4 March 2005, Volume 5, Number 9
MAYORAL ELECTIONS: DEMOCRACY'S LAST STAND?By Robert Coalson
Almost as soon as President Vladimir Putin put forth his long-planned reform to eliminate the direct election of regional executive-branch heads last September, observers began speculating that directly elected mayors would be the next to come into the Kremlin's sights.
After installing governors loyal to Putin, it would only seem logical to extend the bolstered "vertical of power" by allowing those governors to install city managers who are to their liking, many analysts argued. Some high-profile Moscow politicos such as Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) and Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) have gone on record as supporting such a reform. According to Yabloko, deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov is determined to find a way to effect this innovation, utro.ru reported on 1 February.
Yabloko, which has spearheaded grassroots efforts to defend the direct election of mayors in regions throughout the country, and other liberals argue that, unlike the abolition of directly elected governors, eliminating the election of mayors would require constitutional amendments. "The elimination of the election of mayors means eliminating the entire system of local self-government," said Saratov city legislature spokeswoman Galina Zaikina, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 October 2004. "And while the president could deal with the governors without changing the constitution, that won't work in the case of local self-government. In this case, they'll have to amend the constitution."
Specifically, liberals cite Article 32, Part 2, of the constitution, which reads: "Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to elect and to be elected to bodies of state governance and to organs of local self-government."
While amending the constitution is not an insuperable obstacle for a Kremlin that has secured a daunting majority in the Duma, it is certainly politically undesirable, as Putin, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, and others have all spoken out against changing the constitution. Moreover, it might not even be necessary, given the Kremlin's influence over the courts. The articles in the constitution on local self-government contain capacious statements such as "local self-government shall be exercised by the citizens through referendums, elections, and forms of expression of their will, through elected and other bodies of local self-government" (Article 130, Part 2) and "the structure of bodies of local self-government shall be determined by the population independently" (Article 131, Part 1). On 29 December, Novyi region reported that Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin, speaking for the oblast administration, had asked Putin to hold a national referendum on eliminating the direct election of mayors. Sumin told Putin it is necessary to complete the process of establishing a strong vertical of power.
Despite the claims of liberals, the tradition of directly elected mayors is weak in post-Soviet Russia. Some activists argued that Putin's reform regarding the governors was unconstitutional because it affected the executive-branch heads of the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, but these arguments never got off the ground. Across Russia, cities have adopted various methods of choosing mayors, including many that do not involve direct elections, and these have not been challenged in the courts. In 2000, the city of Chita eliminated mayoral elections and adopted a system under which the city legislature hired a manager on a competitive basis. The city restored direct elections in 2004, and held an election in January 2005 in which incumbent Mayor and local Unified Russia branch leader Anatolii Mikhalev won with nearly 82 percent of the vote.
Saratov has adopted a system under which city council legislators elect the city's mayor from among their own number, with the mayor remaining a municipal deputy while also heading the executive branch. Oblast authorities are currently waging an all-out campaign to oust Mayor Yurii Aksenenko, who has been repeatedly accused of corruption. According to local prosecutor Anatolii Bondar, it has been impossible to prosecute Aksenenko because the city's charter is written in such a way that all executive-branch actions are considered to have been enacted collegially and no one individual bears responsibility for anything, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 October 2004. Cities have adopted various methods of choosing mayors, including many that do not involve direct elections, and these have not been challenged in the courts.
As a result of this conflict, Saratov Oblast legislator Aleksei Poleshchikov initiated a referendum campaign in the city to ask residents if they would like a directly elected mayor. Despite the strict new laws on conducting referendums, Poleshchikov was able to collect more than the necessary 40,000 signatures (1/10th of the city's population) and the referendum will be held on 27 March. Poleshchikov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 February that if the referendum fails, he will run for a seat on the city council and seek the mayor's office from there under the old system.
A local court in Miass on 23 February rejected a case filed by Yabloko activists claiming that a system similar to the one used in Saratov is unconstitutional and seeking the restoration of direct mayoral elections, uralnep.ru reported. Yabloko argued in court that the elimination of elections in December was motivated by a desire "to promote the interests of a small circle of bureaucrats who feared losing the election in March." Yabloko issued a statement saying they would appeal the decision all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
The story of mayoral elections is also taking an interesting twist in Omsk. That city has registered 27 candidates for its 27 March mayoral election, including 22 workers from the local Popov Radio Factory who all registered together on 15 February, the last day of registration, "Novaya gazeta," No. 17 reported. All 22 workers paid the 150,000 ruble ($5,000) deposit rather than submitting signatures. A statement released by the 22 factory workers on 15 February applauded the efforts nationally and locally to strengthen executive-branch authority and argued that the ongoing demonstrations nationally prove the need for further steps in that direction. "We consider that a vote for any one of us is an indication that the citizens of Omsk support a referendum on appointing the mayor of Omsk," the statement said.
"Novaya gazeta" called the move "a Kremlin trial balloon," citing an unnamed source close to Omsk Governor Leonid Polezhaev as saying that Polezhaev recently received a phone call from Moscow ordering him to support the efforts of Popov Radio Factory General Director Ivan Polyakov. Polyakov, who is just 25 years old, apparently was transferred to Omsk from St. Petersburg just a few months ago and is considered to be connected to the Kremlin's so-called St. Petersburg clan. Last October, just weeks after Putin proposed appointing governors, Polezhaev pushed through his oblast legislature a declaration urging the president to end the direct election of mayors as well, "Vremya novostei" reported on 13 October 2004. According to the daily, he said that in 13 years as governor he had not been satisfied with the work of a single mayor in the oblast.
The most serious trial balloon came in December. Utro.ru on 1 February cited local Yabloko activists in Kaluga Oblast as saying that in late December deputy presidential administration head Surkov visited the oblast to talk to newly elected Unified Russia Governor Anatolii Artamonov and to order him "to use the region as a sort of testing ground for the switch to appointed mayors." Artamonov has been a Kremlin favorite since November 2004 when he was able to install his hand-chosen candidate as mayor of Kaluga and was able to secure 40 percent of the vote for Unified Russia in the oblast's legislative elections. According to politcom.ru on 19 March 2004, Artamonov won election in the oblast by running in close coordination with Putin's reelection campaign, and both campaigns in the oblast were headed by oblast Federal Security Service (FSB) head Valerii Loginov.
According to polit.ru on 22 December, Artamonov personally traveled to Obninsk, the oblast's second city, on 17 December and oversaw a session of the Obninsk city council during which deputies voted to eliminate the direct election of the city's mayor. The move has run into unusually stiff opposition so far, although the battle is far from over. Obninsk Mayor Igor Mironov promptly resigned over the move and a group of oblast and city legislators filed a court case against the new law. Again, Yabloko headed the resistance, arguing that the move violated the constitution and Russia's obligations as a member of the Council of Europe. On 8 February, an Obninsk court agreed with Yabloko and struck down the law eliminating the direct election of mayors. Artamonov's office commented only that the administration will decide what to do further after reviewing the court's decision.
The struggle over mayoral elections is likely to continue for some time in various forms at the local level, at least until a decision is made on a national strategy on the question. However, the conflicting court decisions and actions such as the mass registration of candidates in Omsk can only discredit the election process and prepare public opinion for changes, analysts believe. But liberals see the matter as something of a last stand for democratic mechanisms in Russia. As Omsk-based political scientist Vadim Dryagin told "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 February: The direct appointment of mayors will not happen "as long as Russia is considered a democratic state. As soon as we eliminate local self-government, we push ourselves from all European organizations, since Russia, according to UNESCO standards, will be considered an authoritarian country."
WALKING WITH PUTINBy Julie A. Corwin
The pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together announced on 1 March that it has created a new youth movement called Nashi (Ours). According to a press release published on pravda.ru, which quotes Walking Together founder Vasilii Yakemenko, the goal of the new "anti-fascist" movement is to put an end to the "anti-Fatherland union of oligarchs, anti-Semites, Nazis, and liberals." Several Moscow-based newspapers reported the goal of the new group is actually a bit more specific: to eventually replace the party of power, Unified Russia.
The movement's rallying cry is preventing the introduction of foreign control in Russia. "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 24 February reported that it obtained documents outlining a "grandiose plan for the creation of a new youth movement" whose goal is to save the motherland from colonization by the United States. The daily quotes Walking Together leader Yakemenko as saying that "organizations in Russia are growing, on the basis of which the United States will create groups analogous to Serbia's Otpor, Georgia's Kmara, or Ukraine's Pora. These groups are Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party and the Avant-garde Red Youth."
Yakemenko, 33, initially denied in interviews with Ekho Moskvy and "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 February that a new youth movement was in the works. However, later reports detailed Yakemenko's speeches at meetings in cities across Russia, including Kursk, Orel, and St. Petersburg. According to "Moskovskii komsomolets," Yakemenko told students in Kursk that "Europe long ago asked itself the question: Who will be working at European gas stations, Turks or Ukrainians? This question now has been decided in favor of the Ukrainians. In the final analysis, for practically its entire history, Ukraine has been a colony. It's just that previously it was a Russian colony and now it is an American colony."
On 26-27 February, Yakemenko spoke to about 200 assembled youths at the Senezh sanatorium in Moscow Oblast for what some news reports called Nashi's "founding congress" and what Yakemenko described as a conference called "Russia's new intellectual elite." According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 February, the meeting was held in a building owned by the presidential administration. The daily's correspondent, Oleg Kashin, and the leader of Yabloko's youth movement Ilya Yashin managed to sneak into the meeting, since only first names were used at the conference and no identification was required to check in. However, when the two men were recognized, Yakemenko ordered security guards to throw them out. Yashin told TV-Tsentr on 28 February that they were driven out of town, where he was thrown headfirst into a snow bank and kicked in the stomach several times. Yakemenko initially denied that he ever saw Yashin at the meeting. Later he said that security guards did remove Yashin from the conference hall. but only after he kept trying to enter the proceedings to which he was not invited.
In an interview with "Vremya novostei" on 1 March, Yabloko's Yashin suggested that "one of the tasks of the 'Nashisti' is to intimidate the opposition youth so that they are afraid to attend public demonstrations." He said that in the last couple of months there have been several clashes between the members of the political opposition and unaffiliated people. Yashin told gazeta.ru that former members of Walking Together and skinheads in athletic clothing were the main attendees at the Nashi congress. "Kommersant-Daily's" Kashin described the participants, who were allegedly attending a conference on "Russia's New Intellectual Elite," as "very simple folk," who "when they are riding in elevators, laugh when they go up and down."
According to the Moscow-based newspapers, the real architect of Nashi is not Yakemenko but deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov. Surkov reportedly met with some 35-40 youths in St. Petersburg along with Yakemenko on 17 February to talk about setting up Nashi, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 February. RosBalt confirmed that Surkov was indeed in St. Petersburg on 17 February; however, Yakemenko denied everything. Surkov was widely credited with masterminding Unified Russia's victory in the 2003 State Duma elections. He has now reportedly become disillusioned with his old creation, as well as with Motherland, which was originally created to take votes away from the Communist Party. If Surkov is indeed seeking an alternative to Unified Russia, then that might explain the secrecy surrounding Nashi's creation. The presidential administration still needs obedience from Unified Russia members in the State Duma and elsewhere, who may be less forthcoming if they believe their political careers are about to be cut short.
In an interview with kreml.org on 1 March, Viktor Militarev, vice president of the National Strategy Institute, said he thinks Walking Together faltered as an organization because it was held together only by money and not by an ideology. Similarly, Unified Russia could have been a "powerful pro-presidential party that served as a repository of the people's hopes for the president and hostility for the thieves, oligarchs, and corrupt bureaucrats. Instead of this, we have a parody," he concluded. However, with Nashi, Yakemenko has recently been taking a smarter approach, according to Militarev. "For example, Yakemenko has given lectures to youth activists in which he described the American authorities as our geopolitical opponent and said that Russia needs to defend itself." According to Militarev, this is a more effective doctrine than "Putin is our president and he is always right."
Writing in politcom.ru on 22 February, Tatyana Stanovaya suggests that the Kremlin's presidential campaign in 2008 might assume the features of Yeltsin's 1996 race when Yeltsin managed to come from behind because of the "Red threat." "In 2008, the Kremlin might also motivate citizens to vote not 'for' [an unpopular president] but 'against' [this time against the Orange threat] and the 'geopolitical appetites of the West' and 'the powerful subversive network within the country.'" However, if INDEM foundation analyst Yurii Korgunyuk is correct, then Nashi proponents are not just pursuing a cynical election ploy. He told "The Moscow Times" on 25 February that the "Kremlin has a paranoid fear of what happened in Ukraine happening here."
PRESS AND POWER IN BRYANSK OBLASTBy Robert Coalson
Journalists in Bryansk Oblast in recent weeks have raised the charge that the oblast administration is conducting a "purge" of newspaper editors whose political views conflict with those of Governor Nikolai Denin.
Denin, a member of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, was elected in December after a local court disqualified popular Communist incumbent Yurii Lodkin. According to the Bryansk news agency Gorod-24 on 16 February, the editors of all the oblast's state-supported raion-level newspapers were ordered to appear before the administration's Press Committee on 15-17 February for an evaluation because of "the switch to new working conditions."
Gorod-24, however, reported that the crisis began last month when the editors of six of the papers were summarily asked to submit their resignations, which they refused to do. Instead, they turned to the oblast legislature, President Vladimir Putin, and Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles for support.
Although the journalists assert that the purported purge is being conducted for political reasons, oblast officials counter that they are merely trying to clean up the region's budget and to bring local legislation into conformity with federal law. They argue that the recently adopted law converting most in-kind benefits to cash payments bars local governments from providing direct financial aid to newspapers and printing houses, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 February. However, Bryansk Oblast so far appears to be the only region in Russia that has interpreted the law in this way.
The situation in Bryansk, however, is complicated and demonstrates the noxious effects of state subsidies to the media, as well as of the unhealthy intersection of journalism and power that is typical of provincial Russia. Former Governor Lodkin was a journalist himself in the Soviet era and he understood the usefulness of maintaining close control over the local media. During his two terms in office, Lodkin placed trusted people in charge of all the raionki, as the raion-level newspapers are called, Gorod-24 reported. Many of them were, and are, members of the Communist Party.
The journalists who are now threatened by the new administration seem genuinely surprised that they have not been able to find a way to get along with Denin. "Just recently, the Bryansk Oblast governor [Lodkin] personally awarded me a certificate of honor for professionalism," "Mayak" Editor in Chief Nikolai Pozhalenkov told REN-TV on 16 February. "Also, I have a letter of thanks from the Russian president. I and [two other editors] acted as the president's proxies in Chechnya. And, all of a sudden, the situation has taken a turn like this. I don't understand."
Kommersant-Daily" reported that the oblast provided 23 million rubles ($767,000) in subsidies to the papers in 2004 alone. "Under Lodkin, each editor had a personal Volga [automobile] and their pay was on the level of a deputy head of a raion," an unidentified source within the Denin administration told the daily. According to "Kommersant-Daily," all of the raion newspapers "wrote extremely negatively" about Denin during the 2003 State Duma elections and during the 2004 gubernatorial campaign and they all "actively supported" Lodkin.
This was not enough, however, to prevent a local court from striking Lodkin from the ballot in November 2004 in response to allegations from People's Party candidate Aleksandr Zhdanov that Lodkin violated electioneering laws. Lodkin's supporters charged at the time that the courts were being manipulated to pave the way for Denin.
Now Denin has named Anatolii Terebunov as acting deputy governor responsible for media and raion affairs. Terebunov was previously the editor of the opposition paper "Bryanskii perekrestok," which supported Denin during the election. In November 2002, a Unified Russia press release proudly listed Terebunov as one of the Bryansk journalists invited to participate in the party's national conference of regional media and to attend "celebrations" in Moscow in honor of the anniversary of the founding of Unified Russia, Regnum reported on 29 November 2002. Gorod-24 reported on 16 February that prior to his stint at "Bryanskii perekrestok," Terebunov was editor of the raion newspaper "Mglinskie vesti."
Terebunov and Denin have not bothered to hide the political motives behind their pressure on the raionki. Denin called the papers "liars" at a 21 January press conference, Gorod-24 reported, while Terebunov told "Kommersant-Daily" that, "in December of last year the opinion foisted by the press diverged from the choice of the people." He added that now the administration intends "to cauterize them, no matter how much they moan."
"Kommersant-Daily" reported that none of the six editors who have been asked to resign appeared before the Press Committee on 15 February, all of them claiming to be ill. Moreover, they have announced that they will launch a hunger strike if the administration continues its efforts to remove them, maintaining that they were all confirmed to new five-year appointments last year by Lodkin's administration.
HAS CHECHNYA'S STRONGMAN SIGNED HIS OWN DEATH WARRANT?By Liz Fuller
Over the 10 months since the killing of his father, pro-Moscow administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, Ramzan Kadyrov, 28, has emerged as the most influential and the most feared man in Chechnya.
In what was widely seen as a bid by Moscow to secure his loyalty, Ramzan Kadyrov was named Chechen first deputy prime minister in May 2004, and then appointed in October as an aide to Dmitrii Kozak, President Vladimir Putin's envoy to the Southern Federal District. Then in late December, Putin bestowed upon Ramzan Kadyrov the prestigious Hero of Russia award, thereby tacitly signaling approval of the mass reprisals against Chechen civilians routinely undertaken by the so-called presidential security forces subordinate to Kadyrov.
But according to "Newsweek-Russia" of 14-20 February, many representatives of the Russian federal forces in Chechnya have come to view Kadyrov as a potential threat that needs to be neutralized, given that Moscow is apparently unable or unwilling to rein him in. For the time being, however, no one is prepared to challenge him openly, "Newsweek-Russia" reported, as doing so would inevitably spark a major armed conflict.
Several recent moves by Kadyrov may nonetheless serve as the catalyst for his undoing. According to "Newsweek-Russia," Kadyrov alienated the Federal Security Service (FSB) by sending armed men into Daghestan in January to secure the release of his sister Zulay, who was detained by police in Khasavyurt for traveling without identity papers.
Then in an interview published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 23 February, Kadyrov swore that he will kill radical field commander Shamil Basaev -- the man who claimed responsibility for the bombing that killed Ramzan's father. The death or capture of Basaev would demolish the main official rationale for the continuation of the "antiterrorism" operation in Chechnya, given that, according to official logic, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov allegedly does not wield any influence over the resistance forces.
But as journalist Anna Politkovskaya pointed out in "Novaya gazeta," there are numerous figures, including some within the Russian military and security forces, who have a vested interest in seeing the war continue indefinitely insofar as they either stand to profit from it financially or in terms of promotion, or, in the case of the pro-Moscow Chechen forces, because they have no skills that would provide them with a livelihood in peacetime.
"Izvestiya" published a five-part series last December detailing the reasons why, after five years of war, the Russian military has still not succeeded in hunting down and apprehending Basaev: the Chechen civilian population admires and respects Basaev and will never betray him to the Russians; and Basaev has unlimited funds at his disposal that have enabled him to establish an extensive network of well-equipped hiding places (see also "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 5 November 2004). But those factors may be only secondary: some Russian analysts have suggested that the primary reason Basaev remains at liberty is that he has links with the GRU (Russian military intelligence), which would intervene to warn him of any impending danger.
According to Politkovskaya's most recent analysis, Kadyrov has challenged the GRU by dismissing all police officials appointed in Chechnya's southern Vedeno district by GRU protege Sulim Yamadaev, commander of the so-called Eastern battalion. Politkovskaya construed those dismissals as just one more episode in the power struggle between the GRU and the FSB. But if the FSB were indeed angered by Kadyrov's intervention in Khasavyurt, it could conceivably make common cause with the GRU to get rid of Kadyrov, which would also serve to remove a threat to Basaev -- and to ensure that the war continues indefinitely.
In addition, Kadyrov has, according to Politkovskaya, forcibly closed schools in Vedeno and recruited all male students as members of his security force to preclude their joining the resistance. Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov called two weeks ago for more effective measures to deter adolescent boys from joining the resistance.
RFE/RL RUSSIAN SERVICE
WASHINGTON'S MAN IN 2008?On 1 March, RFE/RL's Russian Service hosted a roundtable discussion of the recent announcement by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov that he would consider running for president in 2008. Political consultant Gleb Pavlovskii, "Vremya novostei" columnist Vera Kuznetsova, and "Kommersant-Daily" television critic Arina Borodina participated in the discussion, which can be seen in Russian in its entirety at http://www.svoboda.org/programs/PR/2005/pr.030105.asp. (An analysis of Kasyanov's pronouncement by RFE/RL analyst Julie A. Corwin can be found at http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/2/05FB5AA7-AE55-46D0-9959-5FCD3357F435.html)
The main topic of the RFE/RL roundtable was whether an anti-Kasyanov campaign is being mounted and, if so, by whom. RFE/RL correspondent Yelena Rykovtseva began the discussion with a montage of clips featuring commentators alleging that Kasyanov is a front man either for the oligarchs or for the United States. Pavlovskii pointed out that Kasyanov himself mentioned in his press conference that he had recently held talks in Washington and added that, as a public figure, he was obligated to say with whom he had spoken. "He should tell by name who it was who endorsed his views," Pavlovskii said. "Let the electorate listen and decide whether he wants Senator [John] McCain [Republican, Arizona] approving the views of a candidate for president of the Russian Federation."
Borodina noted that NTV initially did not cover Kasyanov's statement at all and that the coverage of the state channels seemed coordinated. "I think that of course there was a campaign [against Kasyanov]," she said. "First they were afraid, then they thought it over and covered things a little differently. In general, the resource of television will be used, if necessary, very actively to discredit this position, the position of Kasyanov." She noted Pavlovskii's appearances on the state channels on this subject and suggested that he was part of the campaign.
Borodina said that she expects some compromising materials (kompromat) against Kasyanov to appear in the press in the near future, going so far as to speculate that it might be published in "Komsomolskaya pravda." (Robert Coalson)
POLITICAL CALENDARMarch: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to visit Japan to discuss Russian-Japanese summit, scheduled to be held in Tokyo in April, according to many media reports
March: EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner to visit Moscow
March: President Vladimir Putin to visit Ukraine
6 March: Parliamentary elections in Moldova
8 March: International Women's Day
14-17 March: International Olympic Committee inspectors to visit Moscow in connection with the city's bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games
18 March: State Duma to select new auditors for the Audit Chamber
20 March: Legislative elections in Voronezh Oblast
20 March: Mayoral election in Chelyabinsk
27 March: Mayoral elections in Surgut and Omsk
27 March: City of Saratov to hold a referendum on whether the city's mayor should continue to be directly elected
27 March: Legislative elections in Amur Oblast.
April: Term of Tula Oblast Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev to expire
April: Russian Soyuz spacecraft to bring new crew to the International Space Station
17 April: Krasnoyarsk Krai to hold a referendum on the question of merging the krai with the Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs
9 May: Commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II
23 June: Yukos shareholders meeting
4 July: 750th anniversary of the founding of Kaliningrad
6-8 July: G-8 summit in Scotland
2006: Russia to host a G-8 summit in St. Petersburg
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