24 June 2004, Volume
PUTIN CASTS HIS VOTE FOR BUSH
By Robert Coalson
President Vladimir Putin caught Russian, U.S., and European observers off guard on 18 June when he unexpectedly announced that Russian intelligence services had repeatedly received information that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was planning terrorist attacks against the United States and U.S. interests abroad. In the ensuing days, Russian commentators have been energetically dissecting the context of Putin's statement and speculating on just what the KGB veteran might be thinking.
Russian media reports were decidedly skeptical about the veracity and spontaneity of Putin's remarks. They noted that almost as soon as the preliminary report of the U.S. commission investigating the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks was made public, an anonymous "Russian intelligence source" told Interfax that "as early as early 2002 Russian intelligence learned that the Iraqi special services were planning terrorist attacks on the United States and on U.S. diplomatic and military facilities abroad." "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 June that the Interfax report was issued even before the final commission session had ended.
The statement came just as U.S. President George W. Bush was facing harsh criticism for launching a military operation against Hussein largely on the basis of arguments from his administration that the Iraqi leader posed a terrorist threat to the United States. Journalists and analysts quickly began describing Putin's statement as open support for Bush.
"Kommersant-Daily" and "Vremya novostei" on 21 June both speculated that this low-level support for Bush failed to produce a sufficient resonance in the West. Therefore, the newspapers wrote, at a press conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, the Kremlin arranged to have a reporter ask Putin a completely off-the-wall question about the U.S. commission's report. This gave Putin the opportunity to repeat -- almost word for word -- the statement from the anonymous intelligence source that Interfax had reported the previous day.
"Yes, after the events of 11 September 2001 and before the beginning of the military operation in Iraq, the Russian special services repeatedly received information that official organs of the Hussein regime were preparing terrorist attacks on the territory of the United States and on military and civilian targets outside its borders," Putin said. "This information really was transmitted through cooperative channels to our American colleagues."
Although Putin was quick to add that Russia's opposition to the military operation in Iraq had not changed, his remarks clearly marked a shift toward the Bush administration's positions. "Does this mean that there is reason to argue that the United States acted in self-defense?" Putin said. "I don't know. That is a separate topic."
Journalists and analysts quickly began describing Putin's statement as open support for Bush. Moscow "is looking pragmatically at the future -- at the presidential elections in the United States. It seems that the Kremlin has made up its mind and is backing Bush," "Vremya novostei" wrote. A sampling of leading Russian analysts published by politcom.ru on 15 June found both that most of them felt that Bush will win the 4 November election, and that Iraq will be the most important issue.
But there was considerable skepticism about the veracity of Putin's declaration. The press argued that if the U.S. administration had had such information in the run-up to the military operation, it would have used it to convince the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution authorizing the action. Media reports noted that neither Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney mentioned such Russian reports during their testimony before the 11 September commission. Analyst Boris Vinogradov, writing in "Novye izvestiya" on 21 June, noted that Putin's statement put German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac -- both of whom have heretofore enjoyed close personal relations with Putin -- in an "idiotic position," because Putin implied that Russia did not share this intelligence with its "allies" in the antiwar coalition.
These doubts and others reinforced the impression that the statement was clearly intended as political support for Bush. And although there was no shortage of theories about what might be motivating Putin to make such a transparent gesture now, none of them seemed entirely convincing.
"Kommersant-Daily" on 21 June noted that the Kremlin traditionally "finds it much more convenient" to deal with Republican U.S. administrations than Democratic ones, which "tend to harp too much on human rights." Bush, it noted, did not listen to a group of U.S. congressmen who recently called on the administration to exclude Russia from the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries. One of the analysts surveyed earlier by politcom.ru, Strategic Studies Center Director Andrei Piontokovskii, noted in his assessment of the U.S. election that Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry has been rumored to be considering asking Republican Senator John McCain to be his vice presidential candidate and that McCain was one of the sponsors of the movement to exclude Russia from the G-8.
Putin's comments about Hussein lent added significance to his many statements in support of Bush at the G-8 summit in the United States earlier this month. At that time, Putin congratulated Bush for the turnaround of the U.S. economy and said that the Democrats "don't have the moral right to attack George Bush for Iraq since they themselves did the same thing [in Yugoslavia in 1999]."
"Kommersant-Daily" also attached significance to the fact that Putin made his statement while meeting with Central Asian leaders. Part of Putin's message, the daily commented, was to demonstrate that Russia is an equal partner with the United States in the struggle against international terrorism and "to show who is the most important in the CIS."
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 June speculated that Putin might be giving Bush a hand regarding "Saddam's terror" in order "to get Washington's support against 'Chechen terror.'" It added as well that Putin's support might enable him to bargain for "a special role" in post-Hussein Iraq. The daily connected Putin's statement and his purported desire for Western understanding regarding Chechnya with an unsubstantiated 20 June report in the Italian daily "La Repubblica" that some 300 Chechen fighters have appeared in Iraq to support Iraqi insurgents.
Finally, Kremlin-connected political consultant Stanislav Belkovskii told APN on the day of Putin's Astana comments that Kremlin wants the United States to pressure Qatar to release the two Russian secret-service agents currently on trial there for the February assassination of former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. "It is possible that Vladimir Putin's support of U.S. President George Bush was a condition for the Americans help in return in solving the 'Qatar problem,'" Belkovskii said.
Although analysts were at a loss to come up with a definitive explanation of Putin's comments, they were unanimous in viewing them as an extraordinary and potentially momentous step, possibly as important as Putin's fabled telephone call to Bush immediately following the 11 September 2001 attacks. In the months after those attacks, Bush repeatedly reminded the world that Putin was the first global leader to express his solidarity with the United States, and those months marked the high point of U.S.-Russian relations since Bush became president.
STATE AND CHURCH.
As the trial of the curator of Moscow's Sakharov Museum and the organizer of an exhibition on the role of religion in modern society continues this week (see story below), new attention has focused on the increasingly prominent role of the Russian Orthodox Church. However, experts on religion in Russia suggest that while the church's public profile was raised during President Vladimir Putin's first term, its already limited political independence is diminishing even further.
On the one hand, the Russian Orthodox Church has managed to sign a series of agreements with various state organs at the federal and local levels over the past seven years, gaining new access to state institutions, such as prisons and military installations. Orthodox chapels have been opened at train stations and airports. On the other hand, the church has not secured some key items on its agenda. For example, a school course on the foundations of Orthodoxy has not yet been established, although church officials first raised the issue with the Education Ministry in 1999. The church has also lost key battles over tax reform and the restitution of church land and property confiscated by the Soviet regime.
In an overview of how Putin has handled cooperation with the Patriarchate during his first term, "Vremya novostei" on 4 March concluded that despite the fact that Putin is himself Russian Orthodox, he has not personally supported the issues that the church has been lobbying. The daily argued that Putin has set the right tone for the rest of government officialdom by observing the constitutionally established separation of church and state.
Lawrence Uzzell, president of the International Religious Freedom Watch, takes a slightly different view. He argues that while the state might not be serving the church's agenda, the church -- like other civil-society institutions -- is in danger of being co-opted to the service of the state's agenda. Writing in "First Things: The Journal of Religion and Public Life" on 4 May, Uzzell suggested that Putin's regime is "reviving the old habit of treating every social institution as if it were an extension of the state." He recounts how at the beginning of the year, Old Believer priests from across the country were summoned to visit the local headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in their regions. FSB officials asked the priests whom they were going to support at a February council meeting, at which a new head of the Old Believer sect was to be elected.
Uzzell told RFE/RL that "since the leading metropolitans and bishops were not willing to criticize [former President] Boris Yeltsin's war on Chechnya and other policies even when Yeltsin was deeply unpopular, it is not likely that they will suddenly begin to defy a president who is genuinely popular and who has tighter control of the news media and other key institutions than any Russian or Soviet leader since the 1980s." He concludes that the threat to civil society is all too real -- not because the church is swallowing the state, but vice versa.
This week, "RFE/RL Political Weekly" spoke with Uzzell and Geraldine Fagan, the Moscow correspondent for the Forum 18 News Service about the role of the Russian Orthodox Church under Putin. (Julie A. Corwin)
RFE/RL: How has the role of the Russian Orthodox Church changed under the Putin regime? The church seems to have a higher public profile now, but is that all there is to it? Or has there been a deepening of the church-state partnership?
FAGAN: Symbolism aside, not much has been done in favor of the church on the federal level under Putin -- the church is very unhappy about the new Tax and Land codes, for instance. Although the security services have been far more active in limiting the activity of foreign missionaries than under Yeltsin, and there is a passage to this effect in the national security doctrine, which was one of the first things Putin signed as acting president in 2000. Strictly speaking, this [activity] does not concern the role of the church directly. Also, the federal authorities have been noticeably reticent in coming out in support of the church's main demands -- particularly the introduction of a course called the Foundations of Orthodox Culture in state schools. However, many regional authorities and some government ministries have continued to form their own close links with the church -- even to a degree that is clearly anticonstitutional -- but it is anyone's guess whether this is allowed to take place because (a) Putin actually approves of it but doesn't want to show it, (b) he is powerless to stop it, or (c) he doesn't particularly care, as it is not that important.
UZZELL: The Moscow Patriarchate actually has less political clout now than it did in the 1990s. On 4 March, the website for "Vremya novostei" [http://www.vremya.ru] published an excellent summary by Aleksandr Morozov, who wrote that on a whole series of issues the advocates of "clericalism" have suffered defeats or have at least been neutralized. The Foundations of Orthodox Culture course has not become a mandatory part of the school curriculum. The Culture and Mass Communications Ministry has won the debate over ownership of church valuables confiscated by the Soviet state. The Patriarchate continues to be frustrated in its quest for the quick, massive return of its pre-Soviet real-estate holdings. And the introduction of military chaplains in the army is not even on the agenda.
The state's unwillingness to enact the Moscow Patriarchate's agenda has not at all diminished the Patriarchate's willingness to serve as the state's docile, obedient agent. As far as one can judge from its public statements and actions, the Patriarchate is content to accept that role -- as are the other mainstream, "traditional" religious organizations. For example, the nature of Russia's March 2004 presidential election was such that calling on citizens to vote -- which under other circumstances might be seen simply as a neutral call for them to do their civic duty -- was in effect an endorsement of Putin. The Moscow Patriarchate gladly provided that endorsement the week before the election, with its spokesman Father Vsevolod Chaplin declaring that "every person must remember about his responsibility for the country's destiny, for its choice of a correct historical path to follow." Similarly, from Rabbi Berl Lazar -- the Putin-favored claimant to the disputed title of Russia's chief rabbi -- came the statement that "participation in democratic elections is not only a man's right, but first of all the fulfillment of God's commandment." [Both quoted by RIA-Novosti, March 11, 2004.] One cannot even imagine today's Moscow Patriarchate challenging Putin on moral/political issues that the latter really considers important, such as military atrocities in Chechnya.
RFE/RL: Has the Kremlin found a potential successor for Patriarch Aleksii II? Or do different parts of the Kremlin support different parts of the church? Who is Archimandrite Tikhon and what role does he play in relations between the Kremlin and Patriarchate?
FAGAN: At the moment, the issue of a potential successor for Patriarch Aleksii is actually less clear than it ever was! Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad has long been the most influential Russian Orthodox hierarch after the patriarch and Aleksii's obvious successor. While Kirill might turn out to be content with just "being patriarch" if he were to succeed Aleksii, the Kremlin would probably prefer someone more pliable, as Kirill has so far proved unpredictable and independent-minded. I am not convinced that anyone in the Kremlin would be so concerned by this that they would go to great lengths to interfere though (although there are currently a few rumors circulating to this effect), especially as it is uncertain how long Aleksii will remain in place, and two of the few other serious candidates, Metropolitan Mefodii and Metropolitan Sergii, recently lost their power bases.
Archimandrite Tikhon is the energetic youngish abbot of a Moscow monastery that has attracted many novices in the 10 years since it was refounded. Being less Sovietized than many of the hierarchs, Tikhon finds a natural rapport with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and has therefore been prominent in the recent meetings with them. He was rumored to be Putin's spiritual father a couple of years ago, but although they are certainly well acquainted, I am not aware of anything to substantiate any closer tie. Tikhon's major sponsor is the patriotic [Mezhprombank head] Sergei Pugachev -- you may want to draw some political conclusions from that....
UZZELL: My best guess is that the Kremlin will keep its options open and will intervene decisively when the time is ripe, in such a way that Aleksii's successor will feel himself deeply beholden to the Kremlin.
I agree with Aleksandr Soldatov, who wrote in "Moskovskie novosti" on 21 January that, "Father Tikhon is a consistent, traditional statist who ideally would not be at all opposed if the sovereign emperor were once again to become head of the Church." He has faithfully served the state's interests by calming hysteria among Orthodox fringe elements over being assigned tax identification numbers (INN). Tikhon visited the influential so-called all-Russian elder Father Ioann Krestyankin of the Pskov-Pechorskii Monastery, who had been among those calling the INN dangerous to the soul, and persuaded him to make a statement that the INN was not a threat. A videotape of that statement was widely distributed in the ultra-Orthodox subculture.
It was also telling that Tikhon, a mere archimandrite of a monastery, rather than a high-ranking bishop such as Kirill, accompanied Putin to New York last year for his crucial meeting with Metropolitan Lavreof the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Given the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad's long record of criticizing the Moscow Patriarchate for "Sergianstvo" -- excessive servility to the Soviet regime -- it is ironic that Tikhon is an even franker apologist than Aleksii or Kirill for the Patriarchate's record under Stalin. His monastery recently published a book glorifying Patriarch Sergii's role during the Stalin years and calling for his canonization.
RFE/RL: Some analysts seem to believe that Putin has been careful not to tie himself to church too overtly, do you agree?
FAGAN: Basically, yes. He has been careful not to tie himself with the hierarchy by appearing at the major functions -- Easter and Christmas at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior -- only occasionally. Doing things like making a pilgrimage to the Solovetskii Monastery and spending Christmas at an ordinary church in Suzdal -- after which he extolled its "real parish" atmosphere to the patriarch on television speaks volumes. Putin emphasizes his personal ties with Orthodoxy as a faith, rather than with the Moscow Patriarchate as a structure. I also think he projects a slight awkwardness in church situations, which should appeal to the majority of Russian citizens who say they are Orthodox, but don't actually know what it's about.
UZZELL: Yes. I think it is interesting that he so often does his "Orthodox photo-ops" for big holidays such as Christmas and Easter at places such as provincial monasteries rather than standing alongside the Patriarch in Moscow. His approach seems calculated to appeal to the majority of ethnic Russians, who in some vague sense identify themselves as "Orthodox," who feel instinctive affection for and loyalty to the Church, but who want to keep it at a comfortable distance from their lives.
RFE/RL: Why has Putin tried to mend fences between the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate? And why has he tried to act as peacemaker between the Patriarchate and the Vatican?
FAGAN: Both are important symbolically. If the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad joined with the Moscow Patriarchate, it would suggest that modern Russia has gotten over its Soviet past. If the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad -- which has preserved a deep devotion to the murdered royal family -- openly trusts Putin and acknowledges his leadership, this enhances his historical legitimacy as ruler. If a papal visit to Russia ever became possible, it would demonstrate Russia's openness to the West, and so increase the West's confidence in Russia as a "normal" country, which is also desirable from the Kremlin's point of view.
UZZELL: I agree with Mikhail Pozdnyaev, who wrote for "Novye izvestiya" on 16 December 2003 that "for both the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and also for the president of the Russian Federation, the main argument in favor of reunification is that if our motherland is a super state, it should have a super church. Just as in the 1970s, the foreign parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate served as centers of foreign intelligence, so tomorrow the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad could become an outpost of Russian geopolitics. Its churches could become something of a fifth column."
I'm not convinced that Putin is really trying to be a "peacemaker" with the Vatican. He just wants to look like one. Putin wants good relations with Western governments for the sake of a broad range of political and economic goals, and the Vatican is too important to be ignored. It helps if he can present a civilized face to the Vatican and to the West in general while leaving faceless bureaucrats to do the dirty work of denying visas, etc.
