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Tatar-Bashkir Report: February 17, 2004

17 February 2004
Nizhnekamskneftekhim, Tatenergo Reach Compromise
Tuben Kama Petrochemical Company (Nizhnekamskneftekhim) and Tatenergo will establish a joint venture for renovating TETs-1, a gas-powered heating and power plant in Tuben Kama, Tatar-inform reported on 9 February. Both sides will make equal contributions to the $190 million project, and benefit from obtaining the energy at its production cost.

Earlier this year Nizhnekamskneftekhim sought to cut its expenses on electricity by violating Tatenergo's monopoly in the region and building its own power plant. This decision was strongly opposed by President Mintimer Shaimiev and the republic's government. According to the energy company's official policy, industrial energy consumers are offered high tariffs in order to compensate for the low tariffs offered to private consumers.

USK Finishes Registration Of Parliamentary Candidates
Tatarstan's Central Election Commission (USK) officially registered 230 candidates running for the republic's parliament in 50 single-mandate districts, the USK's press service announced on 9 February. As a result an average of over four candidates will fight for votes in each district in the 14 March vote, while in some areas as many as eight candidates will face off. In the single-mandate districts, 126 candidates have the backing of political parties, while 104 are independent.

The other 50 parliamentary seats will be distributed among eight political parties proposing a total of 187 candidates.

Court Dismisses Suit Against SPS Branch In Tatarstan
On 9 February, the Tatar Supreme Court rejected the claim of the Party of Life, which is seeking to have the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) disqualified from the electoral race for the republic's parliament, "Vechernyaya Kazan" wrote the next day. In its legal suit the Party of Life demanded that Tatarstan's Central Election Commission (USK) should cancel the registration of SPS candidates, because the party list was submitted to the commission by Leonid Bogorodskii, who was not formally authorized to do so by the party's conference. Party of Life representatives also insisted that Bogorodskii did not have the party's official blessing for contributing the registration fee. According to Party of Life representative Igor Gulichev, the "illegal registration of the SPS" violated his organization's rights. During the heated court debate, Gulichev admitted he was concerned that his party's potential voters were moving toward the SPS. After the trial, Party of Life activists announced that they would dispute the Supreme Court ruling in Moscow.

Murdered Vodokanal Director Said To Have Problems With The Law
According to "Kommersant-Volga-Ural" daily on 10 February, Tatarstan's Interior Ministry is looking into the business dealings of Grigorii Arutyunov, the former director of the Vodokanal water supply system in Kazan, who was shot dead on 5 February (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 6 February 2004). The daily cited Interior Minister Esget Seferov as saying that Arutyunov's murder was probably related to his work. Seferov said that most likely Arutyunov was aware of the illegal business practices of his deputies, which might have included tax evasion.

Financial Times: Tatneft Shareholders Unhappy With Tupras Deal
Minority shareholders in Tatneft, Russia's sixth-largest oil company, have appealed to Turkey's prime minister to block the group's purchase of a $1.3 billion stake in the state-owned oil refinery Tupras after alleged procedural violations, the "Financial Times" reported on 12 February, confirming previous reports about the stalled bid (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 10 February 2004). According to the daily, Tatneft investor Imanagement Services has asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to cancel the deal. The minority shareholder was reportedly concerned about the way Tatneft bought the Tupras stake through a small German company, Efremov Kautschuk, but did not reveal its involvement to shareholders until the day after the bid was successful.

Lawyers for Tatneft investors told the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission last week, "We believe Tatneft's failure to make prior disclosure was a material omission in violation of the federal securities laws."

The shareholders also alleged that the transaction, which involved more than 50 percent of Tatneft's assets, was not approved by every director or by a majority of the shareholders at a general meeting, in breach of Russian law. Some investors and analysts reportedly believe that Tatneft cannot finance the deal, arguing that further borrowing will limit the company's ability to repay bond holders and dilute the value of their shares, the "Financial Times" added.

