|The only certainty is that nothing is certain. - Pliny the Elder|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 173, Part I, 6 September 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 173, Part I, 6 September 1999 A daily report of developments in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia prepared by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This is Part I, a compilation of news concerning Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Part II covers Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe and is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of RFE/RL NewsLine and the OMRI Daily Digest are online at RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/newsline xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * SKURATOV LINKS YELTSIN TO BRIBERY SCANDAL * NEW INCURSION FROM CHECHNYA INTO DAGHESTAN * KYRGYZ FORCES EXPEL SOME UZBEK GUERRILLAS End Note: RUSSIA'S GOVERNORS PROVING TO BE UNPREDICTABLE POLITICAL FORCE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA SKURATOV LINKS YELTSIN TO BRIBERY SCANDAL. Yurii Skuratov, who was suspended as prosecutor-general in May but who continues in office because of parliamentary moves, told AP on 3 September that charges against President Boris Yeltsin and his family have an evidentiary basis. He said that he cannot understand "the president burying his head in the sand. Attempts to hush things up, to prevent the investigation from getting to the end will only fuel all kinds of allegations, gossip and inventions." Meanwhile, Swiss businessman Beghjet Paccioli told "Segodnya" that prosecutors have specifically sought evidence against Yeltsin and his family, a charge that investigator Georgii Chuglazov confirmed, Interfax reported. PG BORODIN SAYS YELTSIN FULLY AWARE OF SCANDAL. Kremlin manager Pavel Borodin told Ekho Moskvy on 4 September that Yeltsin has been kept fully briefed about the money-laundering scandal. Borodin added that it is his own view that the entire set of charges is simply a political game. Yeltsin, he continued, believes that the scandal is intended to deliver "a blow against him personally" and has urged his entourage to exercise "patience." Borodin described the charges as "gibberish" and a reflection of the absence of a political culture that places limits on how to conduct political contests. PG PUTIN SAYS SCANDAL MUST NOT DAMAGE U.S.-RUSSIA TIES. Speaking on Russian Public Television (ORT) on 5 September, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the money-laundering scandal must not be allowed to damage relations between Moscow and Washington, AP reported. "Every Russian businessman should not be considered...a Mafioso or connected with the mafia," he said. And he added that "it is not likely" that either Yeltsin or his family is guilty of receiving kickbacks from Mabatex, as some media accounts have charged. PG FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS RUSSIA HAS NO NEED TO DEFEND ITSELF. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 3 September that his country "does not intend to defend itself in the wake of media publications in some countries," Interfax reported. "We have no reason to explain ourselves. As for Russia's good name," Ivanov said, "it has one." PG YAVLINSKII BACKS CUTTING OIL EXPORT DUTIES AS RESPONSE TO SCANDAL CHARGES. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said that Moscow should respond to what he called the "baseless and indiscriminate scare campaign" against Russia by slashing or even abolishing oil export duties, Interfax reported on 3 September. He said the Russian government should now "offer real support to leading Russian companies" in the wake of the money-laundering charges. In other comments, Yavlinskii said that the situation now is similar to the one a few years ago: then the entire world press was "euphoric about the imaginary successes of Russian reform." Now, this media "is equally unanimous in its hysterical proclamation that all of Russia is a kleptocracy." Both perceptions are equidistant from reality, Yavlinskii argued. PG YELTSIN APPOINTS TV BOSS TO HIS STAFF. President Yeltsin on 3 September named ORT Director-General Igor Shabdurasulov as first deputy head of the presidential administration. Shabdurasulov held that post until he became head of the television network in October 1998. He will be replaced at ORT by Konstantin Ernst. PG PUTIN PLEDGES RESPECT FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Speaking on the 95th anniversary of the formation of the ITAR-TASS news agency, Prime Minister Putin said the Russian government "will back freedom of speech in every way" and will "not allow undercover levers such as tax limitations, fire safety regulations, or sanitary rules to be used to restrict that freedom," ITAR-TASS reported. The prime minister added that the government "will also try to do all in its power to ensure the rights of citizens to receive objective and reliable information." Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg television and radio company was allowed to resume broadcasting after it said it will obey existing regulations on the coverage of political actions, Interfax reported on 3 September. PG LIVSHITS SAYS IMF LOVED RUSSIA TOO MUCH, FORGAVE TOO LITTLE. In an article in Turin's "La Stampa" on 3 September, Aleksandr Livshits said the IMF's biggest mistake in dealing with Russia was that "it loved us too much and forgave us too little." In other comments, the Russian envoy to the G-8 acknowledged that no one knows the real amount of capital flight from Russia. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 3 September that the next tranche of the IMF loan to Moscow may be delayed because the fund's board may not meet until October, AP reported. PG MOSCOW WON'T TAKE SPECIAL STEPS TO DEFEND RUBLE. Finance Minister Kasyanov said on 3 September that Moscow will not take any extra steps to defend the ruble, Interfax reported. He pointed to the rising Russian trade surplus as one of the reasons he is confident that the ruble will remain within its specified range. While Russian exports fell by 5 percent in the first eight months of 1999, imports declined by 45 percent, leaving Moscow with a large trade surplus that is expected to support current exchange rates. PG TAX COLLECTIONS SURGE TO RECORD LEVELS. Aleksandr Skvortsev, an adviser to the Tax Ministry, said on 3 September that last month taxes worth 30.834 billion rubles ($1.25 billion) were collected, "the highest figure in the history of Russia's tax agencies," Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said the authorities should be able to collect some 370 billion rubles during the next budget year. Also on 3 September, the Federal Tax Police announced that they are now investigating 14 oil companies for possible tax delinquencies. PG SOME 1,000 RUSSIAN BANKS SAID TO BE PROFITABLE NOW. Vladimir Smenkovskii, the director of research at the Russian Central Bank, told the Moscow Invest 1999 Forum on 3 September that up to 1,000 Russian banks are now turning a profit, Interfax reported. But on 4 September, Central Bank Deputy Chairman Georgii Lutonvskii said that the first stage of restructuring SBS-AGRO Bank will cost approximately 6 billion rubles ($240 million). PG COMMUNISTS, AGRARIANS, PATRIOTS ANNOUNCE FORMATION OF 'FOR VICTORY' BLOC. The KPRF, some Agrarians, and the Patriots have formally announced the setting up of the For Victory electoral alliance, Russian agencies reported on 4 September. At its extraordinary congress the same day, the KPRF announced its program. According to party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, the program seeks to eliminate "the consequences of the severe genocide" perpetrated against the Russian people, improve law enforcement, protect all social groups, and cooperate with foreign governments in order to improve the life of average Russians, Interfax reported. PG RUSSIA HELPS SERBIA, HURTS BOSNIA. Although Serbian officials said Moscow continues to be in "scrupulous compliance" with the UN-imposed arms embargo, Moscow has moved to help Belgrade by making preparations to reschedule its debts for natural gas, Interfax reported. At the same time, however, Gazexport, the export arm of Gazprom, has cut off supplies to Bosnia's Muslim-Croatian federation because the latter has failed to pay its gas bills in full this year. PG IVANOV DOUBLY UNHAPPY WITH KOSOVA EXPERIMENT. Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov said in Tbilisi on 3 September that he is not only unhappy about the policy NATO adopted in Kosova but is categorically opposed to any "transfer of the Kosovo experiment" to other conflict situations, Interfax reported. Ivanov said those who think that the Kosova experiment was successful are "totally wrong" because in fact it had made the situation there worse. He added that any repetition of such actions would be extremely dangerous. PG RUSSIAN FORCES IN FAR EAST DOWN BY 200,000 SINCE 1992. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told Interfax on 3 September that Moscow has reduced its forces in the Far East by 200,000. He said that more than 200 formations have been disbanded, 600 missiles scrapped, and 50 ships mothballed. Such actions represent a renunciation of any moves "that could provoke our neighbors to counteractions," Sergeev concluded. PG IRAN SEEKS RENEWED MILITARY TIES WITH MOSCOW. Mehdi Safrari, Iran's ambassador in Moscow, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 September that Iran would like to see a renewal of military and technical cooperation with Russia "regardless of what anyone else thinks," Interfax reported. Without naming the U.S., Safrari said countries that "used to have no presence in Central Asia and in the Caucasus" have declared these regions "zones of national interest" and are seeking to "destroy" cooperation between Iran and Russia. PG FSB SAYS 'EXTREMIST GROUPS' EXIST IN RUSSIA. The Federal Security Service said on 3 September that extremist groups exist "and not only in Moscow," ITAR-TASS reported. FSB spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said that because such groups "can turn into criminal gangs at any moment, we are constantly watching their activities." Among the groups that fall into this category are the Revolutionary Military Council of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and the Satanists. The latter had threatened to explode bombs in the Russian capital on the 852nd anniversary of Moscow on 4 September. PG NOVGOROD GOVERNOR EASILY WINS RE-ELECTION... Mikhail Prusak scored a resounding victory in the 5 September gubernatorial ballot in Novgorod Oblast. According to preliminary results cited by ITAR-TASS the following day, the reform-minded incumbent governor polled 91 percent of the vote. Together, the other three candidates mustered only 3 percent. Turnout was 50 percent. JC ...AS DOES HIS OMSK COUNTERPART. Also on 5 September, incumbent Governor Leonid Polezhaev easily beat out his main challenger for that post, Aleksandr Kravets, the regional Communist head and the chief ideologist of the Russian Communist Party. ITAR-TASS cited preliminary results as showing 57 percent of the electorate backing Polezhaev and 26 percent Kravets. Turnout is estimated to have exceeded 50 percent. In both Novgorod and Omsk, at least 25 percent of the electorate must vote for the ballot to be valid, and a candidate requires only a simple majority to win. JC NEW INCURSION FROM CHECHNYA INTO DAGHESTAN. The estimated 2,000 militants who congregated on the border between Chechnya and Daghestan late last week crossed into Daghestan early on 5 September, engaging Daghestani and Russian Interior Ministry troops in the Kazbek and Novolaksk Raions. The invading force, which sources in Makhachkala told ITAR- TASS is predominantly composed of Chechens, seized the villages of Gamiyakh, Duchi, Akhar, and Shushiya and triggered a wave of fugitives from Novolaksk to Khasavyurt, Interfax reported. Fighting also continued on 5 September near the villages of Chabanmakhi and Karamakhi. The previous evening, a bomb exploded in the town of Buinaksk, killing some 36 people and injuring 110. On 4 September, the Russian Defense Ministry again assumed control of military operations in Daghestan once week after it had handed over that control to the Interior Ministry. LF CHECHEN PRESIDENT APPEALS FOR INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION. In a 4 September statement, Aslan Maskhadov called on international organizations and world leaders "to take a resolute step in support of the Chechen people and recognize the Chechen Republic," Interfax reported. Maskhadov added that international recognition of Chechnya is an essential precondition for establishing positive relations between Moscow and Grozny and stabilizing the overall situation in the Caucasus. He accused Russia of bringing pressure to bear on Chechnya through economic sanctions and supporting the activities of criminal gangs operating on Chechen territory. LF PUTIN SAYS MOSCOW WILL RE-ESTABLISH AUTHORITY IN DAGHESTAN. In an interview with ORT on 5 September, Prime Minister Putin said Moscow will re-establish its authority in highland Daghestan, where, he acknowledged, "no Russian authority has existed for almost two years." He added that such "a challenge to Russia cannot be tolerated any longer." The same day, Colonel General Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov arrived in Daghestan to take control of Russian forces, which continued to face fierce opposition. Earlier, Putin participated in a high-level conference in Moscow to consider how to respond to the deteriorating situation in the North Caucasus. PG KARACHAEVO-CHERKESS RIVALS MEET IN MOSCOW... Vladimir Semenov, whose victory in the 16 May runoff presidential poll was formally recognized as valid by the republic's Supreme Court late last month, and his defeated rival, Cherkessk Mayor Stanislav Derev, met twice in Moscow on 4 September with Prime Minister Putin and presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin, Interfax reported. During those talks, Derev reportedly rejected a compromise solution whereby Semenov would assume his duties as acting head of the republic and Derev would become acting prime minister pending a decision by the Russian Supreme Court on the validity of the runoff poll. That court had referred the dispute back to the Karachaevo-Cherkess republican court in late July. LF ...FOLLOWING MORE VIOLENCE IN CHERKESSK. Twenty-six people were injured, some seriously, when supporters of Semenov and Derev clashed on 3-4 September in Cherkessk, the capital of the republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Derev's supporters launched a protest demonstration on 27 August after the republic's Supreme Court formally recognized the outcome of the 16 May runoff election. Police patrols in Cherkessk were increased after the 3 September fighting, and a 100-strong OMON unit was dispatched from St. Petersburg to Cherkessk. Also on 3 September, the International Cherkess Association, which has been accused of spearheading the campaign for a separate Cherkess Autonomous Oblast, issued a statement calling on all religious, public, and political organizations in the North Caucasus to condemn Wahhabism, according to Caucasus Press. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN. Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian met in Yerevan on 3 September with Carey Cavanaugh, the newly appointed U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Cavanaugh told journalists after those talks that he believes the talks between Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, that took place in July and August in Geneva "have shown a commitment by both sides" to finding a solution to the deadlocked Karabakh conflict. LF RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS ARMENIA... Igor Ivanov arrived in Yerevan on 3 September to meet with Kocharian, Oskanian, and Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian. Ivanov later positively assessed all aspects of Russian-Armenian relations but added that "more could be done" to expand those ties, especially in the trade and economic sphere. Ivanov also welcomed the recent direct talks between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan as "the best way" to begin looking for a solution to the Karabakh conflict. At the same time, he stressed that the Minsk Group should find a way to include representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in the peace process, according to Interfax. He argued that a final settlement to the conflict must include guarantees of the enclave's security and unimpeded overland communications with Armenia but must not impinge on Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Ivanov handed Kocharian an invitation from Russian President Boris Yeltsin to visit Russia, which Kocharian accepted, Noyan Tapan reported. LF ...AND GEORGIA. The next day, Ivanov held talks in Tbilisi with his Georgian counterpart, Irakli Menagharishvili, parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. All three Georgian officials agreed with Ivanov's assessment that the present state of bilateral relations is unsatisfactory. Revaz Adamia, chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security, told Interfax on 5 September that while Ivanov's visit was "very important," it failed to resolve serious differences between Moscow and Tbilisi. Zhvania told Ivanov that Georgia wants the Russian military presence in Georgia reduced in line with the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, while Ivanov advocated raising the level of bilateral military cooperation to that between Russia and Armenia, according to Caucasus Press. Ivanov assured Shevardnadze of Russia's willingness to play a more active role in resolving the Abkhaz conflict. But Ivanov later told journalists that Moscow considers unacceptable any "peace enforcement" operation in Abkhazia comparable to that in Kosova, Interfax reported. Shevardnadze has repeatedly called for such intervention. LF PUBLICATION OF ARMENIAN NEWSPAPER SUSPENDED... Nikol Pashinian, editor of the newspaper "Oragir" and its successor, "Haykakan zhamanak," told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that Armenia's main publishing house had informed him that the 4 September issue of "Haykakan zhamanak" would not be printed because of a paper shortage. On 31 August, a Yerevan district court sentenced Pashinian to one year in jail on charges of obstructing the police, refusing to print a refutation of materials published in "Oragir," and slander (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 September 1999). LF ...AS JOURNALISTS, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS PROTEST SENTENCE ON EDITOR. Some 50 journalists and human rights activists staged a silent protest close to the presidential palace in Yerevan on 3 September against the jail sentence handed down to Pashinian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The protesters termed the sentencing a threat to freedom of speech in Armenia. Meeting with the protesters, President Kocharian declined to condemn the verdict or to interfere in the workings of the judiciary. Kocharian suggested that Pashinian should apologize to the persons, including National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who had brought lawsuits against him. Pashinian later said he sees no reason why he should do so. LF DEFEATED AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES CALL FOR REPEAT ELECTIONS. Etibar Mamedov, Nizami Suleymanov, and Ashraf Mehtiev issued a joint statement in Baku on 4 September calling on the UN and all international organizations to withdraw their recognition of the validity of the October 1998 Azerbaijani presidential election results, Turan reported. The three opposition party leaders called for repeat elections to be held under UN supervision and argued that criminal proceedings should be brought against Central Electoral Commission chairman Djafar Veliev. They claim that Veliev himself admitted that the poll outcome was falsified. The Central Electoral Commission has denied that charge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1999). LF BAKU MAYOR BANS PLANNED DEMONSTRATIONS BY AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION. Rafael Allakhverdiev has issued a decree prohibiting mass political demonstrations in the Azerbaijani capital between 10-20 September, Turan reported on 3 September. The decree invoked the law on freedom of meetings, which allows for such a ban during international events in the capital. Baku is to host a celebration to mark the signing in September 1994 of the first major oil contract with Western companies. The 23 political parties aligned in the Movement for Democracy had planned to begin mass actions in Baku on 10 September to protest what they term President Aliev's "defeatist" Karabakh policy. LF KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT EXHORTS FOREIGN INVESTORS. Speaking at a celebration in Atyrau on 3 September to mark the centenary of Kazakhstan's oil industry, President Nursultan Nazarbaev called upon international investors to respect their commitments to specific projects, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev also invited international investment in pipeline projects to export Kazakhstan's oil, terming the Caspian Pipeline Consortium "Kazakhstan's first hope." CPC Director Viktor Fedotov said that the pipeline, which runs from Tengiz to Novorossiisk, will be completed, as planned, by 30 June 2001. Nazarbaev also said that Moscow and Astana are close to agreement on increasing the annual throughput capacity of the Atyrau-Samara pipeline from 10 million to 15 million tons. He added that Russia and Kazakhstan are also discussing a project to export Kazakh oil via Baltic ports. LF KYRGYZ FORCES EXPEL SOME UZBEK GUERRILLAS... General Bolot Djanuzakov, who heads the Defense and Security department within the Kyrgyz Presidential Administration, told journalists in Bishkek on 4 September that earlier that day, Kyrgyz government troops succeeded in dislodging a group of ethnic Uzbek guerrillas from the Chon-Alai Raion of Osh Oblast, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The militants crossed into the Djirgatal district of neighboring Tajikistan, taking five Kyrgyz policemen whom they had seized two weeks earlier, Djanuzakov added. He said the militants have also surrendered control of two villages in Batken Raion, leaving only one village there held by 400 guerrillas. That group is still holding hostage four Japanese geologists and a Kyrgyz Interior Ministry general. LF ...WHO INFORM KYRGYZ LEADERSHIP OF THEIR DEMANDS. The rebels faxed their demands to the Kyrgyz leadership on 3 September, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported the next day, citing the presidential press service. In that message, which was written in Russian, Zubair ibn Abdurrakim, chairman of the political council of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, announced the beginning of a "Holy War" against Uzbekistan with the aim of forcing the release of 50,000 Muslims held in Uzbek prisons and the reopening of thousands of mosques and religious training institutions. The statement calls on Bishkek to allow the guerrillas to proceed unimpeded to Uzbekistan and not to abet the Uzbek authorities or hand over to "[Uzbek President Islam] Karimov's executioners" Uzbeks who fled to Kyrgyzstan to escape persecution. The statement threatened to launch a holy war against the Kyrgyz leadership should it fail to comply with those demands. LF TURKMENISTAN, IRAN MOVE AHEAD ON BORDER DAM PROJECT. During talks in Ashgabat last week, Turkmen government and Iranian energy officials approved a feasibility study and reached agreement on financing construction of a reservoir and dam on the Tedzhen River, which marks the border between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 September. The two countries will contribute equally to the estimated $167 million project, which they first agreed on in May 1996. The reservoir will have a capacity of 1.2 billion cubic meters, making it possible to irrigate some 20,000 hectares of land on each side of the border, according to Interfax. LF UZBEK PRESIDENT OPENS ISLAMIC UNIVERSITY IN TASHKENT. Islam Karimov attended the opening ceremony on 3 September of the Tashkent Islamic University, which was established under a presidential decree, Interfax reported. Karimov said that the university will teach the history and philosophy of Islam, Islamic law, economy, and natural sciences, noting that instruction will be based "on original sources handed down from [our] ancestors." Karimov added that inadequate knowledge of Islam "results in delusions among young people and tragic consequences." LF END NOTE RUSSIA'S GOVERNORS PROVING TO BE UNPREDICTABLE POLITICAL FORCE by Sophie Lambroschini The 29 August gubernatorial ballot in Sverdlovsk highlights the growing influence of regions in Russian politics and shows how unpredictable those politics can be. It was no surprise that Eduard Rossel, one of Russia's best-known governors since he promoted an independent Urals republic in 1993, won the first round and stands a good chance of winning the run-off later this month. What was surprising, though, was the relatively poor showing of Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii. Despite support from the powerful Our Fatherland-Russia alliance, Chernetskii came in only third. Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Moscow-based Carnegie Fund, says support from Moscow-based parties is not enough to guarantee victory in regional elections. He told RFE/RL that "more and more, the regions are evolving according to a separate logic, where ideology doesn't play much of a role." He says increasingly voters are looking to regional leaders as "do-ers," as opposed to Moscow politicians, who just talk. Regional expert Jean-Robert Raviot of the French Foundation for Political Sciences says voters take into account what works around them--schools, transport, and other infrastructure--when they make a decision. These things, he says, are more dependent on local authorities. He says that voters also notice when pensions are not paid on time, for which the federation has to assume responsibility. As December's parliamentary elections approach, politicians at all levels, including the Kremlin, are looking at how best to organize themselves. However, it is uncertain whether they are taking into consideration the unpredictability of regional voting. Political alliances have recently been formed. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev's All Russia includes Saint Petersburg Mayor Vladimir Yakovlev, Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, as well as leaders from Bashkortostan and Primore. All Russia recently hooked up with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Fatherland, when it became clear that former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov would support the union. The alliance is widely predicted to do well in the parliamentary election. A rival group has not fared as well. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov's Voice of Russia, reportedly encouraged by the Kremlin, has fallen to pieces. According to Russian media reports, former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin's last tour in the Volga region a few days before his sacking and new Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's trip to Siberia shortly after taking office were last-ditch efforts by the Kremlin to convince governors to support Kremlin-backed candidates. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reports that governors are looking beyond the era of President Boris Yeltsin. They want a presidential candidate who can guarantee their powers and independence. But since none of the main candidates (all of whom are from Moscow) supports regional independence, the governors decided to choose candidates of their own. However, they seemed to have failed in that effort. Russia's regional leaders first asserted themselves last April when the Federation Council (which groups governors and heads of regional legislative assemblies) twice refused to dismiss Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov, as ordered by the Kremlin. After the vote, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed famously announced that the independent stance had led to the "collapse" of presidential power. Such a slap in the Kremlin's face would have been unthinkable a year earlier. The upper house, comprised of many Yeltsin appointees, was conceived as a counter-weight to the unruly opposition Duma. Raviot says the growing independence of the Federation Council is explained by the fact that governors are no longer appointed but have been elected. He notes it has taken the governors some time to define their powers and policies--many of which conflict with those of the center. Also, last year's economic crisis may have propelled the governors toward more autonomous positions. Caught in financial and political turmoil, the center de facto transferred many federal powers to the governors. Several regions, such as Krasnoyarsk and Krasnodar, experimented with highly interventionist methods to stabilize their economies. Analysts note that the main lesson that Moscow political parties and the Kremlin should remember when lobbying regional leaders is their overwhelmingly pragmatic approach. Oksana Orecheva at the East-West Institute's Moscow branch says that governors will make political decisions while disregarding ideology. The main tactic of governors, she argues, is to gain influence for their regions in the State Duma. Oeretcheva notes that in Sverdlovsk, the governor ran as an independent and the Yekaterinburg mayor as a Luzhkov ally (similar configurations are evident in other regions). That way in December, the region is bound not to lose, she argues. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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