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Russia Report: February 13, 2003

13 February 2003, Volume 3, Number 7
The media's attention to Russia's political parties has increased dramatically as the December State Duma elections approach and parties scramble to register with the Justice Ministry. Each twist and turn in efforts to form a coalition between Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces has been laboriously documented (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January and 3 and 4 February 2003). Likewise, the ups and downs of popular support for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party have been the subject of much debate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). However, a recent paper by a U.S.-based academic argues that the traditional emphasis on political parties, particularly during the run-up to Duma elections, is misplaced. Pennsylvania State University's Regina Smyth argues that during the past three State Duma election campaigns, analysts on both sides of the Atlantic made wildly incorrect predictions regarding the outcomes by basing their analyses on party organizations (see

Smyth's research found that it is not parties, but candidates, who structure election competitions. Parties by and large function as bystanders, while individual candidates decide where and how to run for office and what factors to emphasize in their campaigns. "Rather than operating to shape the set of candidates who run under the party banner, placing candidates in nominal districts and constructing a party list, party leaders appear to take what they can get as candidates pursue their individual interests," Smyth writes. She also found that candidates with strong political ambitions or access to alternative campaign resources generally do not join parties. Candidates who do join parties often choose to maximize their independence within the organization.

Smyth concludes that the current party of power, Unified Russia, "does not need to win the election in order for the Kremlin to win." All Putin needs is the consistent support of approximately half of the deputies elected on party lists, together with the support of independents elected in single-mandate districts, she writes. Although Smyth does not point this out, the fact that the Kremlin lends its support not only to the official party of power but to other centrist "opposition" parties such as Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev's Party of Russia's Rebirth and the Union of Rightist Forces would seem to support her conclusions.

Thomas Remington, chairman of the political science department at Emory University, cautions that the study of political parties in the Russian context is not completely irrelevant. Parties still matter because they are a mechanism by which voters can express their preferences. Also, lawmakers in the Duma do make decisions that are based on what is in their party's interest. But parties do not control the executive branch in Russia and as such, they can make only limited promises about policies they might be powerless to implement. It's the executive branch or the Kremlin -- not the parties or the candidates -- that ultimately calls the shots. (Julie A. Corwin)

By Alexander Nudelman

President Vladimir Putin's attempts to strengthen the centralized hierarchical system of bureaucratic power by creating a so-called "power vertical" have not been entirely successful. A key part of this reform was the May 2000 overhaul of the system of presidential envoys, or "polpredy," in the regions and the division of the 89 federation subjects into seven federal districts. So far, there are at least two reasons to conclude that presidential administration officials, the architects of this reform, are disappointed with the results.

First, the seven envoys have not been given any additional powers beyond the narrow set of responsibilities outlined in the May 2000 presidential decree. The envoys have not been given the power to oversee the flow of budgetary monies to the regions, despite periodic media reports suggesting that this was imminent.

Second, the set of bills reforming local government that was authored by the presidential commission headed by deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak does not even mention the office of the presidential envoys. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 February 2002 that the Kozak reforms would enumerate the powers of the envoys. According to the daily, the envoys themselves suggested that their administrations assume the powers of regional representations of the federal government, and the Kremlin -- including Putin -- reportedly endorsed this idea. Now almost a year later, that idea has not borne fruit.

Without legislation enshrining their role and responsibilities, the envoys occupy an ambiguous position in the regions. They have clashed with the more independent-minded regional leaders, and these conflicts have frequently been won by the stronger regional executives. Another failure of the envoys has been their inability to ensure the victory of gubernatorial candidates backed by the Kremlin. Since May 2000, there have been 45 elections of regional leaders, and on 23 July 2001, President Putin himself acknowledged the envoy's dismal track record. "Notwithstanding some successes, the polpredy have failed to become 'shareholders' in the joint-stock company called regional elections," quoted Putin as saying.

The envoys have failed to become powerbrokers on a par with other key actors in the regional election process. The presidential administration and the two clans which share power within it -- "the Family" and "the St. Petersburg chekisty" -- have been playing the key role in manipulating the results of regional elections. The national-level oligarchs and members of regional business and political elites have played the second-most-important role. The role of the polpredy has been a distant third.

Probably the only impressive victory by an envoy in a competition against a powerful regional governor occurred last month in St. Petersburg. On 16 January, Vadim Tyulpanov was elected speaker of St. Petersburg's Legislative Assembly. Tyulpanov is an adversary of St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, who has been a foe of Putin since the two worked together in the administration of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak. During the May 2000 gubernatorial elections in St. Petersburg, Putin tried but failed to prevent Yakovlev's re-election by promoting Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko as a rival candidate. That short-lived effort was a complete failure, and Yakovlev handily secured a second term. Last month, presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Viktor Cherkesov played a key role in putting together a bizarre coalition of deputies representing both right-wing and left-wing political parties, which elected Tyulpanov as speaker and virtually assured that the Legislative Assembly would not modify the City Charter to allow Yakovlev to seek a third term. The only thing uniting those parties was their antipathy toward Yakovlev, and Tyulpanov is now expected to compete against Yakovlev's clan in alliance with Cherkesov.

Another milestone in polpredy politics came with the election last April of Federal Security Service General Murat Zyazikov as president of Ingushetia. Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev worked overtime to secure victory for Zyazikov, who previously served as Kazantsev's deputy, and might even have played a behind-the-scenes role in having the candidacy of the Kremlin's nemesis, Khamzat Gutseriev, annulled on the eve of the ballot. Former Ingush President Ruslan Aushev called Kazantsev's role in the election "short-sighted, filthy, and boorish."

However, the pattern in other districts has been one of failure rather than success. In fact, the envoys have proven unable to check the power of those regional leaders deemed most irritating to Putin. In addition to Yakovlev, those figures include Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel and Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov.

In the Urals Federal District, presidential envoy Petr Latyshev has been in open conflict with Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Rossel ever since he arrived in Yekaterinburg. During the presidential elections 2000, Rossel worked hard to manipulate Sverdlovsk Oblast's electorate to secure the best possible result for Putin. Later, Rossel supported Putin's initiative to create the seven federal districts and to appoint the presidential envoys. By contrast, in the first half of the 1990s, Rossel proposed the creation of a so-called "Republic of the Urals," which would even issue its own currency. However, Rossel supported Putin's project, hoping the president would name him as the polpred of the Urals District, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 5 November 2002. When Putin appointed Petr Latyshev to this position, Rossel was disappointed and irritated. Rossel has spoken publicly about Latyshev in an insulting way, saying, "Latyshev is interfering in the competence of the regional governor" and "is occupying himself with things that are none of his business."

In order to be able to compete against Rossel in the district, Latyshev has been trying hard to attract the support of the regional business and financial elites. The Urals is one of the most industrialized areas of Russia, and Sverdlovsk Oblast is the most economically developed of the Urals regions. Latyshev has used his ties to the Kremlin to lobby the interests of Urals business elites in Moscow. Because Latyshev has achieved some success, the business community of Sverdlovsk Oblast is "divided" between Latyshev and Rossel. At the same time, Latyshev has sent auditors to examine the financial activities of Rossel's administration.

Ensuring excellent results for the Unified Russia party in the December Duma elections is Latyshev's priority task this year, and Rossel has made clear to Latyshev that he is still strong enough to influence the results of voting in Sverdlovsk Oblast. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Rossel has suggested to Latyshev that they "stop the war" and "conclude a peace agreement." The results of the April 2002 oblast parliamentary election suggest that Rossel might indeed be in a position to hinder Unified Russia's ambitions. In that race, Rossel's bloc For Our Home Ural got 29.45 percent of the vote, compared with just 18.39 percent for the bloc of Unity and Fatherland. So despite making some inroads with the local elite, Latyshev has proved unable to paralyze Rossel's political machine.

In Bashkortostan, presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko has faced similar difficulties trying to bring the policies of Bashkir President Rakhimov into greater conformity with those of the Kremlin. "Novye izvestiya" reported on 22 January that republican-based enterprises continue to withhold taxes they owe to the federal treasury, and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin reportedly had to appeal to Putin to pressure Rakhimov for the money.

The social base for Rakhimov's political power is the ethnic Bashkirs, who comprise a little more than 20 percent of the republic's population. Rakhimov's clan dominates the republic's political life and economy, and local media mention Rakhimov more often than Putin. Kirienko has so far shied away from open confrontation with Rakhimov, possibly because the latter is reputed to be a master of political intrigue. Similarly, Kirienko has not made any serious attempts to counter the policies of Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev, who from time to time is not averse to playing the "Islamic" card. For example, during a visit to Kazan by then-Turkish State Minister Abdulhalyq Mehmet Cay in September 2001, Shaimiev openly declared that he would like Kazan to become "an Islamic center for Russia, more precisely, a 'Mecca' for Russian Islam."

Despite Putin's federal reforms of May 2000, political and administrative power in most regions of the federation remain concentrated -- if not "personified" -- around the regional governors. By reforming the Federation Council, Putin managed to reduce the governors' influence in Moscow. However, in most regions, the governor or president is still an undisputed leader who controls budgetary resources and municipal administrations, as well significant fractions of most regional economies.

It will be quite difficult for the party of power, Unified Russia, to succeed in the December 2003 State Duma elections if it is sustained only by the polpredy, the oligarchs who have "invested" in the party, and the "central" mass media controlled by the Kremlin. In most regions, Unified Russia is likely to win a significant percentage of the votes only if the Kremlin is somehow able to "order" regional governors to provide strong support for Unified Russia's candidates.

Despite creating the envoys as a special instrument to project presidential power into the regions, the presidential administration still finds itself dependent on regional executives. It is therefore not surprising that the future of the polpredy is more uncertain than ever. Not only have the envoys been left out of the Kozak reforms, but "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 December that some Federation Council members suggested recently that the Kremlin make a final decision either to legalize the powers of the polpredy by amending the constitution or to abolish the institution completely. During this discussion, the senators pointed out that almost all local laws have now been brought into conformity with federal legislation, which was one of the envoys' main tasks. In future discussions of the polpredy, it is not difficult to imagine that more proposals will be raised to abolish the institution sooner rather than later.

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

State Duma deputies declined on 5 February to consider the question of removing Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) from his leadership post, RosBalt reported. Only 181 deputies of the 226 required supported an initiative to consider Zhirinovskii's ouster for recent colorful remarks he made about a possible U.S. military strike against Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003). This was not the first time that fellow deputies have proposed punishing Zhirinovskii for his purple polemics. Last September, for example, he got into hot water for calling for military strikes against Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2002). During the same 5 February session, legislators rejected two versions of a bill on the recall of State Duma deputies, ITAR-TASS reported. The legislation, proposed by Oleg Shein (Russian Regions) and Sergei Apatenko (Unity), outlined the procedure for recalling legislators who do not fulfill their responsibilities before the electorate. JAC

A fistfight broke out in the Duma on 7 February when Deputy Vasilii Shandybin (Communist) threw a punch at Deputy Aleksandr Fedulov (independent), TVS reported. Shandybin was reportedly defending the honor of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, whom Fedulov had called a "political prostitute." Fedulov made the comment while defending Zhirinovskii, whose use of inflammatory language in reference to U.S. President George W. Bush (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 6 February 2003) is being examined by the Duma's Ethics Committee. Fedulov, who has recently proposed legislation banning the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003), contrasted Zyuganov's conduct unfavorably with Zhirinovskii's. Ethics Committee Chairwoman Galina Strelchenko said the committee will study a transcript of the 7 February proceedings at its next hearing and will evaluate not only Zhirinovskii's conduct but also that of Fedulov and Shandybin. JAC

Despite the fisticuffs, Duma deputies managed to pass some legislation. On 5 February, legislators approved the law on Russian as a state language in its third and final reading, Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 248 in favor, with 37 against and one abstention, RosBalt reported. The law is designed to strengthen the right of citizens to use Russian as the state language. It prohibits the use of foreign words or expressions that have Russian-language equivalents in public documents or in civil, criminal, or administrative court proceedings, the agency reported. The Federation Council, however, overwhelmingly rejected the language law on 12 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2003). On 7 February, legislators approved the last of four bills intended to reform Russia's railway system. All four bills were passed by the Duma last year, but the fourth, "on the peculiarities of administering and distributing railway-transport property," was subsequently rejected by the Federation Council and submitted to a conciliation commission, reported. The new version was supported by 284 deputies, while 70 voted against and no one abstained, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, deputies approved a revised version of a bill on currency regulation that had also been rejected by the Federation Council, Interfax reported. Under the bill, the law on currency regulation would be amended to allow Russian citizens to carry up to $3,000 in foreign currency out of the country without documentation. That amount was $10,000 in the original version passed by the Duma. Another bill that would amend the law on the organization of the insurance industry was passed in its first reading on 7 February with the support of 361 deputies, RosBalt reported. The proposed amendments are intended to clarify the procedure for licensing insurance companies in Russia. JAC

Name of law____________Date approved____________# of reading

On the Russian language_______5 February________________3rd
as the state language

On the peculiarities of_________7 February_______________conciliation
administering and distributing railway____________________version
transportation property

On organization of insurance___7 February________________1st

On currency regulation and____7 February_______________conciliation

ILL: Media Minister Mikhail Lesin was hospitalized with a myocardial infarction, Russian media reported on 10 February. First Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii is acting in Lesin's place. According to, ministry officials expect Lesin will spend at least 10 days in the hospital.

IN: Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has appointed Anatolii Petrakov deputy chairman of the State Construction Committee, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 February.

OUT: Komi legislators voted on 11 February to recall Rakhim Azimov as the representative of the republic's executive branch in the Federation Council, RosBalt reported. Aleksei Grishin, most recently first deputy head of the republic, was appointed to replace Azimov.

OUT: NTV Deputy Director Rafael Akopov officially resigned from NTV as of 10 February, Interfax reported, citing the channel's press service.

OUT: Sergei Parkhomenko, editor in chief of the news weekly "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal," has announced that he is leaving that publication together with his first deputy, Masha Lipman, and reported on 10 February. Parkhomenko and Lipman edited the magazine "Itogi" before it was taken over by Gazprom. Parkhomenko will be replaced by former "Segodnya" editor Mikhail Berger, who Parkhomenko said is better suited to restructure the weekly.

14 February: Magadan Oblast will hold second-round gubernatorial election

16 February: Elections will be held in the Republic of Mordovia to elect the head of the republic (no longer called a president under republican law)

19-20 February: Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh will pay a working visit to Russia

Second half of February: Ryang Man-Gil, chairman of Pyongyang's Municipal People's Committee, will visit Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 January

21 February: State Duma will consider first of several bills on reforming local self-government

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

28 February: Slavneft will hold shareholders' meeting to elect new board of directors, according to "Vremya-MN" on 30 January

Early March: President Putin will visit Bulgaria, according to Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 29 January

6 March: Date by which the final version of the constitution of the Russia-Belarus Union will be prepared, according to Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev on 3 February

8 March: International Women's Day observed

22 March: Congress of Democratic Forces will be held in Moscow

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

24 March: Terms of members of the current Central Election Commission will expire

29 March: Unified Russia party will hold a congress

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

11 May: Parliamentary elections will be held in North Ossetia

31 May: Russia-EU summit will take place in St. Petersburg

17-21 June: Seventh International Economic Forum will be held in St. Petersburg

27 June: Gazprom will hold annual shareholders meeting.