Islamic Leader Promotes Role Of Kazan As Russia's Islamic Center
Dr. Abdullah Ali Basphar, secretary-general of the World Koran Studies Organization under the World Islamic League, visited Kazan's Russian Islamic University on 12 February, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. Basphar told the chairman of Tatarstan's Muslim Spiritual Directorate Chairman Mufti Gosman Iskhaqov that "in Kazan, which was the center of Islamic studies of the Russian empire, the Russian Islamic University is resuming this tradition. Here, the Koran is being studied professionally, paying attention to the meaning, beauty, and correctness of reading."

Basphar noted some "significant improvements in Russia's relations with the Islamic world, something that was inspired by President Vladimir Putin's initiative of entering the Organization of the Islamic Conference."

On 13 February, Basphar continued his visit to the Tatar capital by visiting local Muslim religious schools.

President Shaimiev Comments On Political, Nationalities Issues...
In a 15 February interview with RFE/RL, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev asserted that the main principles of the power-sharing treaty between Tatarstan and Russia -- such as Tatarstan's sovereignty and statehood -- remain in force under the Russian Constitution, since Russia's republics are states. Shaimiev added that bilateral treaties remain the way to settle disputes between Russia and entities within the federation, adding that a similar treaty is being developed to address relations between Russia and Chechnya.

Federal bodies have done nothing to resolve issues of national and cultural development for Tatars, Shaimiev claimed, adding that the establishment of the Tatar National and Cultural Autonomy has remained an achievement in formal terms only. National republics and peoples have no real chance of resolving their national problems with the help of federal legislative bodies, Shaimiev said. He claimed that when he was a Federation Council member, it was never possible to promote issues concerning national territories, republics, or minority peoples at the legislative level, as "we always remained a minority." Even in the totalitarian Soviet Union, there was a nationalities chamber, he added. The Federation Council plays no role in political life and does not represent Russia in either international or domestic life, Shaimiev said.

Shaimiev said his federal counterpart Vladimir Putin will never depart from a democratic method of governing, as Russia has no other choice than to develop as a democratic state. Shaimiev added that Unified Russia will occupy the center-right and rightist territory on the political landscape. He expressed his belief that Unified Russia will win a majority in Tatarstan's parliamentary elections on 14 March.

...And On Interfaith Relations...
Addressing a question on negative perceptions of Muslims within society during his RFE/RL interview on 15 February, Shaimiev said the problem has always existed in Russia. Under the currently unstable political situation in the country, he said, there are many politicians apparently willing to exploit that factor. Russia should be better equipped to help ease relations between Christianity and Islam, as it has the experience of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and other regions in which Muslims and Christians have peacefully coexisted for a long time. He said Jadidism, a more "secular" version of Islam developed in Tatarstan, takes into account the fact that Muslims live here alongside Christians. Shaimiev also said no religious motives lie behind Chechnya's move toward independence, adding that Chechen leaders have never declared that they are fighting against Christianity.

Shaimiev Confronts Accusations Of Nepotism...
In the same 15 February RFE/RL interview, Shaimiev responded to reports concerning relatives who occupy leading posts in the republican administration and who control vast assets. The president's nephew, Ilshat Ferdiev, is general director of Tatenergo, while another cousin, Renat Ferdiev, heads the Zei Raion administration. Shaimiev said both are effective managers and should not suffer because their cousin is president. "If I prevent them [from occupying posts], then it is I who has to leave," since they are younger, he said. Shaimiev said Tatenergo has been transformed from a debt-saddled company into one of Russia's leading energy companies since Ilshat Ferdiev took the reins of management. He said the Russian mindset should get used to senior officials possessing considerable assets. He asked why presidents of foreign countries should be able to possess property, but not Russian leaders.

...And Says Another Presidential Term Would Be Excessive
In response to a question concerning a possible new term as president, Shaimiev told RFE/RL on 15 February that he is considering such a bid but added that four five-year terms as president might be "excessive." "I would not like Tatarstan to have a 70-year-old president." He also said he thinks about the issue of his successor, which he called "the most difficult problem." Shaimiev, 67, was first elected Tatarstan president in June 1991.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Tatar, Bashkir Leaders Demonstrate Different Approaches To Tatar-Bashkir Issue
Russian Tatar National Cultural Autonomy co-Chairman Ferit Urazaev told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 8 February that the recent presidential elections in Bashkortostan clearly showed that the republic's population has been divided along ethnic lines. Urazaev said Tatar-Bashkir relations are complicated by myths existing on both sides. If some articles in Tatarstan's media outlets promoted the idea that there is not in fact any Bashkir nation, in Bashkortostan there were people who declared that the Tatar people are one of the Bashkirs' main enemies. Urazaev also said the growth of the Tatar people is currently impossible without qualitative changes in Bashkirs' mode of thinking, primarily in their culture and ethnic environment, and on the other hand, the development of the Bashkir people is impossible without a change in Tatars' attitude toward the Bashkir people.

Meanwhile, the Bashkir World Congress Executive Committee stated at its meeting in late January that to improve relations between Bashkirs and Tatars in Bashkortostan, it is necessary to form respect among Tatars for the Bashkirs who gave them refuge in their land, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 8 February. Specifically, committee members criticized Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev for his statements calling for giving the Tatar language official status in Bashkortostan, calling them "interference in Bashkortostan's inTatar Leaders In Bashkortostan Plan Further Steps To Raise Status Of Tatar Language... Heads of Tatar civic groups gathered on 7 February in Ufa to consider measures on promoting the state status of the Tatar language in Bashkortostan, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent and reported on 9 February. On 6 January, Tatar public leaders sent an appeal to Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov asking that the issue be resolved soon. After reportedly receiving no response, the leaders have sent an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ramil Bignov, the deputy chairman of Bashkortostan's Tatar Congress Executive Committee, said the issue of the status of the Tatar language has been on the agenda within the republic's Tatar organizations since 1998 when the law on the republic's languages was adopted. Bignov said that Rakhimov was re-elected as president in December 2003 as Tatars trusted his promise to raise the status of the Tatar language. However, if this promise is not fulfilled, the result of the next presidential elections will be different, Bignov said. By failing to resolve the language issue, the republic's leadership is working against Bashkirs, he said.

Zahir Khekimov, the leader of Bashkortostan's Tatar National Front, said if the Russian president does not respond to the appeal then Tatar organizations should organize pickets. Khekimov said in the republic's Chaqmagysh Raion, where 90 percent of residents are Tatars, there is not a single street sign in Tatar. He said that in the raion's Chavash village of Yumash, there are many street signs in Chavash.

Composer Alik Loqmanov said that poor conditions exist in the republic to satisfy Tatars' cultural needs. He said that Bashkir state television, which broadcasts for 100 hours a week, distributes only up to 30 minutes of Tatar programming. He said that Tatar organizations have been asking for an increase in broadcasting time, but the republic's leadership seems unwilling to solve the issue.

...As Bashkir Official Says Raising Language Status Would Violate Bashkir Rights
At the meeting, Emir Yuldashbaev, the head of the Bashkir presidential administration's information department, said the Bashkir language is to be given priority in the republic, like Tatar in Tatarstan and Chavash in Chavashia. He said people who believe the "Tatar issue" will be solved immediately if the language is given a higher status are mistaken. He added that there are more pressing issues in the republic, in particular those involving developments in agriculture, industry, and the social sector. Yuldashbaev also said that the Bashkir World Congress members strongly oppose giving any status to Tatar. Yuldashbaev said that there is no entity in Russia that has more than two state languages. Radik Sibegetov, a philology professor and a deputy chairman of Bashkortostan's Tatar Congress, disagreed and said there were numerous examples of entities with more than one state language, including the Altai Republic and Daghestan. ternal affairs."

NIKoil Seeks To Take Over UralSib
Russian Deputy Antimonopoly Minister Andrei Kashevarov said on 10 February that the NIKoil financial corporation appealed the previous week to the ministry to approve the purchase of over 75 percent of UralSib, "Vedomosti" reported on 11 February. Kashevarov said the ministry is bound by law to respond within a month. In October 2003, NIKoil's subsidiary Aktiv-Holding purchased 14 percent of UralSib (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 5 November 2003) and in December 2003, Fuad Akhundov, Avtobank-NIKoil first deputy chairman, was appointed acting UralSib president (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 17 December 2003). The Bashkir state owns 22 percent of UralSib. Previously, NIKoil has denied reports about its plans to take over UralSib.

Over 5,000 Candidates Registered In Local Elections
The Bashkir Central Election Commission has registered 5,393 candidates, an average of 2.4 per seat, in the Bashkir local-council elections, RosBalt reported on 11 February. Of these, 4,251 are independent and the others represent political parties and blocs, including 886 representatives of Unified Russia and 252 of the Communist Party. The strongest competition will take place in Ufa, where 212 candidates are running for 60 seats. Local elections have been postponed twice in Bashkortostan and will be held on 14 March together with the Russian presidential elections.

Republic Made 3.3 Billion Rubles From Privatization In 2003
Bashkortostan's income from the privatization of state property in 2003 totaled 3.3 billion rubles ($116 million), twice the predicted amount, Property Minister Zofer Geptrekhimov said on 11 February. Six state-owned companies and public stakes in 46 companies, as well as 141 pieces of real estate were sold. The biggest deals were selling 14 percent of UralSib to NIKoil subsidiary Aktiv-Holding for 1.17 billion rubles; 25 percent of the Shikhan brewery to TsEPKO for 230 million rubles; 54 percent of the Raevskii sugar plant to Reto-Agro for 157.7 million rubles; and 29 percent of the Beloretsk metallurgy plant to Mechel for 95 million rubles. Currently, the republic's property includes 496 firms and 32,000 state institutions, and 32,000 pieces of real estate. Federal property in the republic includes 78 companies, 933 state institutions, and 16,000 pieces of real estate.

New Presidential Spokesman Appointed
Relations between Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov and other state authorities and journalists will become more open and professional, Rakhimov's new spokesman Rostislav Murzagulov said on 12 February. Murzagulov, who was previously a host on Bashkir Television, became known during the December presidential elections after he said on his program that pop singer Alsu, the daughter of Bashkir presidential candidate Relif Safin, is pregnant and that the father was not known, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent noted on 12 February. Murzagulov said the presidential administration admitted that "some inaccuracies" existed in the information policy and is looking to improve the situation. For this, a new press department will be established within the presidential administration that will be charged with "modernizing information policy in the republic." In 1995-97, Murzagulov worked in Bashkortostan's official daily "Sovetskaya Bashkiriya" and from 1999 worked at ORT.

Ufa Children Find Writing To Putin Pays Off
A boy living in Ufa who sent Russian President Vladimir Putin a letter saying he "does not believe in God but believes only in the president" was given a computer, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 12 February. The gift was paid for by local authorities. Another child from Bashkortostan wrote to Putin asking for a puppy. The 8-year-old girl from Ufa received a reply saying her request was sent to the Bashkortostan authorities. Ufa's Soviet Raion administration, charged with dealing with the issue, found out that the girl's family has poor living conditions and not enough money to keep the puppy. The officials said, however, that they cannot avoid presenting a puppy as this is an order by the Kremlin.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

FSB In Chelyabinsk Warns That Foreign Spies Active In Region
The Federal Security Service's (FSB) Chelyabinsk Oblast Directorate announced that foreign spies are active in the area, Uralinformbyuro reported on 13 February, citing the directorate's press department. The report said that foreign security services have shown interest in the activities of local companies involved in designing and testing new models of defense machinery. The agency said it had stopped attempts to collect information by employees of the U.S., German, and Israeli embassies, some of whom were declared persona non-grata.

Destruction Of Chemical Weapons Delayed
According to Ammunition Agency General Director Viktor Kholstov, the construction of the plant slated to destroy chemical weapons in Shchuchye, Kurgan Oblast has been delayed because of a shortfall in financing, reported on 12 February. Kholstov said 5.5 billion rubles ($193 million) had been allocated for the destruction of chemical weapons in Russia in 2003, 45 percent of that sum to be provided by the state. Foreign partners have not fulfilled their obligations, according to the news agency. The chemical weapons issue will be on the agenda of the Federation Council's next meeting. Meanwhile, Federation Council Industrial Policy Committee Chairman Valentin Zavadnikov, who is a member of the state commission on chemical disarmament, opposes the construction of new plants in Udmurtia Oblast's Kambarka and Kurgan Oblast's Shchuchye, as their capacities may be insufficient to fulfill the task. Zavadnikov suggested that it is better to develop "technologies, adequate transportation, and destroy chemical weapons at existing facilities." By 2012, Russia has said it will destroy 40,000 tons of chemical weapons. Zavadnikov expressed doubt that Russia will be able to destroy the planned quantity of chemical weapons by 2007.

Nizhnii's Muslim Leaders Unhappy With St. Valentine's Day
The Muslim Religious Board of the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast opposed the celebration of St. Valentine's Day on 14 February and issued a resolution banning Muslims from taking part, NTA Privolzhe reported on 13 February. The board's statement said that the "heathen holiday of St. Valentine's Day contradicts principles of worldwide religions." Muslim leaders said that the tradition is a cover for adulteries.

Police Fighting Counterfeit Video, Audio Production
Nizhnii Novgorod police destroyed on 12 February 10,000 counterfeit CDs, NTA Privolzhe reported the same day, citing the Russian Interior Ministry's Volga Federal District press service. In the operation, police used a T-80 tank, which they had borrowed from the army. In October 2003, 1 million rubles ($35,112) worth of CDs were seized from a retail outlet located in a Nizhnii Novgorod film and video studio. Meanwhile, in Yekaterinburg, 4,500 DVDs, worth 4 million rubles, over 2,000 CDs, and 1,500 videotapes were seized during a special operation, Novyi Region reported on 12 February, citing the press service of the Sverdlovsk Oblast Interior Directorate. In the wake of the operation, several shops in Yekaterinburg took CDs and DVDs off the shelves, Region-Inform reported on 13 February.

Moscow Subway Blast Intensifies Anti-Chechen Emotions In Sverdlovsk Oblast
Representatives of the Yekaterinburg Center for Chechen Culture Vainakh together with the nongovernmental Memorial Society will hold "lessons of peace" in Yekaterinburg's high schools, Novyi region reported on 12 February. The measure was introduced because of the deterioration of ethnic relations in local schools following the 6 February explosion in the Moscow subway. Vainakh Chairman Adam Kalaev said incidents of violence against children from Caucasian and Chechen families had occurred before, but, since the subway attack, the situation had become more complicated. He said the center had received complaints that teachers had threatened non-Russian students. At the lessons, Memorial Society members will talk about humanitarian missions to Chechnya, while Vainakh representatives will tell students about the participation of the Chechen diaspora in the local community.

Tyumen Oblast Governor Wants To Extend Presidential Term
Tyumen Oblast Governor Sergei Sobyanin backed a proposal to extend the term of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Interfax reported on 12 February. He said his term could be extended to five or six years, instead of four. Putting together a team, developing a strategy, and implementing it cannot be completed within four years, Sobyanin said. He added that in the majority of Russia's regions, leaders are elected for five, not four years.

Police Search Newspaper's Office In Udmurtia
On 13 February, the Interior Ministry's Udmurt Directorate on Fighting Economic Crimes searched the offices of the "Agentstvo informatsii Udmurtii" newspaper, the Agency of Electronic News reported the same day. According to reports, police seized various documents. Sergei Svetlov, the newspaper's editor in chief, said that the reasons for the raid were political. In December, he said, a whole print run of the paper was seized. Meanwhile, the Izhevsk Pervomaiskii Raion court ruled on 13 February that seizure of the paper's print run at the initiative of the republican election commission and the Interior Ministry was illegal and so was the 16 December decision by an okrug election commission to file a suit against Svetlov.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova