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Russia Report: June 2, 2004

2 June 2004, Volume 4, Number 21
By Robert Coalson

One of the few controversial moments in President Vladimir Putin's unsurprising 26 May annual address to the Federal Assembly came when he turned his attention to the country's nascent civil society. "There are thousands of citizens' associations and unions working constructively in our country, but far from all of them are geared toward defending people's real interests," Putin said toward the end of his speech. "For some of these organizations, the priority is rather different -- obtaining funding from influential foreign or domestic foundations. For others it is servicing dubious groups and commercial interests."

This statement, which seems to imply that only the state's agenda is "constructive" and seems to resent the "influence" of nonstate groups, points directly to a key paradox that has bedeviled Putin's entire term in office -- building a vibrant society with the active participation of the public at all levels without giving up control of where that society is going. Putin concluded his speech by noting: "I consider that the creation of a free society of free people in Russia is our most important task, as well as the most complex one. It is the most important because an individual who is not free and not independent is incapable of taking care of himself, his family or his motherland. It is complex because freedom is not always valued, and even rarer is the ability to use it."

Putin's remarks, incidentally, contained an eerie echo of a recent comment by Vladimir Kraev, first deputy head of the Justice Ministry's Corrections Department. Kraev on 7 May said that "some so-called human rights groups have been given financial support from criminal groups," apparently in response to complaints from such organizations about conditions in Russian prisons. Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin later rebuked Kraev for his unsubstantiated allegations and urged him rather to focus on responding substantially to the human rights activists' reports.

The dilemma reaches far beyond the human rights community, touching economic life, science and education, political parties, and more. The Kremlin seems to be seeking a way around the old maxim that the one who pays the fiddler calls the tune; that is, it would like to get others to foot the bills, but seeks to keep fairly tight control over the agenda.

Many observers have charged that the Putin government has spent much of its time and energy reining in the freedoms of those who, in the Kremlin's eyes, don't have "the ability to use" them. The assault on Media-MOST, the drive to bring the regions to heel, various efforts to manipulate local and national elections, the taming of the Federal Assembly, the charges against oil giant Yukos and oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskii, and other events have frequently been viewed in these terms.

Putin's administration has labored hard to develop semi-state/semi-private institutions to resolve this paradox, but these efforts have generally been viewed merely as thinly veiled government control. For instance, the private NTV of former oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii has been replaced by the quasi-private NTV owned by state-controlled natural-gas monopoly Gazprom. Political parties that are reputed to have links to the Kremlin have emerged on the left and the right sides of the spectrum, in both cases edging out genuine opposition parties. Independent organizations within the Muslim and Jewish communities have been supplanted by ones with the Kremlin's ear, and so on.

Asked by journalists to comment on Putin's remark about the funding of NGOs, Lukin said on 27 May that "this is a very serious issue that needs a serious discussion." He said that many organizations are wholly dependent on grants and that "the role of foreign grants is growing seriously."

However, he noted that the alternatives might be even less palatable. "But what do we get if we eliminate the grants?" Lukin said. "Oligarchs? Small and medium-sized business, which is underdeveloped? We get monopolies at the federal, regional, and municipal levels. This leads not to the creation of a civil society but to something else."

As might have been expected, Putin's speech was immediately followed by calls for the state to take control of the funding of NGOs. Political consultant and Effective Politics Foundation head Gleb Pavlovskii told reporters on 27 May that the government must "create the conditions for raising funds domestically." He alleged that "chasing after Western grants is distracting human rights activists from the fundamental task of defending citizens' rights." It is worth noting that Pavlovskii's comments, which were covered on state-controlled media such as RTR television and the ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti news agencies, were presented in the offices of a little-known NGO called Unity in the Name of Russia, an unsubtle echo of the name of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party.

Pavlovskii went still further, naming Kremlin-friendly areas where human rights advocates should be more active, presumably instead of looking into Russian prisons or the situation in Chechnya. Pavlovskii argued that activists could have done more to help Moscow resolve the recent crisis in the Georgian autonomous region of Adjaria and to bring pressure to bear on the Latvian government to improve conditions for ethnic Russians in that country.

Since a leading function of human rights organizations in general is to protect citizens from their government, it is natural to wonder whether the concern of Putin, Kraev, Pavlovskii, and others was provoked because these groups are not effective enough or because they are too effective.

