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Russia Report: November 5, 2003

5 November 2003, Volume 3, Number 44

THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION VOTES. Get comprehensive analysis and all the breaking news about the Russian elections at RFE/RL's dedicated webpage "Russia Votes 2003-04":
The latest events in Russia -- the resignation of presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin, the 25 October arrest of Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, and the freezing by prosecutors of a 44 percent stake in his company -- could lead to important, wide-ranging changes in Russia's economic and political scenes.

This week, RFE/RL asked experts in Moscow and in Washington to consider the impact of the legal assault against Yukos and the shake-up in the Kremlin on the current State Duma campaign and on presidential policy. Henry Hale is an assistant professor of political science at Indiana University and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, Boris Makarenko is deputy director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, and Don Jensen is RFE/RL's director of communications. (Julie A. Corwin)

RFE/RL: Has President Vladimir Putin ceased being an arbiter in the battle among warring clans? With his refusal to intercede in the Yukos dispute, has Putin finally chosen the side of the "siloviki"?

MAKARENKO: The answer to this question has become clearer after the rumors of Voloshin's resignation became fact. And the answer is paradoxical. President Putin has not ceased to be the arbiter. As head of state de jure and also as head of the executive branch de facto, he remains an arbiter in any situation. But an arbiter can judge in favor of only one of any number of conflicting parties, and that is exactly what Putin did last week when he sanctioned Khodorkovskii's arrest, and this week when he accepted Voloshin's resignation. Perhaps Putin hoped that he would tip the balance just a bit by blessing the attack on Yukos, but Voloshin's case forced him to make his preferences clearer.

Even after Voloshin's resignation, the situation inside the president's team appears balanced. All of Voloshin's people remain in their positions, at least for the duration of the election campaign. But the balance is new. The only thing that looks like a compromise is the choice of [former first deputy administration head Dmitrii] Medvedev, rather than an explicit silovik, as Voloshin's successor. Yet, the rumored appointment of [deputy administration head] Viktor Ivanov or [Russian Railways Vice President Vladimir] Yakunin seems to be a deliberate tactical gesture. The political class is happy that the worst-case scenario did not materialize. Therefore, most probably, it was just a clever public-relations stratagem.

On the first day after the new appointments, the top echelon of Russian politicians was already noticeable in the corridors of the Kremlin seeking to establish new relationships. This implies that "Operation Yukos-Voloshin" is over, and the president in fact remains a strong arbiter, capable of imposing new rules.

What we see happening today does not mean that the new arrangement of power is long term. Obviously, the executive branch will be rearranged after the presidential election [in March 2004]. Nor does it mean that the political class has obediently accepted "Operation Yukos-Voloshin." It will remember the shocks of late October and meticulously monitor the performance, efficiency, and style of the new team. After all, the battle for the 2008 elections, which is at the core of the Khodorkovskii case, is only just beginning.

JENSEN: Putin's legitimacy comes not only from popular election, but from the perception by the Russian elites -- the federal bureaucracy, security services, big business, the governors, the military -- that he is a more or less a neutral umpire among competing interests. By his siding with the so-called siloviki -- by which I mean not just parts of the security services, but a variety of other interests who opposed Khodorkovskii for various reasons -- Putin has damaged this legitimacy, probably seriously. He will now be seen much more tied to these forces. The question is, is he leading them or following them? In either case, he has greatly diminished his room for maneuver.

HALE: What we are seeing appears to be a bold move by the siloviki, but a boldness born not of strength but of weakness. Prior to October, the position of the siloviki seemed to be eroding. Their favorite party projects, notably the People's Party of [State Duma Deputy] Gennadii Raikov, were getting nowhere in the polls. The Family-sponsored Unified Russia remained neck-and-neck with the Communists for the lead in the Duma race and had largely sewed up the most promising pro-Kremlin single-mandate-district Duma candidates. Most dramatically, in September, Putin decisively endorsed Unified Russia and quite dramatically ignored all of the various siloviki-sponsored party projects. Analysts were proclaiming the victory of the Family clan over the siloviki.

RFE/RL: What connection -- if any -- does the arrest of Khodorkovskii have with the upcoming elections?

MAKARENKO: The effects of the Khodorkovskii case on the Duma elections will hardly be far-reaching. There could be two hypothetical effects.

One, the resignation of Voloshin could -- but hardly will -- have an impact on the campaign of the Unified Russia party. It is an open secret that the campaign headquarters is run by people seconded from the presidential administration, which was Voloshin's domain. But most campaign managers, such as deputy presidential administration head Vyacheslav Surkov and others, remain in place, and the major decisions have already been made. Disputes over the list of candidates and campaign strategies and platform have been more or less resolved. At this stage, only minor things can get out of hand.

The second effect concerns the liberal parties. Having followed the ratings of the two liberal parties, the Union of Rightist Forces [SPS] and Yabloko, over the past couple of years, our center has noticed that when the president acts as a liberal -- that is, when he accelerates reforms and/or turns to the West in his foreign policy -- the public's support for liberal parties declines. Apparently, when the president acts liberally, motivation to vote for other liberals weakens. From this viewpoint, the unliberal moves of the president provide liberals with a raison d'etre. Both [Yabloko party leader Grigorii] Yavlinskii and [SPS leader Anatolii] Chubais grasped the opportunity.

If they make this theme -- the danger to free enterprise for SPS and the danger to civil liberties for Yabloko -- a priority in the campaign, they might attract more votes. However, such a position also increases the risk that the notorious "administrative resources" of the Kremlin will be used against them. Therefore, this effect of Khodorkovskii's case on liberals remains unclear, although I might dare to forecast a mild increase of their ratings.

HALE: The Khodorkovskii arrest breaks open this situation, which had been working steadily against the siloviki, and creates a window of opportunity for them to gain influence. First, by finding and cultivating such a major issue where they have Putin's clear backing, the siloviki can restore their image as a growing political force. Second, the arrest itself puts virtually all parties other than the siloviki favorites -- including the People's Party and, reportedly, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia [LDPR] -- into a very awkward political position just as parties were ready to launch their mass media campaigns.

The Union of Rightist Forces can no longer sustain its delicate balance between being pro-Putin and pro-business, with the most pro-Putin Chubais wing of the party weakened. Yabloko and the Communist Party, both with Yukos members on their party lists, must publicly defend the biggest of the oligarchs, which rubs against the grain. Unified Russia must also explain the presence of Yukos affiliates on its party list, and has already expelled one.

Third, by raising the ante so dramatically, the siloviki have forced the Family to make a similarly bold move. This, in turn, threatens the whole system of "managed democracy" that had been working against the siloviki. With uncertainty surrounding who will be the new "democracy managers," new political combinations are possible for both candidates and business, including a reorientation to siloviki sponsorship. Finally, the siloviki might also be aiming to knock out a potential presidential challenger in 2008.

All of these calculations can backfire. Though Putin accepted Voloshin's resignation, he appointed a non-silovik, Dmitrii Medvedev, to take his place. Yabloko, SPS, and the Communists could benefit from the activization of electorates alarmed at the threat of a silovik rise to power. Pushing aside the managers of managed democracy could open the door to new combinations, including increased business sponsorship of anti-silovik parties and parties other than the party of power. And finally, Khodorkovskii's arrest might actually make him more popular and a greater threat as a presidential contender.

While the siloviki certainly fear such developments, they might have calculated that the risk of an unprofitable outcome is worth bearing given that the alternative would be the near certainty of a continued waning in their influence as the Family group continued to control the polity and the economy. The arrest of Khodorkovskii during the pre-election period shakes things up and gives them a chance to assert power over a broader range of affairs than was previously possible.

None of this means that Putin has lost his autonomy, although the audacious arrest has might yet weaken Putin's position in unexpected ways. We should not underestimate Putin's incentives to retain a balance of forces of some kind in the Kremlin. Even if the Family clan departs the administration, new groupings are likely to arise with their own interests and agendas. The ascendant group of "St. Petersburg lawyers" -- Medvedev and deputy administration head Dmitrii Kozak -- could play such a role. Politics is far from dead.

JENSEN: Khodorkovskii's political activity is connected with the elections, in the sense that the Kremlin is uncomfortable with political players it does not control. He also might have diverted votes away from pro-Kremlin parties. Several public-opinion polls have shown that those parties are garnering less support than Putin wishes.

Above all, it is important to keep in mind that there are many people, not just in the security services, who want Khodorkovskii out of the way. For some, the motive is political. For others, the reason is financial -- they are business rivals or object to his courting of Western investors. This mix of power and money is inextricable in Russia. Thus, the so-called agreement whereby Putin allowed the oligarchs to make money if they stayed out of politics -- if it ever really existed -- was unrealistic. Politics in Russia is largely about making money.

Dmitrii Medvedev, who was named head of the presidential administration on 30 October after the resignation of Aleksandr Voloshin, was born in Leningrad in 1965. In 1990, he earned a doctorate in law from Leningrad State University (LGU), subsequently becoming an assistant professor at the university. The deacon of LGU's law faculty, Nikolai Kropachev, told "Moskovskii komsomolets" in July 2000 that there were only three or four specialists of Medvedev's caliber in St. Petersburg.

The local authorities also took note of Medvedev's abilities, and from 1990 until 1995 he served as an adviser to the chairman of the city's Legislative Assembly and a legal consultant to the External Relations Committee of the St. Petersburg mayor's office. At that time, Anatolii Sobchak was the city's mayor, and Vladimir Putin headed the External Relations Committee.

In November 1993, Medvedev also joined Ilim Pulp Enterprise, a St. Petersburg-based timber company, as its legal affairs director. In 1998, he was elected a member of the board of the Bratskii LPK paper mill.

In November 1999, Putin, who had just a few months earlier been appointed prime minister, named Medvedev deputy head of the government apparatus. When Putin became acting president at the end of 1999, he made Medvedev a deputy head of the presidential administration in charge of personnel and the president's schedule, and elevated him in 2000 to the rank of first deputy chief of staff.

Putin also tapped Medvedev to run his campaign for the March 2000 presidential election. In June 2000, Medvedev was elected chairman of the board of Gazprom, replacing Viktor Chernomyrdin. In April 2001, Medvedev was made chairman of a 15-member working group set up to look into reforming the 38 percent state-owned gas monopoly.

While Medvedev is widely viewed as holding democratic and liberal views, these are not labels he fully embraces. Asked in a 30 March 2000 interview with the newspaper "Vek" whether he considers himself a democrat, he answered: "When one tries to characterize one's convictions with one term, misunderstandings arise, especially taking into account that a number of concepts have turned into cliches. I can say openly: I like the word 'liberal' better, but that term has also acquired a negative hue here. Therefore I wouldn't like to identify my views with one word. Although, unquestionably, my outlook is located within the bounds of those values customarily called 'European.'"

Still, when "Vek" followed up by asking Medvedev whether he considers himself a "Westernizer," he said that term is also a cliche and that the historical juxtaposition of "Westernizers" and "Slavophiles" is a "simplification." Medvedev also said that while he had never worked for or "cooperated with" the country's special services, he considered such experience, especially "work in the special services' elite sub-units," to be "extraordinarily useful." Medvedev, who was at that time in charge of Putin's election campaign, said that if the acting president were elected, Russia would have a chance to become a superpower again.

In an interview after he was picked to replace Voloshin as head of the presidential administration, Medvedev suggested that he shared Putin's oft-repeated belief that Russia's Soviet past should not be discarded wholesale. "I believe it is important for our generation that we can compare two epochs: one that is gone -- we were brought up and educated during it -- and the epoch that has arrived, with all its pros and cons," Medvedev told RTR television on 2 November. "I think this is quite important in making sense of the situation and making balanced decisions." Asked during which epoch his life was easier, Medvedev said, "The previous one was more fun, this one is more interesting."

Questions of ideology and worldview aside, most observers agree that Medvedev is unswerving in his loyalty to Putin, and he has shown himself ready to defend Putin's interests vigorously. For example, in an interview published in the 16 February 2000 edition of "Nezavisimaya gazeta" -- while he was heading Putin's presidential campaign -- Medvedev said he hoped the presidential contest would not lead to an "information war." He added, however, that if anybody tried "to declare such a war on us, we will find an effective and, as military men sometimes say, asymmetrical response."

In the next breath, Medvedev implied he was joking about the "asymmetrical response." But on 4 March 2000, Putin's campaign headquarters issued a statement accusing some media of a "tendentious approach" and "one-sidedness" in covering Putin, mentioning by name "Segodnya," the now-defunct newspaper belonging to oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-MOST. The headquarters said it would continue to monitor all instances of "lies" concerning Putin and reserved the right to use "all means available in its arsenal" for "an 'asymmetrical' answer to the provocations." When Gazprom took over most of Gusinskii's media holdings the following year, Medvedev was chairman of the gas giant's board of directors.

In 2000, Putin tapped Medvedev to head a presidential-administration commission on civil-service reform. Medvedev declared in 2002 that "civil servants must be held accountable for any harm they cause the state by issuing incompetent directives or divulging state secrets." On the basis of the commission's work, the Kremlin in September introduced legislation that would, among other things, make nepotism more difficult and require civil servants to fill out income and property declarations.

In January 2001, "Novaya gazeta" reported that Medvedev and Mikhail Krasnov, a former presidential legal adviser, had drafted a series of amendments to the Russian Constitution. The proposed changes would have increased the presidential term from four to five years, reintroduced the post of vice president -- with the vice president serving simultaneously as prime minister -- and consolidated some 30 central Russian regions into six or seven, the newspaper reported. This report, however, has never been officially confirmed and the Kremlin has said several times that the constitution will not be altered.

The conventional wisdom now is that Dmitrii Medvedev lacks the prodigious administrative skills of Voloshin, who was able to turn the chief-of-staff position into the de facto second-most-powerful post in the country. This, if true, could mean either that the president will take more of the chief of staff's tasks upon himself, or that they will devolve to the two powerful representatives of the siloviki faction within the Kremlin administration -- deputy presidential administration heads Viktor Ivanov and Igor Sechin. (Jonas Bernstein)

By 31 October, the last day for registering parties and blocs for the 7 December State Duma elections, a total of 18 parties and five electoral blocs were registered. Despite the enactment of the new law on political parties in 2001 that many analysts expected would dramatically reduce the number of parties, this total is just three short of the 26 parties and blocs that ran in the 1999 Duma elections. Also on 31 October, the Central Election Commission (TsIK) held a random drawing among registered parties to determine their positions on the ballot, RIA-Novosti reported.

Below is a complete list of participating parties and blocs in the order of their ballot positions.

1) Unity Conceptual Party
2) Union of Rightist Forces party
3) Social Justice Party and Russian Party of Pensioners bloc
4) Yabloko party
5) For Holy Rus party
6) Rus party
7) New Course-Automotive Russia bloc
8) People's Republican Party
9) Green Party
10) Agrarian Party
11) True Patriots of Russia Party
12) People's Party
13) Democratic Party of Russia
14) Great Russia-Eurasian Union bloc
15) Union of People for Education and Science (SLON)
16) Motherland-National Patriotic Union bloc
17) Peace and Unity party
18) Liberal Democratic Party of Russia
19) Party of Russia's Rebirth-Party of Life bloc
20) Unified Russia
21) Russian Constitutional Democratic Party
22) Development of Entrepreneurship party
23) Communist Party of the Russian Federation

The Constitutional Court on 30 October struck down a controversial provision of the law on guaranteeing the rights of voters that regulates media coverage of election campaigns, Russian media reported.

"In and of itself, a positive or a negative opinion about a candidate is not campaigning and cannot serve as the cause for a journalist to be held accountable," Constitutional Court Chairman Valerii Zorkin said while reading out the court's decision.

The ruling came in response to several cases filed by journalists and State Duma deputies of all factions, except Unity-Unified Russia, complaining that the draconian wording of the law meant that journalists could write virtually nothing about election campaigns without risking being censured by election officials. Several points in Article 48 of the law barred journalists from disseminating any information that reflects positively or negatively on candidates.

Although the law has been criticized by Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, it has been supported by Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov and members of the presidential administration. President Putin signed it into law in June.

The court ruled that the law is far too broad and vaguely written, opening the door to its arbitrary enforcement and violating the principle of equality before the law. It wrote that "the personal opinions of journalists and their comments, as well as expressions of preference for one candidate or another" cannot be considered campaigning. Neither can journalists be barred from disseminating information about candidates beyond the narrow sphere of their political activities and positions.

Under the ruling, only journalistic materials that can be shown to be consciously intended to secure support for a particular candidate can be considered illegal campaigning. The court ruled that all cases that have already been heard under the nullified portions of the law must be reconsidered and the court's clarified standards applied to them. According to on 30 October, journalists and others in the hall broke into applause as the court's ruling was read out.

Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told that "as a result of this law, the mass media have been forced to be silent about the election campaign." He said that experience has already shown that the law will have to be rewritten after the 7 December State Duma elections.

Media Minister Lesin also hailed the court's ruling as "practically optimal." "The ruling precisely establishes the priority of the constitutional principles of freedom of speech," he told

St. Petersburg Election Commission Deputy Chairman Dmitrii Krasnyanskii said the ruling will make more information about the elections available to the public, which "will be better for everyone."

The official campaigning period for the 7 December elections begins on 7 November. (Robert Coalson)

PROMOTED: President Vladimir Putin on 30 October signed a decree dismissing Aleksandr Voloshin as head of the presidential administration, Russian media reported. Putin named first deputy administration head Dmitrii Medvedev to succeed Voloshin, and appointed Dmitrii Kozak, a deputy presidential administration head, as Medvedev's first deputy.

SHIFTED: Putin moved Igor Shuvalov on 30 October from the position of presidential aide to deputy head of the presidential administration. Shuvalov held the position of presidential aide for only four months, most importantly heading a working group on developing strategies for meeting Putin's declared goal of doubling Russia's GDP in 10 years.

ON VACATION: Deputy presidential administration head Igor Sechin went on vacation "unexpectedly," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 November.

TRANSFERRED: President Putin signed a decree appointing Deputy Prime Minister and Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov as presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, Russian media reported on 1 November. Klebanov replaces Valentina Matvienko, a former deputy prime minister who was elected governor of St. Petersburg in September.

IN: Evenk legislators elected Yukos-Moscow President Vasilii Shakhnovskii as their representative to the Federation Council on 27 October, after firing their previous representative, Nikolai Anisimov, on 13 October, according to "Kommersant-Daily." The Federation Council has scheduled 26 November as the date for a hearing to confirm Shakhnovskii's selection, according to Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov on 4 November.

OUT: The Israeli Foreign Ministry confirmed on 4 November that Leonid Nevzlin, a major Yukos shareholder and rector of the Russian State Humanities University, has become an Israeli citizen.

5-6 November: People's Party to hold picket in Moscow's Pushkin Square to demand the adoption of amendments to the law on mass media limiting violence on television

6 November: President Putin to participate in EU-Russia summit in Rome

6 November: First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin to participate in working group on cooperation between the Foreign Ministry and the Russian Orthodox Church

7 November: Campaign for the State Duma elections officially begins

7 November: Central Election Commission will confirm text of election ballots for single-mandate-district races for the State Duma

7 November: Russia celebrates the Day of Peace and Reconciliation

7 November: A demonstration to be held in Moscow's Pushkin Square in defense of democracy and against arbitrary rule, organized by Yabloko, SPS, and various human rights groups

7 November: Communist Party to host celebration and meeting-concert in honor of the 86th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution on Lyubyanka Square in Moscow

7 November: Union of Rightist Forces to host rock concert in Moscow's Slavyanskii Square in honor of Day of Peace and Reconciliation

10 November: Moscow Municipal Court will reconvene consideration of criminal cases connected with the 1999 explosions of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk

11 November: Moscow City Court will hear appeal against arrest of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii

11-13 November: Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to make official visit to Russia

13 November: Moscow City Court will reconvene its hearing of an appeal from Yukos security official Aleksei Pichugin

17 November: State Duma deputies will return to Moscow after working in their districts

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

21 November: State Duma to consider 2004 budget in its third reading

25 November: Russian public organizations will hold pickets and theatrical demonstrations in front of the election headquarters of candidates for the State Duma who voted in favor of allowing spent nuclear fuel to be imported into Russia

28 November: State Duma to consider 2004 budget in its fourth reading

28 November: YukosSibneft will hold shareholders meeting

7 December: Bashkortostan will hold a presidential election

7 December: Gubernatorial elections in Moscow, Tver, Yaroslavl, Kirov, Orenburg, Tambov, Sakhalin, and Novosibirsk oblasts

7 December: Perm Oblast and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug will hold referendums on merging the two regions

7 December: Moscow, Yekaterinburg, and Tyumen will hold mayoral elections

7 December: Kabardino-Balkaria will hold republican parliamentary elections

7 December: State Duma elections will be held

10 December: Federation Council to set date for presidential election

11 December: Last plenary session of the current Duma

15-19 December: Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan to visit Russia

30 December: Date by which cases against Menatep head Platon Lebedev and Yukos head Khodorkovskii are to be submitted to the courts, according to separate Moscow court decisions.