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Russia Report: October 27, 1999

27 October 1999, Volume 1, Number 35
In an interview with "Segodnya" on 26 October, Aleksei Golovkov, a consultant to the interregional movement Unity (Edinstvo), said that five governors in Unity may be considered "activists" while 20-25 others are ready to assist the group in creating branches on their territories. The five activists, who are the governors of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Kursk, Belgorod, and Kaliningrad Oblasts and Primorskii Krai, are united by their dislike of Moscow and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, according to Golovkov. Golovkov added that while the Kremlin wants Unity to be successful, it is does not want the bloc or its members to act too independently. He didn't elaborate on how the Kremlin might restrain the bloc actions in the future. In a speech to the Moscow Political Club published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 October, political analyst Andranik Migranyan suggested that Kremlin has other weapons, besides Unity, to wield against the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance in the upcoming State Duma elections. One is the Bloc of General Andrei Nikolaev and Academician Svyatoslav Fedorov, which Migranyan believes the Kremlin will help woo voters away from OVR; the other is the pipeline company Transneft, which will be used to exert pressure on oil exporters, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. The presidents of both republics were founding members of All Russia. JAC

The Republic of Bashkortostan sent two separate convoys of trucks filled with humanitarian assistance to Chechen refugees located in Dagestan and Ingushetia, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 23 October. The second convoy of 16 trucks left Ufa on 19 October. Meanwhile, Ulyanovsk Oblast in central Russia has taken in seven families fleeing Chechnya. According to Interfax-Eurasia on 13 October, these familites have the status of "forced migrants." Ulyanovsk takes in around 8,000 forced migrants from former Soviet republics annually, the agency reported. JAC

The government of Stavropol Krai, which has sought to put limits on the numbers of new residents in its region of Chechen origin, is seeking to assist schools in Chechen regions that are now free of armed insurgents, according to ITAR-TASS on 21 October. Deputy Chairman of Stavropol's government Viktor Khorunzhii told the agency that the krai government, together with the federal Education Ministry, is seeking to provide textbooks, study materials, and furniture for schools, which also routinely lack electricity and gas supplies. Khorunzhii did not exclude the possibility that some Chechen children might travel by special buses into Stavropol Krai to study with local schoolchildren. JAC

"Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 23 October asked three governors for their opinions about interregional associations. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov said that such associations were especially useful for concentrating scarce credit resources where they are needed. Tyumen Governor Leonid Roketskii said that he belongs to interregional associations, one for Siberia and one for the Urals, and much of the work of such a group depends on its leader. He added that he thought it was a mistake for the Kremlin to focus its regional policy on such associations. Anatolii Kozeradskii, chairman of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast's Legislative Assembly, evaluated the work of the Greater Volga association favorably, noting that its members have created a large ecological program that has been up and running for some time. JAC

The federal government owes Khabarovsk Krai some 3.2 billion rubles ($120 million), Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishaev told Dalnevostochnaya radio on 25 October, according Interfax-Eurasia. According to Ishaev, housing and communcal services in the krai are owed around 2 billion rubles, while the local defense sector should have received some 800 million rubles. The governor said if the federal government could reduce its debt even by one-third, the problem of unpaid debts on the local level could be solved. JAC

Local groups in Krasnoyarsk Krai have launched efforts to support the candidacy of Krasnoyarsk Aluminum company head Anatolii Bykov. Bykov's attempt to seek a seat in the State Duma has run into a number of obstacles. The most recent was the Achinsk election commission's insistence that Bykov register in person to run in their single-mandate district (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 October 1999). An arrest warrant had been issued earlier against Bykov. A group of deputies from the legislative assembly of the city of Nazarovo, Bykov's hometown flew to Moscow on 22 October to meet with the Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov and representatives of the Duma's Committee for Law Enforcement to "ensure" that Bykov is registered in Achinsk, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 October. They brought with them a petition signed by more than 60 directors of krai industrial enterprises, who are demanding that voters be given the chance to decide themselves whether Bykov becomes a Duma deputy. JAC

RFE/RL's "Korrespondentskii chas" reported on 29 September that as of 1 November tenants in Magadan's capital, Kolyma, will see the rent on their apartments double. Kolyma's mayor has ordered city residents to pay the actual cost of upkeep of their housing. Pensioners, for example, will pay more than 200 rubles a month ($7.80) for two room apartments, which is almost twice the current rate. Pensions for northerners average around 700 rubles a month. The mayor of another northern city, Yakutsk, adopted a similar measure last month, arguing that the city's budget could no longer afford to subsidize housing (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report, tk 1999). JAC

According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 October, holders of Nizhnii Novgorod's Eurobond have delivered an ultimatum to Governor Ivan Sklyarov, following the city's technical default on that bond earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 October 1999). The bondholders reportedly told Sklyarov that either Nizhnii Novgorod pays half (some $2.2 million) of the interest that was due on 3 October and agrees to pay off the bond and all accumulated interest in 2002 or the bondholders will announce a default and demand the immediate payment of the entire debt. The newspaper notes the bondholders' announcement comes on the heels of a Bloomberg interview with former Nizhnii Governor Boris Nemtsov, who maintained that the city is able to pay the debt but lacks the political will to do so. "Vremya MN" of 26 October, meanwhile, quoted sources in the oblast administration as saying that Nizhnii Eurobond-holders are "90 percent" ready to consider the possibility of restructuring the bond and that talks will continue "until a compromise is found." According to the daily, Moody's has lowered Nizhnii Novgorod's rating for foreign currency debt from Caa3 to Ca. JC

Vasilii Bochkarev has dismissed the oblast's government, saying he needs "like-minded" people in the cabinet who will work for the good of the oblast rather than for their own ends, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 October. Bochkarev was also quoted as saying that he sees this move as demonstrating "not weakness but the strength of gubernatorial powers." He argued that the actions of the dismissed government had threatened to lead to a "crisis," at a time when the oblast had been experiencing an upswing, particularly in industrial output. An "able-bodied and mobile" cabinet will be presented to the oblast Legislative Assembly at its next session, he added. JC

Following a three-hour session on 22 October, the St. Petersburg city court announced it will continue reviewing on 2 November a suit filed by opposition local deputies, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Those deputies are challenging the Legislative Assembly's vote to bring forward gubernatorial elections from spring 2000 to 19 December 1999--a move that observers believe will benefit incumbent Governor Vladimir Yakovlev (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 October 1999). The court based its decision on the need to examine various "procedural niceties": among other things, it was not "satisfied" with a document submitted by the plaintiffs confirming that Yakovlev supporters had cast ballots "on behalf" of deputies who were not in the chamber at the time of the vote. According to the court, certain "defined procedures" should be observed when such documents are handed over to justices. The court also raised the question of whether it should even be dealing with the assembly's "internal problems," particularly without an official representative of that body present. JC

Lieutenant-General Viktor Vlasov on 24 October resigned from his post as head of the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast police force. A police spokesman said that Vlasov had considered it his duty to do so following recent inspections that had revealed shortcomings in the work of the St. Petersburg police force. (According to "The St. Petersburg Times" on 26 October, during the ant-terrorist operation "Whirlwind," federal Interior Ministry officials had criticized the city police for "serious violations" of federal orders regarding the prevention of terrorism.) The spokesman also stressed that Vlasov's resignation is "not related" to the assassination last week of local deputy Viktor Novoselov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1999)--a claim that has met with skepticism in some media. Vlasov was appointed police chief of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast in summer 1998, since when a number of high-profile contract killings have occurred in the northern capital. His predecessor, Anatolii Ponidelko, was fired after 18 months in office, after having come under criticism from the Prosecutor-General's Office for his department's poor record in solving crimes. JC

Three anchors on Petersburg Television, which is controlled by Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, have resigned from the station's main newscast because, they said, they cannot work with the new director, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 19 October. Sergei Chernyadev, who gained notoriety as the host of a show that held a poll on whether St. Petersburg residents would participate in ethnic cleansing, was appointed director of the "Inform-TV" newscast last month. The former State Press Committee officially warned the station for violating the federal law on mass media, which prohibits the incitement of racial violence and hatred (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 1 September 1999). Two of the anchors who quit the program said they believe Chernyadev's appointment is connected to the 19 December gubernatorial ballot, since the Chernyadev's point of view appears to be "preferable to the authorities." All three anchors will continue to present their own shows on Petersburg Television. JC

One month after scoring an overwhelming victory in the gubernatorial ballot (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 22 September 1999), Viktor Kress announced that Tomsk Oblast will follow the example of some other regions by forming its own government, Interfax reported on 20 October. Kress proposed that one of his deputies would head the cabinet, while he himself would retain control over law enforcement agencies, personnel matters, as well as the activities of the cabinet. Tomsk's "Buff-Sad" the next day quoted Kress as saying that he believes the oblast would be better managed by a government. He also commented that the expenditures on the new government apparatus would not exceed those on the current administration. According to Interfax, a commission is currently drawing up a bill on the oblast government to be submitted to the local legislature. JC

LABOR WATCH: Grave Prospects for Regional Teachers.
CHITA. Teachers at 21 schools in the Chita Oblast will continue the strike that they started on 1 September, the traditional beginning of the school year, until they receive payment of unpaid wages in full, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 25 October. Other regions also went on strike that day, including the Republic of Altai and Smolensk and Kursk Oblasts (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 8 September 1999). ... TUVA. Teachers at three schools in Kyzyl, the capital city of the Tuva Republic, declared an indefinite strike on 19 October. Teachers want full payment of their wages which they haven't received since April. Sources at the education department of the mayoral administration told Interfax-Eurasia that it is impossible to meet the teachers' demands because of the city's budget deficit. ... VORONEZH. Cash-strapped local authorities in Voronezh have come up with some novel suggestions for forms of payment other than the conventional, monetary one. "Izvestiya" reported on 21 October that teachers in a small village recently turned down the proposal that instead of receiving wages, they dismantle the old school building for its logs of wood and bricks. Elsewhere in the oblast, their colleagues were offered brand new fences and tombstones from the local cemetery in lieu of money. JAC/JC