The discussion of NGOs parallels similar debates concerning the funding of science and education. On 18 May, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov addressed the Russian Academy of Sciences and urged scientists to do more to attract private funding for their projects. He lauded an initiative of the academy and oligarch Vladimir Potanin's Norilsk Nickel to study hydrogen-powered engines.

However, many Russian scholars and scientists in recent years have been hounded by the government for their ties to foreign and commercial interests. One of the earliest initiatives of Putin's administration was to adopt a decree compelling all scientists to report to the Federal Security Service (FSB) their contacts with foreigners. The government has used vague and secret laws and decrees on state secrets to prosecute scientists who stray from the state's research agenda. A court recently convicted Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada researcher Igor Sutyagin of espionage even though the judge refused to allow the jury to rule on Sutyagin's contention that all of the information he shared with foreign colleagues was publicly available.

Just this week, Russian media reported that the FSB is investigating oil giant TNK-BP on the grounds that the foreign managers of the high-profile joint venture have gained access to Russian state secrets regarding the extent and location of oil and natural-gas reserves. If that probe gathers steam, it will most certainly have a chilling effect on foreign investment in Russia generally.

Clearly, if Russia is to be a fully competitive modern state, the government cannot control and drive all aspects of political, economic, and social life. Putin and his administration so far seem uncomfortable allowing the level of private initiative in key areas of public life that is necessary to achieve the president's goal of creating " a free society of free people." Overwhelmingly, the thrust of Kremlin policy over the last four years has been to channel and control private initiative, but the ultimate effect of that policy could be to kill such initiative off altogether.

Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast prosecutor Vladimir Demidov has declared that he will initiate an investigation of the wife of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev, Gulya Khodyreva, who is director of the oblast's public-relations department, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 1 June. According to Demidov, state-service regulations prevent Khodyreva from being employed in a position directly subordinate to her husband. Khodyreva is considered by many analysts to be the power behind the throne in Nizhnii Novgorod, and she ran in the 7 December 2003 State Duma elections from a single-mandate district with the backing of the Motherland bloc.

The controversy around Khodyreva is only the latest of many conflicts between Khodyrev and presidential envoy for the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko, who is believed to be backing Demidov's initiative. According to "Vremya novostei" on 19 May, oblast legislature Chairman Yevgenii Lyulin is Kirienko's choice to replace Khodyrev in gubernatorial election to be held next summer.

Khodyrev has responded to the pressure by attacking both the office of the envoys and Kirienko personally. At the fourth anniversary last month of the creation of President Vladimir Putin's of the institution of the presidential envoys, Khodyrev told reporters that the post should be abolished. According to RosBalt on 17 May, Khodyrev said that maintaining the envoy's office requires additional expenses, but at the same time the crime rate and tax-collection rates remain the same. On 28 May, Khodyrev attacked Kirienko directly, telling RosBalt that Kirienko would like become governor himself. He added that he is just the latest governor in the Volga district to be subjected to a public-relations campaign against him. "First there was [Samara Governor Konstantin] Titov, then [Saratov Governor Dmitrii] Ayatskov, and now it is my turn," he said.

Khodyrev and Kirienko were once allies, when their mutual antipathy for then Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Yurii Lebedev brought them together (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 April 2002). But with gubernatorial elections looming, local analysts are suggesting that Kirienko either wants Khodyrev's seat himself or has a more obedient replacement in mind. Evidently, any gratitude he once felt for Khodyrev's support for Unity and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) in oblast legislative elections has apparently been forgotten.

This week RFE/RL asked Robert Orttung of the American University to discuss the role of the envoys in the light of the developments in the Volga district and the fourth anniversary last month of their creation. Orttung is an associate research professor at American University's Transnational Crime and Corruption Center and editor with Peter Reddaway of "The Dynamics of Russian Politics: Putin's Reform of Federal-Regional Relations" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). He is also the editor of the fortnightly "Russian Regional Report" ( (Julie A. Corwin)

RFE/RL: What have been the chief accomplishments of the presidential envoys since they were created? Periodically I read the opinion that presidential envoys have accomplished their tasks and should be abolished. Do you think that they have accomplished the tasks set out for them by the original presidential decree?

