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Russia Report: December 15, 1999

15 December 1999, Volume 1, Number 42
Voters in seven regions will also elect governors on 19 December in addition to their representatives to the State Duma. These regions are Yaroslavl, Vologda, Tambov, Novosibirsk, Moscow, and Orenburg Oblasts as well as Primorskii Krai. According to RFE/RL's Moscow-based editor, Mikhail Sokolov, only Vologda Governor Vyacheslav Polezhaev and Yaroslavl Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn have no strong competition. In Novosibirsk and Moscow Oblasts, the incumbents appear likely to be unseated. According to "Elections-99" on 2 December, the incumbents in Primore and Orenburg will probably make it to the second round of elections. Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko will likely to face off against Primorskii Shipping Company head Anatolii Kirilichev and Orenburg Governor Vladimir Elagin will compete against either Orenburg Mayor Gennadii Dankovtsev, the director-general of the share society Hosta, Pavel Gurkalov, or State Duma deputy Aleksei Chernyshev. JAC

The treaty of the union of Russia and Belarus has generated critical remarks from several regional leaders, including Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev and Ingushetia's Ruslan Aushev, all of whom said on 8 December that they will claim for their republics the same status as Belarus if the union between Russia and Belarus comes into existence. Shaimiev, however, said he does not believe there is much chance of that happening since the Belarusian opposition and people will never give up their sovereignty, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Bashkortostan's President Murtaza Rakhimov also panned the treaty, calling it a "non-serious" agreement. Shaimiev, Rakhimov, and Aushev are founding members of the All Russia group, which joined with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Fatherland movement. Luzhkov, on the other hand, hailed the treaty as "a very useful and important document." "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is funded by Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, suggested that the timing of Aushev and Shaimiev's objections to the treaty was curious, given that they "were voiced on the day of the signing [of the treaty]--when it was too late to change anything." The newspaper continued, "After all, Shaimiev and Aushev wield enough clout to have had their opinions taken into account at some earlier phase." On 14 October, ITAR-TASS reported that the Federation Council was planning to establish a working group to review the proposals of Russia's republics regarding the proposed union. JAC

Shortly after Igor Rostov, the director of the independent radio and television station Kaskad, was badly beaten outside his home (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1999), the speaker of the Kaliningrad legislature, Valerii Ustyugov, said that more such attacks against independent journalists in the oblast were likely, RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" reported in its 4 December edition. "They are demonstrating elections Kaliningrad-style," he said. "They are showing us with which methods they will fight next year's regional elections. And anyone who has an...independent position will not be able to escape this danger." According to "Korrespondentskii chas," nearly all Kaliningrad deputies believe the administration of Governor Leonid Gorbenko was behind the attack on Rostov. They have appealed to the federal government to form an independent commission to investigate incidents of violence against the oblast's journalists. Meanwhile, the website,, which monitors a variety of Russian media outlets, reported on 7 December that Ustyugov, presidential representative in Kaliningrad Aleksandr Orlov, and Kaliningrad Mayor Yurii Savenko have announced the creation of an informal anti-Gorbenko election alliance ahead of the 2000 gubernatorial ballot. JC

A Kemerovo Oblast court on 9 December freed from jail the former external manager of the Kuznetsk Metallurgical Combine (KMK), Sergei Kuznetsov, having ruled that his earlier arrest was illegal, Interfax-Eurasia reported. On 26 November, Kuznetsov had been thrown into jail for defying court orders to quit his post. Kuznetsov has maintained that his dismissal was engineered by Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev, who has been battling with the Moscow-based Metallurgical Investment Company, MIKOM, over control of the company (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 17 November 1999). Tuleev has accused MIKOM of trying to absorb completely the local plant, which he contends should remain a state-controlled company. Irina Ledeneeva, deputy head of the central Council of the Metallurgical Labor Union, told "The Moscow Times" on 1 December that the conflict between Tuleev and MIKOV is a straightforward fight over valuable property. MIKOM's President Mikhail Zhivilo told "Segodnya" on 11 December that the "armed seizure" of KMK took place on the eve of elections because "Moscow-based power structures gave" law enforcement officials in the region a free hand. He added however, that the situation is likely to change after the elections when Tuleev will lose Moscow's support. Tuleev has been actively backing the pro-Kremlin bloc Unity despite his presence on the Communist Party's election list (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 8 December 1999). JAC

Voters in the Republic of Khakassia appear to be ready to give their strongest support to the Communist Party and the Union of Russia's Women in upcoming State Duma elections RFE/RL's correspondent in Sayangorsk reported on 4 December. According to the correspondent, Fatherland-All Russia is in last place in the polls, following Yabloko, Unity, and the Union of Rightist Forces, in part because the weekly broadcast of Sergei Dorenko's "analytical program" on Russian Public Television has had its desired effect of alienating voters from the bloc. Unity leader Sergei Shoigu is popular in the region because he used to live and work there. JAC

