August 01, 1999

There Ought To Be a Law ...

Four years ago, we published a story on the tragic earthquake on Sakhalin island. So it was with some amazement that we read in early June that deputies from the island had made a special appeal to President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Stepashin, asking for help with the desparate housing problem still faced by 800 families there. The deputies don’t want any money; they just want Russian Customs to release the building materials sent to the island as part of a Russian-Canadian contract to build earthquake-proof cottages (Customs wants $5.3 million in VAT taxes).

Meanwhile, a month later, Kommersant Daily reported that First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksonenko endorsed a Stalin-era plan to build a $10 billion tunnel between mainland Russia and the Sakhalin island. Stalin originally envisioned the plan as a way to allow a covert Soviet invasion of Japan, and construction was actually begun with slave labor after WWII. Aksonenko said the tunnel would help link Japan with European trade routes.

On a equally absurd note, the Russian Duma recently voted 297-77 to give itself a raise from 6000 to 10,000 rubles ($415) per month. The bill still needs Federation Council and Presidential approval, but it would also give Duma deputies 48 days of paid vacation.

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