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Russia Report: January 12, 2005

12 January 2005, Volume 5, Number 2
By Robert Coalson

As 2004 began, it was already taken for granted by Russia watchers that the Kremlin had established its control over the mass media, especially the national broadcast media. By the end of the year, opposition figures were focusing primarily on the state's efforts to solidify and exploit that control in its purported effort to bolster its authoritarian control over the country. According to a commentary in "Vedomosti" on 30 December, after securing -- with the help of the cowed media -- an impressive reelection in March, President Vladimir Putin "began to 'reboot' the entire system of the executive branch," beginning with the replacement of the government of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and ending the year with the abolition of the direct election of regional governors.

Union of Rightist Forces political council member Boris Nemtsov, who is also a member of Committee-2008, told Ekho Moskvy on 13 December that there is de facto censorship on Russian television. "There are absolutely forbidden subjects on Russian television," Nemtsov said. "They are alternative views on Ukraine, Chechnya, and the situation in the armed forces; corruption in the highest echelons of power; the false, nontransparent budget; and [former Yukos CEO Mikhail] Khodorkovskii." He added that the media also does not discuss topics such as the spread of AIDS. "Moreover, the list keeps on growing," Nemtsov said. "Pretty soon, they are likely to be included in the law on state secrets. This is the logic of an authoritarian, lying regime. The Kremlin people cannot understand one simple thing: one cannot hold out on lies for long."

The major change in Russia's media environment in 2005 is a new mass media law, a development that Culture and Mass Communications Minister Aleksandr Sokolov promised at a 16 December cabinet meeting. "Novaya gazeta," No. 93, reported that its correspondents have been unable to secure a draft revision that is less than 18 months old or to find anyone within the ministry or in the media sector who can authoritatively say who is working on the new law.

The paper, however, cited some illuminating remarks by Yurii Golik, head of the ministry's legal department. "The present law was written in a different era and it has been changed 15 or 16 times," Golik said. "There it reminds one of a quilt.... However, strange as it might seem, it is alive and working. Freedom of speech is greater even than journalists themselves need. Do you think that workers and people on the street really do not have enough? It is needed only by those who have selected it as their occupation -- prattlers. I don't hear anything but sobs and chest beating."

Golik went so far as to suggest that journalists be made civil servants. "Now journalists depend on their employers, but surely they work for society!" he said. "We support deputies, law enforcement agents, and jurists. Maybe we need to support journalists as well?" In the same article, the newspaper quoted Deputy Culture and Mass Communications Minister Leonid Nadirov as saying cryptically that the drafting of a new media law has been delayed because of "changes that have occurred recently," including "government reforms and the monetization of [in-kind social] benefits."

The secrecy with which the bill is apparently being drafted has already provoked alarm. "Novaya gazeta" noted that the highly controversial law on the monetization of social benefits was introduced to the legislature and quickly pushed through with minimal discussion. The vast pro-Kremlin majority in the Duma, which has already reshaped Duma procedures sufficiently to prevent any delays on the part of opposition figures, means that the Kremlin could introduce a new media law rapidly and with minimal fuss.

Mikhail Yurev, former Duma deputy speaker and president of the Kremlin-connected Yevrofinans company that has made considerable inroads in the media sector over the last couple of years (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 23 April 2004), told that the recent events in Ukraine will spark "counterrevolution" in Russia. "It is not for me to decide," he said, "but I think that in the near future changes will take place not only in the electronic media but throughout the entire ideological sphere and it will not even stop there." He hinted coyly that TV-Tsentr, which is controlled by the Moscow government, is "a difficult case" and that "there are a lot of questions about RTR."

"Some people have to be removed from the field," Yurev said. "With some of them it will be possible just to have a couple of talks, which, incidentally, was extremely widespread during the era of [U.S. Senator Joseph] McCarthy. Some will understand everything of their own accord."

He concluded bluntly by saying: "I have spoken with [deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav] Surkov many times. His viewpoint is no different from mine: State ideology absolutely must be effective. The greatest defect of the Soviet type of television was that it was not very effective."

Speaking to Interfax on 5 January, Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov also noted the importance of the Ukraine events for Russia. He said that Moscow failed to achieve its aims in Russia "not because we did not have enough strength but because we were poorly prepared." Saying that diplomats work "with a scalpel," Margelov argued that "nongovernmental an alliance with the press can form a sledgehammer in addition to the scalpel."

Surkov remains the Kremlin's point man on ideological and political issues and all the evidence indicates that he is not satisfied with the current level of state domination of the Russian media. In a rare, but revealing interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" in September, Surkov made it clear that he believes "war has been declared on Russia" by outside forces whose "goal is the destruction of our country." He added that these unnamed enemies are aided by "fifth columnists" in the form of liberal politicians and journalists. The "bottom line" of Putin's program is the "mobilization of the country in the fight against terrorism," Surkov said. "We should all realize that the enemy is at the gates. We need vigilance, solidarity, and the unification of citizens' and the state's efforts."

It seems evident that in 2005, the Kremlin intends to use the tools that it honed in 2003 and 2004, including especially the state media. By the end of the year, we could be -- like Yurev -- talking about an ideological sector in Russia, rather than a media sector.

By Julie A. Corwin

As Ukraine's former Prime Minister and defeated presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych clears out his government office in Kyiv, pundits, journalists and political analysts back in Moscow continue to ask what went wrong. With so much financial backing from Russian businesses and political support from Russian President Vladimir Putin, why did Yanukovych lose?

Many Russian and Ukrainian analysts have hesitated to place primary responsibility on the Kremlin or Putin for misjudging the Ukrainian situation. Instead they have been blaming the "aggressive tactics" of a gaggle of Russian campaign consultants who began arriving at Kyiv's Borispol Airport sometime in July, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 28 December.

In an interview with "Lviv ekspres" on 22 December, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma's chief speechwriter, Vasyl Baziv, said that Foundation for Effective Policies head Gleb Pavlovskii, former ORT Deputy General Director Marat Gelman, and Russian businessman Maksim Kurochkin "made themselves at home" in the Ukrainian presidential administration during the lead-up to the first round of presidential voting on 31 October. He said that he even saw one Russian spin doctor, whom he declined to name, sitting beside Yanukovych during an official meeting. "This is not a matter of campaign tricks but an erosion of our sovereignty," Baziv complained.

Naturally, the spin doctors themselves have a variety of explanations for what happened in Ukraine. First of all, they assert that Yanukovych did not in fact lose. At a news conference in Moscow on 28 December, Pavlovskii asserted that Yanukovych won the second round on 21 November but that through a series of "manipulations of the results...the political process became one based entirely on force," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported.

At the same time, in what might be considered an apparent contradiction, they proffer at least three different explanations for why Yanukovych did not win or why they should not be blamed for Yanukovych's failure to perform better. First and foremost, they claim that they were outgunned next to U.S. and Polish resources, according to Sergei Markov of the Institute for Political Research. Second, they had too little time to refashion Yanukovych's image. Third, Yanukovych, a former prison convict, was too difficult a candidate to make palatable to the broad public.

Marat Gelman told "Lvivska hazeta" on 16 November that Yanukovych's "criminal record [was] a formidable issue, a brick wall that no brilliant scheme [could] break down." In an interview with on 30 December, Markov said: "If you ask me, I would say that the candidate should have been someone else. It was unwise to put forward as a candidate for president someone with two previous criminal convictions. I can assure you that this was not Moscow's decision."

According to on 10 December, Pavlovskii complained that he and his colleagues were invited too late and that they should have started 12 to 18 months before the election in order to remake Yanukovych's image. In an interview with on 27 December, Markov voiced a similar sentiment. "I believe that Russian spin doctors had extremely limited opportunities: They spent only three months working with Yanukovych," he said.

But the biggest problem, according to Markov, was not the candidate or any lack of time but that Russia and its spin doctors were outnumbered and outgunned by the West. In the interview, Markov claimed that "Americans and Poles spent several years working with Yushchenko." Asked to explain what he meant by Poles and Americans, Markov said that there was "American and European collaboration with elite structures and the public across a broad front." Markov also said that while Russia spent only millions of dollars on the campaign, the United States and European Union spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Ukraine. Therefore, according to Markov, Yanukovych's defeat was not a defeat for Russian spin doctors but for "Russia's ruling class, which proved incapable of achieving such a major strategic task."

Pavlovskii put forth a more obscure defense of his and other spin doctors' roles in Ukraine. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 December, he faulted himself and others merely for being unable to "draw the attention of our partners in Ukraine that an 'overthrow' project was in preparation." He continued, "The point is that the opposition circles were not preparing for elections. They were preparing for the seizure of power, in the guise of elections." He then claimed that neither he nor his colleagues "had the power to advise our Ukrainian partners on preventive counterrevolution and not only on elections, [otherwise] this misfortune would not have happened." In a later interview with on 28 December, when asked whether he was willing to share responsibility for the defeat of Yanukovych, Pavlovskii responded, "Yes, but as a politician, not as a spin doctor. Unfortunately, I did not work in the latter role in Ukraine." What he was doing, he said, was "liaising with the group of politicians that put Yanukovych forward. Unfortunately, this was not enough. You need to have the powers to make decisions." So, in Pavlovskii's view, he did not have the power to inform his Ukrainian colleagues of what was going on, even though by his own admission he was acting as a liaison with Yanukovych's supporters.

Of course, if Yanukovych were about to assume Ukraine's presidency, it is not difficult to imagine Pavlovskii and others taking credit for his victory. In an interview with "The Washington Post" on 2 January, former political adviser Dick Morris explained how he managed to contribute a key element of President-elect Viktor Yushchenko's strategy without ever managing to actually visit Ukraine. Morris told the paper that an acquaintance from a previous overseas campaign put him in touch with Yushchenko's campaign manager. Because of unspecified "security concerns," he met with Yushchenko campaign officials in an undisclosed East European capital. According to Morris, his main contribution to the campaign was to urge exit polling on election day and the immediate publication of those results. In this way, according to Morris, Yushchenko's campaign would draw supporters to the streets to celebrate -- thus presenting Ukrainian authorities with an angry mob if they tried to tamper with the vote.

So far, though, it's the CIA's acumen rather than Morris's that is being hailed in Moscow. In an interview with Radio Rossii on 7 December, Aleksandr Konovalov, president of Moscow's Institute for Strategic Assessments, suggested that Russia believes "the myths created by our spin doctors" and "now we probably will believe their explanations, the main one being [that Ukraine was lost because of] a CIA conspiracy." He asked ironically, "How can poor Gleb Pavlovskii handle the whole Central Intelligence Agency on his own?"

In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on 9 December, former leader of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) Boris Nemtsov suggested that the stories of excessive Western influence in Ukraine might be more than just a yarn by Russian spin doctors to avoid taking responsibility for losing a key election. According to Nemtsov, it might be a device that the Russian authorities are using to avoid telling the truth about what really happened in Ukraine. He said Russian authorities "treat their own people cynically and invent such arguments of the type that the West influenced [events], or the campaign consultants worked poorly -- anything but the truth that the people were tired of Kuchma's regime, that people were living in despair and lawlessness and their last drop of patience went when the election was falsified." (Julie Corwin)

On 3 January 2005, RFE/RL's Russian Service broadcast a long interview with State Duma Banking and Finance Committee Chairman Valerii Zubov (Unified Russia). A complete transcript of the interview in Russian can be found at

During the interview, Zubov challenges the conventional wisdom on a number of major questions. For one, he argues that Russia's economy, political system, and society are fundamentally sound and that the government should be creating conditions under which the public can become more active rather than engaging in systemic reforms.

"There is no crisis in the country," Zubov said. "Not political, not regarding federative relations, not in the economy -- not a single crisis. But they are prescribing the kind of treatment where the patient is supposed to sit quietly while the surgeon does everything -- carrying out some sort of operation. This is the wrong diagnosis."

"Now, on the contrary, the patient needs to stand up, to move, to take an active part in his own recovery," Zubov concludes. "We need to create condition in which people think as much as possible, argue, suggest even unacceptable, but at least varying, solutions. Only then can we create a qualitatively new situation in society as a whole."

However, Zubov said, Russian society and the government are hamstrung by "linear, oversimplified" thinking. In particular, he criticized such controversial proposals as the elimination of the direct election of regional executive-branch heads and the introduction of a strict proportional-mandate system for electing the Duma. "I voted against all of those laws," Zubov said, despite the fact that his pro-Kremlin party supported them, "because I believe that the wrong diagnosis has been made. The political system that is being introduced will constrain the development of the economy."

In addition, Zubov named the law-enforcement system -- especially judges and the police -- as a major brake on the country's development.

Zubov also challenged the conventional wisdom regarding the structure of the economy. He argued that it might not be a bad thing to have a "raw-materials economy," and said that countries such as Canada, Norway, and Australia have chosen such a model and adapted it successfully.

"It isn't a matter of whether one has a raw-materials economy or a non-raw-materials economy," Zubov said. "A raw-materials economy can be either modern or not -- that is the real issue. If our productivity levels are lower than global norms by a factor of four or six, that is a problem. If our production is concentrated in inaccessible regions with poor living conditions, that is a problem. If our production generates an impossible environmental situation, that is a problem."

Zubov also argued that the economy does not particularly need foreign investment for the money it brings. "From the point of view of money for the economy, we have plenty within the country," Zubov said. "The biggest debates going on now center on the stabilization fund and on how it should be held, how it should be invested. The public holds tens of millions of dollars, which are just sitting there like dead weight, bringing no profit to the population and not working for the economy. Our banks face problems handing out loans -- there aren't enough credit-worthy borrowers [for the money available]."

However, he said that foreign investment should be welcomed for the management know-how and technical innovations that it can bring, particularly "the organization of production." He cited the legal system as the main obstacle to increased foreign investment.

Zubov also criticized the state's handling of the Yukos affair and the transfer of Yukos's main production subsidiary to Rosneft and, presumably, to Gazprom. "[The company] is being transferred from more effective management to less effective management -- I'm simply looking at statistics, at the dynamics of growth of the oil sector, of Yukos, and, for example, of Gazprom and I see that this is a transfer from more effective management to less effective and that for me raises a very big question." (Robert Coalson)

14 January: Inauguration of newly elected Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Sergei Morozov

23 January: Gubernatorial election in Nenets Autonomous Okrug

27 January: President Putin to visit Poland for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp

1 February: Former President Boris Yeltsin's 74th birthday

1 February: Date by which a dedicated, all-volunteer peacekeeping brigade is to be set up. Unit will be available for international duty by 2006

16 February: Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement intended to curb the emissions of gases widely believed to contribute to global warming, comes into effect following its ratification by the Russian Federation

24 February: President Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush to hold a summit in Bratislava, Slovakia

May: Commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II

2006: Russia to host a G-8 summit

1 January 2006: Date by which all political parties must conform to law on political parties, which requires at least 50,000 members and branches in one-half of all federation subjects, or either reregister as public organizations or be dissolved.