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Russia Report: January 22, 2001


22 January 2001, Volume 1, Number 1
KREMLIN & CABINET
WHEN IN DOUBT, REORGANIZE. Following up on previous reports about an imminent reorganization of the cabinet, "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 17 January provided a number of new details, suggesting that powers of the so-called St. Petersburg group of economic reformers will be curtailed. According to the daily, which is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov intends to reduce the number of his deputy prime ministers from six to two. He reportedly only wants to have one deputy prime minister for economy, which would be Viktor Khristenko, and one deputy prime minister for social issues. [Currently, this slot is filled by Valentina Matvienko, but the newspaper did not comment on her future.] Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev would only oversee their individual ministries. The powers of Economic Development and Trade Minister Herman Gref would also reportedly be curtailed. The official justification for the reorganization is the cabinet is drowning in bureaucracy, having issued more than 10,000 regulations in 2000 alone. Also, Kasyanov's restructuring plan for the cabinet was aimed at making his work with his deputies more efficient, Kudrin told reporters earlier. "Segodnya," reporting on 11 January, claimed that Kasyanov's reorganization will be much less radical than last June's, when the number of ministries was reduced from 30 to 24. According to the daily, which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-MOST group, the number of ministries will fall from 24 to 22. However, the majority of these will lose their status, the newspaper claims. Only six will have the status of federal ministries while the others will slip to level of state committees. Like "Moskovskii komsomolets," it also suggested that the number of deputy prime ministers will fall to one or two. JAC

PUTIN CALLS MEDIA-MOST RAIDS 'NONSENSE'... President Putin held a nearly five-hour-long meeting -- twice the scheduled length -- with journalists in Moscow on 13 January to reassure them about his commitment to a free press. Putin told the 32 top editors and reporters that the government welcomes criticism because it "is useful for authorities at any level because it forces them to react to the mistakes that those holding power sometimes make." According to journalists present, Putin promised not to force through the Duma harsh amendments to the law on media. He also described recent raids on Media-MOST headquarters as "complete nonsense," while denying that he has any control over those law enforcement organs conducting the raids, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. [During a speech two days earlier, Putin proffered prosecutors no criticisms of their battle against Vladimir Gusinskii and his empire (see item on prosectors below.)] JAC

...AND CALLS FOR CREATION OF SINGLE INFORMATION SPACE. In his talk with journalists, Putin lamented the lack of "a single information space" in Russia and criticized the national media for reporting only bad news about Russian regions. He charged that they limit their coverage of the regions to political scandals and election campaigns. At the same time, Putin said the regional media often does not give a comprehensive or accurate picture of what happens in Moscow, according to "Izvestiya" on 15 January. Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Center told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that Putin is trying to impose an "information vertical" with official line imposed from the top. According to Ryabov, the Kremlin is trying to "insure itself against a looming threat" of criticism by persuading the media to adopt a more "optimistic" outlook. JAC

PRESIDENT BACKS UP CHIEF PROSECUTOR... In a speech to an all-Russian conference of prosecutors held in the Kremlin State Palace in Moscow on 11 January, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to offer his full support for Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov and his regional counterparts. Putin declared that "the time when the prosecutor's office was a cover for lawlessness in our country -- lawlessness for which the whole machinery of the state was also a cover -- is gone." He continued that "the broad functions and strong surveillance powers" of the Prosecutor-General's office have "turned it into a body [that compensates] for the weakness in the overall system for maintaining law and order in this country." JAC

...BUT HINTS AT REFORMS. Putin called for drawing up a strategy for developing the prosecutor's office and determining its place in Russia's system of laws, since the constitution does not adequately define prosecutors' proper role, and suggested that it is time "to think about enlarging the prosecutors' corps." State Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Viktor Pokhmelkin told "Segodnya" on 12 January that he does not expect the Kremlin to engage in a reform of the prosecutor's office: "I do believe that the president cannot help sensing the need for reorganization. All the same, Putin said a great deal while managing to say nothing in the process that could be construed directly." Pokhmelkin is a co-author of a draft bill that would reform the prosecutor's office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2000). The daily also reported that unidentified former officials from Ustinov's office said that while reforms are essential, the "regime doesn't really want them -- because the prosecutor's office as it is, fully controlled and obedient, suits it just fine." The website polit.ru reached a similar conclusion about the low probability of a reform of the Prosecutor-General's office, noting that there appear to be different points of view on the subject within the administration. It reported that the Kremlin's "propaganda" website, strana.ru, ran a headline shortly after Putin's speech of "Putin declares reform of the prosecutors" but within a couple of hours this was changed to the softer "No weakening of the prosecutors threatened." JAC

LEGISLATORS TOLD TO TRY AGAIN. President Putin vetoed the Administrative Code passed earlier by the State Duma and Federation Council, Interfax reported on 15 January. Returning the bill to the State Duma, Putin wrote in a letter that the law in its present form has certain conceptual inadequacies and does not correspond fully with the federal Constitution. According to "Vremya novostei" on 26 December, Putin said that the code gave too much power to the regions to set up their own laws on administrative responsibility. At the time of its passage in the Duma, the code was criticized by some human rights groups, who said that the sharp increases in fines for many offenses would increase the incentive to bribe police officials in order to avoid paying a fine. Putin also vetoed and sent back the law on preventing the spread of tuberculosis in Russia because it, too, has several norms which violate the Constitution. Also vetoed were amendments to the law introducing the second part of the Tax Code and amending other tax legislation. This bill according to Putin contains norms which do not correspond to norms in the first part of the Tax Code. JAC

STATE DUMA
LAW ON POLITICAL PARTIES SET TO SAIL THROUGH DUMA. State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 16 January that the draft law on political parties will likely come up for consideration by the lower legislative house on 25 January. The presidential version of the draft law has already been sent to Duma committees for examination. Already, the Communist Party, Unity, Fatherland-All Russia, and the Union of Rightist Forces have said that they will support the law. Yabloko said that it supports the bill's concept but will seek three amendments to it. The draft law was prepared on the basis of proposals put together first by the Central Election Commission, which was then submitted to the Duma by President Putin. Under the bill's current provisions, a party must have at least 10,000 members in at least half of Russia's 89 regions with at least 100 members in each regional branch. Only political parties will be able to participate in federal, regional and local elections, and if a party misses elections for five years, then it will be dissolved by a court decision. Parties which collect more than 3 percent of the total vote in parliamentary elections will recieve 0.2 roubles from the federal budget for each voter who supported them, ITAR-TASS reported. Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov predicted that if enacted the new bill could have the effect of reducing the number of parties and movements from the current 200 to 10-30. Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) and human rights advocate Sergei Kovalev told "Versty" on 13 January that "neither the initiators nor the authors of the bill conceal the fact that it is aimed at reducing the number of parties. They constantly highlight the advantages of a two-party or three-party system." He continued that while a smaller number of parties may be good for state administrators "in the civilized world such systems are based on voter preferences rather than on artificial barriers imposed by the state." "The government's attempt to regulate the political situation in Russia has nothing to do with democracy," he concluded. Duma deputy (independent) Vladimir Ryzhkov has co-authored an alternative, more liberal, bill on political parties with Vladimir Lysenko (Russian Regions) and Vyacheslav Igrunov (Yabloko), but their bill is not expected to even have much of an impact on the debate over the president's bill. JAC

DEPUTIES' GROUP TO UPGRADE ITS STATUS. Gennadii Raikov, head of the People's Deputy faction in the State Duma, announced on 15 January that a new all-Russian social-political movement called People's Deputy will be founded at a conference on 26 January. According to Raikov, the new movement's political program and orientation will coincide with that of Unity's. People's Deputy members will meet with President Putin just before their conference. Regional branches of the new organization have reportedly already been founded in 54 federation subjects. The People's Deputy movement is comprised entirely of deputies elected from single mandate districts, with the exception of Ivan Grachev, who defected from Fatherland-All Russia. It has hewed fairly closely to the pro-Kremlin line followed by the Unity faction. As of 5 January, it had 62 members, the most well known of which are former Labor Minister Aleksandr Shokhin and Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitri Rogozin, JAC

PARTIES
ROSSIYA GATHERING RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT FUTURE ELECTION PLANS... Soon after the Rossiya movement held its first congress in Moscow on 13 January, new reports of the disintegration of the Communist Party (KPRF) appeared, prompted in part by the fact that the KPRF did not send its greetings to the congress. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told reporters on 16 January that no greetings were sent because it is still not clear what the new association's program will be. He noted that if Rossiya joined together with the Mai movement, as Rossiya leader Gennadii Seleznev announced at the congress, then it would be a chief competitor of the KRPF in gubernatorial elections in a number of regions, such as Bryansk, Tambov and other oblasts. Zyuganov added that KPRF First Deputy Chairman Valentin Kuptsov did not participate in Rossiya's congress, despite having been invited. Seleznev, who is also speaker of the State Duma, had told delegates assembled at the congress that Rossiya does not plan to organize itself into a political party. Instead, it will participate in a coalition with many smaller regional parties, such as the Sverdlovsk-based Mai movement and the Svyatoslav Fedorov Party for Self-Government, on behalf of the People's Patriotic Union, of which it is already a member, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov confirmed that Seleznev's plans are at least theoretically possible, telling reporters on 15 January that at least according to the draft legislation on parties, Rossiya can participate in future parliamentary elections as a member of an election bloc. Seleznev also revealed that in addition to ties with some regional political group, Rossiya has also formed an alliance with the aviation company Sibir and one cardboard factory. JAC

...AS MOVEMENT TRIES TO APPEAL TO YOUNGER ELECTORATE. "Kommersant-Daily," in which a controlling interest is owned by Boris Berezovskii, suggested that founders of Rossiya are trying to position the movement so that it displaces the system-forming core of the left-wing People's Patriotic Union. Rossiya, it argues, it trying to appeal to the middle-aged and younger generations, pushing the KPRF to a secondary role. This is because "the ultraconservative communist electorate is getting older and smaller and its votes already cannot provide the KRPF with victory in parliamentary elections, let alone presidential elections." According to "Segodnya" on 15 January, 524 delegates attended the congress from branches in 88 federation subjects. According to "Tribuna," on 12 January, the movement has more than 500,000 supporters. JAC

POLITICAL INDEX

The following table is based on numbers in the 2001 federal budget as reported by "Segodnya" on 11 January 2001. The daily, which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-MOST Group, noted that the various pay levels did not appear to correspond to any kind of elementary logic or principle of separation of powers, noting that in the West higher salaries are sometimes used as a guarantor against official corruption.

Name____________Position_____________________Monthly salary ($)
Sergei Kirienko_____Presidential Envoy, Volga district____$3280
Marat Baglai_______Chairman, Constitutional Court______$1590
Sergei Stepashin____Chairman, Audit Chamber__________$1280
Vladimir Putin______President_______________________$830*
Vladimir Ustinov____Prosecutor-General_______________$715
Mikhail Kasyanov___Prime Minister___________________$650

*approximation

COMINGS AND GOINGS
OUT: Yurii Sinelnik has been dismissed from his post as chairman of the State Fishing Committee because he is being "transferred to another job," ITAR-TASS reported on 17 January. Interfax reported the same day that an unidentitied source on the committee disclosed that Sinelnik had aroused the ire of several regional governors. Aleksandr Moiseev, Sinelnik's first deputy, was selected to replace him, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January.

END NOTE
AVOIDING THE HARDEST FIGHTS

By Julie A. Corwin

Last fall, Vladimir Putin did not get everything he wanted from the Duma, but for this session, he has announced an even more ambitious agenda. That has lead some analysts to predict a genuine tug of war between the legislature and the Kremlin in the coming months. At least in their original form, only a few of the most controversial pieces of legislation could be expected to make it through the lower chamber of parliament. But on the basis of what happened last year, Putin may adopt a strategy of preemptive agreement and thus avoid any serious clashes -- and any real victories.

When the Duma returned last September, it was supposed to consider not only the 2001 federal budget, but also a new Land Code, Labor Code, and Customs Code, as well as laws on holding a new constitutional assembly, reforming the pension system, fighting political extremism, combatting money-laundering, and establishing political parties. A version of the Land Code was briefly considered and then rejected in December, but it was the draft sponsored only by the Union of Rightist Forces. A new Labor Code was also quickly withdrawn after unions sponsored protest actions in cities across the nation.

Indeed, the government's chief accomplishment during the Duma's last session was winning passage of a balanced federal budget for 2001. This was no small feat, and for Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, it would have been nothing short of miraculous. But Putin entered his first term as president on an impressive wave of popularity, and he reached the kind of accommodation with key forces in the Duma that eluded Yeltsin and all of his prime ministers.

But after winning the budget fight, Putin has won only the easiest of victories: the restoration of Soviet-era symbols which communist deputies were only too happy to support. In the near term,he may garner another easy one with the bill on political parties. The Land Code might have been controversial, but Duma Chairman Seleznev said recently that the government's version will omit any mention of the sale of agricultural land, which both the Communist and Agrarian parties vigorously oppose, thus postponing the most contentious question.

With such a politically-neutered Land Code in hand, the Kremlin may have yet another "victory" from the "docile Duma." But the questions remain open as to which issues the Kremlin and the White House will in fact fight for and how the Duma will respond to Putin's obvious willingness to compromise before real fights begin.

Major Legislation Passed in 2000

Law______________________________Date Passed by State Duma

Law on forming Federation Council________________19 July 2000

Law on legislative and executive bodies in the regions__19 July 2000

Law on self-rule bodies___________________________7 July 2000

Second part of Tax Code________________________19 July 2000

Administrative Code__________________________4 October 2000

2001 Federal Budget_______________________14 December 2000

Law on national anthem_____________________8 December 2000

Law on state flag___________________________8 December 2000

Law on coat of arms________________________8 December 2000


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