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Russia Report: November 5, 2004

5 November 2004, Volume 4, Number 43
By Victor Yasmann

In his initial reaction to the 2 November U.S. presidential election, even before it became official that U.S. President George W. Bush had been reelected, President Vladimir Putin said on 3 November that he was sincerely happy with Bush's apparent win, adding that Bush has proven a "reliable and predictable partner," Russian and international media reported.

Speaking at a joint Kremlin press conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has been a strong supporter of Bush, Putin said that the election result showed that "the American people did not allow themselves to be intimidated" by international terrorists. He repeated a statement that he made on 18 October that the main goal of international terrorists was to prevent Bush's reelection because he has proven "a strong and steadfast politician" in the fight against terror.

Most Russian politicians agreed with Putin in welcoming Bush's reelection. Bush is more popular in Russia than in many European and Middle Eastern countries, according to international public-opinion polls taken before the election. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on 3 November that the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, which he heads, has maintained ties with the U.S. Republican Party for four years, although "the Russian leadership has always said it would respect the choice of the American people and work with any president they elect," reported.

Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov said the "positions of the U.S. president are well known to us and he has found a common language with our president, so we expect complete continuation in the development of bilateral relations," reported on 3 November.

Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii, head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, also welcomed Bush's victory, RIA-Novosti reported. "We know the Bush administration and hope that under it, bilateral relations will grow even closer," Zhirinovskii said. He added that if U.S. Senator John Kerry had won the election, the United States might have withdrawn its forces from the Middle East, and then the burden of fighting international terrorism would fall to Russia.

Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said on 3 November that Russia and the United States have defined a new bilateral agenda over the last four years and will continue it during Bush's second term, reported. This agenda includes combating terrorism, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, improving global stability and meeting new security threats, and building on cooperation in the energy-security field. "Of course, the criticism of our political reforms and policy in the North Caucasus will continue, but the general line of partnership will be preserved," Margelov said.

Bilateral relations evolved considerably during Bush's first term. In the beginning, relations were rocky. The FBI arrested Union of Russia and Belarus State Secretary Pavel Borodin on charges of money laundering just as he arrived in the United States to attend Bush's January 2000 inauguration. And shortly after coming to power, the Bush administration expelled 50 Russian diplomats under suspicion of espionage. Russia retaliated with similar expulsions.

However, Moscow soon decided to close the Russian electronic-monitoring center at Lourdes, Cuba. And after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, Putin joined the international antiterrorism coalition, gave his consent to the deployment of U.S. military forces in Central Asia, agreed to the revision of U.S.-Soviet strategic-weapons agreements, and more. Relations became so close that, for the first time in the history of the two countries' relations, Putin openly intervened in a U.S. election campaign, when he made clear statements in support of Bush last month. Bush has also made steps toward Russia and Putin.

At the peak of his reelection campaign, Bush made a rare gesture for a U.S. president when he spoke directly to Russian-speaking immigrants in a 26 October interview with "Novoe russkoe slovo," the largest Russian newspaper in the United States. Bush praised the contributions of Russian-speaking immigrants to their new homeland and added that he is proud of the role the Republican Party played under former U.S. President Ronald Reagan in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union -- a statement that might have displeased Putin, who does not hide his regrets about that collapse.

Attitudes toward the United States among Russia's political elite have also evolved over the last four years. At the beginning of Bush's term, the most ardent critics of U.S. policies toward Russia were the Communist Party and the nationalists. By 2004, however, Russian liberals began to be more concerned. They argue that Putin's political course is toward increased authoritarianism and criticize his undemocratic political reforms, efforts to control elections and the judiciary, and the suppression of the independent media -- saying that Washington has not done enough to condemn these developments.

Former chess champion Garri Kasparov is the head of Committee-2008, a group of intellectuals that opposes Putin's policies. Putin aide Vladislav Surkov recently denounced the group as "a representative of the fifth column in Russia." Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on 2 November, Kasparov said that Bush is probably the most convenient partner for the Putin administration because the two presidents have good personal relations. "But as far as promoting democracy in Russia is concerned, John Kerry would probably be more instrumental as he does not have to respect the obligations that Bush has undertaken," Kasparov said. "In addition, Kerry would revive U.S. ties with the countries of 'old Europe,' and therefore his foreign policy would rely less on a 'partner' like Putin."

