TROUBLE ON THE RUSSIA-KAZAKHSTAN BORDER
Izvestia, May 5, 2000, p. 2
Volgograd is now a border city; it is only a few hours from Kazakhstan. The Volgograd region includes over 250 kilometers of the Russia-Kazakhstan border. A number of border posts and checkpoints are operating already along this stretch of the border, and their number is due to rise, with the Volzhsky border guard detachment becoming six to eight times more numerous.
According to Rustam Kireev, deputy head of the South-Eastern department of the Federal Border Guard Service, over the past six months 119 kilograms of drugs have been confiscated from smugglers. The haul also includes dozens of tons of spirits, fuel, nonferrous and ferrous metals, being illegally conveyed across the border. The border guards detained several conveyors of large amounts of weapons.
Unfortunately, sometimes all the efforts of border guards are in vain, because there are no appropriate laws and regulations which regulate interstate relations in detail.
As yet, the Volgograd checkpoints have no international status; a number of other legal issues, which can be dealt with only by the federal government, have not been solved. It is possible that after the border with Georgia is closed to them, Chechen guerillas will try to open new channels through the still-transparent border with Kazakhstan.
Mikhail Nikiforov, head of the Volgograd regional interior affairs department, suggested that a well-armed mobile border guard detachment should be formed using regional budget funds, without waiting for the issue to be solved by the federal government.
RIGHT-WING PARTIES HOLD PRIMARIES IN ST. PETERSBURG
Moskovsky Komsomolets, May 5, 2000, p. 2
Yesterday the initiative group of the Yabloko movement and the Union of Right Forces held gubernatorial primaries in St. Petersburg, ten days before the gubernatorial elections. The primaries were held not only for the sake of experiment; St. Petersburg democratic forces want to agree on a single candidate in the course of the primaries. According to the agreement between Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces (URF), the two right-wing candidates, Igor Artemiev of Yabloko and Yuli Rybakov of the URF, were to hold an elimination contest between themselves. The one to receive more votes in the course of the primaries would become the single candidate of the right. The other should give his votes to the winner. Democrats doubted until the last moment whether the primaries would take place. First they accused each other of trying to disrupt the primaries (just to be on the safe side), then united to accuse the municipal administration of dirty tricks. However, nobody tried to disrupt the primaries. According to the St. Petersburg election commission: “Whatever is not banned is permitted.” However, the city election commission refused to organize the primaries. According to the city administration: “Holding the primaries is the internal affair of Yabloko and the URF.” Indeed, if there are only two candidates on the list, why should other candidates bother? The results of the democratic primaries will be announced today.
WILL RUSSIA HAVE ANOTHER CAPITAL CITY?
Moskovsky Komsomolets, May 5, 2000, p. 2
Russian senators are not delighted with the idea of moving both houses of parliament to St. Petersburg. Heads of Russian major regions were rather harsh in their comments on the idea.
Governor Aman Tuleev of the Kemerovo Region said that Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev’s statement on the need to move to St. Petersburg was nothing but more political game-playing. He also added that the move would not improve the effectiveness of the parliament’s activities, but “everyday rough work” would.
President Mintimer Shaimiev of Tatarstan agrees with the Kemerovo governor. He also believes that moving the parliament to St. Petersburg would change nothing in the parliament’s work. According to him, federal power bodies, such as the president, the government and the parliament, ought to stay in Moscow, and he can see no reasons for moving to St. Petersburg.
According to Governor Viktor Kress of the Tomsk Region, all these suggestions are made in order to put pressure on Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, to make him provide a good site for building a new Parliament Center in Moscow.
As for Boris Berezovsky, an “ordinary Russian Duma deputy” who combines this job with the position of Russia’s major tycoon, he likes the idea of redistributing the center of power from Moscow across Russia very much. According to Berezovsky, the State Duma and the Federation Council could work in St. Petersburg, while the city could become Russia’s second capital.
RUSSIAN MEGA-TAXES TO BE REDUCED
Moskovsky Komsomolets, May 5, 2000, p. 3
The Ministry of Taxes and Duties has started studying the possibility of a tax amnesty in Russia. No doubt it is “Russian dollars” held abroad which are to be amnestied; according to various estimates, there is $250-320 billion of Russian money in foreign banks. According to the Finance Ministry’s official data, each year $20-25 billion is taken out of Russia! However, according to the same source, only 30-35% of this amount is the proceeds of crime; the rest is just “escaping” from Russia’s super-high taxes.
Nevertheless, it will be rather difficult for the Ministry of Taxes and Duties to carry out both a tax reform and a tax amnesty simultaneously. That’s why Tax Minister Pochinok decided first to reduce taxes, and only after that to “pardon” the capital which is hidden in foreign banks (which means attracting investments to Russian industry). Moreover, a sensational decision is likely to be made within the next several weeks: Putin’s government is likely to approve of cutting income tax rates to an unbelievable 13%! The Tax Minister is preparing a “radical option” for tax cuts: within the first year of tax reforms, he plans to cancel the turnover tax; while expenditures on staff training and retraining will be made tax-deductible.
REGIONS ATTRACT ATTENTION
Tribuna, May 5, 2000, p. 2
Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev said at the “Russian parliamentarism and state power in the regions” conference in Astrakhan that Russian federalism is implicit in Russian legislation, while unitarism is implicit in financing. The Russian Constitution actually asserts the unity of Russia – but one in five laws passed by regional administrations contradicts federal laws. The Constitution stipulates no state agreements between the federal center and regions. However, there are 47 agreements of this kind. According to official regulations, there are only eight “donor” regions in Russia (regions which supply more funds to the federal budget than they receive). At the same time, Stroev believes that no fewer than 50 regions are able to pay their own way. The Astrakhan Region is one of them.
In the first quarter of 2000, industrial output in the Astrakhan Region was 32% higher than in the same period of 1999. There are no backlogs in pension payments or state sector wages in the region. The region has paid three times as much tax to the federal budget as last year. However, it has received only 42% of them.