In a bid to put a stop to widespread unauthorized tree-felling, the oblast administration has issued a resolution that foresees strict licensing procedures for timber companies, "Rossiya" reported in its issue No. 46. At the same time, a special unit of "nature protection" police has been set up to identify the illegal lumberjacks. According to the publication, citing the Novgorod Oblast law enforcement authorities, the number of instances of unauthorized felling of trees has risen seven-fold since last year, and the losses to the region now total some 5 million rubles ($186,000). Reportedly, even some rare species in the Valdaiskii National Park have been targeted. JC

Governor Ivan Sklyarov told ITAR-TASS on 12 December that a recent meeting of creditors in London agreed to extend from 2002 to 2005 the period in which Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast can pay its Eurobond. Nizhnii Novgorod's $100 million Eurobond was issued in 1997. Several months ago, the oblast had sought a postponement of a $4.375 million interest payment due in October. When if failed to meet the deadline, having been unsuccessful in its bid to persuade bond-holders to agree to a debt restructuring scheme, it technically defaulted on that payment. Sklyarov's deputy, Stanislav Rybushkin, was quoted by "Kommersant-Daily" on 14 December as saying that within the next week the oblast will pay half of the $4.375 million interest payment and 35 percent in 2000-2001. Beginning in 2002, it will meet half of the planned interest payments, while the principal is to be paid in 2005. JC

The regional branch of the Pensioners' Party announced that it will back a candidate on Unity's list, Galina Strelchenko, head of Sibir airline's department for regional business development, RIA-Novosti reported on 12 December. According to the party's regional head, Viktor Yatsukhno, the party wants to support only those candidates who have not "stained themselves with political games." The Pensioners Party also wants "to lure the votes of the most active part of the electorate, pensioners, away from the Communist Party." Political analyst Andranik Migranyan told "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 11 December that the Pensioners Party has the financial and information resources to make its presence known in Russia's national political arena and bring its own members into the Duma. Nationally, the party has almost 600,000 members, according to the daily. JAC

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 December that the work of the Pskov branch of the Federal Bankruptcy Service has been paralyzed since the agency was evicted from its offices in the local parliament building at the beginning of last month. The reason for that eviction is an ongoing conflict between the head of the local branch, Vladimir Fedorov, and the administration of Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), which several years ago set up a wholesale company to manage the distribution of products of local distilleries, an arrangement apparently aimed at boosting revenues for the cash-strapped region. The dispute between Fedorov and Mikhailov's administration reportedly began three years ago when the latter unsuccessfully tried to persuade the former to declare a local, majority state-owned distillery bankrupt. More recently, the oblast administration failed in its bid to acquire an alcohol producer that had gone bankrupt, prompting an escalation of its dispute with Fedorov. After he recently published an open letter in the local press to Mikhailov, Fedorov was beaten up by unknown assailants. He is now appealing to a higher court in the capital so that his agency can resume work in the northwestern region. JC

"The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 10 December that the city's major television station has launched a documentary series aimed at proving the guilt of former Russian Navy Captain Aleksandr Nikitin, whose trial on charges of espionage, high treason, and divulging state secrets reopened in St. Petersburg last month. Called "On the Bellona Trail," in reference to the Norwegian environmental organization to which Nikitin is accused of handing over state secrets, the series features Russian Navy and other officials calling into question Bellona's activities and insinuating that it is linked to intelligence services. Last week, controversial journalist and nationalist State Duma deputy Aleksandr Nevzorov suggested in his "Politics--St. Petersburg Style" show that Nikitin should be punished because, as a former Navy officer, he had no right to criticize that institution. The newspaper quoted Nikitin's supporters as saying that both the documentary series and Nevzorov's comment are part of a mass media offensive launched by the Federal Security Service (FSB). One of Nikitin's lawyers has lodged a complaint with the St. Petersburg City Court accusing the FSB of using television to spread disinformation about the charges brought against his client. JC

Government officials in Sverdlovsk Oblast are concerned that the federal government is expecting them to take in up to 1500 displaced persons from Chechnya but has not transferred any funds to defray the costs of providing temporary housing, "Vremya MN" reported on 9 December. The oblast is one of the 45 regions that have been assigned to receive displaced persons from Chechnya; recently, its assigned quota of refugees was increased three-fold from 500 to 1500. According to the newspaper, the federal government had allocated some 147 million rubles ($6 million) to ensure suitable living conditions for the refugees. However, the oblast has received only telegrams from Moscow with orders to prepare appropriate accommodations. JAC

Although the traditional religions in the Tuva Republic are Buddhism, Shamanism, and Russian Orthodoxy, the most active religious group in Tuva Oblast today consists of Evangelical Christians, Sayana Namsaraeva of the Institute for Oriental Studies wrote in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-religii" on 8 December. According to Namsaraeva, a year ago the Bible as well as a video film about the life of Christ were translated into the Tuvan language courtesy of American Protestant organizations. In addition, missionaries have sponsored or provided assistance for youth festivals, children's' camps, and free concerts. Namsaraeva also reports that Christian missionaries have engaged in "aggressive methods," such as the burning of a portrait of the Dalai Lama last year. JAC

After a long delay, the Republic of Udmurtia is ready to hold a referendum on introducing the post of president of the republic, "Izvestiya" reported on 8 December. On 19 December, voters in the republic will vote not only to select new deputies to the State Duma but also on whether to create the post of president or retain the title �head of the republic's administration.� For several years, the referendum stalled in the republic's legislative assembly or the State Council, which up till now has enjoyed supreme power in the republic. Its chairman is considered the most powerful man in the republic. According to the daily, in order to save money and time, republic officials will most likely want to hold elections for the presidential post on the same day as presidential elections for the Russian Federation. However, in order to be ready by that day, legislators will need to adopt relevant changes to the republic's constitution "as soon as possible." JAC

When the local branch of the Federal State Employment Service came up with a program offering the unemployed the starting capital with which to open their own businesses, few people were optimistic about its chances of success, according to "Izvestiya" on 9 December. Some six months later, however, that program is reportedly flourishing, with more than 1,300 participants at present and another 1,000 or so expected to sign up in the new future. Most of the participants are village-dwellers who have set up "mini-farms" or other businesses involved in the production of agricultural goods. The program offers them the opportunity to receive in one lump sum the unemployment benefits they would be entitled to for one year. Moreover, the employment service offers subsidies equal to 12 monthly benefits, assumes all the costs related to registering the business, and ensures that the new businesses are founded in compliance with the law. Some 1.5 million rubles ($60,000) have been earmarked for the program. JC

END NOTE: Looking Beyond the Ring Road
By Julie A. Corwin

If you didn't already know that Russia is facing important national elections on 19 December, one way you might be able tell is by the increasing crackdown on the independent press in Russia's regions. That Russia's so-called oligarchs are engaged in a still-continuing battle over the national media based in Moscow has been well documented by the Western press. Less well known is what is going on outside that capital city's Ring Road--where more than 80 percent of Russia's population lives.

There--in sharp contrast to Moscow--most regional newspapers and television outlets are dependent on subsidies from regional budgets, and the few independent media outlets that have managed to emerge over the last several years are facing increasing pressure from regional authorities and interest groups. That pressure has taken a variety of forms from censorship, to sudden evictions and even violence.

In Sverdlovsk Oblast, where Russian President Boris Yeltsin's made his early political career, the director of a private television station, Igor Mirnyuk, was murdered near his home last month, the fourth member of the local media to be attacked within the last three months. Meanwhile, journalists in Tula, Kaliningrad, and Saratov have all been beaten in attacks linked with their work critical of local governments.

In Bashkortostan, a mostly Muslim republic in the Urals region, the local parliament recently banned the broadcast of two nationally distributed programs of state-controlled television stations that have attempted to smear nationally based political allies of Bashkortostan's President Murtaza Rakhimov. It was only after these same state-controlled television stations turned their attention to what they called the repressive nature of Bashkortostan's regime and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin paid a call on Rakhimov that the president announced that broadcasts would be resumed. Formally, of course, only the parliament can rescind a decision it issued, but the legislators are expected to toe the line in due course.

But perhaps the most concerted and comprehensive effort to restrict the press has been taking place in the Far Eastern region of Primorskii Krai, home of Russia's Pacific Fleet and the port city of Vladivostok. And unlike the effort in Bashkortostan, this campaign against the local press has attracted no censure from the prime minister or state-controlled broadcasters. The probable reason is that Primore's Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko is a member of the pro-Kremlin election bloc, Unity. In addition, Nazdratenko had reportedly been able to curb negative press coverage not only about his own actions but about policies of Prime Minister Putin's government.

Perhaps the most dramatic of the Nazdratenko administration effort's against local media was the seizure of the independent radio station Lemma on 19 November by Vladivostok police. Lemma journalists had been broadcasting using a gasoline-powered generator after the city cut electricity to their building.

Much more subtle has been Nazdratenko's actions vis-a-vis a popular local edition of the Moscow-based newspaper "Moskovskii komsomolets." In September, the newspaper was suddenly informed by the city administration that it was losing its office space despite having invested in remodeling the facilities. In November, during a trip to Moscow, Governor Nazdratenko reportedly met with the top editors of the newspaper to complain about Andrei Kalachinksii, the editor of the local edition. Soon after, the owner of the local version introduced a new layer of editorial control and as a result the newspaper was cleansed of any comments critical of the krai's government. Kalachinskii subsequently resigned.

That these events have passed with little comment in Western capitals might be taken as a sign that they are unimportant. But that is clearly wrong. Long after international election monitors have left Russian soil, the independent media can report on the doings of local leaders and election commissions. And longer still--after the results of those elections have faded from the headlines--local journalists can ask the tough, important questions of recently elected government officials about why teachers' salaries haven't been paid when Moscow reports that money has been transferred to regional coffers. Already, these questions often don't get asked.

Perhaps after Russia's elections the newly elected officials in Moscow will have to answer not only to the relatively "free" Moscow-based media, whose agenda is set by Russia's economic barons, but to regionally-based independent journalists who just might have the interests of voters who elected these officials in mind.