TIMELINE: President Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church
11 June 2004: Putin presents Patriarch Aleksii with the order For Services to the Fatherland, 1st class
23 November 2003: Putin and Aleksii meet with the religious leaders of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan at the Novo-Ogarevo presidential residence
5 November 2003: Putin meets with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican
15 October 2003: Putin meets with Aleksii at the presidential residence in Novo-Ogarevo.
25 September 2003: Putin meets with leader of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad Metropolitan Lavre in New York
31 July 2003: Putin attends ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the canonization of St. Serafim in Sarov, Nizhnii Novogorod Oblast
10 May 2003: Putin visits Aleksii at his residence at Peredelkino
24 January 2003: Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma attend a Russian Orthodox Church Service in Kyiv
22 January 2003: Putin meets with Aleksii and Bulgarian Orthodox church leader Patriarch Ignatios IV of Antioch and All the East at the Kremlin
31 December 2002: Aleksii confers upon Putin the highest church award for laymen -- the Order of St. Prince Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, for the president's services to the Fatherland and in connection with his 50th birthday
29 May 2002: Putin signs into law amendments to the Tax Code exempting religious organizations from paying taxes on income received while conducting worship
6 January 2002: Putin makes a short Christmas pilgrimage to Orthodox holy places, including the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior in Pereslavl-Zalesskii, the Cathedral of the Assumption in Vladimir, and the Chernoostrovkii Convent in Malayaroslavets
8 May 2001: Putin meets in the Kremlin with Aleksii and Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece
11 April 2001: Putin decorates Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, with the Order of Merit
24 November 2000: Putin and Aleksii meet in the Kremlin with the religious leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan
7 May 2000: Aleksii blesses Putin at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in the Kremlin immediately after the presidential inauguration
(Sources: www.mospat.ru, "National Catholic Reporter," "RFE/RL Newsline")
ART TRIAL IN RUSSIA SEEN AS TEST OF FREE EXPRESSION.
The Russian Constitution states that Russia is a secular country, with no state-sponsored religion. But many observers point to the increasingly prominent role played by the Russian Orthodox Church in public life as evidence that some would like to see this changed.
Now, a trial in Moscow is focusing the spotlight on the issue of freedom of expression, Russian ethnicity and the role of the state in religion and cultural matters. The case pits the Prosecutor-General's Office against three human rights activists charged with inciting religious and ethnic hatred for organizing a modern art exhibition titled "Caution, Religion."
The exhibition, which was hosted by Moscow's Andrei Sakharov Museum and Social Center, featured 42 artworks by 42 artists -- some of them controversial, but all intended to provoke discussion about the role of religion in modern society, according to the curators. One work featured Jesus's face drawn on a Coca-Cola logo next to the words "This Is My Blood."
Just four days after the exhibition opened last year, six vandals destroyed several of the pieces, smearing graffiti on the museum's walls that accused museum workers of being "Orthodox haters." The museum sued the men, but lost the case when a Moscow court ruled that their actions were justified because their religious sensibilities had been offended.
Now, prosecutors have turned the tables by charging Sakharov Center Director Yurii Samodurov, exhibition organizer Lyudmila Vasilovskaya, and artist Anna Mikhalchuk under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code. The article outlaws actions that "incite ethnic, racial, or religious hatred."
The prosecutor, speaking at the trial's opening on 15 June, said the exhibition "insulted and humiliated the national dignity of a great number of believers." The three could face up to five years' imprisonment if convicted.
Democracy groups have expressed outrage over the prosecutor. The Sakharov Center posted an open letter on the Internet that recalls the center's advocacy work for human rights, including work on cases involving issues of religious freedom.
Samodurov told the court 15 June that the exhibition's message has been twisted and misunderstood by its detractors: "The name of the exhibition, 'Caution: Religion,' has two meanings. It is a call for people to take care of religion, to respect it and respect believers, and also a warning sign when we are dealing with religious fundamentalism, whether it be Islamic fundamentalism or Orthodox fundamentalism. None of the materials presented contained any other message, so I do not understand why we are accused of the motives mentioned by the prosecutor."
Others, such as activist Lev Ponomarev, head of the NGO For Human Rights, say the trial has only served to confirm the exhibition's warning about the dangers of fundamentalism and of politicizing religion. He noted that prosecutors brought the charges against the Sakharov Center staffers after receiving thousands of petitions collected by ultraconservative members of the Orthodox Church. Their aim, he said, is to turn Russia into an explicitly Orthodox country, an ambition that contradicts the constitution. That the state is helping them further this ideology is something he finds deeply disturbing. "This would be laughable if it weren't so sad," he said. "Radical elements in the church want our state to become Orthodox, even though our constitution forbids this."
Defense lawyer Yurii Shmidt says he hopes the judge in the case will be guided by Russia's constitution and uphold the freedom of expression it guarantees, as well as the secular nature of the Russian state. He cautions against linking Orthodoxy with Russian ethnicity, as the prosecution has done in the charges it has brought. "This case concerns fundamental human rights," Shmidt told RFE/RL. "I have no doubt that it will turn into a huge mark of shame for Russia if a guilty verdict is rendered."
That is not the view of the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy. Father Mikhail Dudko of the church's department for external relations told RFE/RL that the church is not responsible for the case, and he rejects accusations by those who see the trial as an attempt by the Orthodox clergy to score political points. "The trial of the museum workers has not come at our initiative," Dudko said. "It is the initiative of the prosecutor's office and this cannot be interpreted as a trial of the church versus the Sakharov Museum. It is a trial of the state versus the Sakharov Museum."
Nevertheless, Dudko makes no secret that the church hierarchy does not object to the trial, having been deeply offended by the exhibition. A guilty verdict, he implies, might not be a bad thing. "Of course, [the exhibition] offended us and it offended us deeply," Dudko said. "Of course, we believe that something similar must not occur again. But I repeat that a state that tries to promote harmony in religious affairs, that tries to ensure that all citizens -- regardless of faith -- feel comfortable, must of course take steps to ensure this happens. In our view, the trial reflects the legal right of the state to conduct its religious policy and it could well serve as a lesson to those people who are fostering tensions in the religious affairs of our country." (Jeremy Bransten)
RUSSIA'S DEFEATED LIBERALS MULL MERGING WITH PARTY OF POWER.
When members of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) gather on 26 June for a party congress just outside Moscow, one likely subject for discussion is a possible merger with the right wing of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. Boris Nadezhdin, secretary of the party's presidium, raised the issue on 19 June at a meeting of the party's Moscow Oblast branch. According to Nadezhdin, Kremlin political strategists would perhaps support the creation of an electoral bloc composed of SPS and Unified Russia's "right wing," "Gazeta" reported on 21 June.
Nadezhdin's statement sparked considerable skepticism within the SPS. Leonid Gozman, head of the party Creative Council, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 June that such a union is hardly possible since Unified Russia's right wing is more virtual than real. The same day, Gozman told Ekho Moskvy that any union between "such a monster and our party, which failed to show good results at the elections," would in reality be more like a "takeover" than a marriage of equals. "I am absolutely sure that we will never do that," he said. Former party co-leader Boris Nemtsov told Interfax that Unified Russia has neither a right nor a left wing and can maintain its popularity only so long as the president's rating remains high.
Writing on politcom.ru on 21 June, analyst Georgii Kovalev reported that Nadezhdin also used the 19 June meeting to launch his own claim to leadership of the party. Nadezhdin stated at the meeting that "[former SPS co-leader Anatolii] Chubais is not ready to head the party and there is no other leader of his stature," according to politcom.ru. He added that Nemtsov and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov are likely candidates, but if new candidates are desirable, then he is "ready to participate in the process" himself.
Kovalev predicted that while the leadership issue will probably not be raised at the congress, the idea of joining the Unified Russia's "right flank" will certainly be discussed. According to Kovalev, Chubais is seen as the party's informal leader, and the majority of SPS members do not view Nadezhdin's ambitions positively. However, a "soft incorporation of the right into the structure of the pro-presidential party will definitely be on the agenda," in part because SPS represents business interests that "under current conditions would not find it profitable to be in conflict with the authorities."
So far, the response from Unified Russia to Nadezhdin's idea has been guardedly positive. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Deputy Duma Speaker and Unified Russia Supreme Council member Vyacheslav Volodin called the idea "sensible." "It is no surprise that a section of the center-right in SPS can see a great deal in common with itself and Unified Russia's party platform," Volodin said. Last month, other members of Unified Russia's Duma faction -- including Andrei Isaev, Gennadii Gudkov, and Oleg Morozov -- raised the issue of splitting the party into right- and left-wing factions.
The topic of breaking up the party of power has also been the subject of a number of articles in the Russian press. "Itogi," No. 23, reported -- citing unidentified Kremlin sources -- that the presidential administration plans to split the party up. According to the weekly, the idea of creating a right-wing group in the Duma by drawing some members from United Russia was seriously discussed immediately after the December elections to compensate for the absence of the defeated Yabloko and SPS. But party leaders reportedly decided instead to enjoy their new dominance in the Duma and not create different factions from their 300-plus members.
However, by the 2007 elections, "Itogi" suggested, "the semi-disintegration of Unified Russia is dictated by several reasons." The main one, according to the weekly, is that by the next elections, there might simply be no one to compete with the "ruling party" -- which "does not suit the president's multiparty-system agenda." Another reason is that "many deputies elected from single-mandate districts who have joined United Russia faction do not feel very comfortable there because they have no real opportunities to lobby their local interests."
In an article on politcom.ru on 26 May, analyst Tatyana Stanovaya suggested that Unified Russia might not be big enough to house all of the egos and diverging ambitions of its members. She noted that "in such a large faction that brings together extremely diverse people, many of whom were previously independent political figures, the problem of distributing power in such a way that these political figures acquire fitting status and do not feel 'downgraded' is a timely one." According to Stanovaya, it "is not even a question of a struggle for power within the faction but of seeking some kind of unique project for [former members] to head and, in the context of which, to obtain at least a modicum of autonomy."
Despite the obvious appeal of forming separate parties from the point of view of individual Duma deputies, some political analysts are skeptical that the presidential administration has any interest in seeing the Unified Russia party or faction split into smaller units. Sergei Markelov, director of the Mark Communications political-consulting group, told "Izvestiya" on 27 May that the presidential administration will not support attempts to break up Unified Russia.
Dmitrii Orlov, head of the Political and Economic Communications Agency, agreed. "I'm sure these statements are not authorized by the leaders of the party," Orlov told "Izvestiya." "Measures aimed at separating platforms were logical up to the mid-1990s. Now, when power is being consolidated, this is not necessary. Such attempts can only lead to internal fractures within Unified Russia." Along these same lines, "Gazeta" opined on 21 June that while it is well known that the Kremlin is interested in having an intellectually sound right-wing group in the Duma, it is less clear whether it would be "happy to break up the already amorphous Unified Russia." "Such a merger would be beneficial for the right-wing leaders, who would get a chance to occupy some Duma posts," the daily noted, "but the prospects for the party [itself] would be [dim]." (Julie A. Corwin)
COMINGS & GOINGS
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov signed on 16 June an order dismissing Ivan Kamenskii and Anatolii Kotelnikov as deputy atomic energy ministers and naming them deputy directors of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, RosBalt reported on 18 June and "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 June. Fradkov also dismissed Igor Slyunyaev as first deputy transportation minister. There are now only two deputy transportation ministers -- Sergei Aristov and Aleksandr Misharin.
23-25 June: Six-country talks on North Korea's nuclear program will be held in Beijing
24 June: The cabinet will examine issue of redistributing property rights over educational, health-care, and cultural facilities among the federal, regional, and municipal levels of government
24 June: Moscow Arbitration Court will hold hearing on the compulsory liquidation of Sodbiznesbank
24 June: Norilsk Nickel will hold a shareholders meeting in Moscow
24-25 June: Parliamentary assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union will hold a session in Brest
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 acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev is expected to announce its verdict
30 June-2 July: Financial Action Task Force will meet in Paris
Early July: British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will visit Russia
July: Russia and the United States will hold bilateral negotiations on Russia's possible 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 "Strategies for Regional Development" will be held in Kirov
2 July: State Duma will consider introducing monetary compensation for in-kind social benefits in its first reading
2 July: The Audit Chamber will hold a session examining the results of privatization over the last 10 years
2-4 July: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit Seoul
3 July: Communist Party congress will be held to elect new leadership
3 July: Yabloko will hold its 12th party congress
3 July: The Motherland party headed by Dmitrii Rogozin will hold a party congress in Moscow
4 July: Vladivostok will hold mayoral election
6 July: Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian will visit Moscow
6-10 July: International weapons exhibition in Nizhnii Tagil
10 July: State Duma will end its spring session
12 July: Hearing of the case against former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev to resume
21 July: Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot will visit Russia
31 July: State Duma will hold a special 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 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
20 September: The State Duma's fall session will begin
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
29 December: State Duma's fall session will come to a close
March 2005: Gubernatorial election in Saratov Oblast