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Russia Report: April 28, 2004

28 April 2004, Volume 4, Number 16
(The first two parts of this article appeared in the last two issues of "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly." To see the article in its entirety, go to

By Gordon Hahn

Seventh, under stealth authoritarianism there are precisely calculated limits on freedom of the mass media and access to information. Although all nationwide television channels are now state-owned, privately owned radio, newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals remain free. The symbol of the Putin regime's seizure of the commanding heights of the mass media and space below set aside for free expression is Yevgenii Kiselev, whose "Itogi" weekly political analytical program on Vladimir Gusinskii's NTV marked the heyday of Russian independent national television in the 1990s. After Gusinskii's forced self-exile and the takeover of NTV by Gazprom's media-holding company, Kiselev's staff and program moved to Boris Berezovskii's TV-6. After it was closed down, Kiselev turned up as editor of the weekly "Moskovskie novosti," which is now controlled by jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskii.

The national television company NTV and the radio station Ekho Moskvy, which are owned by state-controlled natural-gas monopoly Gazprom, are allowed a certain measure of editorial freedom. NTV's weekly political talk show "Svoboda slova," (Freedom Of Speech) hosted by former RFE/RL journalist Savik Shuster, is an island of free speech in an otherwise largely tightly controlled national television system.

Although regional leaders have been tied to the murders of some journalists, federal authorities have not been caught engaging in physical violence or the mass imprisonment of journalists covering the sensitive issues in a fashion critical of the Kremlin. One likely exception is the 1994 killing of "Moskovskii komsomolets" journalist Dmitrii Kholodov. Several military officers are currently on trial for that murder, and there has been widespread speculation that the killing was ordered by then-Defense Minister Pavel Grachev in retaliation for Kholodov's reporting on corruption in the military.

Occasional harassment is the rule, and a few selective cases have been used to put journalists on notice. "Novaya gazeta" journalist Anna Politkovskaya and French journalist Ann Niva continue to go back and forth between their Moscow apartments and the war-torn Chechen Republic -- although not without occasional harassment and even threats -- and to publish their newspaper reports on alleged Russian war crimes in the region and the federal government's acquiescence in them.

Since most Russians get almost all of their political news from national television, the Kremlin's control of this resource gives the authorities a distinct advantage in shaping the background against which Russians develop their political points of view, make decisions on political life, and cast ballots. In the Duma elections in December and the presidential election in March, Unified Russia and Putin received the bulk of television airtime devoted to politics and elections. They received an even higher proportion of positive television time, as subtly crafted negative reports were used to discredit opposition candidates or comical reports were devoted to them in an apparent effort to boost the time appropriated to covering opponents without lending them any political gravitas in the process.

In the Duma election, for example, a relatively long report repeated several times highlighted a beheaded statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin restored with a sculptured head of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. During the presidential election campaign, state television focused most of its coverage on Putin, and completely ignored the potentially most-dangerous opponent, Sergei Glazev. State-controlled ORT broadcast an entire, 40-minute speech by Putin to a gathering of his campaign workers -- essentially a free campaign advertisement courtesy of Russian taxpayers.

Eighth, Putin's stealth-authoritarian Thermidor has included a marked increase in the prominence of the "siloviki." However, it is unclear whether this increase involves the replacement or the supplementing of the civilian party-state apparatchiks incorporated into the new regime from the old under former President Boris Yeltsin. At any rate, according to Stephen White and Olga Kryshtanovskaya, the percentage of military and secret-services representatives has gradually, but markedly increased from the time of Gorbachev's perestroika, a process that began under Yeltsin and gained momentum under Putin. In 1988, siloviki made up 4 percent of the ruling elite; in the early Yeltsin period (1993), they made up 11 percent; in the late Yeltsin era (1999) 17 percent; and under Putin in 2003, 25 percent. Under Putin, they account for 9 percent of Duma's deputies, 15 percent of Federation Council senators, 10 percent of the regional elite, and 33 percent of the federal government.

Here again there is a limit on authoritarianism. This is a far cry from a military or secret-police junta or a neofascist revolution from above run by one of the siloviki. No military or secret-service body runs the country. At most, the Security Council has emerged as an important body. Although it at times has ventured into nonmilitary- and nonsecurity-issue areas, it also includes many civilian officials. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov was once a member (although he almost certainly has past ties to the KGB) of the council, and now former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is the council's secretary. But the council's stature is somewhat diminished by the fact that it seems to be a refuge for officials on the way out of high politics. Thus, Vladimir Rushailo became council secretary after his removal as interior minister in favor of Putin ally Gryzlov. Rushailo received no appointment after being replaced as secretary by Ivanov in March 2004. A similar fate likely awaits Ivanov.

One power ministry has extraordinary influence outside its own policy sphere: the Federal Security Service (FSB). It has emerged to dominate the other power ministries. Aside from greater increases in its budget, representatives of the FSB have now taken over the leadership of the other two key ministries: defense and interior. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is a former KGB and FSB operative from St. Petersburg and Putin's closest associate. Putin recently appointed another former KGB operative, Rashid Nurgaliev, to head the Interior Ministry. Along with the FSB itself, now all three main power agencies are headed by FSB alumni.

In addition, Fradkov is reported to have had ties to the former KGB in his capacity in the Soviet foreign-trade sphere and as a deputy minister in the post-Soviet Foreign Trade Ministry, a sphere usually set aside for those vetted, if not trained in KGB/FSB educational institutions. Moreover, the recent promotion of Dmitrii Medvedev to head the presidential administration marks the ascension of another bureaucrat with secret-police ties, although this is little known even among experts. According to a former KGB general, the Law Faculty of Leningrad State University, from which both Putin and Medvedev hail, was "a smithy of cadres for the KGB's Leningrad Directorate, and Dmitrii Medvedev regularly rendered legal services to the Petersburg chekists and, while doing so, became close to current FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev." Medvedev then was hired by Putin when the latter was appointed in 1990 to head the Foreign Economic Relations Department of the Leningrad City Executive Committee, headed by Anatolii Sobchak. Before their arrival, that department served, according to the same former KGB general, as a cover for the city KGB's reserve.

Putin's soft authoritarian regime not only risks a long stagnant period of muddling through, it also opens up the possibility of further transformation, either by way of a second revolutionary wave of democratic transformations or by way of further counterrevolutionary transformation into a harsh authoritarian or totalitarian form of rule.

Gordon Hahn is a William J. Fulbright visiting professor at the School of International Relations of St. Petersburg State University in St. Petersburg.

Concerns over what some Russia analysts see as "creeping authoritarianism" and a rise in Russian nationalism have prompted researchers to try to measure how widely the Russian public holds xenophobic and anti-Semitic views. Two polls published within the past three months suggest that such ideas are not restricted to small pockets of skinheads and right-wing fanatics. In fact, these trends are evident among a broad spectrum of Russian society.

In February 2004, Mark Urnov's Ekspertisa Institute released the results of a study conducted on Russian attitudes toward different nationalities. Of the 2,500 people questioned, 30 to 75 percent tended to support views that are, to varying degrees, nationalistic or xenophobic. For example, around 30 percent of respondents supported the idea of limiting "foreigners' entry into Russia," while 68 percent believed that the dominant ethnic group in a country should control power.

With regard to unfavorable views toward specific ethnic groups -- 60 percent held negative opinions about people from the Caucasus region, 51 percent about Chinese, 48 percent about Vietnamese, 47 percent about people from Central Asia, and 28 percent about Africans. While only a quarter of those surveyed held unfavorable views toward Jews, 42 percent supported the concept of "limiting the access of Jews to official jobs."

Writing in "Moskovskie novosti" on 2 April, Urnov interpreted the responses as an indication that "Russia is substantially ready to give into temptations of rigid xenophobia and rigid authoritarianism." He pointed to the fact that 60 to 75 percent of those polled responded positively to "radical" or "authoritarian" statements. However, Urnov added that the questions were posed in rigid, polar terms, forcing respondents to choose between two extremes without the option of responding moderately or adopting a middle approach.

The political attitudes of Russian youth today toward nationalist views also reflect a wider strand of intolerance. "Izvestiya" reported on 1 April the findings of a poll conducted by Russia's St. Petersburg University of 1,500 people in Russia between the ages of 16 and 26. This poll found that around one-third of young people sympathize with extremist parties or movements. Specifically, 29 percent of those polled stated that they are "more or less nationalist," and while one in 10 believes that he or she "might take part in nationalist pogroms under certain conditions," while 6 percent stated that they would actually join an extremist group.

On the other hand, some Russia analysts have found optimism in such data; They argue that the percentage of those with extreme and racist views could be much higher given the extreme social and economic upheaval Russia experienced during the 1990's. The author of the St. Petersburg study, Professor Anatolii Kozlov, acknowledged the troubling "passivity" of Russian society to ethnic violence, but stressed that attacks on ethnic minorities were committed by "groups acting out of a feeling of isolation" from the present social and economic conditions in Russia (see "Despite Occasional Xenophobic Attacks, Study Says Such Views Decreasing,", 5 April 2004).

Such polls help to spark interest and debate about the extent of intolerance and racism in contemporary Russia society. Though extremist views and violent attacks are consigned to a small minority of the Russian population, the passivity of Russian society toward the expression of such views remains a cause for concern. (Heather McGee)

UPGRADED: President Vladimir Putin on 24 April signed a decree approving the composition of the Russian Security Council, RTR and ORT reported. Presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev, State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, Foreign Intelligence Service head Sergei Lebedev, and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev are now permanent members of the council, according to "The Moscow Times" on 27 April. Other permanent members are Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev. Russian Academy of Sciences President Yurii Osipov and the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts are also members but do not have the status of permanent members.

RENAMED: The Motherland election bloc, headed by Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev, on 24 April changed its name to For a Worthy Life at an organization congress, Russian media reported. The move was necessitated after former Glazev ally and fellow Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin renamed his Party of Russian Regions as Motherland and got it registered as such by the Justice Ministry in March.

May: Federal Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev to visit Iran, according to ITAR-TASS

May: New draft legislation demarcating the responsibilities of the federal center and the region will be submitted to the State Duma, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov announced on 26 April

3-4 May: Labor Day holiday observed

7 May: President Vladimir Putin to be inaugurated for his second term

9 May: Date by which a decree elaborating functions of newly restructured ministries will be adopted and departmental statutes will be ratified, according to Deputy Prime Minister Zhukov on 16 March

10 May: Victory Day holiday observed

12-13 May: Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref will meet with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick in Paris for bilateral talks on Russian accession to the World Trade Organization

14-28 May: Metropolitan Lazarus, head of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, will visit Russia, according to Interfax

19 May: Agrarian Party must settle its financial accounts with the Central Election Commission or face a ban on political activity

30 May: Date by which prosecutors must either complete their criminal investigation of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii or ask a Moscow court to extend his period of pretrial detention

June: Shanghai Cooperation Organization will meet in Tashkent

1 June: New deadline for exchanging Soviet-era passports for new Russian passports

1 June: The armed forces will begin forming a permanent peacekeeping brigade based in the Volga-Ural Military District

20 June: Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney will perform a concert in St. Petersburg's Palace Square

28-29 June: President Putin expected to attend NATO summit in Istanbul

1 July: First anniversary of the creation of Federal Antinarcotics Agency

2 July: End of State Duma's spring session

3 July: Communist Party will hold congress to hear reports and elect new party officials

4 July: Vladivostok will hold mayoral election

September: St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum plans to open the Hermitage Center, which will exhibit works from the Hermitage's collection, in the city of Kazan

October: President Putin will visit China

31 October: Presidential elections in Ukraine

November: Gubernatorial election in Pskov Oblast

22 November: President Putin to visit Brazil

December: A draft law on toll roads will be submitted to the Russian government, according to the Federal Highways Agency's Construction Department on 6 April

December: Gubernatorial elections in Bryansk, Kamchatka, and Ivanovo oblasts.