24 July 2002, Volume 2, Number 24
THE KREMLIN THROWS A PARTYBy Robert Coalson
When Boris Berezovskii first heard of the 12 July Justice Ministry decision not to register the Liberal Russia Party, of which he is a co-chairman and major funder, the self-exiled oligarch said, "I thought the authorities were smarter and wouldn't hand us such a generous gift." Although Berezovskii would later claim that such a decision could not have been made without the consent of President Vladimir Putin, his initial assessment that the rejection was the result of misguided bureaucrats trying too hard to satisfy the presumed whims of their masters seems more plausible.
Since the decision, Liberal Russia leaders have missed no opportunity to play up what they see as the political motivation behind the registration rejection. A press release posted on the party's website (http://librussia.ru) says the Justice Ministry's move "plainly demonstrates the attitude of the present Russian authorities to the appearance of a genuine political opposition." "The authorities do not desire the appearance of a serious opposition force, standing on liberal grounds and seeking representation in the future State Duma," the statement goes on to say.
While it is no exaggeration to say that for the Kremlin, "unity" is an ideology and not just a party name, Liberal Russia's claims that the administration sees a threat from a party associated with the thoroughly disgraced and wildly unpopular Berezovskii are hard to credit. A far more clever strategy from the Kremlin's perspective would be to allow Berezovskii to discredit the very idea of opposition to the authorities.
Nonetheless, the refusal to register Liberal Russia -- which, it should be noted, is not final and is being appealed in the courts -- is a serious development, one that sheds light on the impact of the law on political parties that was adopted in mid-2001. That government-sponsored law, which was designed to reduce the number of parties crowding the political arena, was widely criticized from the moment it was introduced as restricting political rights and providing powerful bureaucratic tools to control the political process (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 26 January 2001).
During the debate on the bill in the Duma, Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent) said, "This law should not be called the law on political parties, but rather the law on government control over political parties." Georgii Saratov, head of the INDEM Foundation think tank and a former political adviser to President Boris Yeltsin, said that the motivation behind the law was "not to improve the party system, but to make presidential and governmental influence on parties more effective."
Unfortunately, the Liberal Russia case appears to be a warning bell indicating that the critics were right, a warning that will likely become more shrill as Duma elections approach. The Justice Ministry's explanations for refusing to register the party border on the ludicrous. For example, the ministry took exception to several passages in the party's charter that were taken word-for-word from the charter of the already-approved pro-Kremlin Unity party. The bureaucrats even objected to Liberal Russia's stated goal of "electing candidates of the party to elected office in the executive organs of the Russian Federation, the subjects of the Russian Federation, and in organs of local self-government." The ministry's rejection letter pedantically pointed out that parties in Russia only have the right "to put candidates forward in elections" and that the right "to elect candidates" belongs exclusively to voters.
In an 18 July interview with RFE/RL, Liberal Russia co-Chairman Sergei Yushenkov pointed to the level of control that the government exercises over political parties, particularly as a result of this law. "Bureaucrats have an enormous arsenal of means and methods, including the registration process, with which they can hinder the activity of our party, while acting as if enforcing the law," Yushenkov said. "In all likelihood, there was no direct order from the Kremlin [not to register Liberal Russia], but it was as if the bureaucrats sensed such an order. It's as if they understand that they shouldn't allow this registration."
The Liberal Russia scandal aside, there are other reasons to be concerned with the effectiveness of the law on political parties. In an interview with strana.ru on 15 July, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that of the 23 political parties that have registered so far under the new law, only eight are registered "completely." These include United Russia, the Communist Party, the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia, the Democratic Party, the People's Party, the Conservative Party, the Party of Peace and Unity, and the Russian Party of Peace (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 30 May 2002). The Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko are still in the process of submitting the necessary documentation.
Veshnyakov did not elaborate in the interview on what the difference between being registered and being "completely" registered is, but it is precisely this kind of opacity that creates opportunities for bureaucrats and the authorities to exert pressure on supposedly independent political movements.
In addition, the law's stated goal of reducing the number of political parties also seems to be in danger. In the same interview, Veshnyakov said that in 2002 alone, there have been 56 founding conferences for political movements and 49 party organizational committees have been formed. In the last few weeks alone, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov presided over the formation of the Russian Party of Life, and Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev announced that he will form a social-democratic party on the basis of his Rossiya movement. In short, the process of creating parties based on little more than the fame and vanity of Moscow politicians seems to be continuing unabated, although in the Putin era this process seems to require the blessing of the Kremlin and the stamp of the Justice Ministry.
In the charter of Mironov's Russian Party of Life, the creation of yet another party is partially justified by citing the conflicts among the country's existing parties. "The level of confrontation, first of all, among the leading political parties continues to intensify, which is provoking an explosive situation in the country. The blame for this unhealthy atmosphere in society lies with all parties -- left, right, center," the charter's preamble reads.
Mironov and his colleagues seem to be the only ones who see a tendency towards increasing conflict in Russia's political processes over the two years of Putin's rule. Most analysts, to the contrary, interpret such developments as the rapprochement between Unity and Fatherland-All Russia, the split between Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Seleznev, and the generally docile tenor of the legislature's relations with the Kremlin as strong evidence that the political arena in Russia is becoming smaller and increasingly controlled by the administration.
One result of the law on political parties has been to secure the position of the existing political parties, as long as they are willing to curtail their opposition to the Kremlin. "One must honestly admit that today in the Duma and in the Federation Council the influence of the federal organs of power is great," said Sergei Korepanov, a Unity branch leader in Sverdlovsk Oblast, on 26 June. "You can see this in the structural changes going on in the Duma and in the way the voting goes on many questions. And to a large extent, this is connected with the fact that the deputies very much want to remain in Moscow." The message seems clear that the best way for deputies to keep their mandates is to be obedient members of an approved party and to minimize their stated opposition to the government.
COOPERATING THEIR WAY TOWARD POLITICAL OBSCURITY.The State Duma wrapped up another whirlwind legislative season on 1 July, passing a large number of landmark laws. Seventy-seven bills were passed during the spring session and ultimately signed by President Putin (see table below). President Putin congratulated Duma leaders on completing a "colossal" amount of work during the spring session and passing the most important institutional reforms relating to land, military, pension, and tax issues. But President Putin seems to be the only one who is grateful. As the memory of legislative gridlock that existed under former President Boris Yeltsin fades, the national political profile of the lower legislative chamber and its leaders seems to be declining at an even faster rate
Despite the Duma's increased productivity, opinion polls suggest that the general public continues to have little interest or respect for the lower legislative chamber's activities. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 29 June, Leonid Sedov of the opinion research firm VTsIOM said that only about 5 percent of Russians believe that the Duma works effectively. Another 27 percent believes that the Duma discusses needed laws and decision, but these laws are not put into effect. About 50 percent nationwide, according to Sedov, believe that legislators are occupied with unnecessary discussions such as relations between factions. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, this percentage is even higher, at more than 70 percent. About 12 percent doesn't know anything about the Duma and doesn't want to. Sedov attributes such attitudes in part to the lack of a tradition of respect for laws. "If we can have courts who say 'This is our constitution,' and then adopt a decision which violates the constitution, then clearly this is how the man in the street will also relate to the issue," Sedov concluded.
Likewise, in opinion polls to determine Russia's 100 leading politicians, the standing of the Duma's leaders has also dropped rather than risen over the past year. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 July, Duma leaders are now located at the bottom of that publication's monthly index of the popularity ratings of Russian politicians. At the same time, the rankings of presidential administration functionaries, such as deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov, who oversee the lower house's activities have risen. Surkov's rating in June 2002 was ranked 11 out of 100 compared with 40 in the same month last year.
Meanwhile, the ratings of most of the leaders of the so-called presidential majority groups in the Duma -- Unity, People's Deputy, Fatherland-All Russia, and Russian Regions -- have dropped. People's Deputy leader Gennadii Raikov went from 72-73 to 81-82, while Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) leader Vyacheslav Volodin is ranked at 92-95 compared with 43 when former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov held that post. Unity leader Vladimir Pekhtin was ranked at 97-100 in June, compared with 60-61 for Boris Gryzlov when he was still Unity leader in January 2001. Of course, one can hardly expect Volodin, a former legislator from Saratov Oblast, to be able to compete with Primakov, as a former foreign minister and prime minister, but it is perhaps telling that Primakov's rating elevated slightly after he gave up his leadership of the OVR faction and took over as head of a business group, the Chamber for Industry and Trade. And Gryzlov's rating also shot up considerably after he left the Duma for the cabinet, jumping from the 60s to the 20s. The path to political influence no longer seems to lead through the Duma.
But as the December 2003 Duma elections approach, it may be more important for legislators to win the approval of President Putin and his administration than that of the electorate. In an interview with RFE/RL, Duma expert and Emory University Professor of Political Science Thomas Remington noted that the deputies "want to demonstrate their loyalty to the presidential administration [because] they want [its] help with their upcoming single-member-district campaigns and to get a good spot on the party list of 'Edinaya Rossiya' [Unified Russia] or whatever party." And once assured presidential support, they believe that a new seat in the Duma is more or less assured. (Julie A. Corwin)
POLITICAL INDEXThe following table shows that the spring 2002 session was a fairly productive one, with more than 100 laws passed in their third and final reading. However, in an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 29 June, First Deputy Chairman Lyubov Sliska noted that the number of bills passed and signed by the president was considerably lower than the corresponding figure for the spring session of 2001. One way to improve productivity, according to Sliska, is to drop bills that have already been considered and rejected by the Duma more than once from any further consideration. JAC
DUMA: SESSION BY SESSION_______________Spring__Fall__Spring__Fall__Spring__Fall__Spring
Number of laws
Number of laws
approved only in first
Number of laws
approved only in second
Number of laws
approved in third and
Number of laws signed by
president of those
Source: State Duma via duma.gov.ru as of 20 July
COMINGS & GOINGSUP: Aleksei Sitnin has been appointed to head the new department on relations with Russian compatriots within the main administration on external policy of the presidential administration, RIA-Novosti reported on 22 July. The department will be overseen by deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov. Sitnin was most recently head of information policy for the main administration on external policy. He also headed the press service for the Alfa Group, where Surkov previously worked.
OUT: Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed a decree dismissing Bulat Nigamatulin as deputy minister for atomic energy and naming Andrei Malyshev to replace him, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 July. Malyshev was most recently director of Atomenergoproekt Institute. According to the daily, Nigamatulin was one of the last remaining close associates of former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov still at the ministry.
IN: Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatiev signed on 17 July an order appointing Konstantin Korishchenko as his deputy, Interfax reported the next day. Korishchenko most recently was managing director of Troika Dialog and, before that, worked at the Central Bank from 1992-2000.
IN: On 16 July, First Deputy Communications Minister Yurii Pavlenko resigned, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Boris Antonyuk, who previously headed the state enterprise Kosmicheskaya Svyaz, will replace him. Mikhail Alekseev, previously deputy general director of Telekominvest Holding, was named deputy communications minister.
POLITICAL CALENDAR25 July: Former Federal Security Service agent Aleksandr Litvinenko has promised to reveal new details to the public commission investigating the 1999 apartment building explosions in Moscow and Volgodonsk
25 July: New all-Russia society, Sporting Russia, lead by State Sports Committee head Vyacheslav Fetisov, will hold its first congress, Prospekt-novosti reported
26 July: Government will hold session to discuss privatization plan for 2003
26 July: Deputy prime ministers from Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will meet in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, for a session of the integration committee of the Eurasian Economic Community
28 July: Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will visit North Korea
28-31 July: Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov will visit Kaliningrad and Palanga, Lithuania
29-30 July: Foreign Minister Ivanov to visit Macao and Hong Kong
30 July: State Council will meet to discuss state youth policy up to the year 2012, according to ITAR-TASS on 17 June
30-31 July: International conference on the struggle against terrorism in the Asian-Pacific region to be held in Vladivostok
31 July: Date on which licenses issued to U.S. importers of poultry by Russian Agriculture Ministry's Veterinary Department expire
31 July: A three-sided discussion with officials from the government, State Duma, and Federation Council will be held to discuss reform of interbudgetary relations and the distribution of tax revenue between the federal center and regions
31 July: A Moscow court will reconsider the criminal case against former Sibur President Yakov Goldovskii and his former deputy Yevgenii Koshchits
1-15 August: International Kansk video festival will take place in Kansk, Krasnoyarsk Krai
1 August: Russia's first full-scale facility for the destruction of chemical weapons will be launched in Gornyi in Saratov Oblast, according to presidential envoy Sergei Kirienko
8-10 August: Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov will visit Krasnoyarsk to check preparations for upcoming election
12 August: Second anniversary of the sinking of the "Kursk" submarine
15 August: Government to approve draft 2003 budget at cabinet meeting, according to Prime Minister Kasyanov on 11 July
15-23 August: Coal miners from a variety of regions to picket federal government building in Moscow to protest unpaid wages
Second half of August: Prime Minister Kasyanov to visit China
26 August: Government will submit a draft 2003 budget to the State Duma, according to Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin on 6 June
Beginning of September: Prime Minister Kasyanov to visit Johannesburg, South Africa
September: Dalai Lama will visit the republics of Buryatia, Tuva, and Kalmykia, according to Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov on 11 June
September: Symposium and investment fair for atomic-power plants to take place in Vladivostok
1 September: Deadline by which heads of regional branches of the Union of Rightist Forces must submit names of candidates for single-mandate districts in the 2003 State Duma elections, according to regions.ru
8 September: Gubernatorial elections in Krasnoyarsk
10-11 September: The fourth annual conference of the regional administrations of countries in Northeast Asia will take place in Khabarovsk
14-23 September: The World Association of Female Entrepreneurs will hold its 50th international congress in St. Petersburg
15 September: Mayoral elections will be held in Nizhnii Novgorod
15 September: Government will submit to the Duma amendments to the law on Russian as a state language
18 September: First plenary meeting of State Duma's fall session
26-27 September: Association of Election Organizers from the Countries of Central and Eastern Europe will hold a special conference in Moscow, according to "Izvestiya" on 17 June
29 September: By-election in single-mandate district in Omsk Oblast for State Duma seat formerly occupied by Aleksandr Vereteno, who died in April
1 October: Ferry service will start between Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, according to deputy presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Andrei Stepanov
7 October: CIS summit to be held in Chisinau, Moldova, according to Interfax on 13 May
20 October: By-election in single-mandate district in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug for State Duma seat once occupied by Aleksandr Lotorev, who now directs the Duma's apparatus
26-27 October: Putin to attend APEC summit in Los Cabos, Mexico
14 November: Meeting of united political council of Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko scheduled.