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Tatar-Bashkir Report: June 3, 2003

3 June 2003
Tatar Parliament Agrees To Amend Law On Languages, Defends Republican Citizenship
Tatarstan's State Council accepted republic prosecutor Kafil Amirov's objection to the provisions of republic's language law making Tatar the official language in foreign affairs and the industry, transport, communications, and energy sectors on 29 May, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Amirov had claimed that these provisions violated federal legislation, since the Russian Constitution gives the federal government exclusive powers in practicing international relations and the federal languages law stipulates the obligatory use of Russian in the mentioned industries.

The Tatar law adopted in 1992 had obliged state bodies to reply to the citizens in the language of the original query. Meanwhile, federal legislation says that unless it is impossible otherwise, state officials may reply to the residents appeals in Russian.

s for the prosecutor's protest against the Tatar constitutional provision establishing republican citizenship, the majority of State Council deputies voted to dismiss the claim.

Security Council Acknowledges Need For Better State-Property Management
Tatarstan's Security Council gathered for a special session to discuss state-property management and land reform on 28 May, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. Valerii Vasiliev, the minister of land and property relations, told the council that the correct use and management of state-owned land will define the republic's economic situation and the lives of about 1 million of its rural residents. He emphasized that the distribution of agricultural land is complicated by the fact that there are no landowners, only those who have the right to use the land. In addition, there is no clear difference between state and collective ownership of land. In response to Vasiliev's report, State Council chairman Farid Mukhametshin said that the July session of the Tatar Parliament would discuss the package of draft documents on state-property management, privatization, and land reform. According to Vasiliev, some 10 percent of Russia's state-owned industries are located in Tatarstan and many of them will undergo privatization.

Tatar Oil Said To Last For Next 34 Years
Reis Khisamov, the chief geology expert at the Tatneft oil company, told reporters on 28 May that, since 1943, 2.9 billion tons of oil have been extracted in Tatarstan, representing 80 percent of the republic's estimated oil reserves, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. Khisamov said that some 838 million tons of oil reportedly remain underground, which at an annual extraction rate of around 28 million tons a year, means the oil will last for the next 34 years. Tatneft annually produces 24.6 million tons of oil, while small independent oil companies extract 4.1 million tons. By 2007 the small companies' share is expected to rise to 6.5 million tons, while Tatneft's output is expected to remain at the current level.

Oman Interested In Tatarstan's Oil Extraction Technologies
A delegation from the exploration department within Oman's Oil and Gas Ministry and representatives from the Petroleum Development Oman company are visiting Tatarstan on 26-29 May to study the possibility of sharing the republic's experience in optimizing its oil extraction, Intertat reported on 27 May. Some 25 percent of Oman's oil reserves are considered hard to extract, so the country is interested in special technologies for maximizing the output of the "heavy" oil layers. The delegation began its visit at the office of the Tatneft oil company on 26 May and attended a presentation on the latest oil extraction technologies at the geology faculty of Kazan State University. Oman has an annual oil output of some 30 million tons.

Parliament To Consider Prosecutor's Appeal Against Language Law
The State Council presidium on 26 May voted to include the protests of chief prosecutor Kafil Amirov regarding the republican language law in the 29 May agenda of the State Council's plenary session, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. The prosecutor complained that some provisions of the law, adopted in July 1992, contradict federal law, in particular those that specify that Tatar and Russian can be used in Tatarstan's industry, transport, communications, and engineering sectors. Under federal law, the use of the Russian language is mandatory in those sectors.

The presidium decided to postpone the parliamentary deliberations on whether to appeal to the Russian Constitutional Court, questioning the legality of Article 3 of the Russian language law, which stipulates the mandatory use of the Cyrillic script countrywide. Tatarstan's State Council chairman advised the presidium members to file the appeal later this fall because the court is already considering two appeals from the republican parliament and one from the Tatar Supreme Court -- all of which are related to the new Tatar Constitution.

Official Admits Further Growth Of Grain, Bread Prices
The recent pledge by the republic's bread producers not to raise prices until 2004 was "rather optimistic," while grain prices will reportedly rise by some 200 rubles ($6.3) per ton every month and will do so until this year's harvest reaches Tatarstan's grain dryers in late July 2003, "Vechernyaya Kazan" daily reported on 24 May, citing the Tatar prime minister's adviser on agriculture, Anatolii Krasnov. Krasnov admitted, however, that Tatarstan does not face the risk of grain shortage, with 862,000 tons of grain in its reserves and the average monthly consumption is estimated at 100,000 tons.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Moscow Banker Reportedly Planning Run For Presidency
Sergei Veremeenko, manager of Russia's International Industrial Bank (MezhPromBank), may leave his current position to run in the December 2003 presidential election in Bashkortostan, "Vedomosti" wrote on 22 May citing sources within the bank and several unofficial sources. In April, the bank was rated as the fifth largest in Russia according to assets of 116.6 billion rubles ($3.7 billion) and the third largest according to the size of its own capital of 28 billion rubles ($890 million).

"Vedomosti" referred to an unnamed "political consultant" close to Mezhprombank as saying that Veremeenko was firm in his decision to run for president "after the recent assassination attempt against his brother in Ufa. After this event he began taking his battle with President Murtaza Rakhimov as a personal vendetta." The banker is said to have had a close relationship with Rakhimov and his son Ural until 2002 when Yeremeenko pushed the appointment of his brother, Aleksandr, as a head of Bashtransgaz -- the local branch of the Russian Gazprom monopoly -- without Rakhimov's blessing.

On 13 May, unidentified people set a booby trap using five hand grenades at the gates of Aleksandr Veremeenko's house in the Ufa suburbs. An explosion was prevented by an alert security guard.

Rakhimov Meets With Possible Rival In Battle For Presidency
President Murtaza Rakhimov met with Relif Safin, a member of the Russian Federation Council representing the Altay Republic and former deputy head of the LukOil company on 29 May, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day citing the presidential press service. There has been speculation in the Russian press recently that Safin plans on running for the Bashkir presidency in December 2003 elections. Rakhimov and Safin reportedly discussed a wide range of political and economic issues and agreed on the need for a clearer division of powers between Moscow and the regions. Safin said that he appreciated the 20 years of friendly relations with the Bashkir president and added that it was impossible not to notice the positive changes in the republic's economy, social life, and appearance of the cities and villages.

Bashkirenergo Seeks To Centralize Financial Flows, Promote More Discipline Among Customers
Nikolai Kurapov, general director of the Bashkirenergo joint-stock company, told a meeting of the Bashkir government's presidium on 26 May that the debts of the republic's electricity and heating consumers "prevented the entire energy sector from operating normally," an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported today. The general director said that the companies that resell the energy -- mostly municipal heating companies -- had failed to pay for supplies on time. Kurapov suggested that this problem could be solved by transferring the resale function to Bashkirenergo. The municipal heating companies would then only be paid for transporting the energy. Kurapov also noted that later this year, Bashkirenergo will set the energy tariffs for 2004 before the Bashkir parliament approves the annual budget. The republican budget will reportedly stipulate that the Bashkir regions secure the parts of their budgets that will be spent on energy.

Energy Consumer Debt Growing
Bashkortostan's electricity and heating consumers currently owe the Bashkirenergo company some 5.1 billion rubles ($163.2 million), a sum which increased by 800 million rubles in April, the company's press service reported on 27 May. Of the dues, 21 percent are related to Bashkortostan's agricultural industries. Municipal heating companies, which resell Bashkirenergo power and heat, are responsible for some 7.8 percent of the debt (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 27 May 2003). Bashkir machine industries reportedly owe around 50 percent of the total debt.

Moscow Meets The Demands Of BAL Employees
The Russian Property Relations Ministry has replied to the 22 March appeal of Bashkir Airlines (BAL) employees, which condemned the management of the company, Bashinform reported on 27 May (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 24 March 2003). In 2002, the federal government became the owner of BAL. According to an official letter, the ministry's department of transport and communications discussed the air company's difficulties and reached an agreement with BAL's management on measures to improve the situation. For example, it was agreed that BAL would only sell off some of its aircraft only after the management proposes an anti-crisis program and obtains the approval of its trade union.

Families Of Midair Crash Victims Appeal To Russia, German, and Swiss Leaders
Families of the Bashkir children killed by the 1 July 2002 midair collision of the Bashkir Airlines Tu-154 and DHL cargo jets over Germany have issued open letters to Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and Swiss President Pascal Couchepin stating that nine months after the tragedy they still feel like their pain is being ignored and no one is going to take the responsibility for what has happened. The families also said that they still have not received any apologies from the officials responsible, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 28 May. The families of the crash victims have asked Putin to personally intervene in the investigation of the catastrophe. Meanwhile, Yorg Scheneberg, chairman of the German commission on air crash investigations, told "Komsomolskaya Pravda" in an interview published on 28 May that the final report on the possible reasons for the collision will be finished by late September 2003.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Copper Plant Sued For Pollution In Chelyabinsk Oblast
The Chelyabinsk Oblast Prosecutor's Office in charge of protecting the environment has filed a criminal case against the Karabash copper-smelting plant (Karabashmed) for violating environmental protection rules and pollution in Karabash, Inform-Ecologia reported on 30 May, citing the Yabloko party press service. Chelyabinsk Oblast Prosecutor Anatolii Bragin confirmed this information in his official response to an appeal by State Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko) to the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office. In his appeal, Mitrokhin listed numerous violations of environmental laws by Karabashmed on its 30-square kilometer property and demanded that measures be taken to prevent further pollution that harms the health of local residents. Bragin said in his response that an inspection held at Karabashmed in April by the Ural Federal District's Department on State Supervision of Environment revealed that the plant exceeds permitted norms of sewage to escape to the Karabash pond. The department asked the Chelyabinsk Oblast Arbitration Court to force the plant to stop operations until it has sewage purification facilities.

Duma Deputy Speaker Backs Merger Of Federation Entities
Visiting Perm on 30 May, State Duma Deputy Speaker Irina Khakamada (Union of Rightist Forces) said, "it is necessary to merge federation subjects to improve the country's manageability," "Novyi Region" (Perm) reported the same day. Khakamada said it is difficult to have order in a country as big as Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot meet regularly with the leaders of 89 entities, she said. The deputy speaker added that 12 economic associations working in Russia could become a basis for establishing 12 federation entities. She also said the merger process is to be held in parallel with increasing functions of local self-government. Khakamada praised the merger of Perm Oblast and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug.

Samara Oblast's Titov Loses Third Term Chance
At its 27 May session the Samara Oblast Duma agreed to implement a Russian Supreme Court ruling annulling the oblast law that had made it possible for a governor to serve more than two terms, "Samara segodnya" reported on 28 May. The oblast charter prohibits a governor from holding more than two terms in office but the law was contested by the political group For Social Justice, the Samara Oblast branch of the People's-Patriotic Union of Russia, and several oblast duma deputies. The Samara Oblast Court rejected their appeal but the Russian Supreme Court then annulled the controversial oblast law on 27 December. Under federal law, the oblast parliament would have been dissolved at the governor's initiative in the case if it refused to implement the court ruling. Governor Konstantin Titov, despite the fact that he disagreed with the Supreme Court ruling, urged deputies at the 27 May session to immediately implement it. Titov said, however, that his call on deputies does not mean a change in his opinion, according to which he still wants to run for a third term as oblast governor.

Ranks Of Samara Oblast Parliament Deputies Increase
The Samara Oblast Duma passed on 27 May amendments to the oblast charter under which the number of duma deputies will be doubled, "Samara segodnya" reported on 28 May. The document was intended to bring the charter into conformity with federal legislation. The oblast parliament will consist of 25 deputies elected in one-mandate electoral districts and the same number of deputies elected on party lists. Turnout is to total 20 percent for elections to be recognized as valid.

AvtoVAZ Officials Enter Unified Russia
The chairman of the AvtoVAZ board of directors, Vladimir Kadannikov, and the company's general director, Vitalii Vilchik, joined the Unified Russia party, reported on 29 May, citing the AvtoVAZ press service. Kadannikov, who was one of the organizers of the Unity movement in Samara Oblast, said he decided to enter the party on the eve of the State Duma and presidential elections. He said it is Unified Russia that has a real intention to support industry and blue-collar workers. He said, however, that he does not intend to use his party membership to obtain additional privileges for his company.

Head Of USAID In Russia Visits Samara
Carol Pizley, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) mission to Russia, visited Samara Oblast from 27-29 May to take part in a ceremony marking the issuance of the 100,000th microloan within the framework of the agency's program of nonbank financing in Russia, reported on 27 May. AID arranged the ceremony in Samara to praise its local partner, the FINKA/Samara company, which distributed $16 million in more than 4,100 loans to clients in 32 raions and cities of the Samara and Orenburg oblasts. As a result of the activity of FINKA/Samara since 1999, 13,000 jobs were created or maintained. In Samara Oblast, USAID funds projects on HIV and AIDS prevention, supports judicial clinics, the development of educational opportunities for disabled people, energy efficiency, and civic education.

Referendum To Abolish Post Of Udmurt President Initiated
The Udmurt Central Electoral Commission registered documents initiating a republican referendum to ask residents whether they agree with the abolishment of the post of the Udmurt president, "AiF Udmurtii" reported on 26 May. The documents introduced by Izhevsk city Duma Deputy Vladimir Zabilskii and former Udmurt parliament Deputy Nikolai Nagornykh are to be sent within 15 days to the Udmurt State Council. The latter is not empowered to forbid referenda but can only judge on the judicial correctness of questions asked in them. After receiving the documents, the State Council is to inform the Russian president within five days about the initiative. Zabilskii also appealed to the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office, the chief federal inspector in Udmurtia, the Udmurt interior minister, and the republic's prosecutor to defend the initiators of the referendum from persecution by republican and municipal authorities. The first initiative on holding a similar referendum was rejected by the State Council, which issued on 3 December a resolution saying that it contradicts federal law.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova