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Russia: RFE/RL Interviews Federation Council Speaker

Sergei Mironov (file photo) (epa) Sergei Mironov, Federation Council speaker and the chairman of the Council of the Russian Federation, appeared on 20 November on Radio Liberty's "Face to Face" program.

RFE/RL: Questions will be asked by the Moscow bureau chief of "El Pais;" Pilar Bonet, the editor of the politics section of "Vedomosti;" Maksim Blikin; and myself, Mikhail Sokolov. Sergei Mikhailovich [Mironov], I would like to start with recent appointments in Russia's leadership. They were met with mixed reviews.... How did you react to President Vladimir Putin's decision?

Sergei Mironov: Very positively, and I make no links between this and the upcoming presidential election in 2008. There are still over two years to go before the Russian people elect a new leader, which they will via a popular, legitimate vote. Therefore, interpreting the president's decisions from this point of view is, in my opinion, a waste of time. Why do I respond so positively to these appointments? First of all, I'm talking about the appointment of Dmitrii Medvedev as the first deputy chairman of the cabinet, and the appointment of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as deputy premier.

I think a "fist" of cadres has been formed in order to push Russia's bureaucracy into a position where it is responsible for things like the national programs, which President Putin mentioned on 5 November. I know both Ivanov and Medvedev quite well. Among other things, Ivanov has the task of maintaining the normal functioning of Russia's defense industry. There was recently a big meeting held at the Defense Ministry, where they rightfully discussed the issue of supply. I travel around the country a lot, I visit the military complexes, and I can tell you that any military complex in Russia has the responsibility of adhering to the supply demands of the ministry. This is why in this sphere we need special leadership, and I am confident that this will be fulfilled by Ivanov as deputy premier. As for Dmitri Medvedev, he is a brilliant manager and a sober, modern politician, who will adequately push the ministers....

Bonet: If I remember correctly, when you assumed your post, you said that you wanted there to be a reelection in the Federation Council, and that you had a new legislation package concerning the election of senators. What you didn't mention was at what stage this new project is at, and whether you have changed your mind since then.

Mironov: My views have not changed. I think the most democratic form of restructuring the Federation Council is by implementing a system of popular voting. The package that you are talking about is still on my desk. It is constantly being reviewed and modified, particularly from a legal point of view, because it touches on some very delicate issues. I think it is possible to implement a popular voting system. The constitution states that the Federation Council has two representatives from each federative district -- one from the executive branch and one from the legislative branch.

Here's the essence of my proposal: instead of electing them all on one day, we should elect them as part of regional elections. We should keep the representation of two branches of government, but with the amendment that candidates should be nominated by the branches themselves. The decision will then be up to the people in the regions. I suggest that these elections take place at the same time as the election of deputies to regional legislative bodies.

Why do I think we haven't seen this process take place yet? A secondary reason, but one that still deserves mention, is the purely legal matter that a number of steps must be taken before it is suggested that the constitution be modified. I am trying to avoid this. The main reason is that, starting 1 January, we have managed to pass a law, under which the authorities in regional districts, be it governors or legislative authorities, do not have the right to withdraw their representatives to the Federation Council without sufficiently substantiating their decisions. I feel now that we have a stable team. My idea was actually motivated by my desire to protect the council from the voluntarism of regional authorities. Again, though due to the recent stability there is not such a pressing need for my reform, I still believe it will eventually be passed, because it is the most democratic one.

Blikin: There have been recent discussions about a joint constitution for Russia and Belarus. There are still debates about whether or not the president should be elected by popular vote or whether there should be a single president, as opposed to the way things are working now. It is still unclear when the two leaders will get together and resolve these issues. How do you feel about this?

Mironov: To answer your first question, neither the Russian nor the Belarusian side has discussed the question of a single leader. There would be a joint parliament, some sort of cabinet, but the presidents will remain sovereign leaders of their respective states. This is, at least, what is being discussed in the constitutional project. It is, actually, almost complete for submission to the Supreme Council. So far, this issue has not been addressed, and I doubt that it ever will be. As for your second question, the meeting will take place in the coming months, maybe weeks. The reason it has taken so long is that both sides want to look at the constitutional project soon and then submit it for the usual procedure: referendum, vote, etc. So, of course, the process is going slower than we would like, but it's on track.

Sokolov: Are you afraid that the same thing might happen here as it did with the common currency, that everything will be postponed at the last minute at the Belarusians' initiative?

Mironov: Of course, there can be no guarantees here, but I do know of the Belarusian President's [Alyaksandr Lukashenka] positive resolve as well as that of my colleagues, who think there is no reason for worries, judging by the way things stand now. However, making predictions in politics, where there are two sides involved, is a rather futile process.

Sokolov: Another appointment, which you have not commented on yet, is that of Sergei Sobianin, a regional district authority. Your chamber also represents the regional districts. How do you interpret this? Why was it necessary to invite a governor?

Mironov: This is, at least, an interesting decision, in the sense that it is a response, of sorts, to the eternal issue of appointment. It has often been said that we do not have any sort of reserve of cadres, that we always "reshuffle the same deck," but I've always said that our regional districts are represented by very prominent and independent politicians, who have clearly surpassed the regional level. I believe that Sergei Sobianin is that kind of individual. I know him well -- this summer I spent three days visiting his Khimenskaa region. He is a very sober, modern manager, a bright politician, and a brilliant jurist. I think he will surely prove himself at this new post. I understand he now faces the task of acquainting himself with the situation. This is a new level for him in terms of the complexity and bulk of work, but I have no doubt that he will manage. I offered no comment for the simple reason that it concerns the president's administration. He knows best what kind of people he needs, and the same goes for his recent appointments in the near east and in the Volga region.

Bonet: Energy is playing an increasingly bigger role in relations between Russia and other countries, particularly the CIS countries. It is sometimes the case that Russia exports the same product to two different countries at two different prices, which has nothing to do with the cost of production. An example is Armenia and Georgia. In fact, the Georgian parliament announced recently that the country is considering withdrawal from the CIS. How do you feel about the use of energy as an instrument of international policy?

Mironov: Perhaps, I will disappoint listeners by saying this, but if Russia really wanted to use this factor, there's a Russian saying, "it wouldn't seem so little." Russia has different priorities and principles in relations with its close neighbors, primarily the CIS countries. I must say, this is sometimes to the detriment of our own economy and other factors, like international relations, which we would certainly not want to undermine. This is why the fact that there are different conditions and terms of trade is not substantiated by political pressure or political games, but merely by a pragmatic approach.

You mentioned the Georgian question. I sincerely regret the fact that the Georgian delegation did not attend the inter-parliamentary assembly. I hope to see them, especially [Georgian parliament speaker] Nina Burdzhanadze, during the spring session. I think emotions are not the best of advisers. I must say, in this situation, when members of the Georgian parliament supposedly did not receive visas -- I say "supposedly" because at the time when Burdzhanadze filed her complaint her visa had already been processed -- or experience some sort of delay, this reflects poorly on the functioning of the Russian Embassy and its staff. There is nothing else I can say, because there is no legal basis for us not to grant visas to members of an international delegation, who are attending an international parliamentary forum. Thank God, our laws are being abided by, but efficiency is something that we must pay attention to. I don't think long-term conclusions should be made from this minor and insignificant incident, although it is regrettable. Again, I have publicly expressed my apologies. I think that the benefits of cooperation, including the parliamentary line, always outweigh those of the lack thereof. Actually, on what was expected to be the eve of her departure, Nina Burdzhanadze called me and I included in the topics for discussion for the next day the issue of the Ossetia question. She rightfully said that we cannot miss out on the opportunity to use any platform, especially one like the inter-parliamentary forum.

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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