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Russia Report: December 31, 2001

31 December 2001, Volume 1, Number 33
DEPUTIES TIE UP LOOSE ENDS BEFORE BREAK... The last week of the Duma's fall session was a busy one, as the Labor Code and the laws on the all-Russia census and martial law were all passed in their third and final readings. Deputies adopted on 21 December in its third and final reading a new Labor Code, after the bill had passed in its second reading just two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2001). The Communist faction and Agro-Industrial group voted against the bill both times, and more than 7,000 letters and telegrams from workers' collectives and other public organizations requesting changes in the bill had been sent during the lead-up to the second reading. According to, the government and Duma managed to forge a compromise on the required level of the minimum wage, which will reach the subsistence minimum that the deputies were insisting on in two years rather than immediately. JAC

BEHIND THE SCENES OF PUTIN'S TELEPHONE CHAT. On 24 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared on ORT and RTR television networks, fielding questions submitted by telephone and the Internet from citizens all over Russia. The Kremlin had opened up a free telephone hotline on 19 December which took about 2,000 calls within a few hours, and the call center remained open until the end of the broadcast on 24 December. According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Putin answered some 47 of the several hundred thousand questions submitted. Although the broadcast was live, neither Putin nor the broadcaster appeared ruffled, a feat which RFE/RL's correspondents suggested might be attributable to the fact that the show was perhaps not as completely spontaneous as it appeared.

RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent, Marina Loboda, reported on 24 December that all participants in the telelink were gathered in the city's main square an hour before the beginning of the broadcast. And according to local organizers of the event, everything was pre-programmed and rehearsed twice. The questions to be submitted to Putin were sent from Moscow, and Vladivostok residents then asked them. One local journalism student asked Putin to explain housing reform; that the well-to-do student was so keenly interested in such a topic came as a surprise to some of his acquaintances. One local newspaper journalist who wanted to ask Putin about official corruption and whether the Far East needed to be part of Russia was unable to reach an open microphone, as were many other would-be questioners, including some local legislators who arrived after those chosen to ask questions had already been gathered.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, in St. Petersburg, RFE/RL correspondent Viktor Rezunkov noted that the broadcast from Isaakievskii square attracted about 100 locals. However, according to observers, only a group of about six were actually allowed to ask questions, which had already been discussed with the local RTR correspondent, Sergei Pashkov. Local policemen watched over the proceedings so that no person who was not pre-screened could shove through to reach Pashkov. In Rostov-na-Donu, RFE/RL correspondent Sergei Sleptsov reported that about 40 people -- most of them students from nearby institutes and universities -- gathered outside a local theater. They were joined by an equal number of men in law-enforcement uniforms.

Commenting on the regional dispatches, media analyst for RFE/RL's Moscow bureau Anna Kachkaeva noted that the complexity of such a broadcast required some advanced engineering and pre-screening of questions, and the resulting program came off without a hitch. There were no awkward moments and no disruption of telephone or TV links. She also observed that the total cost of the production was probably considerable. The telelinks to the 10 cities alone must have cost $50,000-70,000. Additional expenses were incurred by the purchase of special equipment for Ostankino and the creation of a special website, along with wages for the hundreds of technical workers and telephone operators.

But presumably it was all money well spent, since it contributes to the impression that Russia is now a democracy -- one in which Russian citizens can simply trot down to their local square and get answers from their head of state about what's really bothering them. That the event was not spontaneous should simply be expected. Writing in "Obshchaya gazeta" (no. 51), analyst Dmitrii Furman argues that "battles and events" are disappearing from public politics in Russia. And what the current regime finds most disturbing is "anything independent and spontaneous" -- "regardless of whether it is dangerous or not." Furman notes that is why representatives of nongovernmental organizations were "summoned for the Civic Forum," an event which he said "marks the beginning of the formalization of that sphere."

Likewise, according to Furman, "the TV-6 network is not dangerous either, but it is uncontrollable." And, he continues, "when uncontrollability and spontaneity are to be driven out of the sphere of public politics, they have to be driven out of public politics as well." Writing in "The Moscow Times" on 18 December, commentator Aleksei Pankin echoed Furman's comment, noting that programs such as "Vremena" and "Segodnya" on ORT and NTV, respectively, are currently more critical than TV-6. But TV-6 poses a threat nonetheless, because it could become critical in the future: "Everyone understands that it is a time bomb that [chief shareholder Boris] Berezovsky will detonate when the time is right," he noted. And that is apparently intolerable for the Kremlin. In the meantime, Russia's television-viewing public may no longer see TV-6 in the future, but Russians can look forward to another television chat with Putin next year, since the nationwide call-in show is expected to become an annual event. (Julie A. Corwin)

...FORBID PROPAGATION OF TERRORIST PROPAGANDA... Also on 20 December, deputies approved on first reading a bill amending Article 4 of the Law on Mass Media and the law for combating terrorism that will forbid the dissemination of propaganda for terrorism and extremism through the mass media. Although the bill was supported by a huge margin, with some 371 votes in favor and only four against, some legislators said the bill will require "serious work" before the second reading, according to JAC

