Accessibility links

Russia Report: July 22, 2004

22 July 2004, Volume 4, Number 28
By Julie A. Corwin

Russia and Ukraine have generally maintained a healthy cross-border trade, but in the run-up to the 31 October Ukrainian presidential elections, some Ukrainians are questioning whether they really want Russia's latest export: political consultants. On 19 July, youth activists rallied in Kyiv outside a building where Effective Politics Foundation head Gleb Pavlovskii was holding a press conference, TV 5 in Kyiv reported. A week earlier, almost two dozen activists from the Youth -- The Hope of Ukraine organization picketed the Russian Embassy in Kyiv to demand that Moscow not interfere in the presidential race, bearing signs saying "Russian Political Consultants: Suitcase, Train Station, Russia!," reported on 12 July.

The picketers also demanded that the Ukrainian authorities expel Russian consultants -- particularly Marat Gelman. Gelman, a former deputy general director at ORT, most recently organized the surprisingly successful election effort of the Motherland party in Russia's 2003 State Duma race. Pavlovskii is perhaps best known for his role in shaping Unity's message during the State Duma elections in 1999. He has also taken credit for creating Vladimir Putin's image. Another Russian political consultant who is sparking interest in Ukraine is Igor Shuvalov (not to be confused with Russian presidential aide Igor Shuvalov). Consultant Shuvalov is better known in Ukraine than in Russia and works for the Ukrainian presidential administration. Shuvalov has reportedly authored many of the "temnyky," or secret written instructions, issued by the presidential administration to media outlets regarding their coverage -- or noncoverage -- of certain news events. In addition, according to opposition website "Ukrayinska pravda" on 16 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2002). A Ukrainian branch of Pavlovskii's Effective Politics Foundation has also reportedly played a key role in the invention and distribution of temnyky.

The October ballot is not the first Ukrainian election in which Russian spin doctors have taken part. They had a relatively high profile during the 2002 campaign for the Verkhovna Rada, although some Ukrainian political activists have questioned their effectiveness in that race. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 July, Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Tomenko said that Gelman worked for the pro-government Social Democratic Party-united (SPDU-o) during the 2002 race. Gelman and Pavlovskii, according to Tomenko, promised that they would secure 10 percent of the total votes for SDPU-o but managed to get only 6.3 percent. Shuvalov, together with Petr Shchedrovitskii, worked on the campaign for Winter Crop Generation, which finished with even just 2.02 percent of the vote, according to "Ukrayinska pravda" on 16 June. Shchedrovitskii is perhaps best known for his work consulting presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District and former co-leader of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) Sergei Kirienko.

In this year's presidential election, the top contenders are Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko. Gelman, Pavlovskii, and Shuvalov are all reportedly working for Yanukovych. In a press conference in Moscow on 1 July, Pavlovskii denied that he is working for any candidate in Ukraine. However, he severely criticized Yushchenko in remarks that were picked up by a variety of Russian and Ukrainian media outlets. He said that a "victory for Yushchenko could be seen as a victory for Western Ukraine over Eastern Ukraine, something that is dangerous for the country itself," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 2 July. Pavlovskii added that if Russia wants to see chaos in the former Soviet Union, then it should back Yushchenko, "a weak man and a politician who is being controlled, who is lacking in independence and who will take society toward disintegration, first politically, and then perhaps, territorially."

In an interview with Hromadske Radio in Kyiv on 19 May, Gelman too denied that he is working as anything other than an art-gallery owner during his stay in the Ukrainian capital. However he, like Pavlovskii, has an opinion about the race. He said that "my personal position is that if Yushchenko becomes president, I will consider it a personal defeat. But I have no clients here." Later in the same interview, when queried about the poor performance of his clients in the 2002 elections, Gelman insisted that "the customer-contractor relationship is very intimate one, and conclusions about whether a political consultant has fulfilled his task can be drawn based on whether he continues his relationship with his clients. I can state in this respect that I have not lost any major clients either in Russia or here in Ukraine." Therefore, if Viktor Medvedchuk, SPDU-o leader and presidential-administration chief, can be considered "major," then apparently Gelman still works for him.

Despite their denials, the perception that Gelman and Pavlovskii are involved in the election persists. In an interview with RBK on 5 July, Kirill Frolov, director of the Ukraine department at the Institute for CIS Countries, went so far as to characterize Gelman's strategy for Yanukovych. He said that Gelman is rejecting the use of the resources of the Russian Orthodox Church in the campaign and is instead trying to create a "carnival-like" atmosphere.

Yushchenko's supporters have accused Gelman and Pavlovskii of using "black public relations" against Yushchenko. In comments published by Ekspert-tsentr on 5 July, Tomenko implied that Yanukovych's campaign is using "unprincipled methods" against Yushchenko. He noted the broken windows at the Russian Cultural Center in Lviv and the meetings of Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian National Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO) where fascist symbols were used in support of Yushchenko. An article in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 16 July linked a public rally held by the ultranationalist Ukrainian National Assembly in Kyiv's central square with Yanukovych's headquarters and with Pavlovskii and Gelman in particular, calling the gathering "Gelmanjudend." The daily, which cited no sources, commented: "The question is: Why should a democratically minded, pan-national candidate initiate such a threat, when only a silovik no one currently knows can benefit? There is absolutely no sense in it."

It should perhaps be noted that consultants sometimes will not only orchestrate an public event, but will also arrange to have articles published about it, and they will sometimes arrange for a trick against their own candidate that can be blamed on the campaign of the opposition or be used to generate voter sympathy.

It could be argued that the protests against the Russian spin doctors help rather than hurt their cause, since presumably no one would object to their presence if they were completely ineffectual. In comments to "Politicheskii zhurnal," No. 24, Andrei Konovalov, president of the Institute for Strategic Evaluations and Analysis, joined his Ukrainian counterparts in criticizing the presence of Gelman, Pavlovskii, and others, saying that all they can create are "provocations."

Konovalov concluded that regardless of whether Yanukovych or Yushchenko is elected president, the general direction of Ukraine will be the same: toward the West. "The basic tendency of foreign policy in Ukraine is a movement toward the West, a striving for integration into European structures and NATO," he said. "Whoever wins the election, this situation will not change." Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Institute for CIS Countries, agreed, noting that the fundamental relationship between Russia and Ukraine will not change "cardinally" under either candidate. "In the end, the Donetsk group, to which Yanukovych belongs, has its own interests which frequently diverge from those of Russian businesses," he added.

To combat Ukraine's drift toward the West, Konovalov suggests that rather than importing Russian "political technologies," Russian enterprises should engage in a gradual but relentless penetration of Ukraine's energy complex, so that "Russian businesses control the Ukrainian economy." It is possible that Konovalov's suggested strategy is already being implemented, and the push to elect Yanukovych is simply a supplementary effort rather than a competing one.

By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian media, especially Kremlin-controlled television which is viewed widely in Russia and neighboring states, is instrumental in promoting President Vladimir Putin's policies for the former Soviet Union and in maintaining Russian hegemony over the "information space" of the CIS and in securing Russian geopolitical objectives in the region. With a far more professional and wide-reaching television system than in the Soviet era, in part enhanced by Western investment and training, Russia now has a subtle -- sometimes, not-so-subtle -- means of covering the news and views of the region, and of shaping that news to its own ends.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is featured virtually every evening on prime-time television, as concerned about Russian-language textbooks in Latvia as he is about evacuating Russian energy workers from Iraq following terrorist attacks. Breaking with diplomatic protocol, Putin is shown rushing in person to the airport to greet German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and listen to him praise Russia's new emergency-rescue planes.

But it was to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma that Putin granted his very first long, televised conversation immediately after his March re-election, opening with a friendly suggestion to "take a walk after dinner and then come over to my house for tea and we'll chat." Comradely moments like that perhaps remove the sting of the publicly televised humiliation Putin dealt Ukraine when he remonstrated leaders for thinking they could live off any kind of exports other than beets and when extracted the prime-time admission from Kuchma, who is often courted by the West, that the CIS "cannot look out to sea for the weather to be made" from the European Union, but must make it themselves in the CIS.

Carefully staged meetings with CIS leaders are given ample airtime on the official RTR and other stations and are designed to shape the views of millions of Russians in the Russian Federation and the mindset of millions of Russian-speakers in the near abroad. The coverage from Moscow influences their thinking about local elections and regional issues.

The power of this electronic reach might not be immediately evident, but it is amply demonstrated by incidents such as Minsk's shut-off of Russian programming during politically delicate moments and battles in Central Asia over frequencies for certain Russian programs. Pictures, as they say, always speak 1,000 words. When a record nine CIS presidents came to Moscow in early July, Putin took the first three -- Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev, Kyrgyzstan's Askar Akaev, and Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili -- to the Bolshoi Theater. The message is not only about the ostensible superiority of Russian culture or the closeness of ties with CIS allies, but the age-old practice of supplicants needing to make their way to the top to solve their problems.

Negative coverage on prime-time Russian television can have a devastating effect. For months, the Ukrainian parliament was portrayed as uncouth and undemocratic, wrecking voting equipment. Never was there any discussion about whether an abrupt switch away from popularly electing the president to having the parliament select him was a threat to democracy. When candidates began to register for the presidential election this week, RTR focused on the antics of Brotherhood candidate Dmitrii Kolchunskii and his entourage, who rolled up to the Central Election Commission in armored vehicles, and on a frenzied support rally of his followers. By contrast, a safety-suited Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was shown threading his way among steelworkers at a blast furnace in Dniepropetrovsk, waxing reminiscent about having first met his wife at a steel plant, and still appearing later that evening crisp and cool to sing a romantic duet with Ukraine's celebrated Ruslana on stage before screaming fans.

Not that Russian television is above playing the democracy card when necessary. During the chilly winter months when Russian gas companies were shutting off the pipelines to Belarus over payment disputes, RTR featured scenes of urbane Russian energy officials speaking ironically about President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, contrasted with the sputterings of a clownish Lukashenka and, later, his about-face on paying market rates for natural gas. And suddenly, RTR, ORT, and other Russian media outlets found time for the Belarusian opposition, featuring demonstrations and speaking in sympathetic tones of beaten activists and expelled journalists. But as soon as the energy deals were settled, coverage of the Belarusian opposition dried up.

Nonetheless, Lukashenka's recent announcement that he is willing to seek a third presidential term "if the people allow him to run" proved too much for Russian television. "The Belarusian leader refers to himself in the third person," dryly cracked RTR's Mikhail Antonov in the set-up to unflattering scenes of Lukashenka's populist claims of public support for violating the constitution.

While Russian television and newspapers already have a great influence in the near abroad, lately the Kremlin appears almost panicked about what Putin called the danger of the "erosion" of Russian interests in the CIS. In an unprecedented move, the topic of the CIS was placed on the agenda of the Security Council as a matter of national defense, with Kremlin-access television camera operators on hand to witness the choreographed discussion, replete with tanned-and-rested Muscovite bureaucrats and pale CIS representatives in Moscow hanging their heads. Stern calls were made to open Russian cultural centers throughout the CIS and step up Russian-language training.

Within minutes into the news hour that same day, Kremlin political consultant Gleb Pavlovskii was featured in Kyiv opening up a Russian club and taking questions from Ukrainian journalists about Russian influence on the Ukrainian presidential election. "What, some Russian citizen will come here and start handing out ratings??" fumed Pavlovskii, coquettishly discounting the possibility. "They'll kick him out."

To be sure, Russian television and print media, which are far freer than most local CIS media, are a boon for local democrats. Yet their coverage on Russian television is decidedly mixed. Georgia's President Saakashvili is unabashedly compared with Hitler in teaser ads for, and even the smallest street vendors' demonstration is played up to look like proof of the alleged "ungovernable" nature of Caucasians. Demonstrators in Yerevan are shown mainly overturning cars or setting fires. By contrast, Armenian President Robert Kocharian is invited to Moscow to give a sober soliloquy in a lengthy pan on RTR about why stability and trust in his government should prevail over disgruntled activists complaining about election corruption.

Far out of proportion to their size and actual importance to Russia's security concerns is coverage of the Baltic states. Many weeks, the nightly news features demonstrations, alternately, of veterans alleged to be Nazi collaborators and students angry about language requirements in Latvia, or stories about Estonia's recent announcement that Russian university diplomas must be certified by national education offices. Estonia's move, said to be in keeping with its European Union commitments, was juxtaposed on RTR with a similar move by Turkmenistan not to recognize Russian diplomas.

Turkmenistan comes in for hot-and-cold coverage, depending on the state of negotiations about the status of Russians there. Sometimes President Sapurmurat Niyazov is called "Turkmenbashi" and portrayed unflatteringly in scenes reminiscent of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, with thousands of dancing children paying homage to their beloved leader. On other occasions, he is shown as an important trade partner and placed in artificially flattering settings, such as at his desk in his library, enthusing about how he has had domestic architects copy designs from St. Petersburg. Any subscriber to the top oil newsletters in the region following the status of various energy deals between Russia and the near abroad could probably fairly accurately determine the temperature of coverage of this or that CIS state in that week's news on Russian television.

Ashgabat recently shut down Russia's Mayak radio station, but then promised this week to restore it, leaving it unclear whether the closure was a demonstration of muscle-flexing or the consequence of a technical breakdown. Some other CIS leaders have instituted requirements for percentages of domestic content in native languages, in part to counter Moscow's influence.

When terrorists attacked in Uzbekistan in March, Russian media gave saturation coverage to the bombings and the police raids to capture the suspects -- more coverage than local television did. Indeed, Russian media have generally covered terrorism around the world more intensely than some regional media and have been an alternative source of information for CIS populations. Usually the responsibility or negligence of CIS governments is not the focus of the coverage, however, and usually some sort of link is made between domestic resistance movements and international terrorism movements. Often, what little can be gleaned in the way of hypotheses for various terrorist attacks comes from the Russian media, particularly from websites with breaking news.

The media also accomplish by silence or evasion what they cannot accomplish by propagandistic set pieces. Little is seen, for example, about the drug trade in Tajikistan or Tajik migrant laborers on television, although newspapers have been somewhat bolder in covering their plight.

Whether through distorted images or the absence of accurate coverage, the Russian media will continue to have a far-reaching impact on governments and publics throughout the CIS. It is an era in which broadcast images with the right spin and setting will prove more powerful than armies or missiles because they are capable of reaching people's hearts and minds instantly.

By Jeremy Bransten

President Vladimir Putin fired on 19 July the chief of the General Staff, Army General Anatolii Kvashnin, along with three other top military commanders. Few in Russia's military are sorry to see Kvashnin leave.

Moscow-based military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer called Kvashnin "the most hated general in the Russian military," according to "The New York Times." He has now been replaced by his deputy, Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii, a man who is far more respected.

Kvashnin is most closely associated with Russia's two ill-fated wars in Chechnya and especially the 1994-95 winter offensive aimed at taking Grozny, which ended in catastrophe and cost the lives of hundreds of Russian soldiers. That has not made him popular with the rank and file. Kvashnin's bureaucratic battles with the Defense Ministry over control of military planning have also earned him the dislike of the top brass.

Now, the Defense Ministry appears to have won the upper hand as Russia enters another phase of its military restructuring.

Although many analysts point to last month's deadly raid in Ingushetia as the catalyst for the dismissal of Kvashnin and three top military commanders for the North Caucasus region, the shake-up appears to be the result of a long-term plan.

Kvashnin's dismissal follows adoption of a law that cut the powers of the General Staff and reduced it to a department of the Defense Ministry that will function as an advisory group responsible for strategic planning. For years, the two institutions had existed as rival centers of power and fought a tug-of-war over operational control of Russia's armed forces.

Those opposing Kvashnin accused him of being stuck in the past, actively undermining efforts to transform the military into a smaller, more technologically advanced force.

Moscow-based military analyst Aleksandr Golts told RFE/RL that Kvashnin was ill suited for the General Staff's new role, so in this respect his replacement by Baluevskii makes sense. "The Russian General Staff is being excluded from the chain of operational command of the armed forces and will have to concentrate exclusively on strategic planning," according to Golts. "[In this regard,] Anatolii Kvashnin was the least suitable person, due to his intellect, for any kind of planning. His first deputy, Yurii Baluevskii, has demonstrated his great analytical skills and that he is capable of such tasks. So, at first glance, everything appears very logical."

The problem, according to Golts, is that the newly positioned General Staff is set to operate in a vacuum. Reforms at the lower levels have not been carried out, meaning that a system of regional commands -- which could provide input for the General Staff's strategic planning -- simply does not exist. "[For example,] the Americans plan their operations in these commands," he said. "The entire war against Iraq was planned in the Central Command. In Russia, the role of the commands is performed by the military districts. But they do not have the ability to plan because their main duty is the mobilization of reservists in case of war. That is what they are trained to do. They cannot take on operational planning. This is just one of many questions that come up when you analyze how this new General Staff is supposed to perform."

Golts says this latest reshuffle is symptomatic of the way military reform is being carried out in Russia, which is from the top down, exactly in the wrong order. "In my view, what is happening with the General Staff is similar to the decision to create several rapid-reaction units made up of professional, contract soldiers. The idea is correct, but it is introduced as a first step when instead it should come as the final decision after a series of complicated reforms. So the decision is made without the requisite preparation. One can assume that it is done out of naivety or on purpose, so that the military brass -- after a period of time -- can approach the president and tell him: 'Esteemed commander in chief, this is not working out. This [reform] is not right for Russia.'"

One thing is clear, however. When it comes to Russia's troubles in the North Caucasus, no amount of military reshuffles will end the prolonged war in Chechnya, as Yurii Baluevskii himself indicated in an interview with RFE/RL two months ago. "How do you take away a machine gun from a young man who has held it for 10 or 12 years?" he said. "How do you make him work, till the land, sell goods? This is a problem. And there is no military solution. The only solution is an economic recovery [in Chechnya], employment of the population, education."

Whether Putin -- who gives the orders -- sees it this way is another question.

IN: President Putin on 19 July named Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii chief of the General Staff, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Baluevskii, who previously served as first deputy chief of the General Staff, replaced Army General Anatolii Kvashnin, who was dismissed earlier the same day. RIA-Novosti also reported on 19 July that Colonel General Aleksandr Belousov has been named first deputy defense minister.

UP: President Putin on 12 July named Andrei Denisov as Russia's ambassador to the UN and its representative on the UN Security Council. Denisov was most recently a deputy foreign minister in charge of foreign economic policy, according to "Profil," No. 27. Denisov replaces Sergei Lavrov, who was named foreign minister in March.

RESHUFFLED: First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin will remain Foreign Minister Lavrov's only first deputy foreign minister, while Lavrov's second first deputy, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, will now serve as ambassador to India, Russian media reported on 13 July. Another former first deputy foreign minister, Eleonora Mitrofanova, will now head the ministry's new Agency for Relations with Russians Abroad. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Razov was named ambassador to China, and special presidential adviser on Caspian affairs with the rank of deputy foreign minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi will serve as the new ambassador to Latvia.

IN: Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has named Andrei Dolgorukov as Russia's trade representative to the United States, replacing Mikhail Barkov. Dolgorukov most recently headed the Americas department of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, "Rodnaya gazeta," No. 27, reported.

OUT: Prime Minister Fradkov dismissed Nikolai Gusev from his post as deputy property relations minister; Petr Sadovnik as deputy natural resources minister; and Ilya Budnitskii and Valerii Sirozhenko as deputy media ministers, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 and 14 July.

22 July: Cabinet will discuss plan for privatization of state property in 2005

22 July: Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari will visit Moscow

24 July: Aeroflot shareholders meeting will elect new board of directors

29 July: Celebration honoring the 250th anniversary of the birth of Saint Serafim of Sarov will be held in Nizhnii Novgorod

31 July: State Duma will hold a special session

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

3 August: State Duma will hold a special session

8 August: Supreme Court will consider an appeal by Pavel Zaitsev, the special police investigator who headed a high-profile corruption probe into the Grand and Tri Kita furniture stores and who was found guilty of exceeding the authority of his office

12 August: Fourth anniversary of the sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine

12-15 August: BMW Russian Open Golf Tournament in Moscow

13-29 August: Russian athletes will participate in the Summer Olympics in Greece

23 August: The trial of the accused murderers of State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova will reopen

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

29 August: Presidential elections will be held in Chechnya

September: St. Petersburg's State 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

20 September: The State Duma's fall session will begin

October: President Putin will visit China

October: International forum of the Organization of the Islamic Conference will be held in Moscow

7 October: President Putin's birthday

23-26 October: Second anniversary of the Moscow theater hostage crisis

25 October: First anniversary of Yukos head Khodorkovskii's arrest at an airport in Novosibirsk

31 October: Presidential election in Ukraine

November: Gubernatorial election in Pskov Oblast

20 November: Sixth anniversary of the killing of State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova

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

29 December: State Duma's fall session will come to a close

1 February 2005: Former President Boris Yeltsin's 74th birthday

March 2005: Gubernatorial election in Saratov Oblast