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Russia Report: July 7, 2004

7 July 2004, Volume 4, Number 26
With recent events from the Duma's record-setting adoption of a controversial draft law on referendums to the acquittal -- for the second time -- of the officers accused of the 1994 murder of investigative journalists to the purported ongoing campaign against unruly oligarchs, the topic of whither Putin's Russia has once again gained urgency. RFE/RL turned to University of Kent professor of Russian and European politics Richard Sakwa, who heads the university's Department of Politics and International Relations, for some opinions and perspectives. Sakwa is the author of numerous books on Soviet and Russian politics. He recently completed a political biography of President Vladimir Putin entitled "Putin: Russia's Choice" (Routledge, 2004). (Robert Coalson)

RFE/RL: You and other political scientists have spoken about "legitimate nondemocratic regimes" -- that is, "governments that enjoy internal legitimacy but are not democratic," to use your words. Could you say a few words about this in the Russian context? How, if not through free and fair elections, is such legitimacy generated, maintained, and challenged? Also, in Russia, do you see a legitimate nondemocratic regime as a long-term reality that the world and the Russian public should accept or as a transitional moment in the development toward a democratic form of government?

SAKWA: There has been much discussion of this in the context of the resurgence in popularity of the 1960s model of developmental states and the residual interest in the authoritarian East Asian model of development. Authors such as Fareed Zakaria trace the development of constitutional states and argue that constitutionalism without democracy provides the firmest base for later democratization. He labels the intermediary stage "illiberal democracy." The late Paul Hirst of Birkbeck College, London, also raised the question about the legitimacy of regimes that can deliver certain public goods -- and security (national and personal) is certainly one of them -- while not formally living up to international norms of democracy.

In the Russian context, my point ultimately is that this is not the model that is appropriate for development today. To accept that President Vladimir Putin's government is pursuing a strategy of authoritarian modernization means missing much about what his leadership is about. In my view, at the very heart of the regime's self-identity is the attempt precisely to get away from traditional models of development from above. There is undoubtedly an element of political dirigisme in the system, although the notion of "managed democracy" exaggerates the degree to which the regime has been able to dominate politics. However, dirigisme in Russia is probably not much more intense, taking into account differences in the level of societal development, than in France in the 1960s.

As for the economy, the Kremlin's view clearly is that the government should govern -- and thus the attempt to reduce the oligarchic element in Russian capitalism -- while at the same time allowing a liberal normative framework for the economy to develop. This is apparent in the commitment to joining the World Trade Organization and in the encouragement (however fitful) of the development of the small-business sector. From my recent visit to Tomsk it is clear that the encouragement of entrepreneurship has met with considerable success. According to some reports, small businesses now provide 90 percent of the tax revenues in Tomsk, up from a negligible base just four years ago.

In short, the application of the authoritarian developmental model to Russia would be to concede once again that the society is not ripe for democracy. This is something that is more often asserted than proved. There is much unclear talk about the low development of civil society in Russia. What is clear is that the civic-associative element in public life is greatly underdeveloped. Undoubtedly, Russia's democratization process is far from complete and at certain points has met with reverses (as with the continuing power of regional authoritarian regimes, and the ability of the Kremlin to intervene rather too effectively in the electoral process), but the overall trend is still probably toward democracy.

RFE/RL: Some analysts have expressed concern, even alarm at the large and increasing penetration of the so-called siloviki into all levels of political and economic life under the administration of President Putin. "Izvestiya" predicted recently that in Putin's second term, this phenomenon will continue, especially in the business sector and that, as a result, economic life will become as "alternativeless" as political life has become. As far as I understand, you take a more sanguine view of this phenomenon. What is your opinion?

SAKWA: The role of the siloviki in Putin's administration has probably been exaggerated. Although in numerical terms -- in particular in the staffs of the presidential envoys to the federal districts -- their presence is significant, this does not mean that they are in the driving seat when it comes to policy. The anti-oligarch campaign has been construed as the revenge of the security apparatus, but this is misleading. A whole series of factors prompted the attack on [former Yukos CEO Mikhail] Khodorkovskii and his company.

As for the continuing moves toward the deoligarchization of the economy, this is something that any government sooner or later would have had to face. While this campaign might have been selective, it has been far from arbitrary. The composition of [Prime Minister Mikhail] Fradkov's government clearly demonstrates the predominance of economic liberals, while the make-up of the presidential administration, above all the appointment of Dmitrii Medvedev as administration head, does not suggest the consolidation of the power of the security apparatus. The siloviki are undoubtedly an element in Putin's government, but there is no evidence that their voice is decisive in any key area of policy, from the economy, foreign policy, and regional issues -- even in Chechnya, where we know the security apparatus has had grave misgivings over Putin's policy of the "Chechenization" of the conflict. The broader question is Putin's own preferences, and I think it is now clear that his political personality is far more complex than some would like to think -- that once a KGB man, always a KGB man. Putin's leadership has always been bigger than this.

As for the lack of alternatives in the political system, this is undoubtedly a problem. I am not sure about the degree to which responsibility for this can be laid at the regime's door. Organized liberalism basically self-destructed in the December 2003 Duma elections, despite Putin's attempts to ensure that Yabloko managed to cross the 5 percent representation threshold. The Communist Party has not been much better, having got themselves stuck in a very deep ideological hole, and with a leadership under [Gennadii] Zyuganov that simply has not been able to respond to the developments in society and the aspirations of the mass of the people. One only has to read the election manifestos of Yabloko and the Communist Party to see how intellectually bankrupt they had become.

As for the Union of Rightist Forces [SPS], their manifesto was a brilliant intellectual treatise on patterns of modernization in a comparative context -- written in the language of a Moscow intellectual sipping a Bacardi and Coke by the swimming pool of a "cottage" owned by a banker-friend in the Moscow countryside. This was hardly likely to wow the voters in Peoria, let alone in Ivanovo! With an opposition like this, it's not surprising that voters plumped for Putin.

At least this option offered a coherent developmental program and prevented a more dangerous populist-nationalist movement from coming to power as the genuine alternative to Russia's fitful move toward democracy and a market economy since the early 1990s. At the same time, the moves undertaken since the electoral defeats in the 2003-04 electoral cycle toward creating a united democratic front, including Garri Kasparov's Free Choice-2008 initiative, are crucial in ensuring at least a degree of political pluralism in the system.

RFE/RL: A related question, do you think it was a mistake that Russia never passed a lustration law or even seriously debated this issue? After all, now people are speculating about the possible KGB connections of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, newly named broadcast-licensing chief Boris Boyarskov, or the suddenly popular talking head Stanislav Belkovskii. This seems to come up every time a new face appears on the political scene....

SAKWA: The adoption of a lustration law in the early 1990s, or even later, in Russian conditions would have been disastrous. We know that dissidents such as Vladimir Bukovskii, in particular during the time that he acted as an adviser during the trial of the Communist Party in 1992, urgently called for drastic de-communization measures. However, this would have served to polarize society and could well have provoked violence, if not outright civil war. An evolutionary exit from communism was the only viable option. The positive side of this is that the services of many talented people were made available to the new regime. More important than this, such an evolutionary change of regime type meant that for perhaps the first time in Russian history such a change of system took place largely peacefully.

The new "democratic" regime repudiated not only the ideology of the Lenin-Stalin system, however decayed it may have become under [Communist Party General Secretary Leonid] Brezhnev and reformed under [Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev, but also its forms of action. As I have argued elsewhere, 1991 represented not a counterrevolution, something that too often mimics the behavioral pattern of the revolution that it rejects, but a normatively different anti-revolution, repudiating the very logic of revolution itself. The suggestion that [former President Boris] Yeltsin's government was simply "Bolshevism in reverse" is misleading, although Yeltsin personally behaved rather like a communist boss of old.

There is of course a downside to this. The old system may have fallen, but the same old bureaucrats sit in the same offices making life miserable for the same poor citizens. Even worse, without the fear of the repressive state apparatus of the old order and the political exhortations of the Communist Party, these bureaucrats, militia officials, and newly enriched bourgeoisie became corrupt and self-serving. In the regions many an old party boss became president of a republic or head of an oblast and continued as before with even greater freedom. It is this that Putin tried to rein in with his reform of the federal system in 2000, although there is no doubt that he lacks an effective theoretical model of federalism and instead adopted a neo-Jacobin model of republican state building.

While the lack of de-communization may have allowed the worst traits of bureaucracy to flourish, it has not destroyed the normative platform on which anticorruption struggles could be launched. These to date have been partial, but analytically we can see that there remains part of the state that remains autonomous of corrupt social forces. At a certain point this part of the state will seek to overcome the baneful legacies of a degraded Soviet-type bureaucratism.

At the same time, the lack of lustration laws should not have prevented the investigation of specific crimes of the past, where evidence could well have been collected and individuals accused of provable crimes against humanity taken to court. The work of the commission [of former Politburo member Aleksandr] Yakovlev on rehabilitations is a type of ersatz lustration process, but its remit is far too narrow. The lack of access to the archives on sensitive aspects of the Soviet past is greatly to be regretted. Only a full and honest discussion of the past will allow Russia to live comfortably with its present.

RFE/RL: You have had some harsh criticism for Russia's liberal leaders for the collapse of the liberal parties in the 7 December State Duma elections, particularly for Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. Given the political realities in Russia, what could or should Yavlinskii and the others have done to produce a different outcome? What exactly do you fault them for? As long as Russia is a legitimate nondemocratic regime, do party politics really matter anyway?

SAKWA: We have touched on this above. The key point is that the liberal parties, as [former SPS co-leader Boris] Nemtsov and other sensible liberal leaders had been arguing throughout 2003, should have united. This unity could have taken different forms, but in the December 2003 elections there should have been only one list from the liberal democrats. At the same time, there is no doubt that there were major programmatic divergences between the SPS and Yabloko, and they appealed in part to different electorates. This should not be taken as a reason not to unite, but precisely welcomed as broadening the appeal of a united democratic party. The Labor Party in Britain appeals to very wide, and to some degree mutually incompatible, constituencies, and the same is the case with the Democratic Party in the United States.

As for the role of parties in the political system, all modern democracies are representative democracies, and the mechanism of representation is the political party. Although the media to some extent act as the functional equivalent of parties, it cannot usurp its role in the political process. Russia will be a party democracy or it will be nothing -- hence the importance of a new crop of revived parties, with renewed programs and leaderships, emerging in time for the next electoral cycle in 2007-8.

State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov (independent) and local businessman Vladimir Nikolaev will compete in the second round of mayoral elections in Vladivostok on 25 July, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2004). In the first round held on 4 July, Nikolaev got the most votes with 26.85 percent compared with 26.35 percent for his closest competitor, Cherepkov. Turnout was unexpectedly high at 42 percent of eligible voters. According to "Izvestiya" on 6 July, incumbent Mayor Yurii Kopylov, who finished third, complained about violations of election law by Nikolaev on election day. According to the mayoral administration's press service, cheap fish and sausages were being sold from a vehicle bearing Nikolaev's campaign slogan.

Nikolaev's attempts to win support attracted numerous complaints during the campaign, which was marked by violence. Cherepkov was struck in the face by a homeless man during a public meeting, while various campaign workers were beaten up. Suspicion has focused on Nikolaev, whose criminal world moniker is allegedly "Winnie the Pooh" and who allegedly served under the late mafia boss Sergei Baulo. In 1999, Nikolaev was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for hooliganism and threatening to kill a local politician, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 1 July.

Local krai legislator and author of the book "Organized Crime in the [Russian] Far East" Nikolai Markovtsev told RFE/RL that local businessmen have told him that they will have to leave the area if Nikolaev is elected, because "a redistribution of property will begin, and possibly with gunfire." Markovtsev, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer, also charged that Nikolaev threatened in front of witnesses to kill him if he spoke out again on the legislature's floor against the krai administration. Nikolaev is considered a protege of Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin.

Local analysts told "Trud" on 1 July that the basic conflict in the election during the lead-up to the first round was between two groups in the local elite: the old elite that was formed around former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko and the new elite that has emerged around incumbent Governor Darkin. The old elite reportedly supported Kopylov, and the new elite supported Nikolaev. "Russian Regional Report" on 23 June argued that Darkin has been under heavy pressure to withdraw his support for Nikolaev. After a trip to Moscow at the beginning of June, Darkin held a press conference in Vladivostok at which he said President Putin does not support Nikolaev. Darkin then quickly left town again for a business trip to China, "Russian Regional Report" reported on 8 June.

Over the next two weeks, Kremlin officials may want to weigh in more decisively in favor of one candidate. However, deciding who to support won't be easy. During the 2001 gubernatorial elections in Primorskii Krai, the Kremlin wound up supporting Darkin in the second round over Cherepkov, who is known locally as an eccentric, recalcitrant iconoclast. At the time, Darkin -- like Nikolaev -- was also alleged to have ties to the local criminal world. (Julie A. Corwin)

This week and last, opposition political parties held congresses, and the result for the largest opposition party, the Communist Party of Russia (KPRF), was potentially devastating. A group of party members supporting long-time leader Gennadii Zyuganov held a congress on 3 July, while a group that opposes him and is led by State Duma Deputy Gennadii Semigin held its own session on the same day in a different part of Moscow. During the lead-up to the congress, the opposing camps also held competing plenums (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 2 July 2004).

Three days after the congresses, the Russian Justice Ministry was still undecided regarding how to register the separate resolutions of the competing groups' congresses. Each of the parties must submit materials concerning their congresses to the ministry within three months, and the ministry in turn must record a verdict within one month, according to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 6 July. Central Committee presidium secretary Viktor Peshkov told "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 July that the party is facing a "long legal investigation into which congress was more legitimate."

Delegates at the pro-Zyuganov congress reelected Zyuganov, 60, while delegates at the opposing congress selected Ivanovo Oblast Governor Vladimir Tikhanov, 59, as the party's new leader. Zyuganov had to read his speech by a pocket flashlight in a semi-darkened hall due to a mysterious electricity shortage, Interfax reported. However, other rooms in the same hotel complex did not experience any electrical problems, according to on 5 July.

Meanwhile, the alternative congress was shrouded in mystery if not darkness. Asked why journalists were not invited to the anti-Zyuganov congress and its location kept secret, State Duma Deputy Sergei Potapov said that they did not have sufficient funds to rent a large enough space, according to "Moskovskii komsomolets." Aleksei Markakin of the Center for Political Technology suggested on that the absence of journalists at the congress convened by Semigin, who is a long-time rival of Zyuganov, could be evidence that the congress had a problem with having a sufficient quorum of delegates.

The Yabloko party held a much quieter congress on the same day as the Communists. Grigorii Yavlinskii was reelected as party leader with 190 votes, while 59 votes were cast for Yurii Kuznetsov, the head of the Sverdlovsk Oblast's Yabloko party branch. Kuznetsov favors forming a tighter association with the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). Yavlinskii, however, made it clear from his report to the party that he did not favor such an alliance. According to Yavlinskii, the party made three major mistakes during the 2003 State Duma election, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 July. One, Yabloko should have more sharply distanced itself from the SPS. Two, it should not have taken money from oligarchs such as former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii. And, three, it did not adequately explain to voters its attitude toward President Putin.

Three days later, on 6 July, the Motherland party too held its congress. Like the Communists, the Motherland party also faced a splinter group that wanted the name Motherland for itself. In February, Sergei Glazev, co-chairman of the Motherland bloc, tried to form his own separate party with the name Motherland-People's Patriotic Union without his Motherland bloc co-Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin. However, Rogozin also formed a party named Motherland based on the Russian Regions party and managed to register with the Justice Ministry before Glazev's party did (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2004). Glazev's party is now called For A Decent Life, but even with its new name, he has not yet managed to register it with the Justice Ministry.

The Motherland party delegates voted unanimously to elect Rogozin, the only candidate for the post, as their leader. They selected State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Babakov for the post of chairman of the party's presidium, and Yurii Skokov as secretary of its political council. Oleg Bondarenko, who previously headed the youth branch of the Communist Party, has joined Motherland's political council, reported on 6 July. According to the website, Bondarenko plans to continue the practice of staging "political shows," and in a few days will fly to London to organize a Motherland protest in front of Boris Berezovskii's residence.

With the Communist Party preoccupied with leadership struggles, the Motherland party with Rogozin at its head may be able to lure voters from the ranks of the Communists. Already, Rogozin has declared his party's opposition to the government's plan to reform the system of social benefits. And a recent ROMIR poll found that this reform is the least popular of any undertaken since Putin took office. (Julie A. Corwin)

IN: Vladimir Kulistikov was appointed general director of NTV on 5 July, replacing Nikolai Senkevich, who was named general director of Gazprom-Media. Senkevich replaces Aleksandr Dybal, who was named chairman of the board of directors for Gazprom-Media. Kulistikov was most recently deputy chairman of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company, and he also served as head of NTV's new service from 1997 to 2000.

PROMOTED: Aleksandr Zherikov has been named chairman of the Federal Customs Service, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 July. He previously worked as deputy chairman of the service's predecessor organization, the State Customs Committee.

6-10 July: International weapons exhibition in Nizhnii Tagil

8 July: German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to meet with President Putin in Moscow

10 July: State Duma will consider in its second reading a package of legislation reforming the housing market

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

12-15 August: BMW Russian Open Golf Tournament in Moscow

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 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.