Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia Report: August 7, 2006

August 7, 2006, Volume 6, Number 14
Two developments have become obvious in the wake of the recent G8 Summit in St. Petersburg: Russia's rising political and economic clout, and growing concern in the West that the Kremlin might abuse it. But talk of a reversal in Russia's intention of following its own democratic path may be misguided.

PRAGUE, August 4, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Moscow's new diplomatic assertiveness was on display for the world to see during last month's G8 summit in St. Petersburg.

And one controversial topic that dominated the run-up to the summit has remained in the spotlight -- Russia's repeatedly stated intention of following its own democratic path, dubbed "sovereign democracy."

The concept was formulated by Vyacheslav Surkov, the deputy chief and prime ideologue of President Vladimir Putin's administration. Surkov began floating the new ideology during speeches to activists of the pro-presidential Unified Russia party in February and May.

As outlined by Surkov on the website, sovereign democracy centers on Moscow's right to restrict the impact of international law, global economic bodies, and world public opinion on Russia's domestic policies.

Surkov has said he borrowed the name for the concept from Che Guevara, who in 1960 wrote that some states have all formal attributes of democracy, but remain dependent on transnational corporations and foreign political forces.

Surkov suggests that that Russia can materialize its sovereign democracy in the economic sphere by putting under the state's control or dominance "such vital sectors of the national economy as strategic communications, pipelines, the national electricity grid, railroads and federal highways, the financial system, and broadcast television."

As for foreign policy, Surkov believes Russia must restore its global influence, for geopolitical reasons and because of its imperial tradition. In this context, Surkov notes that for 500 years Russians have been a "state-forming nation" and that "Russians always have matters beyond of their borders."

Surkov has also suggested that sovereign democracy could form the base of Unified Russia's political platform. The role of the president was not mentioned in Surkov's outline of his ideology, but, in fact, President Putin has already begun to implement it in Russia's assertive foreign-policy course.

Russia's stated intention of following a course centered on sovereign democracy was the source of harsh criticism in the run-up to the July 15-17 G8 summit.

During a visit to Vilnius in May, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney accused Russia of backtracking from democracy. And as the summit neared, criticism from the West increased as defensive responses from Russia became sharper.

Just days before the event, Putin personally articulated the basic provisions of the new doctrine. In an interview with major U.S. and European television networks on 12 July, Putin countered that in 1990s, when Russia was economically and politically weak, the West had many levers of influence on Russia's domestic and foreign policies.

Today, he argued, the situation has changed. The levers of influence have disappeared, "but the [West's] desire for influence remains. We are categorically against using political tools for intervention into our internal affairs," Putin concluded.

Many Russian politicians also publicly touted the policy, including Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, a close confidant of Putin and a potential candidate to succeed him as president.

Writing in "Izvestia" on 13 July, Ivanov said that Russia's current policies are based on three concepts: Russia's efforts to become an energy superpower, to develop a strong army, and to follow sovereign democracy, a concept it would defend by any means, including by force.

Such statements were not taken lightly by Russia's fellow G8 members assembling in St. Petersburg.

On the sidelines of the summit, U.S. President Bush expressed disagreement with Russia's claim to a special type of democracy.

According to Irina Yasina, a former leader of the organization Open Russia who took part in a meeting between Bush and several Russian human right activists 16 July, Bush told participants that "there is no sovereign or a special [kind] of democracy," "Novoye Ruskoye slovo" reported on July 16. "There are fundamental democratic values based on which democracy either does exist or not," she quoted the president as saying.

Unexpectedly, another hopeful to succeed Putin as president, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, in an interview with "Ekspert," No. 28, expressed his distaste for the term "sovereign democracy," describing it as "unsuccessful."

Medvedev explained that "sovereignty" and "democracy" belong to different philosophical categories and that they should not be combined.

Some observers took Medvedev's comments as an indication of a split between Surkov and the Kremlin. But in his interview with "Ekspert," Medvedev said any difference with Surkov's ideology was more in style than in substance. This led others to suggest that Medvedev was merely positioning himself as a "liberal" in Putin's camp to appease Western politicians and to counter domestic opponents who had earlier rejected the concept of sovereign democracy.

Despite Medvedev's comments, the evidence accumulated both before and after the G8 summit indicates that sovereign democracy is here to stay.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, one of the co-chairmen of Unified Russia, lent his support to the doctrine when he suggested on July 13 that the West should look anew at Russia and change its attitude toward its rising power.

Luzhkov's comments were significant, considering that the political heavyweight has already announced his intention to leave his mayoral post in 2007. Some observers thus consider him to be another prime candidate to succeed Putin, for the simple reason that he does not have to prove to anyone abroad or at home that he is capable of running the country.

Unified Russia General Council Secretary Vyacheslav Volodin stated on July 25 that sovereign democracy is key aspect of his party's ideology, and that it would be a "basic element" of the party's program.

Medvedev's and Unified Russia's "strategic vision for the country's future coincides," he added. The incorporation of sovereign democracy into the party's program is of key importance because Surkov has suggested that after leaving office in 2008, Putin might became the leader of Unified Russia, and thus remain in politics as the head of the "ruling party."

Oleg Morozov, the head of Unified Russia's Ideological Commission, on July 27 added a new twist to the party's adoption of sovereign democracy. He described the party as a "party of historical revanche," noting that "revanchism is a very good starting point, a very powerful driving force."

The concept of sovereign democracy has received considerable support from another rising ideological force within Putin's camp -- Archbishop Kirill. Speaking at the 10th World Congress of Russian People in April, Kirill universality rejected Western democratic values and defended Russia's "specific" vision of democracy and human rights.

Furthermore, in an article titled "It Is Time For The End Of Dithering Diplomacy" published in July by, the archbishop bluntly criticized the democratic political system. "I place in question that the division of power and a multiparty system relates to common human values," he said. "We should end dithering diplomacy, which requires that we always have to justify ourselves. Our official and public diplomacy always considers it a victory when we manage to prove to the West that we are like them -- but this is simply disinformation and the wrong [thing to do]."

It is also noteworthy that the Kremlin and its political allies adopted the doctrine of sovereign democracy at a time when a new generation of Russians is emerging -- one that is not familiar with communism or a totalitarian regime influencing their social and political lives.

The future of democracy in Russia may depend on whether the Kremlin will truncate this new generation by succeeding in imposing sovereign democracy upon it, or whether this new generation will succeed in rejecting it. (Victor Yasmann)

Inna Khodorkovskaya tells RFE/RL about the impact of prison on her husband, the former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and the pressures she faces from the authorities.

PRAGUE, July 31, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Since Mikhail Khodorkovsky was imprisoned three years ago, his wife and their three children have lived in a house in the leafy Moscow suburb of Zhukovka.

The building and the land around it is -- or rather was -- owned by an affiliate of Yukos, the oil company that once made Khodorkovsky one of the richest and most influential men in Russia, Khodorkovskaya explained in a July 25 interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service.

But on May 2 this year, Khodorkovskaya says, a Moscow court impounded the family home, saying it was part of the ongoing investigation into tax evasion at Yukos.

Khodorkovskaya suspects it will not be long before she and the wives of other Yukos executives living in Zhukovka are forced out.

It is part, she says, of the relentless pressure that the authorities are piling on her husband and other Yukos officials.

Khodorkovsky is now incarcerated in a prison camp deep in Siberia. Inna is permitted to visit once every three months. But getting there is a major effort in itself: a nine-hour flight, followed by a 15-hour train journey, followed by a 40-minute car ride.

She is allowed to stay with her husband for three days in a prison hostel that some Russian papers suggest borders on the luxurious. In fact, she insists, they share a simple room furnished with a bed, a chair and a cupboard.

Khodorkovskaya finds her husband much changed -- a consequence, she says, of the psychological, and sometimes physical pressure he is subjected to.

"They're trying to break him, nothing more, nothing less," she says of the prison authorities. "These are methods that have probably long been worked on and refined. I would say that it works on the principle of amplitude. They raise the pressure, then they reduce it and then they raise it again. So there's no straight upward line, they're just trying to drain him."

His biggest difficulty, she says, is the isolation and the mental vacuum caused by his inactivity. But he is finding other ways to fill the gap.

"He reads a lot of religious literature. He's not a religious fanatic, he's not completely mad about religion," she says. "His interest is analytical. He doesn't push faith away, but he has begun to experience it in a new way. If before he approached the subject from a sort of historical point of view, now he feels closer to it."

Khodorkovskaya says she has no doubt that her husband is a political prisoner, sentenced to satisfy the ambitions of the men who now rule the Kremlin.

Khodorkovsky himself -- and many independent critics -- describe his trial as a staged farce and a warning to Russia's immensely wealthy oligarchs to stay out of politics.

The Kremlin disagrees. Khodorkovsky, it says, is a criminal who defrauded the state of a massive sum in taxes.

Inna Khodorkovskaya says she and her husband had feared the state would come after him. Nonetheless, the couple had chosen to stay in Russia.

"It was our joint decision. We talked about whether to stay or go, but the decision was simple. What is there, out there? Of course, no one suggested that things would get quite so bad, but right to the end he intended to stay here. And I did too."

In that respect, she says, nothing has changed. If the authorities force her out of her home, she will stay in Russia. The critical issue now is how to bring up her family in the absence of a father.

But Khodorkovskaya betrays little bitterness.

Both she and her husband have been changed by the experience of the last few years, she says. But they will emerge stronger, she believes.

"There are moments when something serious happens in your life and your values change. And, naturally, recent events... my values have grown stronger, I would say. That's to say, my values have really crystallized," she says. "I can't say that they have changed fundamentally. But his probably have because he used to be in politics. Now he sees what's happening there from a slightly different perspective. Naturally, he has changed greatly.�

PRAGUE, July 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Russia today published a list of 17 organizations that it said had been identified as "terrorist" by the national Supreme Court.

Yury Sapunov, the head of antiterrorism at the Federal Security Service (FSB), said all 17 groups were seen as a threat to the Russian state.

The publication today in the governmental "Rossiiskaya gazeta" of what Sapunov calls the only official Russian list of terrorist organizations contains few surprises.

But it will raise a few eyebrows -- at least in the West -- for some names that are missing.

No mention here, for instance, of either Hamas or Hizballah, both of which are at the center of world attention at the moment and both of which rank high on most Western lists of terrorist organizations.

Sapunov said Russia took into account the views of the international community but said the 17 were primarily a national list of organizations that the Supreme Court considered the greatest threat to the security of the state.

Russia risked the ire of Washington by inviting Hamas leaders to Moscow for talks after they won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January this year.

Sapunov said that neither Hamas nor Hizballah were universally regarded as terrorist.

But the main reason they do not figure on the list, he said, was because they were not trying to change Russia's constitutional order through violence and were not linked to illegal armed groups and other extremist organizations operating in the North Caucasus.

These, he said, were the main criteria used in deciding which organizations to include.

Almost all the groups listed, he said, were linked in one way or another to the Muslim Brotherhood, including Hizb ut-Tahrir, which seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate stretching from Central Asia to the Caucasus.

Rights campaigner Lev Ponomaryov says the inclusion of Hizb ut-Tahrir is just an extension of the deep suspicion its members arouse, despite the group's official rejection of the use of violence to achieve its ends.

Ponomaryov says he knows dozens of Hizb ut-Tahrir members who have been jailed on what he says are trumped-up criminal charges.

"As a rule, drugs and gun cartridges and the like are planted on them," Ponomaryov said. "And now, in addition to all that, they're being accused of being members of a terrorist group. I can assure you that there has not been a not a single accusation directed at Islamic Liberation (Hizb ut-Tahrir) that they've committed a terrorist act in Russia, or have even attempted to organize one."

Other organizations on the Russian list include the Congress of Peoples of Ichkheria and Daghestan, the Supreme Military Majlis Shura of the United Forces of the Mujahedin of the Caucasus, Jamiya al-Islamiya, the Islamic Party of Turkestan, and the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Sapunov said part of the problem with any list was that the groups keep changing their names.

Not, he added, that that was fooling the security services.

Increased international cooperation, the support of President Vladimir Putin and the government, and the creation of the National Antiterrorist Center had made it possible at last to establish an overall strategy for combating terrorism. (Robert Parsons)

(RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.)

PRAGUE, July 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A Gazprom subsidiary recently issued a report recommending a dramatic change of strategy for the Russian gas industry. It determined that Russia should decrease exports of natural gas to European markets and concentrate instead on developing new gas fields to keep up with domestic demand.

The Research Institute for the Economics of the Gas Industry, NIIGazekonomika, determined in its late 2005 report that domestic consumption of natural gas is increasing at a faster pace than projected in Russia's two-year-old Energy Strategy.

The company, a fully owned subsidiary of Gazprom responsible for researching economic and management issues, stated that Russia should focus on developing new gas fields in the Yamal Peninsula and other locations in order to meet future domestic demand.

Failure to do so could have a seriously detrimental impact on Russia's future economic growth, the report warns.

But ensuring domestic supplies would also require that Russia decrease exports of natural gas to European markets, according to the report, which notes the potential consequences for the CIS, Asian-Pacific, and European gas markets.

It appears that Gazprom commissioned NIIGazekonomika to conduct its study as part of the ongoing debate in the West and in Russia about the real state of the Russian natural-gas industry.

Gazprom's reported lack of investment into new gas fields and pipeline construction have been widely seen as a potential danger to European energy security. Such concerns have prompted Western European governments to demand that Gazprom's export pipelines be opened to independent gas producers to prevent future shortfalls.

Russia, however, has rejected European pressure and the State Duma recently passed legislation that further strengthens Gazprom�s monopoly on gas exports.

Gazekonomika concluded that:

-- Russian domestic gas consumption is rising faster than projected in Russia's Energy Strategy, which was announced in May 2003 and is the foundation of the country's energy designs through 2020. The new Gazekonomika study estimates that by 2030 domestic demand will be approximately 654 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year, compared to the Energy Strategy's estimate of 436 bcm.

-- Gas-conservation technologies are not being implemented and the Russian economy remains highly energy intensive

-- A dangerously narrow gap exists between the cost of production of gas and its domestic price.

The new study also states that the projections of the Energy Strategy are based on data from the 1980s that, the study's authors claim, are not reliable.

Other projections of the Russian gas industry, such as one conducted by Gazprom in 2004, also do not reach the consumption levels estimated by NIIGazekonomika.

The 2004 Gazprom study projected that domestic consumption of gas in Russia in 2020 will reach 525 bcm, while the new study places this figure at 560 bcm.

Russia has already shown marked increases in domestic gas consumption -- rising by 17 bcm from January 2004 to the end of 2005.

"Taking into account the objective results, in the future one cannot discount the growing internal demand for gas," the NIIGazekonomika study states. "The fulfillment of any of the scenarios presented can potentially lead to an inability by Russian Federation producers to meet demand for gas in both domestic and foreign markets. This situation in turn can prevent double-digit Russian GDP growth and can disrupt gas export obligations."

Furthermore, the new study projects that by 2013 Russian gas exports will begin to be pushed out of the European market by Central Asian producers. The study projects that by 2013 the amount of Russian gas replaced by Central Asian gas could total 10 bcm; in 2014, 24 bcm; in 2015, 30 bcm; and by 2030, 56 bcm.

If this were to take place, domestic demand would be met, but the Russian budget could stand to lose tax revenues and hard-currency reserves. The study forecasts cumulative losses of up to $110 billion.

This, however, is not seen as a tragedy. In fact, the Gazekonomika report recommends that the Russia government intensify development of its own gas resources by lowering exports to European markets and "allowing" Central Asian gas producers to fill the gap.

The long-term benefits of developing new gas fields in the Yamal Peninsula and the fields in Obskoy and Tazov are thus deemed by the report to be Russia's highest priority in the energy sector. Such development would significantly decrease the need for huge investments into the gas industry while allowing domestic production to continue without major disruptions. Plans of how to proceed with this strategy are presently being developed by Gazekonomika. (Roman Kupchinsky)