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Security Watch: January 29, 2001

29 January 2001, Volume 2, Number 4
PUTIN ADMITS MOSCOW CAN'T STOP NATO EXPANSION. Following his visit to Moscow, Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen said that President Vladimir Putin had told him that "expansion of NATO eastward is a process that cannot be prevented or delayed," Interfax reported on 24 January. Lipponen said his host had also told him that Russia is enthusiastic about EU expansion.

ONE AMERICANIST SAYS MOSCOW SHOULD WELCOME BUSH'S TOUGH LINE ON AID. Anatolii Utkin, the director of the Center for International Research at the USA and Canada Institute, said that Moscow should welcome President Bush's statement that he will withhold aid to Russia unless corruption is ended and reforms implemented, "Trud" reported on 18 January. That may not only increase pressure on Russia to improve but also end the imbalance in aid between Russia and Ukraine, given Kyiv's current problems, he said.

PUTIN THANKS CLINTON, CONGRATULATES BUSH. President Putin sent a letter to former U.S. President Bill Clinton thanking him for his understanding and support, and he dispatched another to incoming President George W. Bush saying that he hopes to work together with him to "seek solutions to the challenges of the 21st century," Interfax reported on 23 January. One version of the latter letter widely quoted in the Western media about Putin's views on ABM and START was subsequently disowned by the Kremlin as a fake.

RUSSIA, FINLAND AGREE ON UNDERWATER PIPELINE. Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen said on 24 January that Helsinki and Moscow agree on the desirability of building an underwater pipeline through the Baltic Sea.

PRIMAKOV DOCTRINE IN ACTION. Yevgenii Primakov's proposal several years ago of an informal alliance among Russia, India, and China was dismissed because of hostility between the latter two, but now it is gaining supporters, "Vremya MN" reported on 18 January. The visit of Chinese leader Li Peng to Delhi and the new border accord between the two Asian giants has helped this process along. And those events, the paper said, open the way to a real alliance, especially since Beijing's new national security doctrine calls for partnership with the north, normalization with India, and advancement in Southeast Asia.

NAVY DOCTRINE PUTS INDIAN OCEAN IN MOSCOW'S ZONE. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" said on 18 January that the dispatch of the Russian Pacific Fleet to the Indian Ocean is the beginning of the realization of the new Russian navy doctrine. Moscow has permanent interests in the region, the paper said, nothing that India is likely to be an important geostrategic ally in the coming century.

PUTIN DEMANDS 'DE-BUREAUCRATIZATION' OF THE ECONOMY. President Putin told a Kremlin meeting of senior businessman that they must take responsibility for the country and people now that they have put fears behind them, Interfax reported on 24 January. Meanwhile, he said that he had ordered the government to launch a campaign within three weeks to de-bureaucratize the economy, reducing regulations, simplifying licensing procedures, and strengthening the protection of investments.

EX-PRESIDENTS NO LONGER QUITE SO IMMUNE. The Duma gave final approval to a law on the status of former Russian presidents that significantly limits the legal risks such people face, ORT television reported on 25 January. Under the new terms, a majority vote of each of the houses of parliament is sufficient to allow prosecution if there is evidence of serious crimes committed during office. The Duma rejected an amendment that would have extended this provision to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who in any case has said he does not want it.

'EDINSTVO' WANTS IRREVERSIBLE PRIVATIZATION... Edinstvo leader Boris Gryzlov told Interfax on 23 January that his party does not want to see privatization decisions made before 1997 reviewed. He said that earlier decisions must remain untouched even if there are problems, and he said that Putin supports this limitation.

...BUT SOLZHENITSYN IS OPPOSED. In an "Argumenty I fakty" interview on 22 January, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that any economic amnesty was "absurd" because it is impossible to ignore "10 years of corruption, plunder, and depredations." He said that major industries were handed out for less than one-half of 1 percent of their worth, and now he said the Duma wants to "forbid" any examination of this process. Russian cannot sustain this, the Nobel Prize winning author said, pointing out that it is impossible to build a new structure on a rotten foundation.

KOVALEV SAYS DEMOCRATIC FORCES UNDER ATTACK. Veteran human rights activist Sergei Kovalev told a convention of media and rights activists that the attack on the media and democratic freedom has already become "a fact of life" in Russia, Interfax reported. Kovalev said the current Kremlin government is seeking to use emergency regimes to push through legislation and rules that are neither constitutional nor democratic. And he said that a new constitution might become the vehicle for an authoritarian restoration. (See "End Note" below.)

...SAYS SECURITY FORCES MAY HAVE KIDNAPPED GLUCK. In other comments, Kovalev said that the kidnapping of Medicins sans Frontiers aid worker Kenneth Gluck in Chechnya has a political dimension, "Vremya Novostei" reported on 18 January. Indeed, he said, it reflected the interests of those in the Russian security forces who want to continue the military operation there.

IS KREMLIN PREPARING REPLACEMENT FOR SHAIMIEV? "Versiya" reported on 23 January that the Kremlin hopes to replace Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev with property relations chief Farit Gazizullin and plans to back him with all possible resources in the upcoming presidential elections there.

PUTIN PUTS FSB IN CHARGE OF CHECHEN CAMPAIGN. Declaring that the Chechen operation has entered a new and final phase, President Vladimir Putin has transferred control of military actions there from the Defense Ministry to the FSB, Russian and Western agencies reported. FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev will have overall control, with the FSB's Department for the Protection of the Constitutional Order's German Ugryumov having day-to-day responsibility. Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov said that Putin's decision was logical because basic combat operations have been completed, though opinion polls show that more than half of all Russians do not believe that there has been any change there in the last year.

MOSCOW URGED NOT TO CUT TROOPS IN FAR EAST. "Tribuna" on 20 January said that reducing the number of Russian troops on the Chinese border from 428,000 to 328,000 might be premature given the region's loss of population and the burgeoning Chinese population on the other side of the line. The paper said that China already has more than two million soldiers on the other side of the border and might at some point be prepared to use them.

PUTIN NOT AGAINST TURNER BID BUT WON'T GIVE GUARANTEES. President Putin has been quoted as saying that he has nothing against U.S. media magnate Ted Turner's efforts to purchase 25 percent of NTV but that the Kremlin will not provide any guarantees of non-interference in the station's operation, RIA-Novosti reported on 23 January. Meanwhile, Edinstvo leader Boris Gryzlov suggested that Turner could get insurance from the U.S. government for his investment.

PRESS LAW AMENDMENTS THREATEN MEDIA FREEDOM. Amendments offered by Edinstvo, the OVR, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia's factions in the Duma threaten freedom of the press in Russia, reported on 23 January. One of the proposed changes would strip regional officials of the right to license outlets. Another would deprive freelancers of their status as journalists. And a third allows for prosecutions against the media for "deliberately spreading false information," something that could be used against many media outlets. "Yabloko" faction leader Sergei Ivanenko said that adoption of any of them would mean a return to the communist past. But even the Communists are not pleased with them. Communist faction member Aleksandr Kravets told RBK on 23 January that these changes were "an assault on a free press." But he said his faction wanted to introduce a ban on any disrespect shown to the state anthem and flag.

SCHERSTYUK SAYS INFO THREAT SERIOUS. In an interview published in the 24 January "Krasnaya zvezda," Security Council First Deputy Secretary Vladislav Scherstyuk said he does not believe that the free press is at risk in Russia, but he argued that information security requires a broad approach, not only to protect state secrets but also to protect the channels of information.

PUTIN WITHDRAWS PLAN TO LIBERALIZE LEGAL CODE. Under pressure from security service chiefs, President Putin pulled from the Duma consideration of amendments to the criminal code that would have given the courts rather than prosecutors control over arrests and criminal proceedings. "Segodnya" suggested on 22 January that the increasing weight of the security agencies overpowered the efforts of liberals to see the new rules adopted.

ST. PETERSBURG BUSINESSMAN ARRESTED. Russia Video President and Jewish activist Mikhail Miralashvili was arrested on charges of kidnapping, Interfax reported on 24 January. Russian media outlets linked his arrest to the case of Vladimir Gusinskii. But local investigator Ivan Sudorok told ORT on 24 January that Miralashvili has a criminal background and is deeply connected with the underworld in St. Petersburg.

COURT DENIES BAIL TO AEROFLOT EXECUTIVE. A Moscow court has denied bail to Aeroflot Deputy Director Nikolai Glushkov, who is being held on charges of fraud in a case connected with Boris Berezovsky, RIA-Novosti reported on 23 January. Meanwhile, "Moskovskye novosti," no. 3, noted that investigators on the case have completely ignored the involvement of a third figure in this case, Valerii Okulov, who was officially in charge of the company but is the son-in-law of former President Boris Yeltsin.

FRANCE SEIZES RUSSIAN BANK ASSETS. A French court seized $200 million belonging to the Russian National Reserve Bank (NRB) to satisfy claims of French creditors, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22 January. The bank refused to make payments after its default in 1998. In response, NRB President Aleksandr Lebedev, who is a former KGB officer, said he would seek a retaliatory seizure of French assets in a Russian court.

KREMLIN DISTANCES ITSELF FROM BORODIN CASE. Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov denied that there was any "political component" in the case of Pavel Borodin, who was arrested on a Swiss extradition warrant in New York, ORT reported on 23 January. Then, Moscow appointed an acting successor to him, offending both Borodin's supporters and Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 January. Moreover, several newspapers reported that the Kremlin views Borodin as a problem, both because of his early boosting of Putin and because he seeks a larger role than the Kremlin wants him to have.


By Paul Goble

Reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin will soon propose a new constitution for his country, one some of his opponents have already dubbed "the nomenklatura constitution," highlights the complicated and sometimes problematic relationship between constitutions, laws, and political systems.

At an extraordinary congress of Russian human rights activists 10 days ago in Moscow, various speakers reported that Putin has already approved a new draft constitution, one that various participants suggested would simultaneously increase his powers and undermine both human rights and the rule of law in the Russian Federation.

Because no draft is available, it is impossible to say just how democratic or undemocratic the new document may be. But the very fact that Putin is preparing one raises some questions about the meaning of constitutions in the Russian political system and also about the likelihood that any new document could play the role that constitutions are normally intended to play.

According to the dictionary definition, a constitution typically is a document containing the fundamental principles and rules which the operation of a state by setting limits on legislative action and executive and judicial behavior. A law, in contrast, is a rule adopted and enforced by the authorities within the scope set by the constitution.

Those definitions both derive from and apply to the Western and especially American experience. The U.S. Constitution has now been in force for more than 200 years and it enjoys the kind of respect among both the governors and the governed that ensures that it does, in fact, set limits on actions by both and that there is every reason to believe that it will survive well into the future with only relatively rare modifications.

But Russian constitutional history has been fundamentally different. Since 1917, first the Soviet and more recently the Russian authorities have adopted constitutions with remarkable frequency, and so closely have these "basic laws" been associated with particular leaders and their styles of rule that the documents themselves often have taken on the name of the leader behind them.

During the Soviet period, there was a Lenin constitution, a Stalin constitution, and a Brezhnev constitution, all of which proclaimed many rights and principles that the men whose names they bore ignored so totally that many in both the USSR and the West viewed them as little more than propaganda documents, with little or no relevance to legislative or executive action or to the rights of Soviet citizens.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian government made due with a modified Brezhnev constitution until the political crisis of October 1993, after which President Boris Yeltsin pushed through a document in December of that year which many commentators immediately called the Yeltsin constitution because it was designed to help one man make the transition from communism.

Now, less than eight years later, Putin apparently is set to announce yet another constitution, one that many almost certainly will give his name to. That is especially likely because he appears set to use the document in much the same way as his predecessors, not so much as a set of fundamental principles governing the state but rather as a means of indicating the directions he wants to take Russia in.

Because of that likelihood, the Putin constitution is unlikely to acquire the meaning such documents typically have in established democracies, to place limits on his actions, or to survive for very long after his period in office. And for all these reasons, any new basic law he is able to have adopted is unlikely to enjoy the kind of respect that constitutions require if they are to be effective.

None of this means that Russia may not need modifications in its existing law or even a completely new document. As many legal analysts have pointed out, there are serious gaps and deficiencies in the Yeltsin constitution. And commentators are certain to suggest that many effective democracies, first and foremost Great Britain, do quite well without any constitution at all.

But rather it is to insist that any new Russian Constitution, especially one prepared behind closed doors to fit the leadership style of the incumbent president, almost certainly will not become a genuine constitution in the normal sense of the word, however much its advocates try to insist. And that will make it all the more difficult for the Russian Federation to make the transition to "the dictatorship of law" Putin talks about so often about.