Kasparov added that Kerry would have changed the present international situation, possibly leading to a fall in global oil prices, which Putin has skillfully used to benefit his regime. He said that this, plus the usual Democratic Party attention to human rights, would probably have forced Putin to alter his authoritarian policies.

Kasparov said that Kerry would have been "a difficult partner" for Putin, especially since Putin "incautiously publicly supported George Bush during the U.S. presidential race." "But when one is losing one's mind and sense of reality, one tries to manage elections not only in one's own country, but also in Abkhazia, Ukraine, and, even the United States," Kasparov said.

Dmitrii Simes, director of the U.S.-based Nixon Center and an expert on U.S.-Russian relations, told Ekho Moskvy on 2 November, before the election results were known, that Putin's support of Bush has been exaggerated. "Bush might be personally grateful to Putin but, to be candid, Putin has no influence in America that would make his words have any impact on the U.S. electorate," Simes said. He added that it is a good thing that U.S.-Russian relations did not become a focus of the U.S. election campaign, as that would not have been good for Bush, Putin, or relations. "Russia will remain an important country that is involved in serious American interests," Simes said. The two countries have differences, but their points of common interest are more important. "Even if Kerry becomes president, the desire to work together would prevail, and if Bush stays, the partnership will not always be easy," he said

TV-Tsentr commentator Aleksei Pushkov told Ekho Moskvy on 2 November that many Russian analysts wrongly feared that if Kerry had won the elections, he would have taken a harder line toward Russia because he and some of his advisers have Central European origins and, therefore, supposedly harbor "anti-Russian sentiments." However, he did note that some Kerry advisers, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, were advising him to link bilateral relations with Putin's domestic political policies. These advisers argued that if Kerry expressed strong dissatisfaction with Putin's domestic policies, then Putin might change them. Pushkov, however, rejected that hypothesis on the grounds that Putin cannot allow himself to appear inconsistent at home. The only result of such pressure would be the deterioration of bilateral relations, he said.

However, Pushkov continued, because the two countries share vital areas of interest, there is a limit to the pressure that Washington can exert on Moscow. In addition, the Democrats might have become vulnerable to Republican charges that they were "losing Russia." Nonetheless, Pushkov said, it is better for Russia that Bush won the election.

Pushkov added that there is reason to believe that Bush will respond to criticisms of some of his policies -- including his Russia policy -- that emerged during the election campaign, and that this will result in new policies during his second term. "Moderate" Republicans might appear in the new Bush administration and affect bilateral relations.

Pushkov's views represent the consensus among Russian analysts, who argue that Bush will almost inevitably take a harder line toward Russia in his second term. "Ekspert," No. 40, wrote that if the West sees "that Russia is not simply trying to create needed order at home, but is actually deviating from crucial democratic norms, then it will speak to us in a much harsher tone."

By Robert Coalson

Five and 1/2 years after Russia signed the Kyoto Protocol in March 1999 -- and after two years of fairly intense discussion and, most notably, silence on the part of President Vladimir Putin -- the controversial agreement suddenly sailed through the government and the legislature last month in the space of just a few weeks. The easy passage of the accord demonstrates how effectively the Putin-based political machine can function.

The government somewhat unexpectedly decided on 30 September to submit the agreement to the Duma. When it did so on 7 October, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov told RBK that he hoped for ratification before the end of the year.

At that point, the political machine -- including the parties, the state-controlled media, and state officials -- seemed to begin a contested discussion of the matter. Presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, a long-time opponent of the accord, issued several sharply worded statements against ratification, saying that adhering to the agreement would make it impossible for Russia to achieve its goal of doubling gross domestic product by 2010.

"Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 1 October emphasized the "stormy discussion" within the government over the matter, while RTR on 30 September reported that there are "many supporters and many opponents" of the treaty within the government. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov told ITAR-TASS on 30 September that "the debate on this is open" and "likely to be tough" in the Duma.

Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) initially provided the most detail about this arduous process. He told "Vedomosti" and other media on 1 October that the agreement would have to be reported on by three Duma committees, including his own, and that the process could not be completed before the end of the year. Duma Economic Policy Committee Chairman Valerii Draganov (Unified Russia) told the daily that the process would probably not be completed earlier than spring 2005.

This schedule clearly did not suit Putin. After receiving on 12 October congratulations from Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin on the government's decision, Putin said, "I hope that Canada's position and the support of the prime minister regarding Russia's decision to approve the protocol will be positively reflected in the upcoming discussion in the Russian parliament," according to ITAR-TASS.

After Putin's announcement, the ratification process kicked into gear. One by one, the main Duma committees held perfunctory hearings and endorsed the treaty. On 14 October, the Ecology Committee approved it and the accord was placed on the Duma's agenda for 22 October. That day, after a two-hour discussion, the lower house voted 334-73 with two abstentions to approve the agreement. Five days later, by a vote of 139-1 with one abstention, the Federation Council signed off on the Kyoto Protocol, following a discussion that was not "as loud or contentious as the one in the State Duma," according to Radio Mayak on 27 October.

But why the haste? Most analysts agree that the Kremlin's sudden aggressiveness regarding Kyoto is linked to its desire to secure membership of the World Trade Organization as quickly as possible. The administration has been working actively in many directions in recent months to accelerate the accession process. On 2 November, Maksim Medvedkov, who heads Russia's World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiating team, told journalists Russia will sign accession protocols with five to seven Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization countries during the APEC summit on 18-21 November, ITAR-TASS reported. The countries expected to sign include Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. Putin secured China's endorsement of Russia's WTO membership during his trip there last month, during which he signed a controversial border agreement that ceded to Beijing several islands that the two countries had been disputing for decades.

Medvedkov also noted on 2 November that WTO talks with Brazil have been difficult, but said that progress should be expected when Putin travels there later this month. Analysts speculated that Putin's surprising expressions of support for U.S. President George W. Bush in the U.S. presidential election were motivated in part by his desire to secure U.S. support for accelerating Russia's WTO bid.

In Europe, the main obstacle to gaining EU support for Russian WTO membership has been the EU's insistence that Russia increase its domestic energy tariffs to match global levels, a move that Putin has categorically ruled out. At the same time, the EU has been urging Moscow to join Kyoto, because without Russia's participation, the treaty could never come into force, since the United States has rejected it.

Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the influential Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, wrote in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 20 October that the 11 November Russia-EU summit in The Hague could "signal the beginning of a new stage in the development of relations between the two sides." Writing in "Politicheskii zhurnal," No. 40, Center for Political Technologies Deputy General Director Boris Makarenko claimed that Russia and the EU agreed in advance that the EU would drop its complaints about Russian energy tariffs in exchange for ratification of Kyoto. Now Russia enters the 11 November summit with the ratified protocol in hand and some high expectations.

By Robert Coalson

The State Duma, by a vote of 365-64 with four abstentions, voted on 29 October to adopt in its first reading President Vladimir Putin's controversial proposal to eliminate the direct election of regional executive-branch heads, Russian media reported. Putin put forward the proposal in a 13 September speech outlining the government's response to the tragic school hostage taking in Beslan, North Ossetia, at the beginning of September.

"The outdated executive-branch system" is being renovated, Deputy Vladimir Pekhtin (Unified Russia) told RIA-Novosti on 29 October, in order to "enhance the unity of the country and to forestall the emergence of crises in Russia.

As adopted in its first reading, the bill would replace the direct election of all regional executive-branch heads -- including the presidents of the so-called ethnic republics -- with a system under which regional legislatures confirm candidates nominated by the president of the Russian Federation. Legislators will confirm candidates by a simple majority; in the cases of regions with bicameral legislatures, both chambers will vote.

If a legislature twice declines to confirm the president's nominee, the president has the right to disband the legislature and to appoint an acting regional head to serve until a new legislature is elected. The president would also have the right to dismiss any regional head for failure to fulfill his duties or if he "loses the president's confidence." Deputies were particularly concerned during the 29 October discussion of the bill about the vagueness of that formulation, "Gazeta" reported on 1 November.

According to media reports, the government and the Duma solicited comments from regional officials prior to the first reading of the bill. According to "Vedomosti" on 1 November, officials received 71 comments from local legislatures and 58 from local executive branches, all but one of which was positive. "The vote might not have taken place if more than one-third of the regional organs of power had sent negative conclusions about the bill," Duma staff member Yurii Ovsyannikov told the daily.

Political analysts were split over whether the bill would be significantly modified before its second reading, which is scheduled for 16 November. Some viewed the current bill as an intentionally harsh formulation that the Kremlin intends to modify in order to create the impression that it is responding to the concerns of legislators and the public. Others, citing unnamed sources within the presidential administration, said the Kremlin is in no mood to compromise on this matter. "The presidential side made it clear that the hopes of deputies that the bill can be softened for its second reading are in vain," "Gazeta" wrote on 1 November.

The one acknowledged dissenting review came from the legislature of the Chavash Republic, which objected to the provision that would allow the president to disband recalcitrant legislatures. Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev and the Tatar State Council expressed the exact same concern on 25 October, Interfax reported, but they otherwise endorsed the proposal. A number of deputies also objected to this provision and expressed the hope that it could be modified before the measure is adopted, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 1 November. "Vedomosti" reported the same day that Bashkir Legislative Assembly Chairman Konstantin Tolkachev has said that "the dissolution of regional parliaments might create political instability in a region or even a state of permanent crisis."

However, the provision on disbanding legislatures is nearly an exact mirror of the constitutional provision that allows the president to disband a Duma that three times rejects his candidate for prime minister. With this precedent, it seems less likely that the Kremlin will feel obligated to compromise on this point. "Vedomosti," however, reported on 1 November that the Kremlin is prepared to agree to hold nonbinding consultations with regional legislatures prior to submitting nominees. Federation Council Regional Policy Committee Chairman Viktor Grishin told the daily that "if there are advance consultations, then the process for disbanding the legislature loses its sense."

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told Interfax on 30 October that his agency has proposed four major changes to the bill. First, nominees for gubernatorial posts should be obligated to submit income-and-asset statements. Second, a mechanism should be codified according to which political parties would be able to suggest candidates to the president for nomination. Third, the current two-term restriction for regional executive-branch heads should be maintained. Finally, the law should expire automatically in 10 years.

As for the latter suggestion, presidential envoy to the Duma Aleksandr Kosopkin said that the Kremlin will not agree to a time limitation for the law, saying that the Duma can vote to change the law whenever it wants, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported. Kosopkin also reacted harshly to suggestions from some deputies that the so-called ethnic republics should be allowed to continue electing their presidents. "There can be no disparity among the subjects of the federation in this matter," Kosopkin told deputies, according to Interfax on 29 October.

"Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported that the Duma has received 120 specific suggestions for changes in the regions, and some of them might be introduced. Many Unified Russia deputies reportedly want the law to contain more detailed provisions for the process of selecting nominees, including a plan of mandatory consultations.

Other reported proposed changes are: limiting the term of acting regional heads to not more than one year and including a more specific description of the division of authority between regional governors and regional legislatures, and adding a mechanism by which legislatures can vote no confidence in an executive-branch head. "Izvestiya" on 30 October reported that some deputies want the bill to include a solid definition of the term of the executive-branch heads.

All discussion of possible modifications of the bill, however, has been hidden behind a facade of overwhelming support for the measure. Virtually all of Russia's current governors have come out in favor of the proposed reform. The concerns expressed about certain provisions of the bill have been muted and tenuous, except for the objection of the Chavash legislature.

However, whether strengthening the executive branch can have the desired results of unifying the country remains to be seen. "The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union had no deficit of executive-branch power," Duma Deputy Nikolai Gonchar (independent) said during the 29 October debate, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 October. "And you know how those states ended up."

November: Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to visit Egypt

14 November: Mayoral elections in Blagoveshchensk and Pskov

14 November: Gubernatorial election in Pskov Oblast and in Ust-Ordinskii Autonomous Okrug

16 November: Duma to consider bill on eliminating the direct election of regional governors in its second reading

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

22 November: President Putin to visit Brazil

27 November: Regular congress of the Unified Russia party

28 November: Gubernatorial election in Kurgan Oblast

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

5 December: By-elections for State Duma seats will be held in two single-mandate districts in Ulyanovsk and Moscow

5 December: Gubernatorial elections will be held in Astrakhan, Bryansk, Volgograd, Kamchatka, and Ulyanovsk oblasts

5 December: Mayoral elections in Astrakhan and Murmansk

12 December: Government deadline for determining the route of a pipeline to transport Siberian oil to the Asia-Pacific region, according to presidential adviser Arkadii Dvorkovich

19 December: Presidential election in the Republic of Marii-El

19 December: Mayoral elections in Severodvinsk and Komsomolsk-na-Amure

26 December: Presidential election in the Republic of Khakasia

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

January 2005: President Putin to visit Poland for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

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

March 2005: Gubernatorial election in Saratov Oblast

May 2005: Commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.