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Russia Report: June 20, 2005

20 June 2005, Volume 5, Number 24
By Robert Parsons

President Vladimir Putin says he wants to visit Japan in November and that he hopes to use the visit to conclude a peace treaty with Tokyo, formally concluding World War II hostilities between the two countries. But so far any agreement has been held up by a territorial dispute over four islands, known as the southern Kuriles by Russia and as the Northern Territories by Japan. They were seized by the Soviet Union from Japan at the end of the war.

They are, indisputably, one of the more bizarre consequences of a war that ended fully 60 years ago. Four cold, rocky, desolate islands almost constantly wreathed in mist. Yet Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and Habomai are the reason why, at the start of the 21st century, Russia and Japan are still technically in a state of war with each other.

For nationalists in both countries, there can be no compromise. In Japan, in particular, there has been a cross-party political consensus on the issue: the islands are Japanese and must be returned. But there are growing signs that both Moscow and Tokyo might be ready to make concessions to put the past behind them.

Putin told former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in St. Petersburg on 14 June that he would like to visit Japan in November. According to the Japanese newspaper "Asahi," Putin also said Russia supports Japan's aspirations to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

The two men were in St. Petersburg to attend the opening of a giant new Toyota assembly plant, a high point in Japanese investment in Russia. By being there, Putin indicated the importance he attaches to Russo-Japanese ties.

"Today, together with our Japanese partners we are launching the construction of the first auto enterprise of Toyota in Russia," Putin said. "First of all, I'd like to wish success to all those who are going to implement this promising project. The make of this largest Japanese car producer is well known all over the world. It's very popular in Russia as well. I'm sure the output of Toyota's St. Petersburg plant will be in great demand."

Russia has long been keen to persuade Japan to invest in its economy, but Tokyo has been reluctant to do so while the islands remain an issue of dispute. Russian political analyst Aleksandr Konovalov said he believes the St. Petersburg deal is a sign attitudes are shifting.

"I don't think the Japanese will change their position dramatically but, at the same time, my feeling is that they are gradually moving to understanding that it will be necessary to develop economic relations first and to postpone political, juridical settlement of the territorial problem for substantial time," Konovalov told RFE/RL.

Both sides have much to gain from a settlement of their differences. Russia needs Japanese investment in its impoverished far eastern regions and Moscow and Tokyo share a wariness of China's wakening power.

A starting point for compromise might be the 1956 Japanese-Soviet communique, subsequently unilaterally abrogated by Moscow, for the return of the smallest two of the four territories. Putin seemed to be moving in this direction when he raised the possibility of their return in November. But the Japanese clearly want more. The two islands referred to in the communique make up just 7 percent of the disputed area.

One approach currently doing the rounds in Japan is for a 37-63 per cent split of the territories, with the smaller part going to Japan. Under this solution, three islands would revert to Japanese territory, while the largest, Etorofu, would remain part of Russia.

No solution is possible, however, without a major demonstration of political will. Compromise might be the only way to resolve the dispute, but both governments know that they will face fierce domestic criticism if they give any ground.

By Claire Bigg

Exiled Russian media baron Boris Berezovskii has revealed plans to reshuffle his respected newspaper "Kommersant-Daily" and launch a similar broadsheet in Ukraine. A strong foe of President Vladimir Putin, Berezovskii says he is eager to extend his media activities to Ukraine following its recent Orange Revolution. Experts say the tycoon hopes to use his new publication to stir up similar political change in Russia.

Speaking to the staff of "Kommersant-Daily" via video linkup from London, Boris Berezovskii announced on 14 June that he is planning to replace the leadership of his Kommersant publishing house. He also said he is currently in negotiations to sell another of his dailies, "Nezavisimaya gazeta," though he refused to give further details.

But maybe more importantly, Berezovskii unveiled plans to launch "Kommersant-Ukraine," a new Ukraine-based broadsheet modeled on its Russian counterpart.

The general director of the Kommersant publishing house, Andrei Vasilev, is due to move to Kyiv to launch the paper, whose first edition is already scheduled for late July.

Yasen Zasurskii is the dean of the journalism department at the Moscow State University. Like a number of experts, he predicts Berezovskii's new publication will find great success in Ukraine.

"Certainly, his newspaper would be an asset for the Ukrainian media since it is known for its wide and quality coverage of economic affairs, and I think that the Ukrainian media don't have this kind of publication," Zasurskii said.

Explaining his decision to enter the Ukrainian media market, Berezovskii told reporters on 14 June he believes the fate of Russia will be determined in Ukraine. Berezovskii, who lives in Great Britain and France, has spent the past five years unable to return to Russia, where he faces charges of fraud and money laundering.

Berezovskii is a fierce critic of Putin's regime and is wanted in Russia on fraud charges. He voiced strong support for the Orange Revolution last year that brought the West-leaning Viktor Yushchenko to power.

Among Russia's newspapers, "Kommersant-Daily" is one of the most critical of the Kremlin. Zasurskii says Berezovskii's new Ukrainian broadsheet is very likely to maintain this tone.

"Berezovskii has openly expressed his support for the so-called Orange Revolution in Ukraine," Zasurskii said. "It is possible that Berezovskii will try to use 'Kommersant' in Ukraine for his campaign against the Russian government, against Mr. Putin, to try to find ways to influence public opinion in Ukraine."

Sergei Markov, the director of the Moscow-based Political Studies Institute, also predicts that "Kommersant-Ukraine" will be a hit, and praises Vasilev as a "brilliant" editor. He says he believes the main goal of the Ukrainian paper will be to provide fertile ground for Berezovskii's attempts at fomenting a revolution in Russia.

"I think Berezovskii's goal is not simply to create a quality newspaper," Markov said. "He would like to provoke a kind of political revolution in Russia, to once again be in power in Russia and help his allies here. For him, Ukraine could grow into a perfect parade ground."

Of course, in launching a newspaper in Ukraine, Berezovskii may have pure, simple profit in mind as well. Analysts have suggested the onetime tycoon may be having financial difficulties.

He has already sold off many of his oil and media assets -- the sale of "Nezavisimaya gazeta" could just be the latest attempt to obtain some extra cash.

During the 14 June video linkup, Berezovskii also announced that the current editor in chief of "Kommersant-Daily" will be changed, but did not say who would replace him and Vasilev. Berezovskii gave little explanation for the switch, saying simply the shake-up will help "Kommersant-Daily" to reach its full potential.

Changes of ownership in the Russian press tend to spark strong debate in Russia, where the Kremlin is seen as gradually tightening its grip on the media.

Last week, the state-run gas giant Gazprom acquired the leading daily "Izvestiya" from oligarch Vladimir Potanin. The sale was viewed as a sign that the Kremlin is seeking to gain control of the press, which traditionally enjoys more freedom than television.

By Jeremy Bransten

Communist and right-wing parties in Russia may not have many opinions in common. But they do agree on one thing. They want an end to what they call de facto censorship on Russian national television and radio that keeps them mostly off the air. A broad coalition of political parties and civic organizations calling itself Russia's Committee on Defending Freedom of Expression has asked President Vladimir Putin to return freewheeling political debates and live programming to Russian state broadcast media. Some media observers welcome the initiative, but say the problems facing Russia's broadcast media reflect a much deeper crisis in Russian journalism and will not be solved that easily.

It's not often in Russia that representatives of groups like the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), whose party symbol is a hammer-and-sickle variation of the Nazi swastika, share a platform with leaders of the pro-Western liberal intelligentsia like Grigorii Yavlinskii or Irina Khakamada.

But that is just what happened on 16 June in Moscow, when the Committee on Defending Freedom of Expression convened. The committee, as Yavlinskii's press secretary Yevgeniya Dillendorf told RFE/RL, is a diverse group.

"The Communists, the Motherland party, the Party of Pensioners have joined; the Motherland party's youth wing, the [National Bolshevik] Limonovites, the Union of Rightist Forces, and Khakamada's Our Choice, in addition to a lot of human rights organizations, the Union of Journalists -- all of these groups have joined," Dillendorf said.

They are united by one idea, perhaps best expressed by the 18th-century French writer and philosopher Voltaire, who famously said: "I disagree with what you have to say, but will fight to the death to protect your right to say it."

Russia's opposition parties and civic groups want an end to what they say is the government's monopoly on broadcast media. The Committee on Defending Freedom of Expression has written a letter to Putin calling for the abolition of what they term "open" and "hidden" censorship on radio and television so that they can get their views across to Russia's people. They are now working on a charter of ethics that they want media organizations to sign, to guarantee access to the media for all political groups.

Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of Russia's Union of Journalists, recently accused the government of pursuing a policy of "nationalizing" media outlets. Independent television networks such as the former NTV have been brought back under de facto state control and as a result, says Yakovenko, substantive political discussion programs and analysis have been replaced by pro- Kremlin reporting and entertainment.

Dillendorf puts it more bluntly. "There is a list of 'closed' topics and there is a list of people who are not supposed to be invited to appear in the media," he said.

Dillendorf says she has no illusions that the letter and charter the committee is producing will change things by themselves. But she hopes these actions will rouse Russian society from its apathy.

"Of course, this is a question which will not be resolved with a letter or a charter," she told RFE/RL. "It is question of public perception and public attention. So, if we unite -- and I don't mean at the organizational level, but on a fundamental level -- if this unity gives an impulse to society so that it perceives this as a real problem, not 10 people in Moscow, but hundreds of thousands throughout the country, [then it will be a success.]"

Yosif Dzhyaloshinskii, a media analyst and journalism professor at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, agrees that the media landscape in Russia -- especially television -- has become much less diverse in recent years. But he does not believe that giving politicians more television time to promote their party platforms is a solution.

"The main problem for Russia -- and I will try to phrase this succinctly -- is not the fact that there is no freedom of speech for politicians, but that there is no access to honest, conscientious, objective information," Dzhyaloshinskii said. "It is impossible to find out how much money has been spent in Chechnya; it is impossible to find out how many people have died there, on both sides; it is impossible to find out about any program being prepared by the government. In reality, fewer than 20 percent of Russia's citizens have any kind of intelligible information not just about the workings of the federal government, but about what city hall in their own municipality is doing."

Dzhyaloshinskii says that unfortunately, it is journalists themselves who are the problem. In the waning days of the Soviet Union, journalists enjoyed tremendous prestige and they took pride in their work. That, says Dzhyaloshinskii, is because they had a mission.

"When perestroika began in 1987, 1988, 1989, journalists as a profession were the initiators and communicators of this process," he said. "In other words, it was journalists who took on the role of a then-nonexistent civil society. This gave many journalists a feeling of importance and-or responsibility. I'm also a journalist, and until 2000, I hosted an analytical program on the Mir television station. I remember this feeling that we were doing something truly useful and important."

The situation began to change during the 1990s when oligarch businessmen acquired a large slice of the media market and pressured journalists to write stories to order. The government soon got in on the act, especially during former President Boris Yeltsin's 1996 re-election campaign, when cash handouts were distributed in exchange for pro-Kremlin coverage.

Many journalists, says Dzhyaloshinskii, stopped seeing themselves as the nation's conscience and saw their skill as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.

Now that the Putin administration has pushed the oligarchs out of much of the media business, he adds, most journalists see their role almost as loyal state bureaucrats.

"I just returned yesterday morning from the city of Chelyabinsk, where I gave a speech to the editors of a major regional newspaper," Dzhyaloshinskii told RFE/RL. "There were about 50 people there. I told them that newspapers must be made independent and that they must learn to earn money -- but to do it honestly. I spoke for about three hours and then they cursed me for the following three hours, for having come from Moscow to fill their heads with confusion. As one editor put it: 'Our main problem is to get money from the authorities and to calmly advance their interests.' Another editor phrased it even better: 'Our role is to get money from the government to explain to the people why the government is pursuing the best policies.' This coming from a large, serious journalistic enterprise -- from editors of a major newspaper! This is the situation the Russian community of journalists finds itself in."

Until Russia's journalists -- not just media owners -- adopt an ethics charter and ask themselves why they got into the profession in the first place, Dzyaloshinskii believes calls for the Kremlin to revoke "censorship" will have little effect.

Late June: Chinese President Hu Jintao to visit Moscow

15-16 June: Federal Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev to make a working visit to the United States to discuss security issues

16 June: Moscow Arbitration Court to open hearings on Yukos's suit against the government seeking $11.5 billion in compensation for the seizure of Yuganskneftegaz

16 June: Cabinet to discuss parameters of draft 2006-08 budget

19 June: Referendum in Samara on dismissing Mayor Georgii Limanskii

20-21 June: Norwegian Prime Minister Kjelle Magne to visit Moscow

20-22 June: Meeting of the Collective Security Council (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan) in Moscow

23 June: Yukos shareholders meeting

23-24 June: G-8 foreign ministers' meeting in London

24 June: A special commission created by Unified Energy Systems expected to complete its investigation into the 25 May blackout in Moscow and the surrounding region

24 June: Gazprom shareholders meeting

24 June: NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to visit Moscow

25 June: Meeting of the CIS Defense Ministers' Council in Moscow

27 June: NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to visit Kyiv

1 July: Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski to visit Kaliningrad

4 July: 750th anniversary of the founding of Kaliningrad

5-6 July: Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Astana, Kazakhstan

6-8 July: G-8 summit in Scotland

9 July: End of the Duma's spring session

26 August: CIS summit to be held in Kazan

September: First-ever Sino-Russian military exercises to be held on the Shandong Peninsula

1 September: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its plans for the elimination of the estate tax, the simplification of individual tax declarations, and the simplification of the requirements for real-estate purchases

5 September: Fall plenary session of the State Duma opens

1 October: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its economic-development plans for the Far East, the North Caucasus, and Kaliningrad Oblast

23 October: Referendums to be held in Kamchatka Oblast and the Koryak Autonomous Okrug about the merger of the two federation subjects

1 November: Public Chamber expected to hold first session

1 November: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its proposals for limiting foreign-capital participation in the defense sector and strategic-resource development

1 November: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its proposals for judicial reform and combating crime, especially terrorism

Second half of November: Chechnya to hold legislative elections, according to pro-Kremlin Chechen President Alu Alkhanov

1 December: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its plans for reducing traffic accidents, alcoholism, and drug addiction, as well as its proposals for improving health care

1 December: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its plan to increase state-sector wages by 50 percent within three years

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

4-7 June 2006: World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum to be held in Moscow, hosted by the Guild of Publishers of the Periodical Press.