12 March 2004, Volume 4, Number 9
NOTE TO READERS:
THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION VOTES. Get comprehensive analysis and all the breaking news about the Russian elections at RFE/RL's dedicated webpage "Russia Votes 2003-04": http://www.rferl.org/specials/russianelection
PUTIN UNVEILS A PYRAMID SCHEME.As Russia prepares for the 14 March presidential election, much attention has been diverted from the campaign by the naming of a new cabinet of ministers and rearrangement of the government. On 9 March, President Vladimir Putin unveiled his plan to reorganize the government into a three-tiered structure with considerably fewer ministries and more federal services. Ten ministries were eliminated, and five new ones were created in their stead.
At the top level are the ministries, which will elaborate policy and adopt normative acts. At the middle level are the 14 federal services, which will monitor the implementation of laws and compliance with them by citizens and organizations. Unlike the ministries, they have no power to adopt acts or draft legislation. At the third level are the federal agencies, which perform state services for citizens.
Writing on politcom.ru on 9 March, Center for Political Technologies Deputy Director Aleksei Makarkin noted that a place for the state committees was not elaborated, which probably means they will be absorbed by the ministries or services.
The official goal of the new structure is to improve manageability. An unarticulated goal of the shakeup is to rid the government of the holdovers from the era of former President Boris Yeltsin. As Makarkin noted, the only new appointee associated with the so-called Family of the Yeltsin era is former Pension Fund Chairman Mikhail Zurabov, who has been named health and social development minister. Among the former Yeltsin-era figures who lost their jobs are former Education Minister Vladimir Filippov, former Property Relations Minister Farit Gazizullin, former Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, and former Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok. Former Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo also served under Yeltsin.
In light of the appointment of a new prime minister and the new cabinet, RFE/RL asked a number of experts -- Boris Makarenko of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, Henry Hale of Indiana University, Don Jensen of RFE/RL, and Peter Rutland of Wesleyan University -- to evaluate recent events and to comment more generally on the state of the Russian political system. (Julie A. Corwin)
RFE/RL: What conclusions, if any, do you draw about the course of President Putin's second term from his appointment of Prime Minister Fradkov? Is Putin still playing the role of balancer among different clans or has one clan been vanquished?
MAKARENKO: The conclusion is that Putin wants to take all of the executive branch under his control. He has stopped short of formally changing the constitutional rules and is still only the nominal head of the executive branch, but [in reality] he controls everything. There is little doubt that Fradkov is a presidential appointee in charge of a cabinet that is otherwise ruled by the Kremlin. Today's announcement of the composition of the cabinet only confirms this. We see another of Putin's close associates, [former first deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii] Kozak, named to head the government apparatus.
Regarding clans -- in the Yeltsin-era understanding of the word -- they are disappearing. The Yeltsin Family was [already] losing positions in the top echelon of power. In this cabinet, we see only one person who is nominally associated with the Family, that is, Zurabov. But he lost an autonomous financial institution, the Pension Fund, which was accumulating money on its own, and now he heads one of the most difficult ministries. So, now the pluralism of clans is over.
We can see different groupings in Putin's team now competing for more influence. But unlike the Family, which was a system with extensive horizontal ties, the so-called St. Petersburg clan is not, in fact, a clan. They are united by loyalty to Putin, but otherwise they are very loosely connected to one another. We can distinguish among people from the power agencies, liberals such as [Finance Minister Aleksei] Kudrin and [Economic Development and Trade Minister German] Gref, and technocrats such as [presidential administration head Dmitrii] Medvedev and Kozak. These demarcations among groupings are very conditional, because they know each other but they don't have sub-groupings or strong horizontal connections. Of course, they are all connected to Putin and they have some connection to each other, but otherwise they are not clans. They are small groupings competing for more influence on decision making.
HALE: Putin appears to see Fradkov as a kind of kamikaze prime minister, someone assigned to carry out politically difficult reforms, including a radical restructuring of the government itself. Thus on 9 March he announced a new government that reflects a cut in the number of ministries by over one-third and more work aimed at streamlining government will likely follow. The appointment of the reputed economic liberal Aleksandr Zhukov as first deputy prime minister and the retention of Gref and Kudrin at the top of the key economic ministries sends a signal that Fradkov is likely to preside over continued market-oriented reforms, some of which might be painful. Fradkov's professional history as head of the Tax Police also suggests that Putin intends to continue his drive to rein in the "oligarchs" and demonstratively to campaign against high-level and big-time corruption.
Some of these things might be popular with the masses, but all of them are likely to earn the new prime minister some powerful enemies. By dismissing [former Prime Minister Mikhail] Kasyanov and nominating Fradkov just before the election, Putin is trying to share some of his electoral legitimacy with the new prime minister. This legitimacy will strengthen Fradkov in his battles with unseated bureaucrats and prosecuted oligarchs. Putin is thereby also making it clear that he is staking his bets on Fradkov, at least until the next round of federal elections draws near.
At the same time, the little-known, uncharismatic, and loyal Fradkov will pose little threat to Putin, even if he is successful. Of course, if he is wildly successful and remains unflinchingly loyal, Putin might consider him as a presidential successor; Fradkov is, after all, just 53 years old. But if, as is more likely, he takes the heat for costs of transition, Putin can sacrifice him when he sees fit and install a potentially more popular figure.
While some commentators regard Fradkov as independent of any political clans, his ties to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and his work heading the Tax Police suggest that he at least has the sympathies of the silovik group. While he has yet to define himself politically, Fradkov's silovik leanings indicate that Putin has struck a new balance among the informal political groupings. A "Petersburg lawyer" [Medvedev] heads up the presidential administration, while a soft Silovik leads the government (with another St. Petersburg lawyer, Dmitrii Kozak, now leading the government's apparatus).
The choice of Fradkov, however, as much as the firing of [former presidential administration head Aleksandr] Voloshin, might herald the end of the Family grouping's position of strength in the Kremlin. He quite demonstratively passed over highly qualified and pro-Putin people like Kudrin, who is only loosely associated with the Yeltsin-era "reformers," for the top government job. While Fradkov is not wholly a Putin creature, his rise from such obscurity to the job of prime minister effectively puts him in this category. Putin has now built his own political base and is installing his own political team in place of those who came before him, no matter how loyal they profess to be.
JENSEN: I think one can draw several conclusions from the Fradkov appointment. First, Fradkov has no independent political standing on his own. He will be entirely dependent on Putin and his entourage for his continued tenure in office (Former minister Kasyanov had begun to have a semi-independent political status of his own in recent months, thereby ensuring his departure.) This suggests that government will practically remain a department of the presidential administration, where key decisions are made. Second, Fradkov is minimally acceptable to key Kremlin constituencies, with his reported FSB ties, experience in dealing with the West, and connections to the oligarchic Alfa Group. These suggest that, to the extent that the prime minister is able to shape the "course" of Putin's second term at all, there will be more of the same.
As for Putin's role, I believe he continues to play the role of a balancer among various centers of power -- clans, if you like -- each of which are shifting alliances of government officials, financial sources, coercive organs and shared views on key issues. Bargaining often goes on among them and Putin, with the president usually, (but not always) the decisive voice. At the moment one of these coalitions, the so-called siloviki -- are somewhat in the ascendance and their rise is bolstered by a shared mood among the elites and much of society that what Russian needs now is a strong hand. The other coalitions and potential coalitions -- centered in internationally oriented big business, the intelligentsia, some regional governors, and so forth, have been cowed, or are in disarray, or are just keeping silent. This state of affairs will not last forever.
Meanwhile, I think it important to say again that Putin's power and that of the siloviki has been somewhat exaggerated. The vast, corrupt, unaccountable bureaucracy is a major impediment to the system becoming as authoritarian as some more hysterical commentators fear. The siloviki themselves are divided on some issues, or by institutional and geographic loyalty. Their control over the MVD [Interior Ministry], for example, is weak. To the extent that they have infiltrated the regional leaderships, I have no doubt that some local representatives of the power structures are more beholden to provincial authorities than they are to Lubyanka.
RUTLAND: The main message seems to be that of stability. Putin is gently reshuffling the deck of ministers to create the appearance of change, while in fact the key teams running the economic ministries and security ministries have been left in place.
Although there has been some speculation that Fradkov had ties to the KGB, one aspect of his career that has not drawn much attention are his close ties to the military-industry complex. He graduated from an instrument-building institute and then worked for two years in New Delhi. India's main import from Russia, then and now, was weapons. Then he spent 10 years in the Foreign Trade Ministry working on the export of "heavy machinery" -- which probably means weapons. Russian arms exports have been booming for the past couple of years, winning new customers like Malaysia and Indonesia. This trade is vital to Putin's efforts to rebuild the Russian military. So Fradkov's appointment seems to signal that this will continue to be a priority for Putin.
I don't think that Putin has ever been playing a balancing role. It was Yeltsin's style to set rival teams against each other, but that is not Putin's style. He seems to be more interested in building a consensus, in fusing the rival factions into one integrated team that is loyal to him and singing the same song. Of course there is still factional fighting and deep differences of opinion within the Kremlin and the government, but Putin seems more interested in tamping this down than using it as an instrument of rule.
The main unfinished business for the government is the reform of the infrastructure monopolies, particularly electricity. Kasyanov had been slowing down that reform, and now he has gone. But [former Deputy Prime Minister and current Industry and Energy Minister] Viktor Khristenko was the person in charge of the government commission overseeing the reform. Now he has been given broader powers in the government. So here again there is more continuity than change.
RFE/RL: How dependent is Russia's political system on the personality of Putin? Is Russia stable?
MAKARENKO: It's very dependent. It's a system with a very high center of gravity, which by definition raises doubts about its stability and its ability to weather crises. Putin was very lucky to have few or no bad developments during his first term. The economy was stable, and politics was largely under control. So we don't know how the system works in bad political weather.
Besides, nobody can really think about how the system might develop after Putin. It won't survive based on political institutions, such as parties. It has no transparent mechanism for succession. The president said recently that at the end of his second term he will suggest a successor and the people will be able to vote for or against that successor.
So the system seems to be totally dependent on Putin, but at the same time the reverse is true. One person cannot control the whole system physically. It means that the more control that seems to be concentrated on the top, there more room there is for executive discretion at the lower echelons. Which also raises doubts about whether this system really lives up to its own expectations.
HALE: Putin now appears to control Russian politics more tightly than any single individual since at least 1990, having obtained not only a loyal prime minister, but also a completely supportive parliament. This has resulted from a combination of two factors. The first is institutional -- the vast powers of Russia's "super-presidency." But Yeltsin also had these powers and did not control the process so thoroughly. The second is partly personal -- Putin's popularity. Of course, Putin's popularity has been buttressed by state-controlled or simply cowed television. But it also owes to his charismatic appeal as an empathetic but tough leader, steeled in the terrorist crisis of 1999, and to an economy that many Russians now feel is improving. While state-controlled media can always pass on a message that the president backs a party, this is likely to be much more effective when people actually like the president, hence Unified Russia's dramatic victory in the December Duma elections and its ensuing dominance of the parliament.
Political competition is often driven by intra-elite conflicts, however, and Russia is no exception. In a super-presidential system, there is a premium on being with the president when he or she is firmly in control, but on competing fiercely for power at potential points of transition, such as when a succession looms, because the stakes are so high. Thus nearly the whole of Russia's elite rallied around Yeltsin against an insurgent outsider -- [Communist Party leader Gennadii] Zyuganov -- in 1996, but then split and fought bitterly in 1999 as it became clear that Yeltsin would not run for a third term. Once Putin proved his mettle as prime minister and his rivals were defeated in the fall of 1999, most elites -- even the defeated ones -- jumped onto Putin's bandwagon, where they have remained unless the new president kicked them off -- as with [former oligarch Boris] Berezovskii and [former oligarch Vladimir] Gusinskii).
Surely one of Putin's goals for Unified Russia is to help manage the next succession period so that he and his allies can select the next president without a fight. But so long as Putin refuses to join it as its leader, the party could be riven by infighting among would-be presidents as 2008 draws near or if Putin's popularity wanes, say, with a major drop in world oil prices.
The temptation will be for Putin to extend his stay in office beyond 2008 one way or the other. If he does, we might not see real political competition in Russia for some years to come. If he in fact cedes office in 2008, however, it is quite possible that elite political competition, now absent, will reappear, reopening the way to competition that also involves the masses.
JENSEN: Dependent for what? On the one hand, any leader popularly elected to the presidency and supported by the elites could be at the pinnacle of Russia's vertical of power. On the other hand, power is so personalized in the country that Putin's high popularity is a key to his authority. Helped by the Kremlin PR machine, he is surprisingly adept at tapping into the popular mood. Should his personal popularity drop -- and there are many reasons to think that it will, he -- and Russia -- will be in trouble.
As for stability, people talk about it all the time and rarely say what they mean by the term so let me say what I mean. For me -- and here I agree with the definition the political scientist Seweryn Bialer wrote many years ago -- stability is the balanced outcome of numerous, sometimes contradictory forces -- political, cultural, economic. It encompasses the totality of relations between social groups and institutions. A politically stable country, however, need not be economically stable and vice versa. Moreover, stability does not exclude change just as instability does not assume it. I think that it is a relative concept. Countries are more or less stable than other countries, as a rule, not stable or unstable in an absolute sense. Finally, I would say that two key considerations when looking at stability in Russia are the questions of regime survival and regime effectiveness.
So, you ask, is Russia stable? I would argue that the system itself is relatively unstable. While there is little doubt of regime survival, the major political, economic, and social forces are not at all in balance. In particular, the system's weak, inconsistent enforcement of property rights contributes to this, as does the tension between its essentially patrimonial character -- the mix of money and power -- and external pressures such as globalization. There is at bottom also a destabilizing tension between Russia's formally democratic, free-market system and the political realities of how the country is governed. In this sense the system is more unstable now than under Yeltsin, though perhaps marginally more effective now than under Yeltsin.
In Russia, where the gap between the masses and the elites is so wide, you must also ask whether elite politics are stable. I think the answer is, no they are not stable and are becoming less so, despite outward appearances under Putin. As I said, I think the siloviki are in the ascendancy, but they are not triumphant. A stable elite system would not suddenly turn on a Khodorkovskii or a Lebedev as it did last year.
RUTLAND: Yes, Russia's political system does seem to be very dependent on Putin, just as it was on Yeltsin before him, and on [former Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev before him.
Finding a good successor will probably be the most difficult task for Putin, one that will shape his legacy.
REARRANGING THE DECK CHAIRS.The following table shows that, despite the restructuring of the government, many personnel from the cabinet of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov either have been or likely will be retained under Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. JAC
OLD POSITION_____________________NEW POSITION
Russian Ambassador to the UN___________Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov______________Security Council Secretary
Deputy Prime Minister Boris Aleshin ______Industry Agency head
Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Yakovlev___Presidential envoy to the
_______________________________________Southern Federal District
Deputy Prime Minister__________________First Health and
Galina Karelova__________________________Social Development Minister
Atomic Energy Minister__________________Atomic Energy
Aleksandr Rumyantsev_____________________Agency director
Communications Minister_________________First Deputy Transportation and
Leonid Reiman______________________________________Communications Minister
Education Minister______________________First Deputy Education and Science
Vladimir Filippov _____________________________Minister
Labor Minister__________________________Labor and Social Protection Agency
Alekandr Pochinok ____________________________director
Health Minister______________________National Medical-Surgical Center
Media Minister________________________Deputy Culture and Mass Communications
Transportation Minister_________________________First Deputy Transportation
Sergei Frank_________________________________________and Communications Minister
Culture Minister ______________________Culture and Cinematography Agency
*was offered a government position, but chose to return to academia
Sources: RTR, 10 March 2004, "Kommersant-Daily," 10 March 2003
THE LIFE AND EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF IVAN RYBKIN.When the Central Election Commission (TsIK) on 6 March officially removed Ivan Rybkin from the ballot for the 14 March presidential election, it ended one of the strangest chapters in recent Russian politics. On one level, Rybkin's aborted candidacy had no impact on the election. Recent opinion polls measured his support as less than 1 percent. No television network carried his advertisements. He did not participate in any free-airtime segments or debates. Yet during a generally dull campaign, Rybkin's presidential bid provided a gripping storyline.
The career of the former Duma speaker and Security Council secretary has taken some strange turns before (for more on his "political tourism," see http://www.rferl.org/specials/russianelection/bio/rybkin.asp). But in recent weeks, depending on one's point of view, either Rybkin set new standards for bizarre behavior by a nationally known politician, or the Russian authorities went to unprecedented lengths to discredit a critic of the president.
Rybkin obtained the media spotlight by vanishing between the evening of 5 February and 10 February. His disappearance generated massive news coverage and ominous rumors, in part because of an interview he gave RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 4 February. During that interview Rybkin alleged that he was under constant surveillance by the Russian special services, which were seeking to drive him out of the presidential race.
When Rybkin turned up on 10 February, he initially claimed to have "had a good time" with friends in Kyiv after dropping out of sight. Having turned off his cell phone and avoided watching the news, he unconvincingly explained, he had no idea that he was being searched for in Moscow.
The escapade prompted his wife, Albina Rybkina, who had filed a missing-person report several days earlier, to declare, "Poor Russia that such people want to lead it." Rybkin thus became perhaps the only presidential candidate ever to have his fitness for office publicly questioned by his own spouse. In contrast, Galina Lebedeva in May 1996 told NTV that her husband, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, was "very calm and well-balanced" in private, despite his penchant for outrageous stunts.
Soon after, Rybkin traveled to London, where he offered a more sinister explanation for his disappearance. He said he was lured to Kyiv, ostensibly to meet with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. There, he claimed, assailants drugged him and held him prisoner in an unconscious state for several days, during which they videotaped him in a compromising position.
Rybkin announced plans to stay abroad for the duration of the presidential race, but the TsIK frustrated his efforts to continue his campaign by refusing to allow him to participate in free-airtime debates via satellite. Rybkin appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case on jurisdictional grounds.
Russia's four leading television networks -- state-controlled ORT and RTR; private NTV; and TV-Tsentr, which is controlled by the Moscow authorities -- compounded the candidate's difficulties by refusing to air his commercials during either paid or free airtime. The unconventional advertisements did not feature Rybkin, solicit support for him or even mention his name. Instead, they drew attention to negative developments during Putin's tenure as prime minister and president.
Rybkin's campaign chairwoman and former ORT General Director Kseniya Ponomareva suspected a coordinated effort to keep the commercials from reaching the public. The networks gave different reasons for refusing to broadcast the spots, some citing copyright infringements, another demanding that President Vladimir Putin provide written permission to use his image. But all four sent their official refusals to Rybkin's campaign within a half-hour period on the evening of 27 February, Ponomareva noted.
While Rybkin was unable to address the public directly, media sympathetic to Putin have repeatedly alluded to the mysterious disappearance in a way that discredits and mocks Rybkin. Several Russian television networks on 3 March aired news reports about a hastily staged play in Moscow titled "The Erotic Adventures Of Ivan Rybkin In Kyiv." Those reports were longer than the typical stories that the same networks have broadcast in recent weeks about other candidates' daily campaign activities. In a similarly humorous tone, the popular daily "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 16 February that a tourist company hopes to offer a "Rybkin" package tour to Kyiv.
The candidate returned to Moscow from London on 5 March. Rather than using his free airtime to tell his story or to attack Putin, he announced plans to drop out of the race in light of "boundless political pressure," Interfax reported. His career now appears to have reached a dead end. He said on 5 March that he would never renounce his longtime ally and financial backer, the former oligarch Boris Berezovskii. Since Berezovskii lives in self-imposed exile to avoid criminal charges in Russia, however, his patronage is unlikely to benefit Rybkin now. Last year Berezovskii engineered Rybkin's selection as head of one faction of the Liberal Russia party, but the Justice Ministry registered the opposing faction of that party, thereby blocking Rybkin's political vehicle from contesting the December parliamentary elections.
Whether Rybkin was a crime victim or merely staged a publicity stunt is still unknown. Blood tests conducted in London failed to turn up evidence of drugs in his system. After conducting a brief criminal investigation, the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 2 March that no one had forcibly held Rybkin in Kyiv.
Nonetheless, it is a sad commentary on the perceived limits of dissent in Putin's Russia that several prominent observers found Rybkin's story plausible (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2004, and "Rybkin Takes a Holiday?" The Russian Federation Votes, 12 February 2004). Without affecting the election outcome, Rybkin's presidential bid thereby underscored the current atmosphere of intimidation in Russian high politics. (Laura Belin)
COMINGS & GOINGSIN: President Putin on 9 March named former Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko to head a new Industry and Energy Ministry. Former acting Industry and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko was named to head a new Education and Science Ministry. Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov was named foreign minister. Moscow State Conservatory Rector Aleksandr Sokolov will head a new Culture and Mass Communications Ministry, while Pension Fund Chairman Mikhail Zurabov will become health and social policy minister. Perm Oblast Governor Yurii Trutnev was named natural resources minister. Igor Levitin, general director of the company Severostal-Trans, will be transportation and communications minister. Putin also appointed former acting Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev as interior minister. Deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak was named chief of the government staff, and former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is now secretary of the Security Council.
IN: Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on 10 March appointed former State Duma deputy and Yabloko party member Igor Artemev as director of the new Federal Antimonopoly Service, Russian media reported.
OUT: On 5 March, Duma deputies released State Duma Deputy Speaker Dmitrii Rogozin (Motherland) from his duties as deputy speaker and elected Deputy Sergei Baburin (Motherland) in his place. The previous day, Motherland faction members voted to elect Rogozin as faction head, replacing deputy and presidential candidate Sergei Glazev.
RENAMED: The polling agency VTsIOM-A has been rechristened Tsentr-Levada or Analiticheskii tsentr Yuriya Levady, according to levada.ru.
POLITICAL CALENDAR9-14 March: Further publication of results of opinion polls about the presidential election banned
11 March: Government will hold its first session under Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov
11 March: EU-Russia ministerial troika to be held in Dublin
12 March: CIS Economic Council will meet at the level of deputy prime ministers in Moscow
13 March: Presidential campaign officially ends at midnight
14 March: Election for president of the Russian Federation
14 March: Gubernatorial elections in Voronezh, Murmansk, Chita, and Arkhangelsk oblasts; Altai and Krasnodar krais; and Koryak Autonomous Okrug
14 March: Republican-level presidential election in Udmurtia
14 March: Repeat State Duma elections in single-mandate districts in Ulyanovsk and Sverdlovsk oblasts and St. Petersburg where no candidates succeeded in garnering sufficient votes on 7 December
14 March: Legislative elections in Tatarstan
25 March: Date by which prosecutors must either complete their criminal investigation of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii or ask a Moscow court to extend his period of pretrial detention
26 March: Date by which official presidential-election results are to be released
30 March: Date by which prosecutors must either complete their criminal investigation of Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev or ask a Moscow court to extend his period of pretrial detention
31 March: Date by which prosecutors must either complete their criminal investigation of St. Petersburg legislator and accused murder conspirator Yurii Shutov or ask a St. Petersburg court to extend his period of pretrial detention
End of March: NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to visit Russia, according to Interfax
Beginning of April: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to visit Moscow, according to ITAR-TASS
1 April: Administrative reform of Russian federal government will be completed, according to former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Aleshin
4 April: Second round of federal presidential election to be held if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote in the 14 March first round
6-7 April: Foreign ministers of five Caspian littoral states -- Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran -- to meet in Moscow
16 April: An international conference on "Russia-EU Neighbors: Questions of Cooperation Across Borders" will be held in Pskov
23 April: First anniversary of the killing of State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov
1 May: Date by which Russia expects talks with EU and its future members to conclude
3-4 May: Labor Day holiday observed
10 May: Victory Day holiday observed
June: Communist Party will hold congress to hear reports and elect new party officials
1 June: New deadline for exchanging Soviet-era passports for new Russian passports
19 June: End of State Duma's spring session
28-29 June: President Putin expected to be invited to NATO summit in Istanbul,
November: Gubernatorial elections to be held in Pskov