Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia Report: June 10, 2004

10 June 2004, Volume 4, Number 22
Russian press coverage this week of the 5 June death of the United States' 40th president, Ronald Reagan, was for the most part measured and respectful. Although acknowledging Reagan's humble origins and lack of education, commentators credited him for his flexibility, pragmatism, directness, and ability to consider points of view at odds with his ideological framework. Aleksandr Yakovlev, former Politburo member and adviser to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, told "Izvestiya" on 8 June that although Reagan uttered the phrase that "America won the Cold War, in fact in the course of important negotiations he made it clear that he never believed that." According to Yakovlev, Reagan understood that "it was hard to find a winner in cold wars, [that] it is common sense that wins."

In an essay in "Izvestiya" on 8 June, Aleksandr Arkhangelskii opines that arguments about the role of personality in history are senseless because they are ultimately irresolvable. But he nonetheless goes on to wonder what life would have been like had this "direct, life-loving, and not overly intellectual actor [not] slipped into the White House." Without Reagan, according to Arkhangelskii, "there would have been no talk of an 'evil empire,' which was to the Soviet Union's doddering leaders like a red flag to a bull. Provoked, they made ill-considered decisions that made the Soviet system even more rickety." Without Reagan, there would not have been the "[Strategic Defense Initiative] project, which scared the Soviet authorities enough to search for an adequate response and in the process throw out any constructive uses for the money left over from the oil boom." He concludes: "There would not have been a panicked search for new faces and new forces capable of saving the regime and adapting it to the modern world. There would not have been Gorbachev."

Still, it is Gorbachev who is often given the lion's share of the credit for ending the Cold War. In a conversation with RFE/RL, Dartmouth College associate professor William Wohlforth, a specialist on the end of the Cold War, concluded that if forced to assign weight for various individuals' responsibility for ending the Cold War, "Gorbachev has to get most of the credit." But Reagan "really was key." He explained that Reagan was "very hard-line in his early presidency, but he was dealing with fairly unreconstructed, tough Soviet leaders. When Gorbachev came in, Reagan was enough of a pragmatist to see that things are different and made some concessions. For that he deserves a lot of credit."

Reagan's other achievement, according to Wohlforth, was that he "turned the tables on the Soviets, who always claimed that they were representing the future. Reagan and [then Secretary of State George] Shultz spelled out a vision of the world and said: 'Look how the world is moving in a way that favors freedom. You can't have a closed society if you want to succeed.' They turned Marxism-Leninism on its head."

While Marxism-Leninism is no longer in vogue, Arkhangelskii notes at the end of his essay that "nostalgia" for the late period of Soviet Communist Party General-Secretary Leonid Brezhnev exists within Russian society today. "Everywhere moans are heard about the lost happiness of the stagnation period," he writes. "Meanwhile, Reagan has once again appeared on the political scene, and it is necessary to correct once and for all these chronic mistakes [in the perception of history]. The time has come to atone for the stagnation, while the time for calm transformation or a progressive movement has slipped by. A prudent practitioner can no longer help and an inspired surgeon is required." (Julie A. Corwin)

By Robert Coalson

Russia's embattled liberal community suffered another shock on 2 June when NTV national television summarily dismissed popular journalist Leonid Parfenov and closed down his analytical program "Namedni." NTV General Director Nikolai Senkevich made the controversial decision after Parfenov released to the media a written instruction from NTV Deputy General Director for News Aleksandr Gerasimov ordering him to remove from his program an interview with the widow of former acting Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. In the days since, Russia's liberals have been arguing over everything from whether this development signals a clampdown on the press to whether this was really a case of censorship at all, and to what extent Parfenov himself is to blame for the unfortunate outcome.

Although Parfenov has claimed that the Kremlin asked Gerasimov to pull the Yandarbieva interview, Gerasimov himself has said publicly only that he made the decision in order not to influence the ongoing trial in Qatar of two Russian secret-service employees charged with the February assassination of Yandarbiev. Leading journalist Vladimir Pozner told "Moskovskie novosti," No. 20, this week: "If the decision was made out of concern for the reaction of the authorities, then that is censorship. If the decision was made not to influence negatively the fate of the Russians [on trial], that is not censorship."

The official explanation for Parfenov's dismissal is that he violated "corporate ethics" by releasing Gerasimov's order to the media. Senkevich has said repeatedly that he had no choice but to fire Parfenov, despite the popularity and profitability of "Namedni," one of NTV's most highly regarded and highly rated programs. Respected independent media figures such as Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov and REN-TV President Irena Lesnevskaya have agreed that Senkevich was correct to dismiss Parfenov for making public Gerasimov's order. However, pundits were quick to point out that Parfenov, together with Tanya Mitkova, was one of the few respected journalists to remain with NTV following its takeover by the state-controlled natural-gas monopoly Gazprom in 2001. When told of the firing, Mitkova reportedly said, "Now the channel has crashed to the ground," "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 3 June. The impact of the firing on the station's battered reputation could be long lasting indeed.

As a result, the events surrounding Parfenov's dismissal have fuelled longstanding rumors that NTV intends to remake itself in the next few months as a purely entertainment channel, without any significant news programming at all. It has long been known that Gazprom-Media is working to create a joint media-holding company with Yevrofinans, the investment arm of the Central Bank-created Yevrofinans bank, and that NTV will be the main jewel in the holding company's portfolio. Earlier this year, "Novaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported that part of the strategy for the holding company included the dumbing down of NTV into a purely entertainment channel and the replacement of Senkevich with retired Federal Security Service (FSB) Major General and current All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) Deputy Director Aleksandr Zdanovich (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 9 April 2004).

"Moskovskie novosti" Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev wrote in his paper, No. 20, this week: "There are rumors that the firing of Parfenov was a clever move by the authorities, that the scandal was provoked with the intention of discrediting and removing the current leadership of NTV."

On 22 March, -- which is owned by VGTRK -- reported on the rumored restructuring in an article entitled, "A Radical Reorganization of NTV Is Expected Toward September." That article named "Namedni" and "Lichnyi vklad" as "the main candidates for cutting." An unnamed source at VGTRK told the website that Zdanovich is "a normal deputy director who has worked with journalists for many years" and who is "no worse than Senkevich, who has done absolutely nothing for [NTV]." "The president also came from the FSB and so far no one has died from that," the unnamed source concluded.

The State Duma passed on 9 June in their first reading amendments to the law on the Audit Chamber that are designed to bring the law into conformity with the constitution, RIA-Novosti reported. Under the bill, the head and deputy head of the Audit Chamber can be dismissed before their term is up if more than one-half of the members of the Federation Council or the State Duma vote to do so. Previously, 300 votes, rather than 226, were needed for the Duma to dismiss the main auditor. Also approved in its first reading was a bill allowing local organs of self-government to establish media outlets, reported. Speaking in favor of the bill, Duma Information Policy Committee Chairman Valerii Komissarov (Unified Russia) noted that implementation of the bill would not require any additional funds from the federal budget. JAC

The State Duma passed a much-criticized bill on public gatherings in its third and final reading on 4 June, Russian media reported. The vote was 336 in favor with 97 against and two abstentions, RosBalt reported. Under the bill, organizers of public demonstrations would have to inform authorities about their planned event at least 10 days in advance. In a meeting with Duma deputies on 4 June, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II criticized the bill, saying that it "could be instrumental in heavily restricting church and religious activity." He noted a provision that requires that street rallies be held no later than 11 p.m. or earlier than 7 a.m. "What shall we do on Easter night then," he said. "Will the cross-bearing processions be banned?" Despite President Vladimir Putin's revision of the bill between its first and second readings, it continues to draw criticism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2004). Now, the bill will go the Federation Council for consideration. JAC

Also on 4 June, deputies approved amendments to the constitutional law on the federal government in their second and third readings, RosBalt reported. State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said the bill would pave the way for completing structural and staff changes in the government, according to Interfax. The amendments are needed because of new structural divisions within the cabinet initiated in March, and to implement administrative reforms, Gryzlov said. Also on 4 June, deputies dropped from consideration a bill that would have reduced the legal age for marriage to 14 under certain circumstances such as pregnancy, Ekho Moskvy reported. The bill passed the Duma in 2002, but was rejected by the Federation Council. This time, the Duma Committee for Women, Family, and Youth Affairs recommended that the bill be dropped. JAC

With 300 votes in favor and 96 against, the State Duma passed on 2 June a draft constitutional law on referendums in its first reading, Russian media reported. The Communist and Motherland factions and independent deputies opposed the bill. Ekozashita ecological movement Director Vladimir Slivak told RosBalt that the bill would limit citizens' rights to express their will, because it would make it practically impossible to conduct referendums based on grassroots initiatives. According to Slivak, the law makes the holding of referendums the exclusive right of the authorities. Independent Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov told "Gazeta" on 1 June: "As soon as the president signs this into law, we can forget about truly democratic referendums. The referendums we will have will be like those in Central Asia or in Italy under Mussolini." JAC

Outside the Duma building, about 100 activists from the Communist Party, Yabloko's youth movement, and Working Russia gathered to protest the referendums bill, carrying signs saying "No -- Shame on the Authorities!" "Power to the Councils," and "No to a Police State," reported. Ekho Moskvy reported that Federal Protection Service officers pushed journalists away, seizing their cameras, and beat several protesters. Yabloko's press service said police manhandled Communist Deputy Aleksandr Kuvaev, who was participating in the protest. JAC

SHIFTED: President Putin reshuffled posts at the Interior Ministry on 3 June, Russian media reported. Andrei Chernenko was named director of the Federal Migration Service, replacing Aleksandr Chekalin, who will now continue to serve as deputy interior minister but without responsibility for the migration service. Chernenko most recently served as deputy presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District and as vice governor in the St. Petersburg government as of November 2003.

OUT: Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov dismissed several deputy ministers on 3 June: Oleg Gordeev as deputy energy minister; Natalya Dementev as first deputy culture minister; Yekaterina Chukovskaya, Anatolii Rakhaev, and Pavel Khoroshilov as deputy culture ministers; and Sergei Shevchenko and Viktor Korbut as deputy health ministers, RIA-Novosti and reported. On 2 June, Fradkov dismissed Svyatoslav Lychagin as deputy property relations minister and Sergei Antipov, Anton Badenkov, Vladimir Asmolov, and Mikhail Solonin as deputy atomic energy ministers, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 June.

IN: On 1 June, Fradkov appointed Valentin Stepankov as deputy natural resources minister, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 June. Stepankov is a former deputy presidential envoy for the Volga Federal District and deputy secretary of the Security Council.

10 June: State Duma will examine a package of legislation reforming the housing sector

10 June: Deadline for closure of the last remaining camp for Chechen refugees in Ingushetia

10 June: Interior Ministry will launch a crime-prevention program among adolescents

12 June: Russia will observe a national holiday marking the anniversary of the adoption of its state-sovereignty declaration

12 June: The Supreme Arbitration Court will consider the legality of the 1993 privatization of the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric complex in Khakasia, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 8 June

14 June: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will attend a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Istanbul

15-19 June: Eighth annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum will be held

15 June: Krasnoyarsk Krai court expected to render a verdict in the criminal case against entrepreneur Vilor Struganov on charges of terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder

16 June: The Meshchanskii Raion Court in Moscow will renew consideration of the case against Menatep head Platon Lebedev and former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii

16-17 June: Shanghai Cooperation Organization will meet in Tashkent

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

Late June: Supreme Shaman of Siberia Toizin Bergenov will visit Moscow to conduct a ritual purging of the State Duma building of evil spirits, Interfax reported on 6 May

23-25 June: Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi to visit Moscow

23 June: Supreme Court will consider an appeal by Liberal Russia co-Chairman Mikhail Kodanev of his conviction for the murder of State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov

23-25 June: Six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program will be held in Beijing

25 June: Gazprom will hold a shareholders meeting

26 June: Union of Rightist Forces will hold party congress

27 June: International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei will visit Russia

29 June: Founding meeting of the Association of Russian-Armenian Economic Cooperation will be held in Moscow

30 June: The Qatari court hearing the case of two Russians accused of carrying out the assassination of former Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiev expected to announce its verdict

Early July: British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will visit Russia

July: Russia and the United States will hold bilateral negotiations on Russian entry into the World Trade Organization

July: Audit Chamber will complete its checks on major oil companies

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

1-2 July: The fourth annual Volga forum on "Strategy for Regional Development" will be held in Kirov

2 July: State Duma will consider bill changing the rules for monetary compensation for social benefits in its first reading

2 July: The Audit Chamber will hold a session examining the result of privatization over the last 10 years

2-4 July: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit Seoul

3 July: Communist Party congress will be held to elect new leadership

4 July: Vladivostok will hold mayoral election

10 July: State Duma will end its spring session

31 July: State Duma will hold a special extra session

1 August: Deadline for the Finance Ministry to present its draft 2005 budget to the government

3 August: State Duma will hold a special extra session

26 August: Deadline for the government to submit its draft 2005 budget to the State Duma

29 August: Presidential elections will be held in Chechnya

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

15-18 September: The third International Conference of Mayors of World Cities will be held in Moscow

October: President Putin will visit China

October: International forum of the Organization of the Islamic Conference will be held in Moscow

25 October: First anniversary of Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii's arrest at an airport in Novosibirsk

31 October: Presidential election in Ukraine

November: Gubernatorial election in Pskov Oblast

22 November: President Putin to visit Brazil

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

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

March 2005: Gubernatorial elections in Saratov Oblast.