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Tatar-Bashkir Report: June 24, 2003

24 June 2003
Shaimiev Expresses Sorrow Over Obstacles To Papal Visit To Kazan
In an interview with Interfax on 16 June, President Shaimiev said he regrets that the proposed visit of Pope John Paul II to Russia is facing some difficulties. "Some people in Russia do not wish the pope to visit Russia and Kazan," Shaimiev said. The pope personally suggested that he bring the holy Mother of God icon back to Kazan, but some forces in Russia had resisted this, Shaimiev said, adding that he regretted this. "It will be necessary to begin a dialogue between the [Orthodox and Catholic] churches one day, and why should it be postponed? Ripe problems are resolved the sooner the better," Shaimiev said. The Russian Orthodox Church has repeatedly opposed a visit of the pope to Russia until disagreements between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchy are resolved.

Orthodox Church Reacts Negatively To Shaimiev's Call For Dialogue With Vatican...
A dialogue between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches does not need mediators, deputy head of the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign relations department, Vsevolod Chaplin, told Interfax on 16 June. Chaplin was reacting to statements made by Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev calling for dialogue between the two churches (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 17 June 2003). Chaplin said the Russian Orthodox Church is in permanent contact with the Vatican, and it was problems created by Catholic leaders and bodies rather than an unwillingness for dialogue that prevented the heads of the two churches from meeting. Chaplin said that "the Vatican continues expansion which harms the interests of the Russian church and insults its believers." Chaplin explained that the Vatican promotes the establishment of Greek-Catholic communities in places they had never existed and sends missionaries to areas where there are Orthodox believers.

...As Vatican Says Pope Won't Visit Russia Without Patriarch's Consent
The Vatican's Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano said the pope has been seeking for a long time to visit Russia but does not wish to do so without the agreement of Patriarch Aleksii II, "NG-Religii" reported on 18 June. Meanwhile, the Vatican's Press Secretary Joaquin Navarro-Vals said the pope's visit to Mongolia, previously slated for August, will not take place this summer. The weekly commented that the Vatican might postpone the visit in order to hold additional negotiations with Moscow about the possibility of the pope stopping off in Tatarstan to return the Mother of God icon to Kazan.

Appeal By Tatar, Bashkir Legislators To Constitutional Court Finds Support In Federal Bodies
Federal authorities backed an appeal to the Russian Constitutional Court by the Tatar and Bashkir parliaments, in which legislators opposed prosecutors' bodies meddling in the constitutions and charters of federation subjects (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 17 June 2003), "Nezavisimaya gazeta," and "Vremya MN" reported on 18 June. During a hearing on the appeal in the Constitutional Court on 17 June, Mikhail Mityukov, the Russian presidential envoy to the court, said regional constitutions and charters are not ordinary legal acts but have a special status and can be interpreted and evaluated only by the Constitutional Court, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. This is the position of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mityukov added. Sergei Popov, the State Duma representative to the Constitutional Court, and his counterpart from the Federation Council, senator Yurii Sharandin, also backed the appeal. The representative of the Russian government to the Russian Constitutional Court and Supreme Court, Mikhail Barshchevskii, told "Gazeta" on 18 June that "courts of general jurisdiction are not empowered to consider issues of conformity of federation subjects' constitutions as that is a power of the Constitutional Court." The court is expected to issue its verdict in July.

Tatneft Changes Auditor
Tatneft auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has recommended the oil company establishes an audit committee involving independent members to meet requirements by the U.S. Securities Commission (SEC) for foreign companies trading on U.S. exchanges, "Kommersant" reported on 18 June. If Tatneft rejects recommendations by PwC, its American Depositary Receipts (ADR) may be dropped from the listing on the New York Stock Exchange, the daily said. The SEC on 9 April informed exchange participants that they are to harmonize their charters by 15 July with amendments to the law on the personal responsibility of companies' management for their financial reports. The Tatneft leadership, however, disagreed with the PwC report and will discuss the possibility of replacing the auditor at its annual shareholders meeting slated for 27 June, according to "Kommersant."

Egyptian Ambassador In Kazan
Meeting with President Shaimiev in Kazan on 20 June, Egyptian Ambassador to Russia Rauf Saad said his first visit to Tatarstan is the "opening of a new era in the development of Tatar-Egyptian relations," Tatar-inform reported the same day. As a result of negotiations, the two officials agreed that a business council will be established in Kazan and a council of governors in Egypt to resolve issues of bilateral cooperation between small businesses and the possibility of beginning direct flights between Kazan and Egyptian cities will be considered. Saad forwarded to Shaimiev an invitation from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to visit Egypt. Saad said he found an example of the peaceful coexistence of different religions and nationalities in Tatarstan which could serve as a model of tolerance for countries experiencing interethnic and interfaith discord.

Tatarstan Signs Cooperation Protocol With Gazprom
A protocol on cooperation between Gazprom and Tatarstan was signed on 20 June in Kazan, Tatar-inform and reported. A delegation from the Russian gas monopoly met the same day with Tatar officials at the Kazan Motor Plant. Tatar Deputy Economy and Industry Minister Ferit Tuqtarov told the meeting that a Tatar government commission on the use of gas as a motor fuel has led to the development of a corresponding draft law on use of natural gas as a motor fuel, which is to be discussed by the State Council later this month. KamAZ is already developing engines using natural gas, Tuqtarov added. Under the cooperation program between the gas monopoly and the republic, Gazprom's Orenburg Gas Plant will supply gas to Kazanorgsintez, which launched a project to produce new kinds of polythene. Gazprom Deputy Board Chairman Aleksandr Ananenkov said Gazprom will increase its orders to Tatar companies. He also said that Tatarstan -- where residential areas have been connected to natural gas pipelines -- could develop a special program to re-equip vehicles to use natural gas. It was also agreed that deliveries of gas pumping and distributing equipment to Gazprom by the Kazan Motor Plant will increase by some 50 percent in the next three years.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Bashkir Interior Ministry Accuses Mezhprombank Branch Of Fraud
A search of the Ufa branch of Mezhprombank carried out on 11 June by the Bashkir Interior Ministry (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 12 June 2003) was part of an investigation into a large-scale fraud case, the ministry's press service head Ruslan Sherefetdinov told RosBalt on 16 June. Sherefetdinov said the search and the confiscation of documents in the bank "have no relation to politics." He added that the investigation concerned promissory notes that were not accepted for payment. Branch director Yevgenii Vanok has said that the search is linked to Sergei Veremeenko, Mezhprombank's former head who intends to run for the Bashkir presidency. According to "Kommersant" on 16 June, Vanok said that the confiscation of documents was in violation of the law and that he will appeal to the republic's courts and the Bashkir prosecutors' office.

Rakhimov Discusses Cooperation Prospects With Gazprom Head
Gazprom head Aleksei Miller and Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov met on 17 June to discuss the development of Bashkir petrochemical companies, "Vedomosti" reported the next day, citing the Gazprom press service. According to "Kommersant" on 18 June, the sides failed to sign a scheduled agreement on handing over to the gas monopoly the shares of the republic's leading petrochemical companies. "Vedomosti," however, reported that an unnamed high-ranking source in Gazprom said that the agreement will be signed "within the next few days." An unnamed Bashkir official told the outlet that Rakhimov, who saw the draft document yesterday, agreed to sign it after Gazprom's investment obligations are specified. The daily cited the draft agreement, according to which the Bashkir government will receive Gazprom's assistance in handing over state-run stakes in the Salavatnefteorgsintez, Kauchuk, Kaustik, and Gazservis companies for management by warrant. Salavatnefteorgsintez -- of which 54 percent belongs to the Bashkir Property Relations Ministry -- made a net profit of 1.6 billion rubles ($52.6 million) in 2002. The annual turnover of Kauchuk, Kaustik, and Gazservis totals together some 10 billion rubles. In 1998, the republic handed over Salavatnefteorgsintez shares to Gazprom for management by warrant on account of its debt to the company, but in the fall of 2002 annulled the agreement. In March, the Bashkir Property Relations Ministry again distributed its stake in Salavatnefteorgsintez to Gazprom for management by warrant for five years. Last week, Gazprom board member Aleksandr Krasnenkov said the company seeks to purchase the Salavatnefteorgsintez controlling interest in exchange for Bashkortostan's debt to the gas monopoly, which totals 1.5 billion rubles.

Mezhprombank Appeals To Court Against Bashkir Interior Ministry
Lawyers of the Mezhprombank Ufa branch appealed on 16 June to a republican court and prosecutors' office claiming that a search of the branch office carried out by 20 Bashkir Interior Ministry employees on 11 June (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 12 and 17 June 2003) was illegal, RosBalt reported the next day. Head of the branch's legal directorate, Aleksandr Panishev, told the news agency that the lawyers demanded that the resolution on searching the office be annulled. Interior Ministry employees committed numerous violations of legal procedure during the search, according to the Mezhprombank lawyers.

Bashkir Interior Ministry Raids Bashtransgaz Office...
The Bashkir Interior Ministry's Investigation Directorate and Anti-Economic Crimes Directorate on 18 June searched the offices of Gazprom's Bashkir branch, Bashtransgaz, "Izvestia" reported the next day. Some 20 employees of the ministry confiscated the company's accounting documents. The ministry produced a resolution on the search signed by First Deputy Bashkir Prosecutor Vladimir Korostylev, which refers to the fraud case involving a Mezhprombank promissory note (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 12, 17, and 18 June 2003). Aleksandr Veremeenko, who headed Bashtransgaz until yesterday, served for 11 years as head of the Mezhprombank Ufa branch, while his brother Sergei until recently was Mezhprombank's managing director. Veremeenko told "Kommersant" on 19 June that the search is the "vengeance of Murtaza Rakhimov for the fact that Gazprom has not signed an agreement with Bashkortostan." A week ago, the Bashkir Interior Ministry searched the offices of the Mezhprombank Bashkir branch as part of the investigation into the same criminal case.

...As Gazprom Head Dismisses Its General Director
Gazprom head Aleksei Miller dismissed on 18 June Aleksandr Veremeenko, the general director of Gazprom's Bashkir branch Bashtransgaz, for "having his own policy," the "Vedomosti" daily reported the next day. Gazprom press secretary Sergei Kupriyanov said that the company leadership considers it necessary "to part with those who hold their own policy using the company's name as a cover."

Bashkortostan Signs Cooperation Agreement With Gazprom...
Gazprom head Aleksei Miller and Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov on 19 June signed a five-year cooperation agreement, reported the same day. According to the document, the Bashkir government will render Gazprom assistance in resolving issues of handing over stakes of the petrochemical Salavatnefteorgsintez, Kauchuk, Kaustik, and Gazservis companies to the gas monopoly in trust management. Gazprom for its part is to provide deliveries of gas to the republic. The agreement is the second one signed between Bashkortostan and Gazprom. The previous one was concluded in 1997.

Bashkir Parliament Speaker Says Power-Sharing Treaty Still Important
Bashkir State Assembly Chairman Konstantin Tolkachev told a press conference in Bashinform on 19 June that the power-sharing treaty between Bashkortostan and Russia has not exhausted its potential and can be used as an instrument in resolving controversial issues. Tolkachev said federal authorities, despite recognizing the legal force of power-sharing treaties, are not implementing some provisions of the treaty. Tolkachev said there is no sense in signing a new treaty but it is necessary to keep working on the existing one. Tolkachev also said it is inexpedient to maintain joint powers of Moscow and regions as they remain a source of conflict, and they should be divided up. Specifically, Tolkachev said, Bashkortostan is ready to take over some powers of federal authorities, including financing law-enforcement bodies. Equal legal rights of federation subjects does not mean they are actually equal, as some of them are able to execute all their powers while others are not, Tolkachev said. Bashkortostan, he said, is among the regions that can execute all their legal powers.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Head Of Liberal Russia In Nizhnii Novgorod Assaulted
The co-chairman of Liberal Russia in Nizhnii Novgorod, Oleg Berezin, was beaten on 20 June at the entrance to his apartment, NTA Privolzhe reported on 22 June, citing Liberal Russia co-Chairman and State Duma Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin. Pokhmelkin said the circumstances of the attack show that it was planned to frighten Berezin. He added that it was the second assault against Berezin in the past year. Pokhmelkin also noted that the party lost two its co-chairmen, State Duma Deputies Vladimir Golovlev and Sergei Yushenkov, over less than a year. Also, members of party branches in Perm and Chelyabinsk were assaulted, he said.

Number Of Millionaires More Than Doubles In Nizhnii
There were 700 millionaires in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast in 2002, an increase of 150 percent on the year before, Nizhnii Novgorod Telegraph Agency reported on 19 June, citing the Russian Tax Ministry's Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Directorate. Directorate head Nikolai Polyakov told a press conference that there are also 15,000 millionaires in the oblast who have only one source of income and do not have to declare it. Polyakov said 59,000 oblast residents declared their income in 2002, 20,000 less than the previous year.

SPS Leader In Marii El Expelled From Party
The national political council of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) on 18 June expelled the head of the party's Marii El regional branch, Volzhsk Mayor Nikolai Svistunov, from the party, reported on 21 June, citing the Marii El presidential administration's information department. According to the report, Svistunov made public statements sharply criticizing the policy of Russian President Vladimir Putin and SPS head Anatolii Chubais. The political council called Svistunov's actions politically harmful to the party and expelled him by a vote of 20 to three.

Russian President Backs Production Of New Warplane In Nizhnii
President Putin has approved a project on production of the Yak-130 training-warplane at the Nizhnii Novgorod Sokol aviation plant, Nizhnii Novgorod Telegraph agency reported on 21 June. Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev, who met with Putin on 17 June in Moscow, told a press conference on 20 June that 200 jets will be produced for the Russian armed forces and an additional 600 are to be exported. Khodyrev added that the Yak-130 will be the first new model produced at the plant in 13 years.

Presidential Envoy Says No Plans For Merger Of Regions Exist In Russia...
Presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko told a press conference in Nizhnii Novgorod on 16 June that the enlargement and merger of regions discussed by some Russian politicians and media is complete gibberish, reported the same day. There are no plans to merge regions in Russia, Kirienko said. Kirienko said there are not only administrative entities but also national republics in Russia that cannot be merged with other regions. The issue can only be discussed to abolish complex entities, for example, such as Perm Oblast, which includes Komi-Permyak Okrug. But even those entities will not simply be merged but will be rearranged into Perm Krai, he added.

...As Putin Says Merger Of Poor Regions Reasonable
President Putin told a press conference on 20 June in Moscow that Moscow will support only well-founded projects to merge regions, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Putin said, "It is obvious that a number of regions are economically not wealthy, it is difficult for them to exist, and in the near future they are unlikely to become wealthy." In such conditions merging regions is quite appropriate and reasonable, he said. Putin also pointed out that according to the Russian Constitution, the issue of merging regions is a power of the regions themselves.

Ten-Day Protest At Sverdlovsk Oblast's Tavda Plant Ends
Workers of the Tavda Hydrolytic Plant in Sverdlovsk Oblast stopped on 21 June their 10-day demonstration after the plant administration began paying the back wages owed them, Novyi region reported the same day. The strikers, who had not been paid since October, were picketing at the plant's gates and blocking traffic. Plant trade union Chairman Lyudmila Solovyeva told the news agency that at a meeting of strikers with plant manager Aleksandr Kukovyakin on 21 June, it was agreed that half of the 30 million-ruble ($990,000) debt would be repaid that day while the second half will be repaid by 16 July. Kukovyakin gave the workers a written promise to repay the debt, Solovyeva said.

Udmurt Legislature Says Referendum On Abolishing Post Of President Illegal
The Udmurt State Council on 17 June rejected an initiative by a group of residents to hold a referendum on abolishing the post of republican president, reported the same day. Council deputies ruled that the formula of the question to be asked in the referendum contradicts current legislation. The Udmurt Central Electoral Commission had already declared the initiative in conformity with the law.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova