Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia Report: February 11, 2002

11 February 2002, Volume 2, Number 6

"RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly" will not appear on 18 February due to a U.S. holiday but will return on 25 February.
As the controversy over TV-6 continues, a new conflict over the last remaining element in Vladimir Gusinsky's Media-MOST empire flared anew. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 8 February, Ekho Moskvy Chief Editor Aleksei Venediktov said that he received that day a document from a Cyprus-based sister company of Gazprom-Media, Leadville Investments, that proposes a complete change of the board of directors of Ekho Moskvy. The new board would be composed entirely of representatives of Gazprom-Media and NTV, including NTV General Director Boris Jordan. According to Venediktov, Gazprom-Media promised during the summer of last year, when Alfred Kokh was head of that company, that it would reserve three seats on the board of directors for Gazprom, three for Vladimir Gusinsky's representatives, and three for journalists from Ekho Moskvy. Venediktov concluded that apparently this deal has been reneged on and predicted an insider deal is in the works, whereby Boris Jordan, who works as a general director of Gazprom-Media and also for the private firm Sputnik, will be involved both as the seller and the purchaser of the station. According to "Kommersant," Venediktov said that he "is offended by the decision of the current leadership of Gazprom-Media, although formally they are acting within the letter of the law."

Gazprom-Media official Oleg Sapozhnikov told RFE/RL that by sending in its nominations, Leadville is simply following standard procedure, under which shareholders nominate their candidates for the board of directors. These nominations were due by 31 January by law, and a final agreement about who is on the board of directors won't be reached until the annual shareholders meeting, which should take place no later than 1 July. Gazprom-Media press secretary Aelita Yefimova told Interfax that other shareholders "have the right to name their representatives to the board of directors, and Gazprom-Media hopes that they made use of this right." Yefimova also made it clear that Venediktov, as shareholder of 18 percent of the company, would have a right to vote on this or that candidate at the shareholders meeting, but it was not clear how much weight Venediktov's vote would have relative to Gazprom-Media, which holds a 52 percent stake in the company. In addition, neither she nor other Gazprom-Media officials commented on the status of the earlier agreement on the board's composition concluded by Alfred Kokh.

Even if Venediktov can produce written evidence of Kokh's promise there's the question of whether Kokh actually had the power under Gazprom-Media's charter to make such a pledge. Peter Maggs, an expert on Russian civil law at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told RFE/RL that some Russian lawyers doubt the enforceability of a contract to vote shares, and for this reason, most serious share-vote control transactions use the form of trust administration -- something which Kokh did not bother to set up before he left Ekho Moskvy. Maggs also noted that if Ekho Moskvy has less than 1,000 shareholders and its charter does not require cumulative voting, then Gazprom-Media can elect the whole board. But even if cumulative voting is required, Gazprom-Media with a 52 percent stake is sure to get majority control the board of directors, according to Maggs.

Venediktov has not been the only person to accuse Gazprom on 8 February of not keeping its promises. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Union of Rightist Forces head Boris Nemtsov said that last summer Gazprom "swore an oath that it would transfer 9 percent of the shares to a trust that would be administered by [former Economics Minister] Yevgenii Yasin." He continued that "this promise was repeated many times even after Alfred Kokh had left Gazprom-Media. Besides that, the leadership of Gazprom, in particular, [head Aleksei] Miller constantly emphasized that this trifling problem would [be dealt with] at the next session of Gazprom's board of directors." However, "soon it will be a year," Nemtsov noted, and this problem has not been resolved.

In the meantime, Venediktov told RFE/RL that if the new proposed board of directors is elected then he will leave Ekho Moskvy. For a journalist, he said, the chief thing is your reputation and that he does not consider it good for his reputation to "work with such people." (Julie A. Corwin)

The Russian press was abuzz last week with comments and critiques of a draft bill that would amend Russia's current election laws. The bill, sponsored by the Unity and Fatherland-All Russia factions, would attach a variety of amendments to Russia's current election laws, the most controversial of which would require that a regional leader have the support of over 50 percent of an entire list of registered voters in order to be elected. Duma deputy (Unity) Vladislav Reznik explained that his party, Unified Russia, believes that the current electoral system violates people's rights, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 8 February. For example, "if only 15 percent of the population of a region has elected a governor, then it would be better if the governor were appointed by the president," he said, according to "Kommersant-Daily" the same day. And, under the bill, should no candidate receive enough votes, regional leaders would be appointed by the president, according to "Vremya MN" on 6 February. The bill would also stipulate a new formula for regional election commissions. One-third of their members would be appointed by the region's legislative branch, one-third by its executive, and one-third by the Central Election Commission (TsIK).

While TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov supports increasing his commission's influence over its regional counterparts, he has spoken out against the bill, as have a variety of other top political figures, including one of the leaders of the new Unity and Fatherland party, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. According to Luzhkov, "the model of ruling a country when leaders are appointed from above has already demonstrated its ineffectiveness," Interfax reported on 6 February. Presidential representative to the State Duma Aleksandr Kotenkov on 5 February dismissed the bill as completely unrealistic, but said that this was just his personal opinion and that the attitude of the presidential administration has not yet been formulated, according to RBK. Federation Council First Deputy Chairman Valerii Goreglyad, who headed the pro-Kremlin Federation group, also said that he does not think the legislation would be passed in the upper house.

With so much opposition from figures close to the presidential administration and government, the obvious question is why did Unified Russia propose the amendments in the first place? Unified Russia is, after all, supposed to be the new party of power. Most commentaries in the Russian press suggested that the bill was a kind of "PR probe" designed to test public opinion. For example, Anvar Amirov, a political analyst with the Panorama think tank, told "The Moscow Times" that he believes the bill is probably "a trial balloon [floated] to gauge society's reaction." He concluded that the Kremlin will not actively push the legislation, but that President Vladimir Putin himself was likely behind the initiative. "The bill's ideology is vertical power-building," which is reflective of Putin's thinking, according to Amirov. Duma deputy and co-leader of the Liberal Russia Party Viktor Pokhmelkin agreed that it was unlikely that Unified Russia acted on its own initiative, and he suggested that the plans show that Unified Russia's party leaders "are scared that they won't win in regional elections -- or, for that matter, presidential ones, so they're proposing changes that would make elections impossible or artificial."

The analytical website,, also concluded that the bill is likely indicative of a desire by the Kremlin to undertake a thoroughgoing reform of the election legislation and "the power vertical." But it suggested that despite the criticism of the bill sparked among the Russian political elite, the introduction of nominations for local leaders rather than elections would not likely meet "any serious opposition." "The consistently low percentage of voters participating in elections shows that the population's trust in the existing election system and its elected figures has been undermined," according to the site.

And it should perhaps be noted that the amendments discussed last week are not the first attempt by the Unity faction to pass a bill that would do away with regional elections. Last year, Vitalii Lednik, a Unity faction member, proffered a bill that would have made the office of governor an appointed rather than elected one. The bill garnered little support and was not sponsored by the Unity faction -- in fact, Unity faction leader Boris Gryzlov even condemned the effort. However, at the time of its defeat, another top Unity official and first deputy chair of the Duma, Lyubov Sliska, declared that personally she supports the appointment of governors and said that she believes that within 3-4 years, such a system will be in place (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 19 February 2001).

This time round, higher-level officials in Unity were joined by members of other factions to propose a bill that would not require the nomination of the governors outright -- just under most circumstances. But again, this effort was condemned by a party higher-up, this time, Luzhkov. And perhaps sometime in the distant future, Unity and its new partner, Fatherland-All Russia, will again propose another bill that will chip away at local voters' rights, but it will do so with even more subtlety. And if the probe does not garner too much opposition, then all the top officials will fall into line.

And right behind them may even be regional officials. Writing last year in "Vek" (no.9), Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Center suggested that not only were "influential political circles" taking the idea of appointing regional leaders "more seriously," he argued that there was also growing support among regional elites themselves. At the time, he cited the calls by such regional heads as Karelia head Sergei Katanandov, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, Kurgan Governor Oleg Bogomolov, and Belgorod Governor Yevgenii Savchenko for making gubernatorial positions appointed. More recently, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed said on 5 February that he considers elections "a caprice -- an additional unnecessary expense." According to Lebed, Russia had a system of appointing regional and town governors for more than 300 years, and that system, in his view, apparently worked just fine. (Julie A. Corwin)

Deputies rejected a variety of bills last week, such as a law on licensing realtors' activities, a law on coins from precious metals, and a law amending state regulating tariffs for electricity, all of which the government recommended that they reject, according to Interfax on 8 February. Deputies also voted against a proposal that the Audit Chamber conduct a check of Russia's state debt to the Czech Republic, in particular the legality of an agreement of 9 October 2001 between the Russian federal government, the Czech Republic, the Russian Ministry of Finance, Unified Energy Systems, and the Falkon Capital firm. Falkon has been linked with Osama bin Laden and the Saudi Binladen group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 January 2002). On 8 February, the measure attracted only 164 votes of the necessary 226, according to Interfax-AFI. A resolution sponsored by the Union of Rightist Forces to denounce the closure of TV-6 was even less popular, gathering only 38 votes, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

One measure that actually passed on 8 February was a bill amending Article 37 of the Criminal Code, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill both broadens and refines the earlier section of the code regarding citizens' rights to self-defense (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 21 January 2001). The vote was supported by 365 deputies, with zero votes against and only one abstention, according to Another bill that met deputies' approval on the same day was a bill about organs of judicial associations, such as congresses, conferences, councils and qualifications collegia. The bill had been approved in its first reading back in 1997, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 February. In between the first and second readings, some 138 amendments were proposed, of these 68 were accepted and 70 rejected. The revised bill, which was supported by the presidential administration, gathered 397 votes in favor, according to "Izvestiya." JAC


Name of law_______________Date Approved_________# of reading

Criminal Code________________8 February_____________3rd
(Article 37)

About organs of judicial________8 February_____________2nd

IN: Mikhail Kalmykov has been named the new head of the presidential press service, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 February. Kalmykov previously worked at ITAR-TASS, where he served one stint as a correspondent in France. According to the daily, the career of Kalmykov's predecessor, Igor Shchegolev, followed a similar trajectory, of ITAR-TASS, Paris, then the Kremlin.

OUT: Former members of the Union of Rightist Forces faction in the State Duma, Sergei Yushenkov and Vladimir Golovlev, were deprived of their committee assignments on 6 February, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 February. Yushenkov was deputy chairman of the Security Committee, and Golovlev was deputy chairman of the Budget Committee. First deputy faction leader Boris Nadezhdin said that group has not yet decided who it will nominate to replace Yushnkov and Golovlev on the committees.

10-12 February: Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district to visit North Korea on non-official business, according to Interfax

12-13 February: Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi to visit Russia, ITAR-TASS reported

13 February: Military college of the Supreme Court to examine appeal of Grigorii Pasko, former military journalist convicted of espionage

13 February: Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien will visit Moscow

13 February: Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref invited to address the State Duma on government economic policy and plans to join the WTO

15 February: Afghanistan's Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni is expected to visit Moscow, according to Interfax on 5 February

15 February: Railway charges for cargo will rise by 16 percent

middle of February: The third All-Buryat Congress will take place in Ulan-Ude

19 February: U.S. and Russian officials to conduct second round of talks on strategic stability in Moscow

20 February: Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov invited to address the Duma on homelessness among children

21-22 February: Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase to visit Moscow

25 February: A non-working day on which Russians will celebrate the new state holiday honoring "Defenders of the Fatherland" of 23 February which this year falls on a Saturday

26 February: All-Russia conference on the Russian Regions and the WTO to be held in Moscow

28 February: A court hearing for the lawsuit filed by TV-6 against the Moscow court bailiffs service, which issued a resolution on 21 January stopping all of the station's economic activities

end of February: Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah will visit Moscow, according to Interfax

early March: Hamid Karzai, head of Afghanistan's interim government, to visit Russia, according to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 4 February

1 March: Informal CIS summit to take place in Almaty, Kazakhstan

3-5 March: OPEC Secretary-General Ali Rodriguez Araque will visit Moscow, according to Interfax-ANI on 6 February

6 March: Closing date to submit applications for tender for TV-6's television and radio frequencies

8 March: International Women's Day

15 March: Gas prices will be indexed by 20 percent

mid-March: The first draft of a report on Russia's efforts to join the WTO by the task force devoted to this quest will be ready

17 March: Tuva Republic will hold presidential elections

24 March: By-elections to be held in single-mandate district in Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Okrug for State Duma seat vacated by Aleksandr Ryazanov, who went to work for Gazprom

27 March: Tender for TV-6's broadcasting license

27-28 March: International conference on combating terrorism to be held in St. Petersburg, according to Interfax on 24 January

March-April: Russia will issue up to $2 billion in Eurobonds, according to Vneshekonombank head Andrei Kostin on 15 November

end of March: CIS Interparliamentary Assembly will hold its 19th plenary session

April: Unified party of Unity and Fatherland to officially register as a political party

April: The St. Petersburg Dialogue, a Russian-German forum, will hold its second conference in Weimar, Germany, according to ITAR-TASS

April: Gubernatorial elections in Penza Oblast

April: Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman will visit Russia, according to Foreign Minister Ivanov on 24 January

7 April: Presidential elections in Ingushetia

22 April: State Duma will hold a hearing on the buying and selling of agricultural land, according to Interfax on 17 January

late April: Summit of five Caspian states to be held in Ashgabat, according to First Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kaluzhnii on 24 January

28 April: Presidential elections to be held in the republic of Karelia

14-15 May: Foreign ministers of NATO countries and Russia will meet in Reykjavik

May: U.S. President George W. Bush to visit Russia

19 May: By-elections to be held in Altai Republic for State Duma seat left vacant by newly elected Altai Republic President Mikhail Lapshin

19 May: Gubernatorial elections in Smolensk Oblast

28 May: Russia-EU summit to be held

31 May: CIS summit to be held in Chisinau, Moldova

June: Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit to take place in St. Petersburg, ITAR-TASS reported

June: Baltic State Council meeting to be held in St. Petersburg

June: Government will have drafted a federal program for putting Russia's armed forces on a professional basis, according to Prime Minister Kasyanov on 7 December

June: Russia and the U.S. will have drafted an agreement on radical cuts in strategic offensive weapons, according to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 18 December

9 June: Repeat elections for legislature of Primorskii Krai

26-28 June: Group of Seven summit to be held in Canada

28 June: Gazprom to hold its annual shareholders' meeting

September: Symposium and investment fair for atomic power plants to take place in Vladivostok

9-16 October: All-Russia census

26-27 October: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to be held in Las Cabos, Mexico

7 November: Day of Reconciliation and Agreement.