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Tatar-Bashkir Report: August 26, 2003

26 August 2003
Mukhametshin Elected To Lead Unified Russia In Tatarstan
The 24 August conference of Unified Russia's branch in Tatarstan accepted the early retirement of its leader, Kazan Energy Industry Institute rector Yurii Nazmeev, and elected State Council Chairman and Tatarstan-Yanga Gasyr movement head Farid Mukhametshin to replace him, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. After being appointed, Mukhametshin told the conference that he would convince those who voted against him "with my deeds, not with my words."

Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said at the same event that it reflected the political union of Unified Russia and Yanga Gasyr rather than a merger. He said the party needed to win a majority in the December State Duma elections in order to prevent the Communists from reversing the results of privatization and nationalizing private industries.

Shaimiev Explains Nature Of His Support For Unified Russia
Speaking live on the Tatarstan-Yanga Gasyr radio on 22 August, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said that it "would not be true" to say that the decision to support the Unified Russia party in the December 2003 Russian State Duma elections "was his personal decision," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Shaimiev said, "it is rather a necessity" explained by current conditions. He emphasized that "there is no party which fully responds to the contemporary tasks in Russia, but Unified Russia is the one which responds the most." Shaimiev is also the co-chairman of Unified Russia's Supreme Council.

Drug Agency Expects Upsurge Of Traffic Through Tatarstan
Valerii Krasilnikov, head of the Tatar Interior Ministry's narcotics agency, told reporters on 20 August that his subordinates have seized more than 150 kilograms of drugs so far in 2003, reported the same day. The catch reportedly included 7 kilograms of heroin. According to Krasilnikov, agency officials are expecting an increase in heroin trafficking through Tatarstan later this year. He explained this by the increase of drug production in Afghanistan.

Tatneft Ready To Take Over Turkish Petrochemical Holding...
Tatneft General Director Shefeget Takhautdinov told a press conference in Elmet, Tatarstan, on 19 August that his company was ready to take over the state's 67 percent stake in the Turkish Tupras holding, which unites four oil refineries with annual processing capacity of 27 million tons. The price is currently being discussed, as Tatneft is resuming its oil supplies to Tupras. According to the contract signed in July, this year Tupras is to purchase 3.4 million tons of Tatar oil. The annual turnover of the Turkish holding is reported at $10.7 billion, with processing of 24 million tons.

...And Resume Work In Iraq
Takhautdinov also said during the same press conference that Tatneft expects to resume operations in Iraq "after the situation settles down" in that country, "Vremya i dengi" reported on 20 August. The company had signed two contracts for drilling 45 and 33 oil wells with the previous Iraqi government and managed to drill one before the start of combat operations.

New Tatar Constitution To Be Amended For Parliamentary Elections
The 3 September session of Tatarstan's parliament will seek to revise the new republican constitution, which was approved in April 2002, "Vechernyaya Kazan" reported on 19 August. According to the daily, the Tatar government decided to increase the number of deputies in parliament. The decision is said to be motivated by the experience of neighboring Samara Oblast, where the number of deputies had been reduced, thus increasing the political status of each deputy. "Vechernyaya Kazan" wrote: "The harder it is to get into the regional parliament, the more demanding deputies become. In Samara the deputies' demands have led to constant conflicts between the Legislative Assembly and the governor. As a result, it brought some balance between the legislative and executive branches, that is, the reduction of the governor's authority."

The September parliamentary session is also expected to confirm the unicameral form of the Tatar State Council, rejecting the bicameral variant. "It is a surprise," "Vechernyaya Kazan" wrote, "because the formation of the upper chamber from representatives of the [republic's] regions would guarantee the political domination of the titular [Tatar] nationality in the republican parliament."

Tatarstan's State Council, which will have elections on the same day as Russian presidential elections in March 2004, currently has 130 deputies.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Bashkir Communists Pledge To Oppose Administrative Pressure During December Vote...
Valentin Nikitin (Communist), the Russian State Duma deputy representing Bashkortostan, said at a press conference in Ufa on 18 August that his party would seek to enter its observers in all electoral districts to ensure fair elections in the republic's presidential and State Duma vote in December, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported today According to Nikitin, the only obstacle to fair elections in Bashkortostan is pressure from the republican authorities. He said that during the March elections for the republic's parliament, the votes of Bashkortostan's residents "were either falsified or stolen." Nikitin noted that the Communists expect to win some 30 percent of the vote in the Duma elections in Bashkortostan and still have not decided whether to propose a candidate for the presidency.