Robert Orttung: The envoys have accomplished several things. First, they have helped shift the tone of Russian domestic politics. The separatism commonly discussed during the era of former President Boris Yeltsin is no longer an issue. Additionally, they have helped to abolish the monolithic power that the governors often had in the second half of the 1990s. Now, there is an alternative to the governors in many regions to which those groups who do not back the governor can appeal for support. However, the extent of this alternative is limited. Opposition groups in places like Tatarstan and Bashkortostan have been disappointed that the federal government did not go far enough in reducing the power of the republican presidents.

The envoys have also played a role in removing the federal law enforcement agencies, particularly the Interior Ministry and the prosecutors, from the control of the governors and making them directly subordinate to the federal authorities. Of course, law enforcement agents are not independently enforcing laws now. They simply are taking orders from the federal rather than regional governments. The creation of federal-district-level offices in the Interior Ministry and prosecutor's office helped spur this change. However, it is not clear that the envoys themselves played much of a role in this process, and most likely this change could have been implemented by reforming the agencies in question. Definitely, the envoys do not have any influence over the Federal Security Service (FSB). In fact, this agency seems to monitor the work of the envoys, though it is not clear to what extent it actually directs their activities.

The tasks originally defined for the envoys were extremely vague, so it is hard to say whether they have been achieved. Each envoy and his staff have largely had to define their own role. Since the envoys do not control any budgets, many of them have focused on the tasks of attracting investment and even working as lobbyists at the federal level to bring federal funds to their particular federal districts. Such a role was not envisioned in the original decree.

Most likely the envoys will continue to find new tasks for themselves. The current envoy to the Northwest Federal District recently announced that he will work to triple the size of the economy in his district, outdoing even Putin's pledge to double the size of the Russian economy within 10 years.

RFE/RL: Why was presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev dismissed? What conclusions do you draw about how the presidential administration views the office of the envoys based on its most recent appointees, [former Industry and Science Minister Ilya] Klebanov [as envoy to the Northwest Federal District and [former Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir] Yakovlev [as envoy to the Southern Federal District]?

Orttung: Putin dismissed Kazantsev after winning a second term for two reasons. Reliable papers like "Moskovskie novosti" suggested that Kazantsev had made extremely poor personnel choices for his staff and claimed that many of his subordinates were using their positions to promote their own interests. It also seemed that Kazantsev was not effective as an envoy and that he did not provide the right kind of leadership for the North Caucasus. As a general, Kazantsev took a strong-arm approach, but now the Kremlin seems to think that a more subtle approach is appropriate.

While five of the seven initial envoys were generals, Putin has looked to civilian politicians and economic managers since then in selecting envoys. This choice suggests that the envoys' role is no longer to frighten the governors, but to encourage economic development in the regions.

Putin removed Viktor Cherkesov from the Northwest Federal District once Cherkesov had accomplished his main task of neutralizing St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, an old Putin foe. Since Cherkesov was not a likely winner as a gubernatorial candidate, Putin turned to Valentina Matvienko, whom Putin briefly backed unsuccessfully in the 2000 St. Petersburg gubernatorial election. Matvienko used her position as envoy solely for the purpose of winning election as St. Petersburg governor.

Once she had gained the office, Putin appointed former Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov to the position. The choice was a surprise, since most had expected Klebanov to fade from view as an undistinguished State Duma deputy representing the United Russia party list. Klebanov most likely will focus on economic development since Matvienko is a close Putin ally and the Kremlin does not need someone to watch over her.

Putin enticed Yakovlev out of the St. Petersburg governor's chair by appointing him deputy prime minister. But the administrative reforms of his second term eliminated that position, and Putin again made a shocking appointment by sending Yakovlev to deal with the troublesome Caucasus, where he had no previous experience. Most likely, Putin sent Yakovlev to Rostov as a way of neutralizing one of his political enemies. If the main resource of the presidential envoys is their direct link to the popular Putin, Yakovlev is effectively powerless because he cannot count on much access to the president. Putin's appointment of Yakovlev and Klebanov suggests that Putin does not think the presidential envoy will play much of a role in the future either for economic or political goals and has essentially turned the institution of presidential envoy into a high-level, facing-saving dumping ground for politicians nearing the end of their careers.

RFE/RL: There were some articles during the Duma elections suggesting that the office and resources of the presidential envoys were being used to promote the Unified Russia party. How widespread was this practice? Did it occur in all seven districts? Are there signs that such cooperation has continued?

Orttung: [Indiana University assistant political-science professor] Henry Hale's research for our forthcoming book on Putin's federal reforms addresses these questions. Yes, the envoys did play a role in the State Duma campaigns, particularly in the 225 single-mandate districts. Their first function was to coordinate the various pro-presidential groups in each of these districts to ensure that Kremlin's candidates did not knock each other out.

Additionally, the Kremlin decided that it would be better off working with the governors to elect State Duma members than against them. For the first time in post-Soviet Russian history, the Kremlin was able to align all of the governors' political machines in support of one pro-Kremlin political party. The result was much greater coordination among candidates fighting for the district seats, and the result was that United Russia did much better than any previous party on this part of the ballot, winning 102 of the 225 seats. These dynamics seemed to operate across all seven districts, but some envoys play a much more political role than others.

Most likely this cooperation between envoys and governors was driven by the need to win the Duma and presidential elections. Now that the elections have passed, the level of cooperation is likely to decrease. However, as the 2007-2008 round of elections approaches, the Kremlin will again have to rely heavily on the governors to win the elections and the ties are likely to increase once again.

By Jeremy Bransten

On 28 May, Russia's State Duma approved in the second of three readings by 310 votes to 120 President Vladimir Putin's amended version of a bill on public demonstrations. Putin had voiced his disapproval of the version passed by deputies in its first reading at the end of March. Putin's version is regarded as more liberal than the original bill -- which would have given the authorities the authority to prevent practically all demonstrations on the grounds of public safety. But opposition deputies still decry the measure as an unnecessary restriction of free speech.

Originally, the bill would have banned Russians from holding protest pickets or rallies on or near property belonging to the presidential administration, as well as all federal, regional, or local government buildings. In addition, demonstrators would have been blocked from assembling on public-access roads, highways, and bridges, as well as near schools, oil installations, foreign embassies, and international organizations.

Critics, who were joined by Putin, said the legislation would essentially have allowed the authorities to block any protest they wished -- effectively muzzling people's right to free speech. The revised version -- as approved on 28 May -- will ban protests on or around presidential-administration buildings, courts, and jails. But government buildings, university campuses, hospitals, and foreign embassies are back as legitimate protest sites.

Duma Deputy Andrei Isaev of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, which holds a two-thirds majority in the Duma, praised the reworded law. "There are no ideal laws," Isaev said. "But we can see that today, in accordance with this law, you can freely and democratically organize demonstrations, marches, and pickets and quickly react to events happening in our lives."

But opposition parties -- including the Communists, the left-patriotic Motherland faction and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia -- all voted against the revised bill, calling it a major infringement of rights. The main issue for them is that the bill -- in both its old and new versions -- will force demonstrators to seek permission for their protests from the authorities. Currently, demonstrators are only obliged to give notice of their plans -- without seeking prior approval.

That, according to Deputy Sergei Popov (independent), is a crucial difference. It places ultimate power in the hands of the bureaucrats. And that power, he argued, could be easily misused. "The bill, as it was passed in its current form, creates a range of ways for bureaucrats to prevent the holding of demonstrations, marches, meetings, and pickets," Popov said. "And bureaucrats will of course use the means at their disposal. Unfortunately, the government is not democratic. It gives orders from the top and these are carried out at any price. And the possibility of seeking redress in court has been eliminated."

Deputy Oleg Shein of the Motherland faction went even further, noting that the legislation could be used to muzzle basic democratic rights, such as the freedom of trade union members to assemble. "It is absolutely clear that if a trade union holds a meeting, this is an internal matter for this particular civic association," he said. "But we are establishing a norm under which a civic association, a trade union, or a party holding a meeting of its own members can have that meeting declared illegal."

Communist Deputy Sergei Reshulskii expressed similar concerns. "In all of the law's provisions we can see one central idea: bureaucrats, the state apparatus, the government will control everyone," he said.

Despite opposition protests, however, final passage of the bill in its current form is highly likely. Democracy advocates can be thankful that Putin stepped in to water down the bill's excessively restrictive measures. Given the Duma's current political makeup, with two-thirds of deputies voting in sync with the Kremlin, the opposition simply lacks the numbers to block any legislation favored by the president.

SHIFTED: The Federation Council representatives officially confirmed on 26 May the new representative in the Federation Council for the executive branch of Orel Oblast, Marina Rogacheva. Rogacheva, 38, is the daughter of Orel Oblast Governor Yegor Stroev. Most recently, she served as deputy governor of the oblast, directing the oblast's representative office in Moscow. Rogacheva replaces Pavel Merkulov, who had served since December 2001. Senators also confirmed Igor Kamenskii as the new representative for the governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai. Kamenskii, 36, previously worked in the administration of Oneksimbank and as a vice president of Rosbank. Kamenskii replaced Pavel Fedirko, 72, who wished to take up less taxing work.

IN: President Putin signed decrees on 28 May appointing Valentin Sobolev, Yurii Zubakov, and Nikolai Spasskii deputy secretaries of the Security Council, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 May. FSB Lieutenant General Sobolev, who was appointed when Putin was Security Council secretary, was the only deputy under current Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov's predecessor, Vladimir Rushailo, to keep his post. Zubakov was most recently ambassador to Moldova, while Spasskii was most recently ambassador to Italy.

PROMOTED: President Putin appointed Aleksandr Beglov on 27 May to head the Main Control Department of the presidential administration, reported. According to the website, Beglov is the third head of the department appointed in the past six months. Beglov replaces Valerii Nazarov, who served two months in the position and then was named in March to head the new Federal State Property Agency. Like Nazarov, Beglov has also worked in St. Petersburg, having served most recently as first deputy presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District. He also headed the St. Petersburg branch of Unified Russia.

IN: President Putin appointed on 27 May Vladimir Dmitriev as chairman of Vneshekonombank, AK&M reported, citing the presidential press service. Dmitriev, 52, replaces Vladimir Chernukhin, whose term as chairman ended one year early. Dmitriev most recently served as deputy chairman of the bank and before that as deputy head of the Foreign Credits Department.

IN: Putin named on 27 May a new ambassador to Bulgaria, Anatolii Potapov, reported. Potapov replaces Vladimir Titov. Potapov is a former deputy foreign minister.

3 June: Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica to visit Moscow

3 June: Khakasia's legislature to hold a special session to discuss plans to re-register the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power plant in Krasnoyarsk Krai

5 June: The Finance Ministry will present the basic financial parameters for draft federal budget for 2005

5 June: President Putin to meet with French President Jacques Chirac and U.S. President George Bush in Paris, according to AFP

6 June: President Putin and other world leaders to participate in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Allied landing in Normandy, France

7 June: President Putin will visit Mexico

7 June: The trial in the case of the murder of State Duma Deputy Galina Staravoitova will resume in St. Petersburg

8-9 June: Prime Minister Fradkov will participate in a session of the Council of Ministers of the governments of the Russia-Belarus Union

8-10 June: G-8 summit will be held at Sea Island, Georgia in the United States

9 June: Supreme Court to hear a government appeal of the acquittal of scientist Valentin Danilov on charges spying for China.

10 June: State Duma will examine a package of legislation reforming the housing sector

10 June: Deadline for closure of the last remaining camp for Chechen refugees in Ingushetia

10 June: Interior Ministry will launch a crime-prevention program among adolescents

15-19 June: Eighth annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum will be held

23-25 June: Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi to visit Moscow

Late June: Supreme Shaman of Siberia Toizin Bergenov will visit Moscow to conduct a ritual purging of the State Duma building of evil spirits, Interfax reported on 6 May

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

20 June: Union of Rightist Forces will hold party congress

25 June: Gazprom will hold a shareholders meeting

27 June: International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei will visit Russia

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

early July: British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will visit Russia

July: Russia and the United States will hold bilateral negotiations on Russian entry into the World Trade Organization

July: Audit Chamber will complete its checks on major oil companies

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

2 July: End of State Duma's spring session

3 July: Communist Party congress will be held to elect new leadership

4 July: Vladivostok will hold mayoral election

1 August: Deadline for the Finance Ministry to present a draft 2005 budget to the government

26 August: Deadline for the government to introduce draft 2005 budget to the State Duma

29 August: Presidential elections will be held in Chechnya

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

15-18 September: The third International Conference of Mayors of World Cities will be held in Moscow

October: President Putin will visit China

31 October: Presidential election 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, Ulyanovsk, and Ivanovo oblasts