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Russia Report: April 7, 2004

7 April 2004, Volume 4, Number 13
By Victor Yasmann

Just one year ago, almost no one knew the name of Stanislav Belkovskii. At that time, he was the president of the obscure National Strategy Council, and was known only to a narrow circle of specialists.

But in May 2003, Belkovskii was identified as the main author of a National Strategy Council memorandum alleging an impending "oligarchs' coup." That memorandum, which was published on the website, came to be regarded as the beginning of the Kremlin's campaign against oil giant Yukos and its former CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovskii. More broadly, the memorandum seemed to herald a clear shift in the Kremlin's political course toward increased authoritarianism.

Since that time, Belkovskii has maintained a high profile, publishing precise predictions of the Kremlin's political moves and overshadowing Effective Politics Foundation President Gleb Pavlovskii as the consummate Kremlin insider.

Like the extent of Belkovskii's real political influence, the details of his biography and political connections remain in the dark. One reason for this is that Belkovskii, by his own admission, has been involved with the secret services. According to a brief but highly unusual profile posted on his personal webpage on the official server of the Communist Party (see, Belkovskii was born in 1970 in Venice into a family of Italian communists. In 1976, he was brought to the Soviet Union, apparently by members of his family, and was adopted by a KGB colonel general, whose name is not disclosed. The biography then skips ahead to 1992, when Belkovskii graduated from the Philosophy Department of Germany's Heidelberg University. He laconically claims that the same year he began working for German intelligence, reporting on radical left-wing organizations. He claims that some of his work for German intelligence included assignments in Russia. According to the biography, he surrendered to the Russian authorities and took up residence in Moscow, where he founded the National Strategy Council.

But it is unclear how much of this information is true., which was created by chief bodyguard to former President Boris Yeltsin Aleksandr Korzhakov, on 22 August 2003 reported that Belkovskii was born in 1970 to a Jewish-Polish family in Riga, Latvia. The website does not refute Belkovskii's claim to have studied in Germany and to have worked for German intelligence. It notes that since 2001, Belkovskii has been active in Moscow as a lobbyist and has worked on several federal and regional public-relations campaigns. "Novaya gazeta" on 17 July 2003 reported that Belkovskii, who also created the electronic Political News Agency (APN) (, participated in the failed gubernatorial campaign of Valentin Kolmogorov in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic in late 2000-early 2001. The paper also reported that in 2002 Belkovskii attempted "to become the main ideologue of Liberal Russia," but was refused. The paper, which makes no secret of its contempt for Belkovskii, implies that Belkovskii has attempted repeatedly to infiltrate various political parties -- including the Communist Party -- at the behest of the Kremlin.

Toward the end of 2002, Belkovskii and Iosef Diskin created the National Strategy Council and became its co-chairmen. The council included 33 experts, including such noted sociologists and political scientists as Mark Urnov, Sergei Markov, and Valerii Khomyakov. On 26 May 2003, Belkovskii and Diskin gave a press conference at which they presented their report of an alleged planned "oligarchs' coup." The main argument of the report was that a group of oligarchs headed by Khodorkovskii was plotting to take control of the Russian presidency by transforming the country into a parliamentary republic. To this end, the oligarchs were bankrolling political parties in an effort to gain a majority in the Duma during the December 2003 legislative elections. Having gained a majority, the oligarchs purportedly intended to amend the constitution. Allegedly, then-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and then-presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin were prepared to assist the plot.

In order to forestall this "coup," the National Strategy Council advised President Vladimir Putin to deprive the oligarchs of their ability to affect the economy, to take away the huge profits they were reaping from the export of Russia's natural resources, and to cut off their influence with the mass media and the public.

Many observers called the memorandum a provocation that should be ignored, especially since many of its arguments appeared in an article by Belkovskii titled "Putin's Loneliness" that was published on 6 May 2003 in the xenophobic newspaper "Zavtra." Several leading members of the National Strategy Council distanced themselves from the memorandum.

However, on 2 July, seemingly following the scenario laid out by Belkovskii, the Prosecutor-General's Office arrested Platon Lebedev, chairman of Menatep, which is the financial arm of Yukos. This was the first volley in the Kremlin's campaign against Yukos's management, a campaign whose ultimate objectives remain unknown.

On 2 September, fellow political insider Pavlovskii launched a counterstrike with an article in his "Russian Journal" that said a group of former KGB officers within the presidential administration -- including then-deputy chiefs of staff Viktor Ivanov and Igor Sechin and Federal Security Service (FSB) Economic Department head Yurii Zaostrovtsev -- with the support of bankers Sergei Pugachev and Sergei Veremeenko had decided to redistribute private property to their own advantage under the cover of "national interests."

Pavlovskii's article seems to have had no impact on the Kremlin. By then, the campaign against Yukos was in full swing, culminating in the 25 October arrest of Khodorkovskii. Within days, Voloshin had resigned, and Belkovskii's victory seemed complete. "The Yeltsin era is finished," he told RosBalt on 28 October.

Following the crushing defeat of Russia's liberal parties in the 7 December State Duma elections, Belkovskii published several articles in which he articulated a "national agenda for Putin's second term." This agenda has been dubbed by the media "the ideology of national revanche." The most detailed explanation of this ideology came in an 11,000-word manifesto published in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 19 January.

The key elements of this ideology include a decisive change of political course from the so-called liberal values of the Yeltsin era, the purging of the "cosmopolitan elite of the 1990s" and the creation of a new "national" elite, and the rejection of cultural enmity with the West. Belkovskii also urged the proclamation of the recreation of the Russian/Soviet empire as a prime national goal. Apparently appreciating the effect that such a program would have in the West and among Russia's neighbors, Belkovskii told RBK on 10 March that Moscow has no desire to become a global superpower, "merely a regional empire."

As would seem appropriate for the Kremlin's court political adviser, Belkovskii sometimes appears to have access to information unavailable to other commentators. In interviews with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 3 March and RBK on 10 March, he detailed the decision to dismiss the Kasyanov government and to name Mikhail Fradkov prime minister. As the conflict between Putin and the Yeltsin-era elite developed during 2003, Kasyanov came to be seen by various political forces as a possible alternative to Putin, Belkovskii said. Putin feared that the 14 March presidential election would be invalidated by low voter turnout and that Kasyanov would emerge as a figure capable of unifying the anti-Putin forces among the oligarchs and within the bureaucracy. This was the essential reason for the dismissal of the government on 24 February, Belkovskii said.

Moreover, Putin had something of an image problem, as he wanted to begin his second term with a clear, new course. Kasyanov was closely linked with the so-called Yeltsin-era Family, so it would have been illogical for Putin to move into the new future with the same prime minister, Belkovskii said.

The decision to name Fradkov to head the government was determined by Putin's own political psychology, Belkovskii said. Putin knew that Fradkov would never compete with him politically in the eyes of the public, that he has no ambitions for higher office, that he enjoys a liberal reputation, and that he has no links with any interest groups.

In addition, Fradkov has every reason to dislike the Family. In 2000, Family representatives succeeded in removing him as trade minister. In 2003, Voloshin personally insisted that Fradkov be sent to Brussels as Russia's representative at the EU because he was unhappy with Fradkov's overly diligent work as head of the Tax Police collecting information against the oligarchs, Belkovskii said.

Finally, Fradkov is a veteran functionary, who knows well the rules of the game, Belkovskii said. He will certainly know enough to take upon himself responsibility for any unpopular economic measures that the Kremlin plans in the future.

Belkovskii also commented extensively on Khodorkovskii's 29 March article "The Crisis of Russian Liberalism" (see "The Oligarch's Call From Prison,", 2 April 2004). Asked whether Khodorkovskii's letter reminded him of Stalin-era letters of repentance from purge victims and whether the article means the end of political opposition in Russia, Belkovskii said the December 2003 Duma elections, not Khodorkovskii's article, signaled the end of the opposition. "The opposition failed to understand the new political reality, something Khodorkovskii has now understood," Belkovskii said.

Belkovskii rejected the depiction of Khodorkovskii's article as a servile confession, noting that he in fact calls for the creation of a new opposition. "Putin needs resistance," Belkovskii said. "You can only move ahead by pushing off of something."

In an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 30 March, Belkovskii said that Putin might benefit personally from reconciliation with Khodorkovskii, but it is unlikely that Khodorkovskii's article will help get him out of prison. Belkovskii said that since Khodorkovskii was arrested, "some predatory businessmen" have set their sights on his assets. They obviously have no desire to see Khodorkovskii and Putin come to terms.

By Robert Coalson

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac last weekend (3-4 April) became the first Western leaders to visit Moscow since President Vladimir Putin's 14 March landslide re-election victory. And they were profuse -- almost envious -- in their congratulations. "I am very pleased to have the opportunity to congratulate President Putin on his spectacular re-election," Chirac said at a joint press conference on 3 April, according to "Le Monde." "Our two countries share a spontaneous and natural connection, all the more because Russia is moving with considerable success along the path of reform and democracy."

In short, Putin has been reaping the rewards of his carefully "managed" victory on the international arena -- despite the largely ignored criticisms of international election monitors and a mutedly critical statement by Great Britain's Foreign Ministry this week. At the same time, the Russian Central Election Commission (TsIK) has been working overtime to paper over the controversies surrounding Putin's re-election win and the flawed 7 December Duma elections that set the stage for that triumph.

The NGO Golos, which monitors Russian elections, reported on 30 March that the voting rolls in the 14 March presidential election had been cut by about 2 million voters "in order to inflate the voter turnout." It should be noted that, although no one doubted that Putin would win the election, there were serious doubts about whether the necessary 50 percent of the electorate would turn out to validate the poll. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Golos found that voter rolls had been consistently cut by about 5 percent in several of the regions it monitored. Golos' representative in Samara, Lyudmila Kuzmina, a member of the local election commission, reported that her commission was ordered to "clean the voter lists" in the final hours before polls closed. The NGO reported similar incidents in Stavropol, Omsk, Volgograd, Chelyabinsk, and other regions.

More generally, international and domestic election observers criticized the way both the Duma and presidential elections were managed. The Communist Party and Yabloko conducted independent monitoring of the Duma elections that they claim revealed numerous violations. Their demands for a recount were rejected, and the TsIK has dismissed virtually all of their objections. Golos on 18 March issued a preliminary report on the elections (see -statement-18.03.04.doc) that contains 20 specific recommendations for making future elections more competitive and democratic.

On 7 April, "Novie izvestiya" reported that Golos activists in Tambov, Kazan, and Samara have been harassed by the police since the election. In Stavropol, local Golos coordinator Olga Vartanova -- who was quoted in the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" report but was mistakenly identified as Olga Vakhtanova -- was questioned by local FSB agents, who accused her of spying for the United States because Golos received grant funding from U.S. sources.

Indeed, many of the official results of the election are certainly enough to raise eyebrows. Putin received 98 percent of the vote in Ingushetia, 96.5 percent in Kabardino-Balkaria, 94.6 percent in Daghestan, 91 percent in North Ossetia, and more than 92 percent in Chechnya.

Nonetheless, TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov has been eager to stifle criticism and to put a final seal on the election results. At a TsIK session on 23 March to confirm the final results of the election, Veshnyakov had several testy exchanges with the Communist Party's representative on the commission, Vadim Solovev. When Solovev tried to enumerate alleged violations, Veshnyakov harshly cut him off and even threatened him. "Just a minute," Veshnyakov said, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 March. "We will proceed as follows. We will check out everything you say, but if the charges are not confirmed, as happened in the Duma elections, either you will publicly apologize or you will go to court to answer to charges of slander."

When Solovev said that the conduct of the elections would "be used by Russia's enemies for fresh attacks on the president" and that "our party would have gotten its supporters out into the streets long ago if we did not still have some small hope that President Vladimir Putin will use his second restore Russia's greatness," TsIK official Sergei Kostenko accused him of "calling for the forcible overthrow of the constitutional order."

Veshnyakov continued the assault in a 30 March interview with "Itogi," No. 13. After noting that the courts in Russia have been "too lenient" in applying the Criminal Code in election cases, Veshnyakov nonetheless said the validity of any allegations of falsification must be determined through the judicial process. "It is not acceptable in a decent society to accuse the authorities of fraud and vote stealing before a court verdict," Veshnyakov said.

In the same "Itogi" issue, Yabloko head Grigorii Yavlinskii noted that the problem of the 14 March presidential election was much broader than mere vote-counting issues. "The presidential election was the culmination of a broad political process, in the course of which public politics was liquidated," Yavlinskii said. "It became impossible seriously to discuss alternative ways of developing the country. A situation developed in which it was constitutionally impossible to form a democratic opposition. There was no arbiter in the form of independent courts; there are no independent national mass-media outlets; there is no way of securing financing that is independent of the authorities," Yavlinskii said.

He added that the 1991 Russian Federation presidential election was the most democratic ever, saying that "beginning in 1987, pluralism in public life was incomparably greater than it has been in the last five or six years.

Yavlinskii also commented that the failure of the TsIK properly to respond to allegations of falsification or other election violations is further eroding public confidence in Russian elections. "It seems to me that if the courts, despite all our documentation, reject all our claims," Yavlinskii said, "then it will simply reinforce in the public's mind that there is no point in seeking honesty in elections. But if the TsIK thanks us for uncovering falsification and takes measures to correct things, then it will give people even more confidence than they had before the faults were revealed."

With the surprise upset of incumbent head of the Altai Krai Aleksandr Surikov on 4 April, Russia has witnessed the unseating of three incumbents in the past month. Last month, nominally Communist Governor of Ryazan Oblast Vyacheslav Lyubimov was voted out in the first round, and two weeks ago, Arkhangelsk Governor Anatolii Yefremov lost by a large margin in the second round. This week brought the most surprising upset: TV satirist Mikhail Yevdokimov unseated two-term Governor Surikov, who not only had the support of a variety of local political forces but met with President Putin on the eve of the election. While Russian national elections have become increasingly predictable public rituals, it may be good news for the development of Russian democracy that -- at least at the regional level -- elections can still spring a surprise or two.

In a survey of the local press in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Regnum reported on 2 April that the dominant opinion of most analysts in the area is that the vote to unseat the incumbent Yefremov was less a vote of support for local dairy director Nikolai Kiselev than a resounding expression of dissatisfaction by the electorate with the ruling authorities. Yefremov had lined up impressive support, with backing from Unified Russia and presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Ilya Klebanov. Yefremov appeared on Unified Russia's party list during the State Duma election in December. According to Aleksei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technology, it was not only individual residents that were dissatisfied with the regional governor, but also many local enterprises, which were piqued by Yefremov's marked favoritism for federal-level companies, Regnum reported.

Similarly, in Altai Krai, voters were not voting so much for Yevdokimov as against the incumbent, Maksim Dianov, director of the Institute for Regional Problems, concluded in remarks to "Vremya novostei" on 6 April. According to Dianov, the voters were ready to vote for practically anyone, but the acting authorities, and that votes that were cast for "against all" in the first round went to Yevdokimov in the second round. During the campaign, Yevdokimov labeled Surikov "Altai-bashi," and accused him of turning the region into "a cesspool," according to RFE/RL's Barnaul correspondent on 21 March.

Surikov's team was likely sufficiently disturbed by Yevdokimov's strong showing in the first round that they enlisted not just the Kremlin's assistance but the Putin himself. President Putin met with Surikov in the Kremlin on 2 April. They discussed a number of local topics, including the gasification of the krai, combating poverty, and the election campaign. "I have not had any kind of conversation about the governor's office with Yevdokimov," Putin said toward the end of the meeting, according to the report. "I understand that you are the acting and working governor. And I understand who he should be."

However, in between the first and second rounds, Yevdokimov also lined up his own new endorsement: Communist Party presidential candidate and State Duma legislator Nikolai Kharitonov. Political analyst Mikhail Malyutin from Yevdokimov's campaign team told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 6 April that Kharitonov's support may have eroded Surikov's pensioner base enough to give Yevdokimov's the 4 percentage-point edge needed for victory in the second round. According to Malyutin, Kharitonov's endorsement was likely more important than Putin's support for Surikov. Putin's statement was very gently worded, and the larger part of the electorate had already decided who to support before Putin met with Surikov on 2 April.

Surikov's team had initially greeted news of Yevdokimov's participation in the race. They thought having a comedian participating would boost voter interest and ensure a sufficient turnout on election day. They apparently miscalculated. Now Yevdokimov, who dubbed Surikov the Altai-bashi, has himself won a new moniker, the "Altai Terminator." (Julie A. Corwin)

Results of Second-Round Gubernatorial Elections, held on 28 March and 4 April

Altai Krai
Mikhail Yevdokimov______________49.53 percent
Aleksandr Surikov_________________46.29 percent

Koryak Autonomous Okrug
Vladimir Loginov_________________51.4 percent
Boris Chuev______________________39.5 percent

Arkhangelsk Oblast
Nikolai Kiselev___________________68.77 percent
Anatolii Yefremov_________________21.76 percent

Ryazan Oblast
Georgii Shpak_____________________53.51 percent
Igor Morozov_____________________40.32 percent

Source: RIA-Novosti, 6 April; "Ryazanskie vedomosti," 30 March; ITAR-TASS, 30 March.

IN: President Putin on 6 April signed a decree naming former Media Minister Mikhail Lesin as a presidential adviser, RIA-Novosti reported. Lesin will be responsible for issues relating to the development of the mass-media market and mass communications, advanced information technologies, the protection of intellectual property, the development of tourism and sports, and coordinating the work of public and professional groups in these spheres.

SHIFTED: Prime Minister Fradkov has appointed Ivan Materov as deputy industry and energy minister, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 April. Materov most recently served as deputy economic development and trade minister. On 5 April, Andrei Reus, former head of former Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko's secretariat, was also appointed deputy industry and energy minister. Former Deputy Industry and Science Minister Vladimir Fridlyanov on 6 April was named deputy education and science minister, reported.

SHIFTED: President Putin on 5 April made several more appointments with the presidential administration, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported on 6 April. Putin named Marina Yentaltseva, who has been Putin's secretary and assistant since 1991, as head of the administration's protocol department. She most recently served as deputy head of that department. Putin also named Anatolii Popov as presidential assistant in charge of the administration's domestic-politics department. Popov will be in charge of the president's relations with political parties and NGOs. Putin named Aleksandr Kotenkov as his representative in the Federation Council, replacing Vyacheslav Khinzhnyakov. Kotenkov served as Putin's representative in the State Duma since June 2000. Finally, Putin named former administration domestic-politics department head Aleksandr Kosopkin as the presidential representative in the State Duma.

IN: President Putin has signed a decree naming the heads of the four directorates within the presidential administration, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 April. Dmitrii Zhuikov was named to head the new directorate on citizens' constitutional rights. Zhuikov most recently served as assistant to the presidential administration's legal-affairs director, RIA-Novosti reported on 2 April. This directorate was created by merging the directorate on pardons with the directorate on citizenship. Valerii Osipov will continue to head the personnel and state decorations directorate. Mikhail Mironov was reappointed to head the directorate on appeals from the public, and Yurii Shustitskii was reappointed as director of information and documents directorate. Putin also appointed presidential aide Aleksandr Abramov as secretary of the State Council.

IN: On 1 April, Kaluga legislators confirmed a new representative in the Federation Council. Aleksei Aleksandrov will replace Viktor Kolesnikov, who was elected to the State Duma in December, as the oblast legislature's representative in the upper legislative chamber. Aleksandrov is a former three-term State Duma deputy.

OUT: Putin dismissed two of his nine presidential advisers -- former Defense Ministers Marshall Igor Sergeev, 65, and Marshal Yevgenii Shaposhnikov, 62, according to "Izvestiya" on 30 March Shaposhnikov advised Putin on space and aviation issues, and Sergeev on strategic security. The following advisers were retained: Andrei Illarionov, Anatolii Pristavkin, Sergei Samoilov, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, General Aslambek Aslakhanov, Vladimir Shevchenko, and Major General Aleksandr Burutin.

7-8 April: NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will visit Moscow

8 April: Cabinet of ministers will discuss tax and pension-system reforms

8 April: Prime Minister Fradkov will meet with the Arkadii Volskii, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and Yevgenii Primakov of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry

9 April: Newly elected Ryazan Oblast Governor Georgii Shpak to be inaugurated

Mid-April: Interior Ministry to withdraw 3,000 troops from Chechnya

16 April: An international conference on "Russia-EU Neighbors: Questions of Cooperation Across Borders" will be held in Pskov

17 April: People's Party will hold a party congress

18 April: Newly elected Altai Krai head Mikhail Yevdokimov will be inaugurated

20-21 April: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to visit Russia

23 April: First anniversary of the killing of State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov

24 April: Second congress of the People's Patriotic Union-Motherland, which is headed by former presidential candidate Sergei Glazev, will be held

May: Federal Atomic Energy Agency head Aleksandr Rumyantsev to visit Iran, according to ITAR-TASS

1 May: Date by which Russia expects talks with EU and its future members to conclude

3-4 May: Labor Day holiday observed

7 May: President Putin to be inaugurated for his second term

9 May: Date by which a decree elaborating functions of newly restructured ministries will be adopted and departmental statutes will be ratified, according to Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov on 16 March

10 May: Victory Day holiday observed

19 May: Agrarian Party must settle its financial accounts with the Central Election Commission or face a ban on political activity

30 May: 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

1 June: New deadline for exchanging Soviet-era passports for new Russian passports

20 June: Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney will perform a concert in St. Petersburg's Palace Square

28-29 June: President Putin expected to attend NATO summit in Istanbul

1 July: First anniversary of the creation of Federal Antinarcotics Agency

2 July: End of State Duma's spring session

3 July: Communist Party will hold congress to hear reports and elect new party officials

September: St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum plans to open the Hermitage Center, which will exhibit works from the Hermitage's collection, in the city of Kazan

31 October: Presidential elections in Ukraine

November: Gubernatorial election in Pskov Oblast

December: A draft law on toll roads will be submitted to the Russian government, according to the Federal Road Agency's Construction Department on 6 April

December: Gubernatorial elections in Bryansk, Kamchatka, and Ivanovo oblasts.