...And Seek To Reverse Privatization In Bashkortostan
During the same press conference Nikitin said that privatization in Bashkortostan might be reversed if federal controlling bodies find that there were violations during the original process, Rosbalt reported on 18 August. He said that the Russian prosecutor-general will soon evaluate the reports of the Russian Audit Chamber, which claimed that there were infringements in the privatization of the republic's petrochemical industries. On 30 July, Nikitin appealed to the Russian prosecutor-general asking him to check the legality of the Bashneft oil company transferring its controlling shares to private owners. He also hinted at violations committed in 1995 when Bashneft was transformed into a joint-stock venture.

Communist Deputy Cites Legal Violations In Privatization Of State Property...
The Russian State Duma deputy representing Bashkortostan, Valentin Nikitin (Communist), told Rosbalt on 23 August that the republic's state-owned industries "are being sold parliamentary deputies and the public remain unaware who, on what conditions, and for how much the state, that is the people's property, is being sold [for]." He referred to some cases when the Bashkir Property Affairs Ministry "underestimated" the actual price of state ventures undergoing privatization. Nikitin used the example of the Karlaman sugar plant, which was sold to a St. Petersburg-based firm for $500,000 and later resold for some $33 million. The deputy said that he would demand official comments from the Bashkir Property Affairs Ministry on each of the dubious privatization cases.

...Says That Votes Will Be Hard Won
Nikitin also told Rosbalt that the Bashkir Communists will put forward candidates in each of the six voting districts in the republic during this year's elections for the Russian State Duma. Eight Communist candidates will reportedly seek election, partially in the single-mandate districts and partially according to the party lists. He noted that his party "would manage" to gather the 10,000 people necessary for sending observers to monitor the elections

Blackouts Prove Effective Against Nonpayments Of Electricity
Bashkortostan's electricity consumers managed to pay off 16 percent of their dues in the last two weeks, reducing the total debt to 3.86 billion rubles ($128.6 million), Rosbalt reported on 19 August. The payback was reportedly motivated by the power blackouts imposed on major debtor enterprises in July and August. Agricultural industries are reportedly responsible for the major 25 percent share of the debt.

Head Of Journalists Union Slams Bashkortostan's Media Policies
Russian Journalists Union Secretary-General Igor Yakovenko told a press conference titled "Freedom of speech Bashkir-style" that "after analyzing the situation in all 89 Russian regions in 1999-2000 we came to the conclusion that Bashkortostan has the least favorable regime, which very strongly contradicts the Russian Constitution and prevents the development of free speech," reported the same day. He added that the "central television channels and central press are being blocked from time to time in Bashkortostan." Yakovenko claimed that "a group of Moscow journalists have done some research and found out that many of the articles of the central newspapers are being cut, reduced, and replaced with local information, or the newspapers just don't reach the readers." Such censorship was reportedly practiced against the "Komsomolskaya pravda," "Gazeta," "Kommersant," and "Izvestiya" dailies and the "Versiya" and "Argumenty i fakty" weeklies, as well as other Russian newspapers. Yakovenko called it a "typical Soviet media regime," in an area where people on average read 4 1/2 times more newspapers than in Moscow.

However, he said, "The regime is psychologically and intellectually behind the modern communication technologies and is unable to ensure an adequate retaliation to websites" which offer views other than the official ones on developments in Bashkortostan.

At the same press conference, Eduard Khusnutdinov, editor in chief of Bashkortostan's "Vechernii Neftekamsk" daily, appealed for help for journalists in the republic "who are afraid for their lives, our newspapers. If it wasn't easy for us to live before, now it will get especially hard."

Ufa Proposes Introduction Of Internet Day
The Ufa city administration has proposed celebrating 30 September as Internet Day, RosBalt reported on 20 August. The holiday would unite Ufa's web community and promote Internet technologies among other residents of the Bashkir capital. The same date has been marked as the unofficial Day of Russian Internet since 1998, when the InfoArt publishing house conducted a census of web users in Russia that found 1 million existed.