...GIVE FOREIGN-OWNED TV COMPANIES A BREAK... Another bill amending the Law on Mass Media was also passed in its first, second, and third readings -- all on the same day. Under the bill, television companies that were registered prior to 4 August 2000 can have more than 50 percent foreign ownership, according to ITAR-TASS. Also on 20 December, legislators approved the Administrative Code, which they had approved earlier but was rejected by President Putin, reported. The new version takes into account the president's objections. If signed into law, it will come into effect on 1 July 2002. JAC

...REQUIRE INSPECTION OF NUCLEAR WASTE IMPORTS... On 27 December, deputies also approved in its final reading a law on the all-Russia census and a constitutional law on martial law. The census bill stipulates what kinds of information will be gathered, as well as how often. The next census will be conducted starting in October of next year. The bill on martial law, which was submitted by the presidential administration, empowers the president to declare martial law in case of aggression or the threat of aggression in a part of the Russian Federation or across the entire federation. According to the bill, after martial law is declared, political parties and other organizations must suspend their activities if they are deemed to undermine the defense and security of the country. Also approved in its final reading earlier in the week was a bill amending the law on environment protection. It requires that nuclear waste be analyzed by state ecological experts before being transported into Russia. JAC

...AND FORBID CLONING OF HUMANS. On 20 December, the Duma adopted in its first reading a bill establishing a five-year moratorium on human cloning and prohibiting the export from and import to Russia of cloned human embryos, RBK reported. The bill was initiated by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has warned that it will excommunicate any violators. JAC


Name of law_____________Date Approved___________# of reading

On martial law___________27 December_____________3rd

On all-Russia census_______27 December______________3rd

Labor Code______________21 December_____________3rd
_______________________19 December_____________2nd

Law on Mass Media_______20 December______________1st

On the struggle against____20 December______________1st

Law on Mass Media_______20 December______________1st
(foreign ownership)________________________________2nd

On protecting the________20 December______________3rd

On a temporary ban______20 December______________1st
on cloning humans

Administrative Code______20 December_____________conciliation

SENATORS RUBBER-STAMP BUDGET, LABOR CODE. In their final session for 2001, senators approved on 26 December almost without discussion the new Labor Code with 104 votes in favor, four against, and four abstentions, RIA-Novosti reported. Also passed by a wide margin was the 2002 budget with 132 votes in favor, two against, and four abstentions. The Administrative Code was also passed with little opposition. An unidentified federal-level politician told on 26 December that the quick passage of the 2002 budget by the upper house -- despite advantages that the document bestows on the center at the expense of the regions -- illustrates that Russia no longer has a legislature that represents the regions' interests. JAC


Name of Law____________________________Date Approved

Labor Code_____________________________26 December

Administrative Code______________________26 December

Tax Code_______________________________26 December
(Article 11 VAT)

Budget 2002____________________________26 December

COMINGS & GOINGS OUT: President Putin announced on 24 December that he intends to eliminate the Presidential Pardons Commission headed by Anatolii Pristavkin and delegate its duties to regional authorities.

SHIFTED: Duma deputy Svetlana Smirnova, who was previously deputy chair of the People's Deputy group, has joined the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction in the State Duma, Interfax reported on 18 December.

POLITICAL CALENDAR January: State Duma deputies from the Union of Rightist Forces are expected to submit legislation amending the Criminal Code so that capital punishment is banned

11-15 January: Three auctions for the rights to acquire marine bio-resources will be held in Moscow

13 January: Presidential elections in Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygeya, second round of presidential elections in Sakha Republic

14 January: Extraordinary shareholders meeting for the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corporation, the proprietor of TV-6

15 January: Audit Chamber to present its findings of investigation into the use of housing funds in Sakha Republic

16 January: State Duma will hold its first session of the year

16-18 January: President Putin to visit Poland

Second half of January: Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to visit Japan, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 November

Second half of January: Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev will visit Moscow

19 January: Communist Party extraordinary congress to take place in Moscow, according to TV-6 on 1 December

25 January: Unified Energy Systems board of directors to meet and discuss the restructuring of the company

27 January: Presidential elections in North Ossetia

1 February: Deadline by which government will have prepared its strategy for cooperation with the World Bank

1 February: Fast-track, three-day visas for entry into Russia for citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Britain, Switzerland, and Japan will become available, according to "The Moscow Times" on 19 December

February: Newly established committee for financial monitoring will begin work, according to Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin on 1 November

February: Spain's Crown Prince Felipe will visit Moscow

23 February: New state holiday honoring "Defenders of the Fatherland"

26 February: All-Russia conference on the Russian Regions and the WTO to be held in Moscow

8 March: International Women's Day

March-April: Russia will issue up to $2 billion in Eurobonds, according to Vneshekonombank head Andrei Kostin on 15 November

end of March: CIS Interparliamentary Assembly will hold its 19th plenary session

April: Unified party of Unity and Fatherland to officially register as a political party

April: The St. Petersburg Dialogue, a Russian-German forum, will hold its second conference in Weimar, Germany, according to ITAR-TASS

April: Gubernatorial elections in Penza Oblast

May: Russia-EU summit to be held on 30 May; CIS summit will be held in Chisinau, Moldova

June: Government will have drafted a federal program for putting Russia's armed forces on a professional basis, according to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 7 December

June: Russia and the U.S. will have drafted an agreement on radical cuts in strategic offensive weapons, according to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 18 December

9 June: Repeat elections for legislature of Primorskii Krai

9-16 October: All-Russia census

7 November: Day of Reconciliation and Agreement.