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Russia Report: November 27, 2003

27 November 2003, Volume 3, Number 47
By Stephen K. Wegren

The Agrarian Party of Russia (APR) is in decline. Its demise is reflected in polls that estimate its support at about 1 percent of the expected vote in the State Duma elections on 7 December 2003. But not so long ago the situation was very different.

In the mid-1990s, the APR was well-represented in the legislature and executive branches of government. In the December 1993 Duma election, the APR received a total of 45 seats and was one of eight parties that surpassed the 5 percent threshold to receive seats from the party-list vote. In the December 1995 Duma election, the APR failed to cross the 5 percent threshold for party-list seats, but it still won 20 single-mandate districts and, together with "borrowed" Communist Party delegates, formed a Duma faction.

During 1995 and into 1996, there were several APR members in the highest ranks of government: Aleksandr Zaveryukha served as deputy prime minister in charge of agriculture; Aleksandr Nazarchuk was the minister of agriculture; Vyachslav Zvolinskii was chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Agricultural Policy; Gennadii Kulik was the deputy head of the State Duma Committee on the Budget, Taxes, Banks, and Finances; A. Chernyshev was head of the State Duma Committee on Agrarian Problems; and Ivan Rybkin was chairman of the State Duma.

Since the mid-1990s, however, the APR has experienced a significant loss of influence. By mid-2002, not one of the positions indicated above was held by a member of the APR. Perhaps most striking was the fact that when Gennadii Kulik took over from Vladimir Plotnikov as chairman of the Duma Committee on agricultural problems in April 2002, that chairmanship passed out of the control of the APR for the first time since 1993, according to "Krestyanskie vedomosti" on 1-10 April 2002.

What happened to the APR? The APR presents itself as the main defender of the interests of rural dwellers and workers in the agroindustrial complex. At first glance, it would appear that the APR has a strong electoral foundation. More than 39 million people live in rural areas throughout Russia, and about 12 percent of the labor force works in agricultural production. This number does not include those who work in food trade, food processing, or supply industries to agriculture, so the real number of workers in the agroindustrial complex is considerably higher. To what, then, should the demise of the APR since 1993 be attributed? The remainder of this article analyzes four important factors that have contributed to the decline in influence and electoral strength of the APR.

Divisions and dissension within the APR are important factors in the party's decline. During the 1990s, the APR and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) were electoral allies. In the run-up to the December 1999 election, the KPRF-APR electoral alliance fractured. At its seventh congress in March 1999, the APR voted to participate in an alliance with the Communist Party and other "people's-patriotic" forces. In August 1999, however, at an extraordinary eighth congress, the Central Committee of the APR, led by party leader Mikhail Lapshin, voted 17 to six to leave the leftist bloc and to join in an electoral alliance with Fatherland-All Russia, according to "Selskaya zhizn" on 19 August 1999. The resolution was supported by 71 percent of the delegates at the congress, "Krestyanskie vedomosti" reported in its issue of 13-19 September 1999.

The August 1999 decision split the party and divided agrarian forces, "Selskaya zhizn" reported on 28 October-3 November 1999. The Central Committee of the Agroindustrial Union condemned the APR's resolution and "expressed its categorical disagreement with this decision," according to "Selskaya zhizn" on 24 August 1999. Furthermore, a statement signed by several high-ranking members of the Agrarian deputy group in the Duma, some of whom were APR members, called on rank-and-file APR members to express their lack of faith in the party leadership and the members of its Central Committee. This move represented an attempt to undermine the APR's leadership.

The internal divisions within the party were exposed once again in mid-2003. In May 2003, party Deputy Chairman Nikolai Kharitonov was ousted from the party, and Aleksei Gordeev (the minister of agriculture), was removed from its leadership. Kharitonov went on to join the KPRF party list, and Gordeev became the head of a new rural interest group, as explained below.

While the APR has experienced dissension and division, a new rural interest group has emerged that is moderate and loyal to the Kremlin. In May 2002, the founding congress of an organization called the Russian Agrarian Movement (Rossiyskoe agrarnoe dvizhenie, or RAD) was held, at which Agriculture Minister Gordeev was elected RAD chairman. RAD had immediate access to President Vladimir Putin, who met with its leaders following its opening congress. Following that meeting, Putin instructed the government to consider a number of proposals designed to protect domestic producers from "unfair" foreign competition.

In an interview, the deputy chairman of RAD, Valentin Denisov, described RAD as neither a leftist nor rightist organization but rather as an organization working "for the unification of all those who contribute their participation and responsibility for the creation of a highly effective agroindustrial complex, for ensuring the food security of the country, for the revival of the countryside, and for the creation of a worthwhile life for the peasantry," "Krestyanskie vedomosti" reported on 23-29 September 2002. Denisov further indicated that RAD was ready to work with other political organizations such as the APR or the Agroindustrial Union (AKKOR). He cautioned that RAD's program must not become the "traditional" plea of "give us financial resources," or "give us a normal legislative base." Most of all, he warned that the program should not become the "fruit of creative groups of Muscovites" and should not become an organization of "agrarian bureaucrats," according to "Krestyanskie vedomosti" on 23-29 September 2002.

The emergence of RAD has a direct bearing on the strength of the APR. With Agriculture Minister Gordeev as leader, RAD will enjoy access to the Kremlin, and implicitly the organization is the primary intermediary between the government and the countryside by virtue of being the mouthpiece for rural interests and, in turn, supporting state policies. Furthermore, cooperation between RAD and the APR is problematic. When RAD was first formed in mid-2002, APR leader Mikhail Lapshin indicated that the APR was ready to cooperate with it, according to "Krestyanskie vedomosti" on 21-30 June 2002. However, by the end of 2002, signs of discord became evident, as press reports indicated that Lapshin felt his leadership position was threatened by the emergence of RAD, "Krestyanskie vedomosti" reported on 4 November-15 December 2002.

The rise of RAD represents a further division of agrarian forces and a diminution of the APR's influence on policy. The deputy chairman of the Duma Committee on Agrarian Problems, Aleksandr Podgurskii, summed up the situation as follows: "As concerns the creation of the Russian Agrarian Movement with the assistance of the administration of president of the Russian Federation, it is most of all an attempt to create a counterweight to the Agrarian Party, [and] the Agroindustrial Union.... The rise of this movement under the aegis of United Russia will not so much unite rural forces as it will divide them even further," according to "Krestyanskie vedomosti" in May 2003. While the APR is running independently in the December 2003 election, in mid-September RAD signed an agreement to form an electoral alliance with Unified Russia, "Selskaya zhizn" reported on 11-17 September 2003.

A third factor contributing to the demise of the APR is the preference of rural voters. It is commonly accepted that rural voters tend to support conservative candidates and parties. What is much less understood is a twofold process that has enormous importance for the future of rural politics in Russia. A survey of 800 rural households conducted during 2001 in five regions of Russia (Belgorod, Krasnodar, Volgograd, Novgorod, and the Chavash Republic) asked, "Which party best represents your interests?"

The results were remarkable for what they revealed about APR electoral strength. Disaggregated by profession, income, employment status, and economic condition, the overwhelming response was "no party." Further, when a party was indicated, it was more often Unity than the KPRF or the APR. This finding strongly suggests that rural voters do not perceive that the APR has done a good job defending their interests. In this regard, the upturn in the rural economy since 1999 and the moderate social policies adopted by Putin are important. This finding also reflects the political alienation of the rural vote, which usually has a higher turnout than urban voters. This does not bode well for the APR in the 7 December vote.

The fourth and final factor in the demise of the APR concerns its party platform and its relationship to ongoing trends in rural reform. In November 2002, a plenum of the APR decided that the party would run in the December 2003 elections independently and not join an electoral alliance as it did in 1999, "Selskaya zhizn" reported on 26 November 2002. The problem with this strategy is that the APR's electoral platform is in some ways antiquated or out of touch with reality. Three examples illustrate the point:

1) In several places the electoral platform expresses support for state regulation of agricultural production. Specifically, in Section 3.3 of its platform, the party advocates the use of state orders and fixed purchase prices for agricultural production (see The reality is that higher percentages of food trade are being conducted outside of state channels of trade. Rather than depend on state prices, producers are searching out the most advantageous prices and terms.

2) In Section 3.5, the party opposes the "uncontrolled purchase-sale of agricultural land." The reality is that survey data show a very small percentage of land purchases are for "speculative" resale, and most land is acquired to grow food for household consumption. Moreover, the 2002 law on rural land transactions includes several provisions that strictly regulate the procedure for agricultural land sales, and thus its "uncontrolled" sale appears unlikely, although some sources are reporting "mass purchases" of land shares, alleging they are falling into criminal hands, according to "Selskaya zhizn" on 9-15 October 2003.

3) In Section 3.5, the party opposes the "dispossession of land" of the peasantry. In reality, more than 40 million Russians are estimated to own land, and each year official data show an increase in land transactions. In 2002, there were more than 5.7 million land transactions, according to "Byulleten Tsentra APE," (No. 2) 2003. Speaking at a press conference in June 2003, Putin stated that the 2002 law on rural land transactions has begun to work, and as a result land relations have become "more transparent...with less possibility of fraud," "Selskaya zhizn" reported on 26 June-2 July 2003. Thus, there is little evidence of land "dispossession."

In conclusion, the analysis above suggests that the APR is divided, is being supplanted by a rural interest group that supports and is supported by the Kremlin, has suffered an erosion of support among rural voters, and has a party platform that is out of step with current reform trends. These four factors pose significant challenges to the APR and it is difficult to see how the party can overcome them, at least under its present leadership. The likelihood is the continued marginalization of the APR and the diminution of its influence over agrarian policy.

Stephen K. Wegren is associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. He has written extensively on reform in Russia, including the following books and monographs: "Land Reform in the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe" (1998); "Agriculture and the State in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia" (1998), which won the Hewett Award for best book on political economy from American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS); and "Rural Reform in Post-Soviet Russia" (2002).

By Konstantin Kiselev

Against the background of a heated mayoral race, Yekaterinburg, Russia's third-largest city, is also witnessing two pitched battles for State Duma seats from the city's two single-mandate districts, Verkh-Isetskii (no. 162) and Ordzhonikidzevskii (no. 165). In both of these races, neither money nor the backing of a Moscow-based federal party has proved to be essential.

In district no. 162, more than 10 candidates are running, of whom only three are actively campaigning. These are the incumbent State Duma Deputy Yevgenii Zyablintsev, OTsM Director Nikolai Timofeev, and Sverdlovsk Oblast legislator Aleksandr Bogachev. Zyablinstsev, who was nominated by the People's Party, is currently running first in opinion polls. He has been elected from the district three times, works in the district constantly, and regularly distributes his own free newspaper, "Novaya khronika," to inform voters about his activities. He also has up to 1,000 persons volunteering for his campaign, most of them pensioners. All of these factors should allow Zyablintsev to win without spending a great deal of money.

Zyablintsev's chief competitors, Timofeev and Bogachev, appear to have greater sums of money at their disposal. Local campaign experts estimate that Timofeev has spent around $2 million on his campaign. Despite this -- or perhaps because of this -- he has fallen behind Zyablintsev. Timofeev's methods, such as distributing gifts, the organization of free but costly events, and the publication of expensive advertising materials, have not won voters over to his side. His election staff has also used campaign methods that are technically legal, such as the registration of candidates with the same name as a rival, but that could be perceived as dirty tricks. Accusations of bribery have also dogged his campaign.

Bogachev's personal wealth is no match for Timofeev's, but he is hardly poor. And his campaign has the advantage of his work in one of the district's raions, from which he was elected to the regional legislature and is likely to be reelected from in March 2004. His advertising and campaign program has been extremely unimaginative, and is confined to the traditional array of posters, promises, and events. And as a result, he is currently third in poll rankings.

In the Ordzhonikidzevskii district, too, three candidates are frontrunners in the race: Yevgenii Roizman, president of the City Without Narcotics foundation; former police Major-General Vasilii Rudenko; and women's movement leader Nadezhda Golubkova.

Roizman's campaign is so far the most successful and he is ahead of his opponents in opinion polls. His campaign strategy has been a simple one -- tell voters about himself and his fund, which was the first in the Urals to address the problem of the struggle with drug addiction. The fund's success is demonstrated by the several hundreds of volunteers working on his campaign, including former addicts, their parents, and other public activists. All these factors have contributed to his success.

In his campaign, Rudenko has tried to remind voters about his past career as the head of Sverdlovsk's administration for the struggle against organized crime, in particular his struggle against the Uralmash organized crime group. In the eyes of some voters, Rudenko's chief opponent, Roizman, is himself connected with Uralmash -- a fact which Rudenko and Roizman's other opponents can use against him in their campaigns. However, Rudenko started his campaign late in the game, and he is still not well known among voters.

Golubkova was nominated by the Unified Russia party, but she has so far not been able to use this resource effectively. She has a weak campaign staff and a program focused mainly on one issue. Golubkova's attempts to have Roizman disqualified from the race by local courts have so far been unsuccessful. In both these races, campaign strategies which center around active and continued work with volunteers, advertisement of specific work in the city as a whole and in the specific districts, seems to have had the greatest success. However, in the presence of strong competition, it is highly likely that illegal campaign methods such as bribery and slander may also be used. If this happens, then a large number of voters will vote against all candidates.

Konstantin Kiselev is head of the Yekaterinburg-based Urals Guild of Political Consultants.

A new opinion poll conducted in selected cities supports the conclusions of analysts studying the single-mandate races that the Communist Party is losing ground to Unified Russia (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 19 November 2003). VTsIOM together with Radio Mayak conducted a survey on 22 November in three Russian cities, Belgorod, Vladimir, and Kyshtym (in Chelyabinsk Oblast), which showed Unified Russia with 32.7 percent -- more than double the 14.3 percent support expressed for the Communists.

Those three cities were selected because they voted in 1995 and 1999 exactly the way Russia as a whole voted, reported on 24 November. The results of the VtsIOM/Mayak survey differs from those of other recent opinion polls, which were conducted across a larger number of Russian cities and showed support split between Unified Russia and the Communist Party.

According to this new poll, the Communists did poorly even in Belgorod, where the Communists traditionally have strong support, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 November. In the VTsIOM/Mayak survey, Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia got 8 percent support, the Union of Rightist Forces got 7.5 percent, and Yabloko got 5.2 percent.

An article in "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 45, suggests that Unified Russia and the Communists are pursuing markedly different campaign strategies. According to the weekly, Unified Russia has carried out an expensive "door-to-door" campaign in 162 electoral districts, which independent public-relations specialists estimate could cost as much as $80,000-$235,000. The Communist Party, on the other hand, has not spent money on outdoor advertising such as billboards, considering them too expensive and ineffective. With two weeks left, the party was planning to distribute publicity leaflets with the party's Duma voting record as well as products with the Communist Party logo. Overall, according to the weekly, the party is prepared to spend 150 million rubles ($5 million) on its campaign.

At the same time, Unified Russia is benefiting from more access to federal television media and, in some cities, even print media. For example, the analytical center Petersburg Transit reviewed the content of 39 publications in the city of St. Petersburg from 15-21 November and ranked which State Duma candidates and parties received the most mentions, RosBalt reported on 24 November. The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party had the most mentions -- 17.1 percent -- compared with 8.6 percent for the Communist Party.

Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said on 24 November that he plans to complain to the Prosecutor-General's Office and to the Central Election Commission about the violations of election legislation by the central television channels, Ekho Moskvy reported on 24 November. According to Zyuganov, other parties and blocs are being given more air time than the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2003). (Julie A. Corwin)

OFF: Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii has been told that he will not be allowed to appear on the 5 December broadcast of the NTV program "Svoboda slova" because of his scandalous behavior during a 21 November TV appearance, Russian news agencies reported on 25 November.

27 November: President Putin will address the All-Russian Congress of Engineers meeting in Moscow

27 November: Russian government will discuss the government's investment policy for companies in which the government owns a stake

27 November: State Duma will hold a hearing on the plight of Russian citizens in Turkmenistan

28 November: State Duma to consider 2004 budget in its fourth reading and discuss whether to send a request to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov asking him to dismiss Anatolii Chubais as head of Unified Energy Systems

28 November: State Duma will complete its work for the 2003 fall session

28 November: YukosSibneft will hold shareholders meeting

28 November: Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy will arrive in St. Petersburg for a working visit

30 November: All-Russia Women's Forum will take place in St. Petersburg

30 November: The bloc of the Party of Russia's Renewal-Party of Life will organize a nationwide picket on Mothers' Day

1 December: Deadline for Russian government to draft a set of measures to support the creation of a uniform economic space between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine

7 December: Bashkortostan will hold a presidential election

7 December: Gubernatorial elections in Moscow, Tver, Yaroslavl, Kirov, Orenburg, Tambov, Sakhalin, and Novosibirsk oblasts

7 December: Perm Oblast and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug will hold referendums on merging the two regions

7 December: Moscow, Yekaterinburg, and Tyumen will hold mayoral elections

7 December: Kabardino-Balkaria will hold republican parliamentary elections

7 December: State Duma elections will be held

10 December: Federation Council to set date for presidential election

11 December: Last plenary session of the current Duma

14-19 December: Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan to visit Russia

15-17 December: Prime Minister Kasyanov to visit Tokyo

29 December: Lenin's tomb will reopen after repair work has been completed, according to RIA-Novosti

30 December: Date by which cases against Menatep head Platon Lebedev and Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii are to be submitted to the courts, according to separate Moscow court decisions

January: President Putin to visit Kazakhstan

16 January: The Vyborg city court to begin hearing a case challenging the legality of the election of Federation Council representative Grigorii Naginskii by the Leningrad Oblast legislature