Mitrofanov Urges Creation Of Opposition Coalition Against Rakhimov
Russian State Duma deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov (ultra-right Liberal Democratic Party Of Russia) told a press conference in Moscow on 21 August that Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov "is confused and trying to bring his relations with the Kremlin in order, but defeats come one after the another," reported the same day. Mitrofanov, who previously announced his intention to run for the Bashkir presidency in December elections, said that before running for president he would learn the Bashkir and Tatar languages. He said, "it is impossible to struggle with Murtaza Gubaidullovich [Rakhimov] from within Bashkortostan. It is essential to create an external coalition and act in concord with the opposition within the republic." Mitrofanov pledged that after the elections he would announce a four-year transition period for "reestablishing democracy, holding free elections for parliament, and only after that, reform the government." During the press conference, Mitrofanov appeared wearing a traditional Bashkir costume with a fox fur hat and holding a Bashkir language textbook in his hands.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Chelyabinsk Journalist Imprisoned For Libel...
Chelyabinsk journalist German Galkin, the deputy editor in chief of "Vechernii Chelyabinsk," editor in chief of "Rabochaya gazeta," and the head of the Liberal Russia party in Chelyabinsk Oblast, was sentenced on 15 August to a year's imprisonment for libeling Chelyabinsk Oblast First Deputy Governor Andrei Kosilov and Deputy Governor Konstantin Bochkarev, reported on 18 August. At a press conference in Chelyabinsk on 20 August, Kosilov said that he and Bochkarev had appealed to Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to file a lawsuit against State Duma Deputy Mikhail Yurevich, who, he claimed, had ordered and paid for Galkin's stories.

...As Reporters Without Borders Jump To His Defense
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued a statement on the arrest of Galkin, reported on 25 August. RSF head Robert Menar appealed to Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, saying, "for the first time in Russia a journalist accused of libel has been imprisoned." Menar called for a revision of the verdict, which he said "violates international freedom of press standards." The statement also suggested changing Russian legislation so it wouldn't allow imprisonment as a punishment for libel.

Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant Manager Denies Allegations Of Illegal Exports To Iran
The management of the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant has said that media reports about the plant exporting tank spare parts to Iran were absurd, Ural-Press-Inform reported on 22 August. The previous day, Russian ORT and TVTs television channels reported that 28 tons of tank spare parts, worth $315,000, which were on their way to Iran, were seized at Riga airport. Valerii Pozdeev, the director of the plant, told Ural-Press-Inform that the company had stopped producing tanks and spare parts in 1990 and none of the parts are stockpiled. The plant still issues only tank engines and spare parts for them, Pozdeev said, adding that these parts had not been among the haul seized in Riga.

Catholic Services Revived In Kirov
The first mass for 70 years will be held in Kirov on 31 August, reported on 25 August. Services have not been held in the local Catholic church since 1933. Some 50 Catholics now live in the city. The service will be held in Russian and officiated by a bishop from Poland.

Yekaterinburg Administration Bans Singer From Performing In City Square
Famous singer and State Duma deputy Iosif Kobzon was banned from giving a concert in a Yekaterinburg square, reported on 25 August. Kobzon was planning to stage a series of performances in cities and towns around the Sverdlovsk Oblast in support of incumbent Governor Eduard Rossel, who is running for re-election. The city administration said that the concert would interfere with the proper functioning of the city's transportation services. In June, the Yekaterinburg administration permitted a concert arranged by the nongovernmental Vikharev Fund in support of Rossel's rival in the race, Federation Council senator Andrei Vikharev. The Sverdlovsk Oblast gubernatorial elections are slated for 7 September.

Sverdlovsk Oblast Administration Employee Files Defamation Suit Against Candidate For Governor
Sverdlovsk Oblast administration official Vadim Dubichev has filed a lawsuit against Anton Bakov, a candidate for oblast governor and a deputy in the oblast's parliament, demanding that Bakov pay him 2 million rubles ($65,800) in compensation for moral harm, Novyi Region reported on 25 August. Several days before, Bakov claimed during a live program on Svedlovsk Oblast state television that the oblast administration had offered him $5 million to withdraw his candidacy and that it was Dubichev who had brought the money to his house.

Transaero, Aviastar Sign $200 Million Contract
The Transaero air company signed a $200 million contract with Ulyanovsk Aviastar-SP on the leasing of 10 Tu-204-300 jets, reported on 20 August. Four airplanes will be delivered in the next three years and another six in 2006-2007. The leasing term is 15 years, according to the document, which was signed at the MAKS-2003 air show in Zhukovskii, near Moscow. Transaero board chairman Aleksandr Pleshakov said the jets will be used both for domestic and international routes.

Suspected Arson Attack On Publishing House In Yamal-Nenets Okrug
The house that publishes the "Krasnyi Sever" newspaper was set on fire on 22 August in Salekhard in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, reported on 25 August. Head of the okrug administration's committee on mass media, Yurii Kukevich, was cited as saying that police detained two people who pleaded guilty to arson. The publication of "Krasnyi Sever" will not be interrupted, Kukevich said.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova