Weighing The Yeltsin Legacy
By Julie A. Corwin
April 24, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's death at 76
-- an unexpectedly advanced age, given both the average life expectancy in Russia and what could best be termed Yeltsin's unhealthy lifestyle -- follows the deaths of many of his contemporaries under much less comfortable circumstances: liberal legislators Sergei Yushenkov and Galina Starovoitova, and journalists Anna Politkovskaya, Yury Shchekochikhin, and Vladislav Listev.
All of these people were murdered, or died under unexplained circumstances, in a climate that the lawlessness of the Yeltsin era helped to create.
While Yeltsin was able to enjoy his retirement, traveling to international tennis tournaments and vacationing in Sardinia, he effectively disappeared from Russian political life. Unlike Gorbachev, he did not use his status as a former head of state to lobby for causes or try to shape his historical legacy.
That legacy has become considerably tarnished in recent years. Popular accounts of the Yeltsin years, spanning from 1991 to 1999, have made liberal use of the word "kleptocracy." Critics have focused on the loans-for-shares scheme in which valuable state assets were sold for a pittance, and the staggering decline in real income that followed the launch of his government's economic reforms.
He was a deeply flawed individual who lacked humility and consistency.
Much attention of late has dwelled on the jump in the mortality rate that occurred in the 1990s. An extra 2.5 to 3 million Russian adults died between 1992 and 2001 than would have been expected based on the mortality rate in 1991, according to a 2003 study.
Of course, transitions from one political and economic system to another are never easy. But Russian citizens throughout the 1990s could look at life in neighboring countries, such as Estonia and Hungary, and legitimately wonder why things were so much worse in Russia, a country with an abundance of natural resources.
Russia's 'Quiet Acceptance'
Many blame the chaos of the Yeltsin years for the Russian public's quiet acceptance -- if not embrace -- of current Russian President Vladimir Putin's ever-tightening control over Russian society. Putin gave the Russian public what it wanted from politics after the upheavals of the Yeltsin years: predictability. Yes, politics become a lot more boring, but it was also lot more stable.
While Boris Yeltsin must share the blame for the excesses of his era and the Russian public's resulting distaste for "democracy," he also deserves credit for what he did not do. Russia escaped the wrenching violence that often accompanies major political and economic change. After all, Russia did not have to endure another civil war like that which followed the Bolshevik Revolution.
Of course, the lack of bloodshed can partly be attributed to the fact that the Soviet ruling classes did not experience a wholesale disenfranchisement. Yeltsin kept the peace through co-optation rather than suppression, often rewarding loyalty rather than competence.
Members of the Soviet nomenklatura still administer -- if not possess -- much of the country's riches. Consider just one example: Vagit Alekperov, the head of LUKoil, named by Forbes as one of the world's richest people last year, was an "oil general" in the 1980s long before Yeltsin tapped him to be deputy oil minister in 1991.
While Yeltsin was clearly not the economic and political reformer that the West initially made him out to be, he deserves credit for his acknowledgment of other peoples' right to self-determination. To appreciate Yeltsin's restraint, one only has to ponder for a moment or so how his successor would have reacted to the 1991 treaty dissolving the Soviet Union or to the "parade of sovereignties," when one Russian region after another declared its independence from Moscow's formal authority. Granted, Yeltsin did not enjoy the same level of support from the military and intelligence service that Putin does. He nevertheless could have made an appeal to Russian nationalism, but he resisted playing that card through most of his career.
Boris Yeltsin made many mistakes. He was a deeply flawed individual who lacked humility and consistency. He was also a person who was obviously physically unwell. Years of heavy drinking not only destroyed his good looks but also appeared to slow his speech, if not his wits, blunting his once keen political judgment. But history, nevertheless, is likely to look kindly on the changes he was able to oversee without major bloodshed.
Yeltsin Held 'Pride Of Place' In New Epoch
PRAGUE, April 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders of former Soviet states have been remembering former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, the man who presided over the final days of the USSR and escorted Russia into a rocky decade of economic and political reforms.
The former Russian president died of heart failure this afternoon in Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital, Kremlin officials said. He was 76 (read Yeltsin's obituary)
Yeltsin had long suffered from heart problems, and his death was not unexpected. But his unique position as the overseer of the final days of the Soviet Union left many officials today remembering a man who leaves a complicated legacy.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet president who saw his power quickly give way to Yeltsin's in the last days of the USSR, said the two men had "serious differences."
In a condolence statement issued shortly after Yeltsin's death was announced, Gorbachev called the former president a man who was responsible for both "great deeds for the country and serious errors."
Former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze was a Yeltsin supporter and a fellow reformist leader in the early years of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the post-Soviet alliance Yeltsin helped to forge.
Shevardnadze today remembered Yeltsin in an interview with RFE/RL's Georgian Service.
"I had close relations with [Yeltsin] already when he was first secretary of the Sverdlovsk Oblast [Communist] Party Committee. He visited Georgia twice at that time and we have been friends ever since," Shevardnadze said.
"He later became [Russian] president and held other posts -- he has come a complicated way, he had disagreements with then-Soviet President [Mikhail Gorbachev], but, to put it in two words, Yeltsin played a big role in the building of democratic foundations in Russia."
Uzbek opposition leader Muhammad Salikh also said that Yeltsin will be remembered as a leader who brought democratic values to the forefront.
"Boris Yeltsin was an outstanding personality who came to the political scene at the end of the Soviet Union," Salikh told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. "Despite his mistakes as a Communist Party leader, compared to other leaders, he was relatively democratic. He will be remembered in history as a leader of perestroika and glasnost. If any democratic values remain in the former Soviet states, it's definitely to Yeltsin's credit."
'Motivated By Liberty And Democracy'
Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, together with Yeltsin and Stanislau Shushkevich, the chairman of the Belarusian Supreme Soviet, signed the December 8, 1991, Belavezha Agreement forming the CIS.
In an interview today with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, he credited Yeltsin with Ukraine's 1991 independence and said as a leader he had been motivated by principles of "liberty" and "democracy."
Under Yeltsin's presidency, Russia went to war in Chechnya
"For me personally, this was a man of stature, who with his rough exterior was a person who really wanted for people to live in a democracy. For democracy in Russia, for its inception -- you have to know Russia to understand my words -- he did a huge amount. He dug the first furrow of free democratic development Russia after years of totalitarianism," Kravchuk said.
Kravchuk added that Yeltsin will retain a lasting place in history as the man who ushered in a new chapter in the history of the former Soviet republics.
"This was an entire epoch. Boris Nikolayevich, his life, his work is all part of the opening of a new age for Russia, for Ukraine and for all the countries of the former Soviet Union. This was a period of new life, new history, and Boris Nikolayevich has pride of place in this epoch," Kravchuk said.
Critical Leadership In Early Days Of Statehood
In Kyrgyzstan, where Yeltsin is admired for aiding the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union, a university bears his name and there is a statue of him in the northern resort town of Cholponata.
Former Kyrgyz State Secretary Naken Kasiev told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service that Yeltsin’s first trip abroad as president was to Kyrgyzstan.
Yeltsin "made his first ever [foreign] trip to Kyrgyzstan after he was elected president [of Russia in 1991]," Kasiev said. "Then I also witnessed him lead a delegation to the opening ceremony of the Kyrgyz Slavic University. He was respectful to Kyrgyzstan."
"He paid a lot of attention to the national aspirations of countries of the USSR conglomerate, and he was always very sensitive to these matters." Petru Lucinschi, former president of Moldova
Rafail Khakimov, an adviser to the president of Tatarstan, helped negotiate a power-sharing treaty between Kazan and Moscow under Yeltsin. He told RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service that he believed Yeltsin had a vision for the future.
"He was a controversial person. On the one hand, he brought the collapse of the Soviet Union, on the other hand -- as Russia's first president -- he did a lot for democracy, federalism, liberty, (and) freedom of speech," Khakimov remembered. "He felt where the world was going and where Russia should go. As for Tatarstan, and we honor him for that, he signed a treaty with us. At that time everyone [in the Russian leadership] was against that treaty, but he signed it nevertheless."
Former Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi said Yeltsin provided critical leadership for nascent, ex-Soviet states.
"He played an essential role for young independent states like Moldova," Lucinschi told RFE/RL's Moldova-Romania Service. "He paid a lot of attention to the national aspirations of countries of the USSR conglomerate, and he was always very sensitive to these matters. He never put pressure, and the Istanbul issue of Russia's withdrawal [from Transdniester] was possible only because of him. He was the one who said, 'Yes, we have to support this idea.'"
Chaos And Uncertainty
Yeltsin's presidency, which lasted from 1991 to 1999, was marked by more than the collapse of communism and Soviet-era repressions. It also ushered in an uneasy decade during which market and political reforms gave way to rampant corruption, the creation of a Russian "oligarchy" of super-rich tycoons, and the first of Russia's two wars with Chechnya.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk (left), Belarusian Supreme Soviet Speaker Stanislau Shushkevich (center), and Russian President Boris Yeltsin after signing the CIS agreement, December 8, 1991(Tass)
Yevgeny Yasin, who served as economy minister under Yeltsin, told RFE/RL that his legacy, though complicated, would improve with the passage of time.
"I think he was an outstanding person who took the most important decisions of the second half of the of the 20th century concerning Russia," Yasin said.
"These decisions will determine its future for a long time. I think he displayed the statesman's highest virtue -- the ability to take responsible decisions while sacrificing his reputation, his career."
Many Russians think of Yeltsin as the man who brought an era of chaos and uncertainty to the country. But Yasin says that, too, may change with time: "I think they will remember him negatively for a while, and then they will understand his role. Maybe historians of the next generation will give it [Yeltsin's role] the assessment it deserves."
For politicians who came of age in the heady early days of Yeltsin's presidency, the assessment is already glowing. Boris Nemtsov, a leading member of Russia's Union of Rightist Forces, was appointed by Yeltsin to serve as the governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region in November 1991.
Nemtsov told RFE/RL's Russian Service that Yeltsin's role in the country's history cannot be overlooked.
"Personally, I'm very grateful to Yeltsin. He really gave me an opportunity to realize myself. It was hard to imagine that a young research worker could become governor of one of the most industrially advanced regions of the country," Nemtsov said.
"He was capable of trusting people, he was capable of bold actions, and I think his rebellious character was extremely important for dismantling communism and building a new Russia."
(RFE/RL's Ukrainian, Russian, Kyrgyz, Moldova-Romanian, Tatar-Bashkir, Uzbek, and Georgian services contributed to this report.)
Pressure Mounting On Opposition, Media
By Victor Yasmann
Police arrest a protester at the April 14 March of Dissent rally in Moscow
April 24, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russian authorities' brutal crackdown on the March of Dissent rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg earlier this month was just one element in a broader campaign of intimidation against Russia's paltry political opposition and few remaining alternative mass media organizations.
Why is such a campaign needed when the political opposition is a pale shadow of its former self and the mass media is politically neutered?
The obvious explanation is that the 2008 presidential election is nearing. But another possibility is that the Kremlin has launched such a powerful anti-Western campaign in the mass media that Russian policymakers themselves have started to believe that "outside forces" are indeed behind all protest in Russia. In other words, the Kremlin has started to believe its own propaganda.
Some analysts have suggested that the St. Petersburg police "overreacted" to the March of Dissent demonstrators because President Vladimir Putin was in town and they feared his wrath if order on the streets was not maintained.
During the St. Petersburg demonstration, Putin was in the city watching a wrestling match with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and movie actor Jean-Claude Van Damme. Eyewitnesses said that during the contest Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev approached Putin a couple times, allegedly to report on the situation.
Also contributing to the brutality of the police action was the personnel used. The Kremlin used members of the special anti-riot OMON police from the regions to disperse the demonstrations.
These officers traditionally hate residents of both Russian "capitals." Participants in the Moscow demonstration told RFE/RL that some security forces admitted they were told they were being used to disband a gay-rights parade.
There was nothing accidental about the police suppression. It coincided with a new anti-Western media campaign that Kremlin officials launched partly in response to the April 5 U.S. State Department report on U.S. democracy-promotion experts. That annual report again gave Russia low marks, noting an "erosion of civil society."
A consistent theme of this anti-Western campaign has been that "outside forces" sponsor all protests in the country. On April 13, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov called participants in the demonstrations "provocateurs" and announced the creation of a parliamentary working group to investigate "who stands behind [the protests] and with whose funds they were organized."
Russian lawmakers the same day adopted a resolution condemning U.S. help for NGOs in Russia, which stated, "We believe that the U.S. position...is a veiled attempt to put pressure on Russia ahead of elections."
The next day, Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies, which is closely linked to the Kremlin, expanded on this theme in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station. He said "tough measures were necessary."
"We brought a lot of OMON forces to show the toughness of the government," he added. "To demonstrate that the government will not retreat as [Ukrainian President Leonid ] Kuchma did by surrendering his power to [Orange Revolution allies] Viktor Yushchenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko or to retreat from power as [former President Askar] Akaev did in Kyrgyzstan. Do we want our government to surrender and give [the anti-Putin opposition] an opportunity to win on the street?"
Gleb Pavlovsky, a political adviser to the head of the pro-Kremlin administration, suggested in an interview with “Moskovsky komsomolets” on April 14 that with their efforts to prevent and ultimately derail the demonstrations organized by the anti-Putin opposition, the Kremlin employed the entire arsenal of techniques of the intelligence service, from direct coercion to provocation and appeasement.
"The Kremlin was experimenting with its attitude toward demonstrations: from direct dispersal of the demonstration in St. Petersburg, to selective isolation of the leaders of the demonstration in Nizhny Novgorod, to permission to hold [April 8] demonstrations in Moscow," Pavlovsky said.
In Nizhny Novgorod, some protest organizers were detained, while others were not, causing suspicion to fall on those who were not arrested: Were they perhaps cooperating with the Federal Security Service, the FSB?
The police and the FSB in that city also used "provocation." For example, during the March 3 protest organized by the Other Russia opposition political bloc, provocateurs carried signs invoking the Kremlin's designated enemies: “Berezovsky, We Are With You" and "Bush, Help To Save Democracy In Russia."
The tough measures against anti-Putin demonstrations have been accompanied by new restrictions against the few remaining alternative mass media outlets. For example, this month, the popular Internet daily, gazeta.ru, got an official warning for its interview with Eduard Limonov, the leader of National Bolshevik Party. The party is a constituent of Other Russia and is banned by law.
Another target of the new restrictions has been the Russian News Service (RNS), which provides programming to Russian Radio, Radio Monte Carlo, and several other broadcasting outlets. Altogether, it has a national audience of more than 8 million. This month, the pro-Kremlin television Channel One sent emissaries there to assume managerial positions within RNS.
The new managers announced new rules of the game. They said that former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, and Eduard Limonov should not be featured as newsmakers nor be invited into the studio as guests. They should only be referred to as "radical liberals."
Approved newsmakers include only the leaders of Unified Russia, the Public Chamber, and loyalist human rights officials, such as Vladimir Lukin and Ella Pamfilova.
Other edicts issued reportedly included the order that at least 50 percent of the content of news should be "positive." In addition, whatever journalists broadcast, they should remember a key mantra -- that America is an enemy.
TV-Tsentr's political news show, "Fighters Club," also faced restrictions and was ultimately shut down for failing to follow Kremlin guidelines. According to the show's host, Aleksei Navalny, deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov and Aleksei Chesnakov, who heads of the presidential administration's information department, cleared participants and topics for the show in advance.
When Navalny deviated from the approved guidelines, the show was taken off the air. Navalny also revealed that he was warned about existence of so-called "blacklists" of people the Kremlin did not want on the air.
TV Is "Nuclear Weapon"
As with the crackdown on demonstrators, Sergei Markov has also defended the Kremlin's policies toward the media. He admitted to Ekho Moskvy that he views television as an effective propaganda tool.
"In these conditions in Russia, with our weak and fragile political parties," he said, "television is a nuclear weapon. And now people say it would be good if different people could use this weapon. But that is threatening. True, [television management] does not want to have problems, so they have gotten rid of all politics from television, leaving only entertainment."
But not everyone has reacted to the pressure by giving up and retreating. Last week, more than three dozen leading human rights activists appealed to the United States and European Union to impose a visa ban on Russian officials deemed to be responsible for arbitrary police actions against the opposition.
Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, told reporters in Moscow on April 19 that such officials include Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko. Putin himself was apparently not included.
NGOs Uneasy As Deadline Passes
By Chloe Arnold
Russian police breaking up a demonstration against the NGO law in December 2005
MOSCOW, April 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russian nongovernmental organizations say they are anxious about their future following an April 15 deadline to file documentation that gives details about foreign funding.
A law passed last year requires all NGOs and charitable organizations that receive funding from abroad to reregister with federal authorities and to provide detailed information about where their money comes from.
Tatyana Kasatkina is trying to get back to work. For the last three weeks, the director of the human rights group Memorial has held endless meetings with lawyers and filed hundreds of pages of documentation to show where she gets her funding.
"We believe the U.S. position, concealed as an effort to promote international standards of human rights and democratic principles, is a veiled attempt to put pressure on Russia ahead of elections," Duma Deputy Sergei Popov said.
"There's a huge number of forms that we need to fill in, a colossal amount," Kasatkina said. "Of course it takes us away from our work entirely. Of course it involves spending our own money on photocopying and other things. It's not good at all. It's not designed to allow organizations like ours to work effectively."
Tight Monitoring Of Foreign Funds
The January 2006 law imposes heavy bureaucratic control over NGO finances, monitors foreign grants they receive, and bans them from participating in political activities.
Kasatkina says she thinks the law is yet another attempt by President Vladimir Putin's government to suppress freedom of speech and democracy.
"This is an attempt, in actual fact, to destroy civil society," Kastkina said, "because the statement [put out by the government] says that NGOs cannot receive funding from abroad. So where are we going to get our funding? Russia doesn't give us funding; Russian businesses don't give us funding. And they make remarks in the Duma like this -- that this funding will inevitably lead to a colored revolution. And of course we all understand that what they are referring to is [the 2004 Orange Revolution in] Ukraine."
Cries Of Foreign Meddling
On April 13, the Duma reacted angrily to a U.S. State Department report that criticized Russia's rights record.
Parliamentarians unanimously approved a resolution expressing concern over what they called "growing and unprecedented attempts" by the United States to interfere in internal issues -- including the funding of NGOs.
Sergei Popov, of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia faction, is chairman of the Russian State Duma's Committee for Public and Religious Organizations. He accuses Washington of meddling in Russian affairs to influence the outcome of parliamentary elections in December 2007 and the presidential vote in March 2008.
"We believe that the U.S. position, concealed as an effort to promote international standards of human rights and democratic principles, is a veiled attempt to put pressure on Russia ahead of elections," Popov said.
Twenty police officers from the Interior Ministry's Economic Crimes Department on April 18 locked themselves inside the Moscow offices of the U.S.-based NGO Internews, which trains journalists and works with media outlets.
The officers confiscated financial records they said were tied to the recent detention of the Internews head at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport for failing to declare excess cash.
But Internews staff suggested the raid was more likely linked to the NGO's work with the Russian media community ahead of the elections.
Memorial's Kasatkina says NGOs are being persecuted despite fulfilling a role that the Russian government has failed to play.
"We are completely transparent," she said. "All the material [relating to where we get our funding] is posted on our website, and we send all the information to the prosecutor-general and to the presidential administration. So first and foremost we are working with the authorities. What do we do? We fill a niche that our government is unable to fill. We are doing it for the sake of Russia. We want our government to follow the law. What it means is that if we don't get this funding, there won't be any free legal consultations available. And how many people will that leave utterly helpless?"
'No Serious Consequences'
Yelena Kovalyova, a spokeswoman for the Federal Registration Service, which handles the new documentation system, said it was too early to say how many NGOs had submitted their forms by the April 15 deadline, or what the penalties for missing the date might be.
"There won't be any serious consequences," Kovalyova said. "What sort of consequences? There is a law. Everything will be done according to the law. There is a law. We work exclusively according to the law. Those measures that are written in the law will be the measures that we take."
Memorial's Kasatkina is not optimistic.
"Everything has only just been submitted, and I think that they don't yet know how they can suppress us," she said. "But I think it is very probable that some NGOs will be closed down."
Among the new requirements, NGOs must now list all foreign donations received and specify exactly how those funds were used.
Fearing Colored Revolutions
Analysts view the crackdown on NGOs as an active measure to forestall a public uprising such as those in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine. more
U.S. Worried By Antidemocratic Trend
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Barry Lowenkron discusses the Kremlin's "fundamental misunderstanding" of the way NGOs function. more
Putin's Repatriation Scheme Off To Slow Start
By Jean-Christophe Peuch
Russia's much-heralded repatriation program hasn't resulted in flood of new passport holders
April 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- On June 22, 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree initiating a ambitious six-year program designed to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of some of the estimated 30 million Russians living abroad, both in the CIS and further afield.
The program, meant to counter Russia's demographic crisis, officially entered its active phase on January 1 of this year. But Russia's regions still seem unwilling, or unprepared, to accept large numbers of newcomers.
Additionally, it appears that only a few hundred people have applied for repatriation, despite promises of receiving Russian citizenship within six months of their return..
Estimates Fall Far Short
Russian government officials had predicted that at least 100,000 people would apply for repatriation this year, and that a few million would have voluntarily returned "home" by 2012.
But although the first repatriates were expected in March, by mid-April not a single newcomer had settled in Russia.
On January 22, the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" daily reported that nearly one month after the beginning of the repatriation plan, only 13 people had applied for resettlement in Siberia's Irkutsk Oblast. In the central Tambov Oblast, authorities say they are currently ready to accept 200 families, all from Kyrgyzstan. The "Amurskaya pravda" daily reported on January 31 that the southeastern Amur Oblast was anticipating as few as 300 people by the end of the year.
Putin says his plan is meant to help revive the Russian economy and compensate for the country's staggering demographic crisis -- high mortality rates and low birth rates are believed to be draining the Russian population of some 700,000 people a year. But, in the opinion of some commentators, the scheme has political aims as well.
"If in past centuries Russia has expanded through the amassing of new territories, the only way it has to remain a state today is to assemble peoples. And of course it would be better if those peoples were capable of integrating the country's economy and accepting our habits, traditions, and culture," the president of the Eurasia Heritage Foundation think tank, Yelena Yatsenko, wrote in the December 26, 2006, issue of "Nezavisimaya gazeta."
Putin's program specifically targets Russian "compatriots" outside Russia. There has been considerable confusion about what is meant by the term. Reports from Central Asia indicate that some believe the program applies to all former Soviet citizens regardless of their ethnicity. But the Russian government, which in the past months has increased efforts to deport non-Russian immigrants, clearly sees ethnic Russians as the program's priority targets. Regional officials also appear to indicate that they are looking first and foremost for ethnic Russians and their family members, who may or may not be Russian.
Putin's decree designated 12 pilot federal subjects to take part in the repatriation scheme. Those are the Khabarovsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Primorsky krais; and the Amur, Irkutsk, Kaliningrad, Kaluga, Lipetsk, Novosibirsk, Tambov, Tver, and Tyumen oblasts.
Those regions, in turn, have been divided into three categories. The first one includes strategic border areas experiencing demographic losses. The second is made of regions whose large investment projects require an additional workforce. The third category comprises regions whose economies are developing steadily but whose general populations are declining.
Since the publication of Putin's decree, a number of other federal subjects (Khanty-Mansy Autonomous Okrug, Altai Krai, and the Kursk, Ulyanovsk, Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd, Chita, Sverdlovsk, and Leningrad oblasts) have applied to take part in the repatriation program.
Yet, with the noticeable exception of the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, which plans to admit up to 300,000 newcomers by 2012, none of these regions seems ready to accept large numbers of repatriates.
Although its population has dwindled by an estimated 240,000 people in the past 12 years, Irkutsk Oblast has said that it will take no more than 5,000 returnees by 2012, including 570 this year, the regional "SM-nomer odin" weekly reported on January 25.
Beyond the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Russian government had also sought potential repatriates in Germany, Israel, and the United States.
On January 22, the "Tambovsky kurier" weekly reported that Tambov Oblast, whose population is dwindling by 15,000 people a year, had pledged to accept only 20,500 repatriates by 2012 -- and as few as 1,500 this year, including the 200 families from Kyrgyzstan.
In most cases, it's not entirely clear where the repatriates, if there are any, will be coming from.
Russia's ambassador to Dushanbe, Ramazan Abdulatipov, earlier this month claimed that more than 4,000 ethnic Russians with Tajik citizenship were willing to "return home."
Authorities in Krasnoyarsk Oblast's Pirovsky Raion say they are expecting dozens of ethnic Russians from a village in Uzbekistan's Samarkand region who will be offered work as doctors, schoolteachers, agronomists, or other skilled professions. However, the ferghana.ru news agency reported last month that no one in the regional village of Bagizagan seemed aware of the repatriation program and that most ethnic Russian residents had left the area on their own long ago.
The agency also quoted officials with Samarkand's two Russian cultural centers as saying the implementation of Putin's repatriation program would probably not start before the second half of this year. Those officials implicitly blamed Russia's Federal Migration Service for the delay, saying it had not yet opened an office in Uzbekistan.
Beyond the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Russian government had also sought potential repatriates in Germany, Israel, and the United States. But it is uncertain if any Russians have accepted the Kremlin's offer to return.
Nor is it certain that Russia's regions are prepared to accept a major influx of returnees, should they suddenly appear. Lack of funding appears to be the main reason cited by regional authorities to explain their unwillingness to accept large flows of immigrants -- at least during the initial phase of the plan.
The Money Issue
The Russian government has pledged 17 billion rubles ($635 million) -- including 4.6 billion rubles this year -- on the resettlement program.
The amount of money allotted to each of the 12 pilot regions varies according to their importance -- the more strategic it is, the more subsidies it can expect from the federal budget.
Other regions will have to cover most of the expenses themselves. In February, the Republic of Buryatia cited the anticipated costs as one of the two reasons -- along with its high unemployment rate -- for its refusal to take part in the program.
With a few exceptions, job opportunities offered potential repatriates look slim. Some local administrations -- such as the one in Lipetsk Oblast -- have even made it clear they will accept only those applicants whose professional skills are a match for the needs of the regional job market.
Other administrations have made the repatriates' professional skills a prerequisite to their obtaining Russian citizenship. Voronezh Oblast official Aleksandr Korobeinikov told the "Komsomolskaya pravda v Chernozyome" daily on January 29 that only people who have no criminal record and "whose education and professional skills meet the region's needs" would be granted citizenship.
On January 31, the "Lipetskiye izvestiya" weekly quoted regional migration officer Irina Tsimbal as saying that access to the job market would be the main problem awaiting the new residents of Lipetsk Oblast.
That same day, the "Moskovsky komsomolets v Volgograde" weekly reported that the 5,000 repatriates the oblast administration was ready to take would be offered only jobs that have been vacant for more than six months.
Next stop -- Kaliningrad? (RFE/RL)
The Regnum news agency on March 12 said only three Kaliningrad companies had so far expressed readiness to hire repatriates.
Former regional official Oleg Pavlishin in February questioned Kaliningrad Oblast's capacity to absorb 300,000 new residents. According to Pavlishin, the exclave already has 180,000 unemployed adults -- more than one-fourth of its active population. Another 40,000 longtime residents are on a housing waiting list.
Local authorities are not only free to select applicants according to their professional background, they are also able to decide where the newcomers should be resettled.
Most of the 2,000 people who have officially applied for resettlement in Kaliningrad have expressed a desire to live either in the exclave's main city, or on the Baltic Sea coast. But Regnum on February 16 quoted regional minister Mikhail Plyukhin as saying that at least two-thirds of the repatriates would be sent to the region's easternmost areas, where the demand for skilled workers is reportedly the highest. Lack Of Incentives
Under the repatriation scheme, all newcomers will have an obligation to live and work at least two years in their new home region, or reimburse the cost of their repatriation.
Those and other conditions imposed on potential applicants -- such as the obligation to bear the cost of the resettlement of any disabled relatives, or to be tested for AIDS, tuberculosis, or drug use -- may explain why Putin's call has so far apparently failed to attract large numbers of ethnic Russians.
Analyst Yatsenko noted in December that the repatriation scheme came too late and had too few economic incentives.
"Most of our active compatriots have already moved to countries with a more favorable economic and political environment," she said.
Another deterrent for potential repatriates is the apparent reluctance of many Russians to accept newcomers.
The Moscow-based VTsIOM polling institute in 2006 conducted a survey that showed that only a slight majority of respondents (54 percent) approved of Putin's initiative.
Another 49 percent said they believed Russia should accept repatriates only if it would be economically profitable. In rural areas, only 37 percent of respondents said they were ready to accept newcomers.