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Tatar-Bashkir Report: February 14, 2003

14 February 2003
Tatar Government Promotes Construction Of Tatar Nuclear Station...
Tatar Economy and Industry Minister Ferit Tuqtarov told "Vechernyaya Kazan" on 12 February that at a recent roundtable devoted to restarting construction of a Tatar nuclear power station, geologists involved in studying the issue in the late 1980s said research undertaken in that period was not enough to make a final conclusion, adding that additional studies are necessary. Tuqtarov said it is not the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry but the Tatar government that is pushing to unfreeze construction at the site. He said the republic's authorities sought aid from the federal budget for the project in 2003 but the Atomic Energy Ministry refused. Tuqtarov also said a major opponent of the project is the International Atomic Energy Agency which, he said, does all that it can to prevent the development of Russia's nuclear energy sector. The deputy minister continued that the Tatar State Council should pass a decision on the issue as currently all work connected to the station, including research, are prohibited. He added that he did not meet strong opponents of the project among Tatar parliamentary deputies.

The construction of the station was halted in 1990 on the grounds that its location on the Kama fault line was dangerous. "Vechernyaya Kazan" cited data by geologists from Tatneft and Kazan State University that say the Kama fault line, which is 100 kilometers long and 60 kilometers wide, is a major reason for seismic activity in Tatarstan. According to them, some 700 earthquakes measuring from 4 to 5 on the Richter scale with a center in the zone of the Kama fault have been registered in Tatarstan between 1987 and 1997.

...As Parliament Head Opposes...
In an interview with "Vremya i dengi" on 7 February, Tatar Deputy State Council Chairman Marat Mehdiev opposed the idea of annuling the 1990 Tatar Supreme Council resolution halting construction of the Tatar Nuclear Power Station, saying the parliament should instead allow Atomic Energy Ministry representatives to allow experts to study the issue. Mehdiev said a lack of discipline and work ethic among personnel rather than the fault line raised doubt about the safety of the plant. Mehdiev added that Rosenergoatom actively promotes restarting construction of the station and annuling the 1990 resolution.

...While Paper Says Government Staying Out Of The Issue
The Tatar Cabinet of Ministers appealed to the State Council to postpone discussion on annulling the 1990 resolution halting the construction of the Tatar Nuclear Station for an uncertain term (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 13 February), "Vostochnyi ekspress" reported on 14 February. The weekly commented that the government withdrew the appeal to the parliament two weeks earlier in order to avoid a defeat from deputies as the situation is becoming unfavorable for supporters of the project. The paper reported that there are opponents of the construction of the station in the State Council Presidium and the Tatar presidential administration. It is the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry that will gain most of all from the project, while Tatarstan will completely lose its energy sovereignty, the paper commented. It cited an unnamed source in the parliament who said the government won't raise the issue until the end of the year as it would be "political suicide" to lobby for construction of a nuclear issue before elections.

Moving ZiL Production To Chally Under Discussion
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev is in Moscow to discuss with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov a project to move production of ZiL trucks to Chally's KamAZ company in a move initiated by ZiL managers, "Vechernyaya Kazan" reported on 14 February. The idea is promoted by former Russian Economy Minister Andrei Shapovalyants, who now heads the Center of Restructuring and Development; and Viktor Belyaev, the founder of the company that manages ZiL's controlling shares. Belyaev, who was KamAZ's first deputy general manager until 1999, met with Shaimiev on 12 February in Kazan, the daily said. ZiL reportedly seeks to reduce production costs, while the assembly of 12,000 trucks a year produced by ZiL could be taken over by idle capacity at KamAZ. Under the plan, ZiL would sell land for housing construction that would cover expenses on dismantling equipment in Moscow and installing it in Chally. The daily, however, cited unnamed experts who said moving ZiL's equipment is not worthwhile because of it is in poor condition. They also doubt the project, saying ZiL-produced trucks are not competitive on the world market because they are too big for the city and too small for international road transport.

Oil-Quality Bank To Be Tested
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters on 13 February that the decision to introduce an oil-quality bank system in a testing situation was adopted at a meeting of the Transneft board of directors, reported the same day. Under the oil-quality bank system, the volume and quality of oil delivered to pipelines by all oil companies will be supervised and fixed in order to compensate for the loss of producers of high-quality oil from its mixture in pipelines with gas of a lower quality. Khristenko said a process of mutual payments between oil companies is to be developed this year. However, he did not fix any deadline for a practical introduction of the system, saying it will depend on companies' readiness for the measure.

Tatarstan, which has 70 to 75 percent high-sulfur oil in its oil reserves, will face significant losses when the oil-quality bank is introduced.

Russian Court Rejects Appeal On Khadi Taqtash Organized Criminal Group
The Russian Supreme Court has rejected an appeal made against a Tatar Supreme Court verdict on a case of the Khadi Taqtash organized criminal group, reported on 6 February. The Tatar Supreme Court last year convicted 13 members of the Khadi Taqtash group of gangsterism, murder, extortion, organization of a criminal group, and other crimes. Group leader Radik Geliekberov and the head of a group of convicted criminals, Rinat Fekhretdinov, were sentenced to life imprisonment, while the other 11 members were given six to 24 years in prison. The Russian Court concluded that the Tatar Court provided enough evidence on the case and its verdict is grounded.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Bashkir Government Restricts Independent Media
Journalists from the opposition "Otechestvo" newspaper and representatives of the Nation TV and radio research center held a press conference in Ufa's Journalist's House on 10 February to condemn the actions of the republic's government regarding the latest issues of the national "Kommersant," "Novye izvestiya" and "Trud" dailies, which were restricted from distribution in Bashkortostan, "Tribuna" daily reported the next day. All these federal newspapers reportedly featured critical articles about Bashkir authorities and "Tribuna" recalled the previous media-policy experiences of President Murtaza Rakhimov, such as blocking some broadcasts of ORT television before the 1999 elections for the Russian State Duma and the programs of NTV the year before that. In 1996 the Bashkir government reportedly confiscated the entire print run of "Otechestvo," which since then is forced to print outside Bashkortostan. After the publication of an "anti-Rakhimov" article by the same paper in 1998, its editorial office became a target for regular inspection by police. Also in 1998, the government shut down the private Titan radio for its coverage of presidential elections in the republic and its program director was imprisoned for 11 months.

"Tribuna" also cited former "Vechernyaya Ufa" correspondent Sergei Fufaev as saying that he was recently fired only for reporting about some Russian State Duma deputy's conference dedicated to Russia's Day of Independence. He claimed that this national holiday had not been celebrated in Bashkortostan for a long time and after the article was published, the editor in chief said that he received a phone call from the Bashkir presidential staff with an order to dismiss the author.

Fufaev is currently working as an observer for the "Otechestvo" which is now published in Zlatoust, Chelyabinsk Oblast. He claimed that after failing to keep the paper from being distributed in Bashkortostan, Rakhimov's regime started issuing its own "Otechestvo" weekly at the same publishing house. The new "Otechestvo" reportedly lists its official address as Moscow, but there is no such office at that address.

The leader of Bashkortostan's "Equality" movement, Aleksandr Arinin, said at the conference that Bashkir authorities "have violated Article 144 of the Russian Criminal Code numerous times by hindering journalists' activities, but it seems that Rakhimov's Bashkiriya lives by some other laws than Russian ones."

Aleksei Samokhvalov, director of the Nation TV and radio research center stated during the press conference that "in today's Bashkiriya there are no bureaus of central TV channels. Many of the correspondents representing leading Moscow editions were ousted. More than 30 Bashkir journalists had to become political emigrants."

Paper Says Rakhimov Trying To Tame Federal Media
The "Rossiya" weekly published by the Rossiya party founded by Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev wrote on 5 February that President Rakhimov "for three years has been on the list of enemies of Russia's press for persecuting independent media, sharing the dubious leadership with Kalmyk President Kirsan Ilumzhinov and the like." The weekly quoted a research paper by German political expert Jorn Grevingholt as saying: "The strengthening of Rakhimov's regime paralleled the toughening of the republic's ideological climate.... Local media have been playing a key role in this process. Financed by the republican budget they never dare make any critical statements about the republican government.... Pressure put on journalists, politically grounded dismissals, anonymous threats and accusations of insulting the president used against the few who have the courage to question the results of Rakhimov's rule -- all of this makes public critics of the political regime ruling in Bashkortostan an extremely rare occurrence."

According to "Rossiya" Rakhimov is now concerned with getting rid of his "dark image" as a persecutor of the media by trying to "tame, that is to lure some of the federal media, some of which already presented Bashkortostan as an oasis with favorable conditions for journalists" and turning Rakhimov into the "best friend" of the domestic media community.

The paper assumed that the 21 November visit of a number of Moscow newspaper representatives to Ufa was arranged by the republican government for getting a number of "complimentary articles" about Bashkortostan (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 22 November 2002). The list of Moscow guests included representatives of the "Vechernyaya Moskva," "Versti," "Megapolis-Kontinent," "Rossiiskie Vesti," "Trud" dailies, the "Ekonomika i Zhizn" weekly, and the "Zhurnalist" monthly magazine.

However, not all of the national media share a positive understanding of what is going on in Bashkortostan. For example "Rossiya" wrote that republican media tried to interview the correspondents of ORT TV, NTV, TV-Tsentr and other media covering Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Ufa in January but failed to get any comments on the political situation (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 6 January 2003). As a result, the "Respublika Bashkortostan" daily published an article quoting Moscow media anchormen praising the "white Ufa snow, comfortable hotel, tasty national food, and the curative local balm."

Nevertheless, the paper also quoted Interfax Deputy General Director Boris Grischenko as saying during the January visit that Bashkortostan's media policies are "on the rise and it is evident. I hope that you will not slow the pace of development later or halt what has already been achieved." Aleksandr Smirnov, head of the Russian presidential press service, reportedly made a more cautious statement by saying: "We are very glad for the meetings in Bashkortostan. Unfortunately the short visit did not allow us to communicate with the local journalists more closely."

"Rossiya" also wrote that the present management of the VGTRK State TV and Radio Company "seemed to have forgotten about the Rakhimov-led efforts to prevent their correspondents from working" in Bashkortostan since the early 1990s. In late January, VGTRK officials awarded Rakhimov with an award, noting the president's cooperation.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Komi-Permyak Okrug, Perm Oblast Legislatures Approve Entities' Merger
The Legislative Assembly of Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug on 11 February approved an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to merge the okrug with Perm Oblast, Novyi region (Perm) reported the same day. The legislature also adopted a package of documents specifying the principles of the merger. The deputies requested that financing for the okrug be fixed in a separate line in the federal budget, connections to gas pipelines be built, a railway be constructed, and a local airport be modernized. Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug should be given and status of "a special territorial entity," while the entire merged territory should receive the status of krai and should be called "Permskii Krai," the assembly said. The latter proposal enjoyed support from okrug head Gennadii Savelyev and okrug parliament speaker Valerii Vankov. The assembly scheduled a referendum on the issue for December when State Duma elections will be held.

The Perm Oblast Legislative Assembly unanimously adopted on 13 February the appeal to President Putin on the merger of the oblast with Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, Novyi region (Perm) reported the same day.

Almost 90 Percent Of Children Unhealthy In Kirovo-Chepetsk
Examinations of some 16,000 children in Kirov Oblast's Kirovo-Chepetsk held in past six months revealed that 89 percent of them have health problems, reported on 11 February. The study also revealed that 85 percent of children under 1 year of age suffer from nervous diseases. Poor lifestyle of the mothers, inadequate feeding, and improper environmental conditions were listed among the major factors.

LDPR, Communists To Picket U.S. Consulate Against War In Iraq
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) in Yekaterinburg activist Yevgenii Belonosov told Novyi region on 12 February that one or two volunteers apply every day to the party office saying they wish to go to Iraq to defend that country from a possible U.S. attack. However, the leaders of Sverdlovsk's LDPR branch said they are unable to arrange for sending Russian volunteers to Iraq and suggested that people take part in a protest at the U.S. Consulate in Yekaterinburg to protest a war in Iraq on 15 February. Some 50 members of the Communist Party's local branch are also expected to join the demonstration.

Sverdlovsk Oblast Peasants Prepared To Boycott Planting Campaign
Sverdlovsk Oblast peasants supported the initiative of peasants in Kurgan Oblast who warned they won't plant their crops this year, Novyi region reported on 11 February. Kurgan peasants sent an open letter to the to Ural Federal District presidential envoy Petr Latyshev, saying farming has become unprofitable in the oblast because of the fall in grain prices and raise in energy tariffs. The agency cited Sverdlovsk Oblast Agriculture Ministry department head Valentin Samoilov as saying the price of a kilogram of wheat is 1 ruble ($0.03) while its production cost is 1.9 rubles. Samoilov said farms facing losses may begin planting perennial crops in place of wheat and rye.

Speaking Udmurt To Become Mandatory For Lawyers
Udmurt Education Minister Zoya Suvorova told a press conference on 11 February that the requirement to speak the Udmurt language may be introduced for lawyers and representatives of some other professions in the course of implementation of the republican law on state languages, reported the same day, citing Kupol-Media. Suvorova said employees speaking both state languages will be paid more. Currently, the Udmurt Nationality Policy Ministry is developing a program on realization of the republican law on state languages.

Udmurtian Newspaper Receives Letter With Strange Powder
A letter with unidentified white powder was received by Udmurtia's "Subbotnyaya gazeta" on 13 February, reported the same day, citing Kupol-Media. A member of the editorial staff who came into contact with the powder reportedly felt ill, and was diagnosed by a doctor as suffering from irritation of the mucous membranes. The letter, which also contained text that was not revealed, is under investigation, the agency said.

Carpets With Putin Portrait Sold In Ulyanovsk
The Ulyanovsk Nomateks textile factory has begun producing carpets with portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin, "Kommersant" reported on 13 February. After the first carpet featuring Putin against a background of the Russian flag was introduced last summer, Nomateks received numerous orders and has now sold several dozen carpets. The daily cited an unnamed worker as saying that the list of customers includes governors, famous politicians, and businessmen. The paper reported that factory representatives refused to reveal any information or pictures of the carpets or about their customers, referring to commercial secrecy and instruction from company management. The company's marketing service said they were extremely surprised by such great media interest and are developing a policy on the issue, and will then hold an official presentation of the carpet with Putin's portrait.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova