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Russia Report: January 17, 2003

17 January 2003, Volume 3, Number 3
By Alexander Nudelman

This week, Unified Russia's General Council met to consider changes in the party's regulations. A final decision on the matter was postponed until the party's next congress at the end of March, at which point the outcome of the current struggle for power within the party may become clearer. In December 2003, Russia's latest party of power is seeking to match, if not exceed, the gains of its predecessor, Unity, during the last State Duma elections. To lead the new party into battle, a new man has been tapped: Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov. Gryzlov was named the chairman of the High Council of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party on 20 November. It remains unclear whether or not he will be able to combine the post of interior minister with that of a party apparatchik, since Russian law prohibits state officials from becoming members of a political party. It is also unclear whether a stronger, more cohesive party will emerge following a change of leadership.

The official explanation for Gryzlov's appointment was that his leadership would contribute to Unified Russia's expected election success during the parliamentary elections of 2003. Some analysts and party officials also believe that Gryzlov will bring more order and discipline to Unified Russia. But the main reason for Gryzlov's appointment seems to be the desire of one faction within Unified Russia to check the influence of another. In addition, Gryzlov's appointment reflects the Kremlin's growing disappointment with Aleksandr Bespalov, the chairman of Unified Russia's General Council.

Both Bespalov and Gryzlov hail from St. Petersburg and are closely associated with the so-called St. Petersburg "chekisty." Bespalov has reportedly maintained close personal relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin for many years. According to, Bespalov was one of Putin's colleagues at the St. Petersburg regional office of the KGB. And when Putin was working in the St. Petersburg administration under Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, Bespalov headed the public relations office there, according to In the winter of 2001, Bespalov became the chairman of Unified Russia's General Council (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 3 December 2001). In addition to having close ties with Putin, Bespalov also has a close relationship with Igor Sechin, deputy chief of the presidential administration and leader of the "chekisty" clan, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 16 November. However, Gryzlov is probably closer to Putin than is Bespalov (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 16 April 2001). Gryzlov is known as one of Putin's closest and most faithful colleagues, according to,, and other specialized political websites. He has never worked within secret services officially, but has been closely linked with them. Within Putin's circle, Gryzlov has the nickname "grizzly," a fitting moniker for the leader of the party that was once also known as "Medved" or bear.

Unified Russia is currently divided into three competing clans or factions. One is led by Bespalov. Another is led by Yevgenii Trofimov, the deputy chairman of Unified Russia's Executive Committee, and was created by some of the former members of the Our Home is Russia (NDR) party, which was the party of power under President Boris Yeltsin, "Argumenty I Fakty" reported on 20 November. The third grouping is composed of proteges of Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, according to and other websites. Until now, Bespalov's clan has been the dominant one within the party, and his people have succeeded in obtaining complete control over the party's finances. This has been particularly irritating for Surkov who, as a powerful member of presidential administration, was among the main promoters of Gryzlov's appointment to head Unified Russia's High Council. Surkov reportedly hopes that with Gryzlov's assistance, his people will succeed in taking control of Unified Russia's financial and organizational policy.

Surkov's push to replace Bespalov found a receptive audience in the Kremlin, in part because Putin himself has reportedly been disappointed with Bespalov's performance as the head of Unified Russia's General Council.

There have been allegations that Bespalov has been involved in the misappropriation of Unified Russia's abundant finances, according to In addition, his frequent suggestion that President Putin become a formal member of the party has irritated Kremlin officials, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 November.

Unified Russia's ruling structure is strangely shaped, with four top committees rather than just one. This may be because the party was based on three existing parties, Unity, Fatherland, and All-Russia. In addition to the General Council and the Executive Committee, both of which Bespalov heads, there is also the High Council, which Gryzlov heads, and the Central Political Council. Unified Russia also has three co-chairmen: Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzkov, and Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev. Until now, Bespalov's General Council had been the first among equals, and Bespalov's clan was the strongest within the party, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," grani. ru, and other websites. With Gryzlov's appointment, it is not unreasonable to expect that the High Council will become the most powerful body within Unified Russia and the General Council led by Bespalov will be relegated to playing a secondary role. Bespalov has, in effect, been demoted, but Putin, is unlikely to dismiss him because such a move would increase Surkov's influence over the party's affairs in a dangerous way. Unified Russia is therefore likely to remain a conglomerate of the various clans led by Surkov, Bespalov, and Trofimov. The possible emergence of a new clan led by Gryzlov should also not be ruled out.

Although he may try to impose a firmer hand, Gryzlov lacks the political independence to subordinate all of the competing clans of Unified Russia to his will. And as this year's parliamentary elections draw nearer, the struggle between these clans is likely to intensify. According to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 16 November, Unified Russia's preliminary party lists have already been drawn up, and Russia's strongest political clans and oligarchic groups are trying to insert their candidates before the lists are finalized. The daily alleges that the base "price" of a place on one of these lists is at least $1 million. As the struggle to shape the party lists continues against the background of a clan struggle, the tension and confusion already discernible in the party will only increase, making it more amorphous than it is already.

Alexander Nudelman is a political analyst specializing in Russia and other post-Soviet countries for the Paris-based consulting company Europe Analyse.

Russia's leading political parties apparently maintain different lists of party members -- one for the media and public consumption, one for the Justice Ministry, and a third for internal use, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 January. And the differences among these lists can be marked. Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), for example, informed the Justice Ministry that it has 19,100 members nationally, while it tells the media it has 600,000 members. The Communist Party says that it has 500,000 members, but has registered with the Justice Ministry with only 19,300. According to the daily, there is an entire department at the ministry devoted to comparing the declared number of party members with independently acquired data. In theory, large discrepancies can be a basis for refusing to register a party, but the head of the department for registering pubic and religious organizations, Galina Fokina, told the daily no declaration has ever been turned down for this reason. JAC

Party_________Members________Members___Party cards
_________as told to press___as told to Just.
Unified Russia________257,000_____________19,600_____________50,000
Liberal Democratic_____600,000____________19,100______________475,000
People's Party_________81,400_____________39,300______________64,000
Agrarian Party________100,000_____________41,500______________100,000
Party of Russia's Rebirth_40,000_____________n/a__________________n/a
Union of Rightist Forces_20,000__________14,600_______________10,000
Party of Life__________15,000______________11,600________________n/a
Social-Democratic Party_30,000______________12,700_______________30,000

n/a= not available

Source: "Nezavisimaya gazeta," 13 January 2003

In an article in "Vremya MN" on 18 September, sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya characterizes the chief differences between the country's ruling elite under President Putin and those that existed under former President Yeltsin and Soviet leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Leonid Brezhnev. According to Kryshtanovskaya, the proportion of intellectuals and women in the elite has decreased, while the numbers coming from the regions and the military have increased. For example, at the deputy-minister level, almost 35 percent of those appointed between 2000 and 2002 were former military or intelligence officials. And a number of these officials have landed in economic ministries: there are four former military officials working as deputy ministers at the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, three at the Communications Ministry, and two each at the Transport, Media, Property Relations, Justice, and Tax ministries. Kryshtanovskaya writes that "between 2000-2002 the new authorities worked hard to create not only an administrative vertical but also an administrative horizontal, as the highest officers in the second and third tiers in the power structure form the country's basic cadre reserve at all levels of political and economic administration." She also notes that the role of the military and intelligence services in forming not only Putin's team but also a support group has been "extraordinary." Putin "has managed not only to strengthen the center, but also to create a group of bureaucrats committed to him personally." JAC

Structure of the Higher Leadership of the Country, 1981-2002, in percentage of members of group:

________Soviet Politburo________Yeltsin________Putin
____________________________Sec. Council___Sec. Council
Total members___21_________21_________14_______28________24
Leaders, members
of the govt_____19.0_________26.6_______50.0_____39.3________8.3
'Silovki' and
Leaders of
Scientific reps___0____________0__________0_________3.6______4.2

Source: "Vremya MN," 18 September

St. Petersburg's legislature reconfirmed on 15 January Sergei Mironov as its representative to the Federation Council. Mironov is the council's chairman.

14-20 January: Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes will visit Russia

16 January: Israel Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharanskii will visit Moscow

16 January: Armenian President Robert Kocharian will visit Moscow

17 January: Tverskoi Raion court in Moscow will hear lawsuits of former hostages and family members of those that died in the Moscow theater takeover in October

22-24 January: U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will visit Moscow

23 January: The Ussuriisk City Court will hold a hearing on the possible early release of former military journalist Grigorii Pasko from prison

26 January: Gubernatorial elections will take place in Taimyr Autonomous Okrug

30 January: IMF mission scheduled to visit Moscow to evaluate the development of Russia's economy

End of January: Date by which the issue of whether Colonel General Gennadii Troshev will resign from the Armed Forces will be resolved, according to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 5 January

Early February: President Putin will visit Paris

1 February: New Labor Code will come into effect

1 February: New Civil Procedure Code will come into effect

2 February: Gubernatorial elections will be held in Magadan Oblast to replace Valentin Tsvetkov, who was assassinated in Moscow in October

4 February: President Putin to attend opening ceremony of the Year of Russian Culture in Berlin

16 February: Elections will be held in the Republic of Mordovia to elect the head of the republic (not called a president under republican law)

February: Labor Ministry expected to submit to the government a list of jobs to which young men seeking to perform alternative service (as opposed to military service) could be assigned

February: NATO-Russia Council will hold conference in Rome

4-5 February: An all-Russia conference on "Information Security in Russia in a Global Information Society" will be held in Moscow

27-28 February: The Union of the People of Chechnya movement will meet in Moscow, State Duma Deputy Aslanbek Aslakhanov announced on 18 December

23 March: A referendum will be held in Chechnya on the republic's draft constitution and draft laws on the election of the president and parliament

29 March: Unified Russia party will hold a congress

May: St. Petersburg will celebrate the 300th anniversary of its founding