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Tatar-Bashkir Report: July 2, 2002

2 July 2002
Tatar President Meets With Head Of EES
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev met with the head of Russia's Unified Energy Systems (UES), Anatolii Chubais, in Kazan on 1 July. Shaimiev said at a press conference after the meeting that the two had met "to discuss issues regarding reforms to the energy system [in Russia]," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. Shaimiev pointed out that the talks focused in particular on future negotiations in the Russian State Duma regarding a draft bill on reforming Russia's energy system. The bill is scheduled to be discussed in the fall.

Chubais said at the same press conference that his visit was aimed at obtaining "first-hand information about how Tatarstan's energy system is being reformed." He said the basic principles and goals of the reformers in Tatarstan "fully matched the fundamental [principles and goals] of Russian reform."

In early April, Tatenergo was privatized and separated into three subsidiary companies responsible for energy production, power networks, and communications (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 11 April 2002). The Tatar government still owns the controlling share package.

Chubais praised the privatization and separation of Tatenergo for "creating the basis for a competitive market in energy production.... Only a competitive market is able to create the [necessary] conditions for developing the energy industry and the possible lowering of tariffs. Today, such models are used around the world. For example, competition in Kazakhstan's energy market led to the reduction of tariffs. Armenia, Azerbaijan and, other CIS countries are also working in this direction."

Chubais added that the two sides had also reached an agreement on "joint efforts to [push for the] adoption of a package of laws on reforming the energy system." He also said that they had agreed on how Tatenergo will be reorganized and how it will fit into the Russian energy industry.

Tatneft Official Calls Oil-Quality Bank Discriminatory
The deputy general director of the Tatneft oil company, Reis Khisamov, said at the company's shareholders meeting in Elmet on 28 June that the company would have the same output this year as last year, 24.6 million tons, reported yesterday. Khisamov also said that Tatneft plans to prospect for oil in Ulyanovsk Oblast and Chuvashia, as well as to repair facilities used by the Kalmneft oil company in Kalmykia.

Khisamov also commented on the possibility of an oil-quality bank being created in Russia, saying that, "This is discrimination against a number of companies, mostly in the Volga-Ural region, that work with old deposits."

Tatneft Hoping To Increase Tire Supplies To Iraq
Khamit Kaveev, director of Tatneft's foreign-trade division, told reporters on 1 July that his company supplied Iraq with 28,000 Tatarstan-produced tires worth nearly $1.5 million under the aegis of the United Nations oil-for-food program, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. The UN Security Council is currently considering three more contracts for the supply of tires from Tatarstan with a value of nearly $3 million.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Midair Crash Involving Bashkir Jetliner Claims Lives Of 71
A Russian airliner collided with a DHL cargo plane above the German-Swiss border just before midnight on 1 July, killing at least 71 people, including 52 children on their way to a UNESCO-sponsored vacation outside Barcelona, Western and Russian news agencies reported.

The Russian plane was a chartered Tupolev 154 operated by Bashkir Airlines, based in Bashkortostan. Sergei Rybanov, an official with the airline's Moscow office, said the flight had been chartered at the last minute from Moscow's Domodedovo airport because the group had missed its scheduled flight from Moscow's Sheremetevo airport the previous day.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education in the Bashkir capital of Ufa said today that the children aboard the flight came from throughout Bashkortostan and were on their way to Costa Dorada outside Barcelona on a trip organized by the local office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. She added that the majority of the children were the scions of high-ranking officials in the republican administration.

Russian officials at the Emergency Situations Ministry said that eight of the children were younger than 12 and that the rest were between the ages of 12 and 16.

Swiss air-traffic controllers said that once the Tu-154 entered their airspace, they told it to descend, but there was no immediate response. Anton Magg, chief of the air-traffic control tower in Zurich, said the air-traffic controller gave the first order to descend about two minutes before the collision. "This is normally sufficient," he said.

Magg said that the Russian plane only began to descend after a third request. Magg added that by this time, the emergency collision-warning system on the DHL Boeing 757 had already issued an order to descend, and the pilots are obliged to follow this warning immediately.

A spokesman for Swiss air-traffic control, Patrick Herr, said it is not yet known why the emergency-warning system gave an order to descend when the other plane had already started to descend. "There are two mysteries," Herr said. "Firstly, why the Tupolev pilot didn't react straightaway, and secondly, why the automatic warning system of the Boeing also gave a descent order."

Chris Yates, Jane's Aviation security editor, told RFE/RL today that, "Russian aviation generally has had a fairly bad reputation. That reputation goes back to the Soviet-era days."

Yates did not, however, place the blame for the crash squarely on the pilots of the Russian plane. "I think there are two possible issues here. One clearly is that there is a possibility that there was some sort of communication-equipment failure or fault on board the aircraft. There is also potential for a language issue."

Yates added that the location of the accident near the German-Swiss border could have also been a factor. "We have to remember that where this accident happened is as the boundary of two flight-information regions -- one for Germany, one for Switzerland -- and at such boundaries there is a handover protocol that is gone through where the air-traffic controller will typically hand off the aircraft to his counterpart in the next flight-information region. If that was going on at the same time as the rest of this was going on, then that could have also given rise to some confusion."

Russian officials were quick to deny reports of possible pilot error today, saying the crew aboard the Tu-154 had years of international flight experience and that the pilot spoke English and would have understood the order to descend. "Western media are saying the crew did not speak English. This is not true. It was one of our most experienced crews," said Andrei Stepanyuk, director of Bashkir Airlines in Moscow. "I am 100 percent sure the pilot made no mistakes," he added.

Aleksandr Neradko, Russia's first deputy minister for air transport, told Russian television that, "The crew was made up of pilots of the very first order, who were very experienced in international flights and had flown to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates."

Neradko added that the accident was likely the result of human error, but he pointed out that the error "did not just originate in the sky, but also on the ground," an obvious reference to the air-traffic controllers in charge of the flight.

Yuliya Mazanova, head of Moscow's Domodedovo airport press service, said that in addition to the 52 children aboard the Bashkir Airlines flight, there were also 12 crew members and five adult passengers who were chaperoning the group.

Axel Gietz, head of DHL corporate affairs in Brussels, said there were only two people aboard the cargo plane, a British pilot and his Canadian co-pilot, who had more than 15,000 hours of flight time between them.

All 71 people aboard both planes are believed dead.

Investigators have so far recovered 12 bodies and the flight data recorder of the Tu-154, as well as pieces of both aircraft that were strewn over a 30-kilometer-wide area around Lake Constance. More than 800 rescue workers are searching the area around the shores of the lake, one of the largest in Europe and shared by Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. (Curtis Budden)

UralSib Increases Charter Capital, Pays Out Dividends
At its annual shareholders meeting on 28 June, Bashkortostan's UralSib bank decided to increase its charter capital by 1.4 billion rubles ($45 million), bringing the bank's charter capital to 4.3 billion rubles ($138.7 million), reported yesterday. The bank also announced that it would distribute half its 2001 profits among shareholders.

Gazprom Hoping To Turn Profits At Salavat Chemical Plant
A delegation of officials from Russia's natural-gas monopoly Gazprom came to Ufa on 1 July to take part in a shareholders meeting of the Salavatorgsintez chemical plant, the Bashkir press service reported today. Gazprom owns 58 percent of the shares in the chemical company. Aleksandr Ryazanov, deputy chairman of the Gazprom board of directors, said his company planned to turn Salavatorgsintez into a profitable venture and use the its own raw materials at the plant's production facilities.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi