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Russia Report: August 8, 2002

8 August 2002, Volume 2, Number 26

The next issue of "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly" will appear on 21 August.
Although the Federation Council has only just finished its first session operating under its new rules of formation, analysts and politicians are already predicting new reforms of Russia's upper legislative branch are likely. Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov has made frequent calls for the body to be directly elected by voters. However, some of his colleagues in the upper chamber are pushing for legislation to be considered this fall that would move in the opposite direction. Currently two senators are selected from each federation subject, one by the region's executive and another by the legislature. And they can be recalled for almost any reason. New draft legislation seeks to narrowly constrict the possibilities for recalling senators, thus giving them more job security.

According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 2 August, centrist factions in the Duma have initiated the consideration of a bill that would amend the law on formation of the Federation Council. Under the current law, a representative is considered to be up for "reselection" when the authority or the legislature or the governor expires. That would not be the case under the new law. In addition, a senator would be obliged to listen to the view of the region he or she represents only if the law under consideration concerns a matter that the constitution places under the joint jurisdiction of the federal government and the regions. If the proposed law concerns a matter under exclusive federal jurisdiction, then a senator would only have to follow the dictates of his own conscience or, more realistically, the will of the presidential administration. Of course, how such a provision could be enforced is another matter.

Last spring, "Vremya novostei" of 16 April reported that the bill would require the upper chamber to agree to the recall of any of its members. While the chairman of the Federation Council's Committee on Regulations, Nikolai Tulaev, denied that such a bill was even in the works, Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Torshin confirmed to the daily that the bill had already been sent to the Duma. According to the newspaper, some of the deputies on the "right" were dismissive of the bill. Union of Rightist Forces deputy faction leader Boris Nadezhdin called the initiative "stupid" and that the effort, taken to its logical conclusion, would require that "senators not only recall themselves but also appoint themselves."

Nevertheless, Nadezhdin, in a more recent interview with "The Moscow Times" published on 6 August, said that he thinks the bill is likely to pass. And at least one member of Nadezhdin's faction, Vadim Bondar, is even sponsoring the bill in the Duma. Bondar admits the bill has some flaws but believes these can be corrected during the second reading.

But why consider the law this fall and not later? Nadezhdin told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that he thinks the bill is being put forward now because of the pending December 2002 legislative elections in St. Petersburg. Nadezhdin believes that the Kremlin wants to reduce the chances of Federation Council Chairman Mironov not returning the next year. Mironov is the representative for St. Petersburg's legislature in the council.

And despite his frequent calls for senators to be elected, Mironov, in an interview with "Vremya MN" on 12 July, seems sympathetic to representatives' need for reassurances about their longer-term job prospects. Mironov told the tale of one of his colleagues who wanted to vote for the law which allows agricultural land to be bought and sold because he understood the law's "significance and necessity" for Russia. But because the legislative organ he represented would have immediately recalled him, he voted "in spite of his convictions." Mironov also recalled that two active members of the senate, Aleksandr Pleshakov (Penza) and Vladimir Nikitov (Smolensk), have been recalled from the upper chamber at the decision of the governors who sent them there. Mironov noted: "This is the right of the governors, under the law on the formation of the chamber. And actually at any moment, for any motivation, without explaining their reason, the head of the executive organs in the region can recall his representative. And the legislative organs through a collective decision have the same right. And here, we approach the problem about which many speak, elections to the Federation Council. I do not doubt that in the future this will be exactly the way the upper chamber is formed. Senators should have a mandate from the people and should not depend on an individual's decision."

In an interview with "The Moscow Times" on 6 August, Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Center suggested that the bill is a part of the Kremlin's larger effort to marginalize the country's regional political elite, concluding that it is likely "to drive a deeper wedge between the federal powers and the regions." And he admitted that "maybe this bill is not a bad idea for the conveyer-belt-style passage of laws." The latter motivation may be precisely the one that sparked the entire effort. Having gone to so much trouble to produce a senate that if it ever rejects a bill only does so only at the request of the presidential administration or government, the presidential administration may be reluctant to leave the future of its "conveyer belt" to chance. And, direct elections for the upper chamber will likely only take place when the outcomes can be more or less guaranteed. (Julie A. Corwin)

"RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly" spoke with Thomas Remington, professor and chair in the Department of Political Science at Emory University, recently about the new Federation Council. In a recent paper, Remington, who is an expert on Russia's legislature, concludes that the makeup of the new Federation Council is fairly diverse with no particular group dominating. According to Remington, "it would be hard to imagine a purely decentralized process achieving so carefully balanced a body of members." (Julie A. Corwin)

RFE/RL: You seem to be arguing that even without the benefit of an election, the Kremlin has managed come up with a Federal Council that is fairly representative or at least represents a lot of different interest groups?

REMINGTON: Yes, that is my hunch. That is a working hypothesis. I don�t have direct confirmation of that from the interviews [that I conducted], however.

RFE/RL: But that's the outcome, anyway, no?

REMINGTON: Yes, that's the outcome. The degree to which that was the Kremlin's goal, I cannot say. I think what you have here is a situation in which there are a lot of people for whom seats were sought and there were a lot seats for which people were sought. So what the managers of the process did -- and it clearly was a "managed" process -- was to match supply and demand. It's not like [deputy presidential administration head Vladislav] Surkov or one person in the presidential administration, sat down and drew up lists.... In some cases the regions would come up with somebody and ask [the Kremlin's okay]. I know for a fact that in some cases a regional legislature or regional government would consult with the presidential administration and say, "what about this person?" In other cases, it was a direct recommendation by the presidential administration.... Overall, there were an awful lot of participants in this process, and the presidential administration played an approval role in almost all cases.

RFE/RL: You also found that those people who predicted that the Federation Council would become a more reliable ally of the president were correct?

REMINGTON: Right now, that is the case, but is that going to be the case in the future? Six months from now? You have two competing views among the senators of the role they should play. Some members of the chamber want to be more active in the legislative process. There are some -- I talked to them in Moscow -- and I can't say that it's the majority, but there are some who would like to be much more active in policy-making. Often this is because they want to get their hands on distributive benefits via lawmaking. So there is a big debate right now in the Federation Council between those who want to get involved in what they now call these days, the zero reading stage, the drafting stage before the first reading, where they are involved, say, with the government in drafting a bill before it goes to the Duma, and those who think the Federation Council should wait to deal with legislation until after it has passed the Duma. Members like these are satisfied to be quite disengaged from legislative politics.

The voting record in the chamber shows remarkable unanimity on nearly all votes. In the vast majority of votes, bills are passed by overwhelming margins. In a few cases, they are rejected by similarly overwhelming margins. A lot of effort goes into coordinating the voting. But not much effort is going into developing or modifying legislation. So I think that for a majority of senators, in return for supporting the president's preferences on legislation, they are free to lobby for their own personal, corporate, or regional interests with the executive branch. Many members are quite comfortable with this role. Little wonder that they want to reduce further what little accountability they currently have to their home regions. Many members think that in principle it would be desirable for them to have the democratic legitimacy that comes from being elected. On the other hand, most are not keen to face elections until they can be confident of winning them.

So I would say that the Federation Council's role in the legislative process is still unsettled. But one thing you can say for sure is that the presidential administration is very active in coordinating the positions taken by the senators on various legislation. Exactly how the mechanism works I don't know. But it appears to be the presidential administration working through Mironov and the other deputy speakers and committee chairmen who are able to enable the senators to take their positions before the bill is debated on the floor.

RFE/RL: Who are the "political heavyweights" in the current Senate -- I mean, not the people who have a past history of being politically influential, but who are currently political influential?

REMINGTON: It was possible in the past to point to people like that but not now. Mironov and [Aleksandr] Torshin, [Valerii] Goregylad, [Sergei] Vasiliev, are not influential in their own right. The deputy speakers are narrowly influential, because they are the medium through which the presidential administration speaks.

RFE/RL: So far there are no people who are politically independent?

REMINGTON: If there are, I have not been able to detect them. In the past, [former Federation Council Yegor] Stroev was very influential. He enjoyed a lot of influence -- and not because he was a stalking horse for the president -- but because he was a real buffer between Yeltsin and the Duma and the governors. He was a trusted intermediary, a moderate, a pragmatist. And, of course, people like [Tatarstan President Mintimer] Shaimiev and [Moscow Mayor Yurii] Luzhkov were influential before. And so on and so on. But people like that are just not in the chamber now.

RFE/RL: I see how the overall makeup of the upper chamber is fairly representative, but the leadership of the committees and commission seems to be more heavily weighted toward former federal government, people close to the Union of Rightist Forces, people close to [Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii] Chubais.

REMINGTON: The presidential administration wanted people who they could count on. The committees were going to be important because they shape the members' consensus. I think the president's people must have reasoned that they wanted people who would be politically loyal. They really wanted people who could get the economic legislation through. The president clearly wants his economic program to be enacted in the form of legislation, which is very interesting to me. He has been quite consistent about that since he came in. He drafted a sweeping policy agenda, very, very far-reaching in the form of legislation, tax reforms, pension reform, land reform, labor reform. All of these very important reform policies are all in the form of legislation. None are in the form of decrees, and for that he wanted a reliable parliament. Systematically, very cleverly, he has built up a reliable majority in both chambers. But in the Duma it is a majority formed on the basis of four clearly organized political factions where the left is what political scientists call a universalistic distributive coalition, that is, a coalition in which all members of the chamber receive a piece of the pie.

IN: The Foreign Ministry has appointed three ambassadors at large to three of the seven federal districts, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 August. The envoys will oversee relations between the federal districts and foreign countries. Nikolai Pavlov, who is a former deputy director of the First Asia Department at the Foreign Ministry, was assigned to the Siberian Federal District, Anatolii Ashikhmin to the Urals Federal District, and Vladimir Solotsinskii to the Southern Federal District. Solotsinskii was formerly deputy director of the third European Department at the ministry, according to

8 August: Government to submit draft 2003 budget to State Duma, according to President Putin on 29 July

8 August: Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to arrive in Moscow for a visit

8-10 August: Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov will visit Krasnoyarsk to check preparations for upcoming election

10 August: Alternative congress of Bashkortostan's ethnic Tatars organized by local civic groups will be held in Ufa

11 August: Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to return from vacation

11 August: Special bureau will open in Kaliningrad for the Dmitrii Rogozin, the presidential envoy for problems of Kaliningrad Oblast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 August

12 August: Second anniversary of the sinking of the "Kursk" submarine

12 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

13 August: Court hearing will resume in case against Media-MOST finance director Anton Titov

15-23 August: Coal miners from a variety of regions to picket federal government building in Moscow to protest unpaid wages

18-20 August: ASEAN and Russian working groups on trade an cooperation to be held in Moscow, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov

Second half of August: Prime Minister Kasyanov to visit China

20-22 August: Russian-Iranian consultations on nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction to take place in Moscow, according to Interfax

23 August: Russian and U.S. trade officials plan to initial an agreement on Russian exports of cold-rolled steel to U.S. market

26 August: A commission set up by the government, Federation Council and State Duma will consider five draft law on the reform of the power industry and whether they should be submitted to the Duma, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 August 26 August: Government will submit a draft 2003 budget to the State Duma, according to Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin on 6 June

28-29 August: World Tatar Congress will be held in Kazan, Tatarstan

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: New Arbitration Procedure Code comes into force

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

7 September: State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev's Rossiya movement to hold founding congress in Moscow

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

1 October: Lawsuit filed by author Vladimir Sorokin against political youth movement Moving Together will start at Taganskii Raion court in Moscow

5 October: Criminal investigation by Prosecutor-General's Office of oligarch Boris Berezovskii to end officially

7 October: CIS summit to be held in Chisinau, Moldova, according to Interfax on 13 May

12-14 October: Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi will visit Russia

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.