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Tatar-Bashkir Report: June 10, 2003

10 June 2003
Government, Parliament Dispute Over President's Powers
The Tatar Constitutional Court considered a request from the government for an official comment on the constitutional provision saying that Tatarstan's president forms the Cabinet of Ministers and the system of executive branches in accordance with corresponding laws on 4 May, Intertat reported the same day. The cabinet is reportedly interested in the precise definition of the term "to form," whether it allows the president only to make appointments or decide on the structure of state bodies. In the government's view, presidential powers are not limited to the right to appoint or dismiss the members of government.

Under federal laws, the activities of Tatarstan's Cabinet of Ministers should be regulated by the Tatar Constitution and the special republican law. But due to the absence of such law, the activities of the Tatar government are covered by the constitution and the presidential decrees.

Artur Shakaraev, the deputy head of the Tatar State Council's legal department, said during the court session that in the parliament's opinion, the president is only allowed to appoint government officials and not to define the government's structure.

Deputy Tatar Prosecutor Vladimir Meterlin told the court that both the presidential and parliamentary decrees regarding the operation of government adopted previously were already acknowledged as violating federal law and there should be a special republican law on the government's activities. On 11 May 2001, Tatarstan's State Council adopted a decree on establishing, abolishing, and reforming the ministries and state committees of Tatarstan.

Constitutional Court Chairman Seyfikhan Nefiev closed the court session by saying that the court's ruling will be made public on a date yet to be announced.

Interior Minister Issues Official Permission For Passport Photographs With Headscarves
Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov signed a decree abolishing Article 14 of the ministry's passport regulations adopted in September 1997, which stipulates that the passport photograph is taken without sunglasses and headwear, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today, citing a RIA-Novosti report of 2 June. The new document allows the use of headwear if it is required by an individual's religious beliefs providing their face is not covered. On 15 May, the appeal chamber of Russia's Constitutional Court upheld the claim of a group of Tatar Muslim women, demanding their right to be photographed with traditional headscarves (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 16 May 2003). After the court session, Interior Ministry officials pledged they would contest the ruling. Gryzlov said that the decision represented "the further development of Russia as a multi-confessional country, building a legal state and civil society."

Red Tape Mars Resolution Of Headscarves Affair
Despite recent reports saying that the Russian Interior Ministry had put an official end to the "Muslim headscarves affair" by allowing the use of headwear for passport photographs if required by an individual's religion, Muslim women in Tatarstan are still unable to have their photographs taken in an Islamic way, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 4 June (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 3 June 2003). Almira Adiatullina, who was among the Muslims demanding the right to have a passport photo taken wearing a traditional headscarf, told the bureau the same day that republican passport-visa service officials were refusing to accept photographs with headscarves, saying they still had not received an official document on the matter.

UNESCO Director-General Completes Visit To Kazan
Before his departure from Kazan on 3 June, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura told reporters that he was satisfied with the outcome of his two-day visit to Tatarstan, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. He confirmed that UNESCO will undertake joint preparations for the Kazan millennium-anniversary celebrations in 2005. Matsuura said that he became "good friends" with President Mintimer Shaimiev. Matsuura noted, however, that "there is a lot of work to be done with preparing the inclusion of the historical architecture of Sviyazhsk to the UNESCO World Heritage List, but what I have seen there is very interesting." Besides the buildings of Orthodox Christian monastery on Sviyazhsk Island, Tatarstan nominated the remains of the ancient Bolgar city for including to the list.

KamAZ Offers Reward For Missing Executive
Ildar Shamilov, head of the economic security department at the KamAZ automotive concern, on 5 June pledged a reward for information on the head of the KamAZ-Metallurgiya joint-stock company Viktor Faber, RFE/RL's Chally correspondent reported yesterday. The unspecified reward will reportedly depend on whether the information leads to finding Faber or not. Faber left Chally for a business trip to Kazan on 27 May along with KamAZ-Metallurgiya's chief economist Natalya Starodubtseva and both have been missing since then (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 4 June 2003). Chally police have reportedly investigated the possibility of kidnapping, having initiated a federation-wide search.

Tatar Parliamentary Speaker Opposes The Abolition Of Sales Tax
Speaking at a meeting of the heads of Volga District legislative bodies in Orenburg, Tatar State Council chairman Farid Mukhametshin raised the issue of a 3 percent sales tax, which is to be abolished in 2004, Intertat reported on 31 May. According to Mukhametshin, abolishing this tax will cause the republic to lose about 1 billion rubles ($32.2 million) of budget revenues because the sales tax incomes are currently shared by the regional and municipal administrations. Others at the meeting reportedly shared his concern and will appeal to the Russian government, the State Duma, and the Federation Council asking to preserve the tax until the federal laws on power sharing between federal, regional, and municipal authorities are adopted.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Daily: Moscow Oligarchs To Back Rakhimov's Candidacy
"Nezavisimaya Gazeta" reported on 4 June that the decision of Relif Safin, the Russian Federation Council member representing the Altay Republic, not to run for the Bashkir presidency in the December 2003 vote was rather explained by the interests of the "old Moscow group of oligarchs," to which Safin belongs, than by the private agreement between Safin and President Murtaza Rakhimov (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 3 June 2003). The paper cited unnamed officials from the Bashkir presidential staff, who said that the "Moscow group" was interested in supporting Rakhimov in order to prevent Sergei Veremeenko, the former head of Moscow's International Industrial Bank (MezhPromBank), from winning the presidency (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 3 June 2003). Veremeenko is thought to represent the interests of Sergei Pugachev, one of the bank's major owners and the head of the St. Petersburg group of oligarchs, closely related to the top management of the Russian Gazprom monopoly. Aleksandr Veremeenko, Sergei's brother, is currently heading the Bashkir branch of Gazprom, Bashtransgaz.

Rakhimov Changes His Stance On Baikonur Case
"Argumenti i Fakti" on 4 June quoted unofficial sources in the Russian Tax Ministry as saying that during the last meeting of Russian Tax Minister Gennadii Bukaev and President Murtaza Rakhimov, the latter had agreed with the ministry's demands to pay back some 10 billion rubles ($327 million) in taxes allegedly concealed by the Bashkir oil-processing industries (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 3 February, 13, 20 March, 26 May 2003, "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 7 March 2003). Previously Rakhimov's government strongly denied the tax evasion had taken place. The paper explained his change of attitude by the preparations for the December 2003 elections for the Russian State Duma and the Bashkir presidency. "Feeling that by fighting over the taxes he was giving a too convenient weapon to his opponents, Murtaza Rakhimov made an about-face," the paper wrote. "Now the question is how to find the 10 billion [rubles], missing from the state budget."

Bashkortostan's Tatar Organizations Establish National Front
The Tatar community in the Bashkir Republic gathered for a special meeting in Ufa on 1 June, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported today. Attendees of the meeting discussed the establishment of the Tatar National Front, which will seek to protect Tatar rights in the republic and to organize Tatar votes in this year's elections of State Duma deputies and the republic's president, both in December. Before the event, Zagyr Khekimov, the head of the Tatar National-Cultural Autonomy in Ufa, told Rosbalt on 31 May that Bashkortostan's ethnic Tatar organizations have discussed the possibility of holding an alternative census "for obtaining the actual data about the population" of the Bashkir Republic. Khekimov said that Tatar organizations have questioned the unreleased results of the October 2002 census, because local authorities "are likely to forge the results."

Tatar National Front To Participate In Presidential Elections, Opposes Official Census Figures In Bashkortostan
The Tatar National Front (TMF) established by the Congress of Tatar public organizations in Bashkortostan on 1 June "will...propose its own candidate for the December elections for Bashkortostan's president or will support an alternative candidate if he is not offered by the present President [Murtaza] Rakhimov," TMF leader Zagyr Khekimov told "Gazeta" in an interview published on 3 June. Khekimov explained the front's initiative to hold an alternative census in Bashkortostan because during the October 2002 census the republican State Statistics Committee "increased the share of the Bashkir population to one-third of the total by registering part of the Tatar population as Bashkirs." He said: "Many Tatars were forced to register as Bashkirs under the threat of their children not being able to enter universities" or of their careers being sandbagged.

Vladimir Zorin, Russian minister for ethnic policies and affairs, told the paper that no census information on the country's ethnic groups was yet available and there are no mechanisms for filing legal appeals against violations during a census, which has already taken place. Nevertheless, he admitted that "a sociological investigation may be held after the census data is published."

Potential Presidential Candidate Said To Have Dispute With Rakhimov's Family
Sergei Veremeenko, manager of Russia's International Industrial Bank (MezhPromBank), whose elder brother Aleksandr Veremeenko heads the branch of the Russian Gazprom monopoly in Bashkortostan, Bashtransgaz, is likely to join the race for the republic's presidency, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 1 June (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 26 May 2003). Veremeenko, who was born in Bashkortostan, used to have close business relations with Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov and his son Ural until 2002 when he arranged the appointment of his brother as Bashtransgaz director without the Rakhimovs' approval.

Ufa Government Moves Against Local FM Radio
Ufa city authorities destroyed the transmission tower of Retro radio station on 31 May, Rosbalt reported on 2 June. Vsevolod Baskakov, a Retro representative, told the agency that the city government had refused to renew the rent contract for the land used by the tower and the station filed a complaint to a Bashkir court. The court hearing is due to take place today. Without waiting for the court's decision, the authorities damaged 500,000 rubles ($16,129) worth of equipment. Damages incurred from lost advertising have yet to be calculated. Baskakov said that the move "quite obviously was related to the preparations for presidential elections in the republic." He continued: "the municipal authorities have prevented the possible use of this tower by the opposition."

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug Legislature Backs Merger With Perm Oblast...
Deputies of the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug parliament approved on 4 June by 12 votes to two a merger of the okrug with Perm Oblast, Novyi Region (Perm) reported the same day. The legislative assembly passed a draft appeal to the Russian president calling for the establishment of a new federation subject. Deputies agreed that the merger issue is in line with the federal law on electoral guarantees and will be put to a referendum in December.

...As Does Perm Oblast Parliament...
The Perm Oblast legislative assembly unanimously voted in favor of the merger of the oblast with Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug on 5 June, Novyi Region (Perm) reported the same day. According to the documents adopted, the new federation subject will be called Perm Krai. Deputy Governor Nikolai Yashin said a governor of Perm Krai will be elected in December 2005 for a five-year term, while the election of a Perm Krai legislative assembly will be held in 2006. The krai will adopt a unified budget in 2008.

...And Federation Council Chairman Says Merger Should Have Popular Support
Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov said popular support is a necessary condition for passing decisions on the merger of the regions and the process should not be managed "from above," reported on 4 June. In an interview with Interfax on 9 June, Mironov promoted the principle of merging donor-regions with those receiving subsidies from the federal budget, saying that principle would be advantageous from both an economic and social point of view. "It is easier to manage, for example, 40 regions than 89," he said. Mironov also said there is no need to amend the Russian Constitution, as a necessary legislative basis for a merger of federation subjects has already been provided.

Sverdlovsk Gubernatorial Elections To Be Held On 7 September
The Chamber of Representatives of the Sverdlovsk Oblast legislative assembly agreed on 9 June to hold gubernatorial elections on 7 September, "Kommersant" reported on 10 June. According to the oblast's Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Mostovshchikov, nominations for candidates will be accepted after 24 June. The term of the incumbent governor, Eduard Rossel, ends on 12 September. For the election date to be approved, the parliament's lower chamber -- the oblast duma -- had to pass amendments to the oblast charter and regional electoral code. The issue sparked controversy in the oblast parliament in February as some factions opposed to Rossel supported running the elections concurrently with the Russian State Duma elections in December.

Ulyanovskenergo Allowed To Raise Tariffs But Still Faces Financial Crisis
The Volga Federal District Arbitration Court annulled on 2 June the 4 April verdict by the Ulyanovsk Oblast Arbitration Court, which ruled that the decision by the Regional Energy Commission to increase energy tariffs as of 1 February was unlawful, reported the same day. Because of the Ulyanovsk court's decision, the Ulyanovskenergo energy provider had to sell energy at low prices and faced losses of 132 million rubles ($4.3 million) in February and March. In addition, the debt of energy consumers to Ulyanovskenergo has increased by 400 million rubles so far this year, while the company itself is a debtor of Gazprom, which has stopped providing it with gas. In total, Ulyanovskenergo is owed 4.2 billion rubles and owes gas and oil suppliers and other partners 4.1 billion rubles. As a result, the oblast and its leading companies face an energy deficit.

Meanwhile, bailiffs on 5 June began repossessing Ulyanovskenergo's property, including furniture, computers, and telephones, to satisfy demands by creditors, reported the same day. The acting manager of Ulyanovskenergo, Andrei Sidorov, told the news agency that the sale of the company's property will only worsen the financial situation of the company and the oblast's energy supply.

Heads Of Closed Cities Protest Subsidy Cuts
Mayors of Russia's 42 closed cities, where defense enterprises are located, have appealed to the Russian Security Council, the Russian Nuclear Energy Ministry, and the Russian Defense Ministry to protest plans to change the financing of the cities which, they say, threaten the country's national security, Novyi region reported on 5 June. The leaders protested against a Russian Finance Ministry plan to pass responsibility for the budgets of the closed cities from the federal level to the federation subjects in accordance with the new federal law on local self-government. The measure will reduce those cities' total budgets, which are currently around 15 billion rubles ($491 million), by at least 25 percent. Vladimir Malkov, the mayor of Ozersk in the Chelyabinsk Oblast, commented that the plan of the Finance Ministry will result in the destruction of the existing system of state defense.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova