ($31) a month in Tula, that figure is 3,000-4,000 rubles in the nearby capital city (among the federation subjects, Tula occupies the third place from the last in terms of wage levels for municipal workers). According to the newspaper, municipal services are threatening to grind to a halt as the winter season begins. The Tula city administration, meanwhile, has reportedly promised trolley bus and tram drivers a 150 percent wage increase. Hikes for other municipal workers have not been mentioned, however. JC

Deputies in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly voted on 8 October to bring forward the gubernatorial elections from April 2000 to 19 December, the date of the State Duma ballot. The vote came after supporters of Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, who is thought likely to benefit from an early ballot (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 September 1999), had decided to lower the quorum from 34 to 26 in the 50-member chamber. Over the previous several weeks, opposition deputies from Yabloko and the Yurii Boldyrev Bloc had repeatedly prevented the establishment of a two-thirds quorum by walking out of the chamber (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 29 September 1999). The reduction of the quorum to 26, corresponding more or less to the number of Yakovlev supporters in the legislature, enabled the passage of the law, which Yakovlev signed the same day.

The opposition, meanwhile, has filed a complaint with the Prosecutor-General's Office, accusing Yakovlev of attempting to seize legislative power in the northern capital, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 October. It claims that the electronic voting system was tampered with so that votes were "cast" by opposition deputies who had walked out of the chamber. The assembly's Audit Chamber has backed that claim, as have State Duma members who were observing the session, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 12 October. Moreover, the City Charter (which is described as a municipal constitution that governs the Legislative Assembly) states only a simple majority is needed to pass a law but at least 34 members must be present.

The weeks leading up to the vote saw heated exchanges and, at least on one occasion, physical violence. On 6 October, a scuffle broke out when Andrei Krivenchenko of the Yurii Boldyrev Bloc tried to prevent pro-Yakovlev deputy Sergei Nikeshin from turning on the electronic voting system, which the speaker had immobilized because the two-thirds quorum was lacking. Nikeshin is reported to have pushed Krivenchenko to the floor and kicked him repeatedly. The leader of the Yabloko faction, Mikhail Amosov, described the attack as the worst behavior on the part of a legislator in the nine years of the Legislative Assembly's existence, according to "The St. Petersburg Times" on 8 October. JC

Former St. Petersburg Governor Anatolii Sobchak told Interfax on 11 October that if the law on bringing forward the gubernatorial ballot is deemed legitimate, he will take part in the election. Having seen by what means the Legislative Assembly is seeking to hold on to power, he said he had decided "in principle" to run to make sure the elections are "easy for no one." Authorities that make use of illegal means "bordering on a crime such as fraud" do not have the "moral right" to represent Russia's second-most important city, he commented. Sobchak lost the 1996 gubernatorial election to Yakovlev by a margin of 1.7 percent, according to the news agency. JC

Russia's national crime rate increased by 20 percent during the first quarter of 1999 compared with the same period last year, according to Interior Ministry figures. More recent ministry figures showed a hike of 28 percent during the first eight months of this year compared with the same period last year. The following table, which shows the percentage change in the number of crimes during the first half of the year compared with the same period last year, suggests that crime is rising throughout Russia but that some areas, such as Murmansk, have been particularly hard hit. (JAC)

Regions_____Percentage Change First Half 1999 Versus 1998
Primorskii Krai____+9.4 percent

Voronezh Oblast___+11 percent

Stavropol Krai____+14 percent

Lipetsk Oblast____+16 percent

Novgorod Oblast___+19.8 percent

Perm Oblast____+22 percent

Altai Krai___+22 percent

Bashkortostan___+25.7 percent

Murmansk Oblast____+46 percent

Sources: "Utro Rossii" (Vladivostok), "Kommuna" (Voronezh), "Stavropolskaya pravda," "Lipetskaya gazeta," "Novgorodskie vedomosti," Interfax-Eurasia, "Vechernyaya Perm," and "Murmanskii vestnik"