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Russia Report: September 26, 2002

26 September 2002, Volume 2, Number 31
This week, the Party of Life managed to register as a political party with the federal Justice Ministry. Despite its origins in St. Petersburg and the fact that it has attracted such national figures as Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov and Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok to its ranks, many political watchers question whether the Party of Life will be long-lived. "This party will live only as long as a soap bubble, or, to put it more precisely, only as long as the presidential administration wants it to," Petr Romanov, deputy speaker of the State Duma, commented in "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 September. Few people doubt that the Party of Life's main purpose is to serve as a kind of "double," or party waiting in the wings, should the presidential administration find the current "party of power," Unified Russia, wanting.

That possibility should not be completely discounted. After all, the primary party of power has already blundered, as an advertising campaign launched this summer is widely considered to be disaster. True, Unified Russia experienced a slight rise in ratings in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2002). However, the Communist Party quickly recovered and maintained its usual lead. What's worse, Marat Gelman, deputy general director at Russian Public Television, told RFE/RL that Unified Russia's short-lived rise is considered unimportant because it occurred when most of the country was on vacation. And according to Gelman and others, the advertising campaign was ill-advised since in a number of regions, wages and vacation pay for teachers and other state sectors had not been paid despite ubiquitous billboards reminding voters that Unified Russia was on the job. In an interview with RFE/RL, Politika Foundation head Vyacheslav Nikonov concluded that the campaign likely increased the party's name recognition among the public, but he said he isn't sure whether it improved the party's image.

The campaign was not only unsuccessful, it was also extremely expensive, although exact estimates of its cost vary. Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov charged that the campaign must have cost millions of dollars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2002). Last month, "Vedomosti" suggested that the cost of the party's advertising campaign was 7 million rubles ($226,000) a month, though VolgaInform countered that that estimate likely understates the party's real advertising expenditures. Citing information from the firm Mediaplanning and the Russian Public Relations Group, it reported that Unified Russia was likely spending up to 20 million rubles ($645,000) a month, not 7 million rubles. More recently, "Vremya MN" reported on 18 September that even by the most modest estimates, the campaign is believed to have cost at least several hundred thousand dollars.

In an interview with "Vedomosti" on 17 September, Aleksandr Bespalov, chairman of the party's General Council, declined to specify exactly how much money his party had spent, saying only that it was far less than $5 million. He did admit that the campaign experienced a few hiccups. He said that the Moscow-based firm that was hired to orchestrate the campaign did not always procure the best billboard spaces in the regions, and as a result, in one city, a large ad for Unified Russia appeared alongside a cemetery. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 September, Bespalov accused SPS of spreading rumors about Unified Russia's excessive expenditures at a time when Nemtsov's party is "buying up entire television channels in the regions."

In the meantime, Bespalov has more pressing problems to worry about than last summer's mistakes and accusations by SPS. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 September, relations between Bespalov and Aleksandr Voloshin and his deputy Vladislav Surkov have become strained. And Bespalov is now also reportedly working against his former allies and former St. Petersburg colleagues. For example, Bespalov criticized Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref at a recent party gathering of young businessmen, "Vedomosti" reported on 23 September. He quoted with disapproval Gref saying that "'the ambitious short-term tasks set by the president are impossible." Although it's not clear that the leadership of the Party of Life would fare any better in national politics, the fact that it is waiting in the wings for Unified Russia to stumble again should add to the pressure for that group to measure up. (Julie A. Corwin)

By Laura Belin

In all three parliamentary elections in post-Soviet Russia, the "party of power" has enjoyed far more money, administrative resources, and media exposure than any of its rivals. However, converting those advantages into votes has not come easily. Russian electoral history shows that "selling" the party of power requires more than saturation coverage on state television.

Kremlin spin doctors learned their first painful lessons about electioneering in 1993, when Russia's Choice, led by former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, ran a notoriously incompetent campaign. Heavy-handed news and analysis programs, along with Western-style television advertisements featuring prosperous families, appear to have alienated the majority of the population who were struggling to survive high inflation. Some campaign videos focused on the untelegenic Gaidar or showed others extolling Gaidar's intelligence and dedication. Despite receiving more airtime during newscasts on the two state-owned television networks than did all other 12 parties combined, Russia's Choice gained only 15.5 percent of the party-list vote, well behind Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia. (Thanks to its many prominent regional and local candidates, however, Russia's Choice did win more of the 225 single-member districts than did any other bloc.)

By 1995, Gaidar's party looked like a spent force, so the Kremlin created a new party of power. Its leader, Viktor Chernomyrdin, had headed the government since December 1992, but he was not associated with "shock-therapy" economic reforms. Although inflation had come down considerably since 1993, the party of power did not dwell on the promise of prosperity. Instead, Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia (NDR) bloc campaigned on themes of stability, experience, and professionalism. Image-makers depicted the prime minister as a custodial figure. Billboards showing Chernomyrdin holding his hands in the shape of a roof over the bloc's logo, which looked like a house, inspired jokes that the NDR was offering voters a "krysha" (roof), Russian slang for mafia cover or protection.

Many NDR videos juxtaposed images of Chernomyrdin with feel-good images, such as efficient factory workers. Some paid commercials also contrasted Chernomyrdin's steady leadership with disorder and buffoonery in the State Duma: Footage of the September 1995 Duma brawl in which Zhirinovskii pulled a woman's hair was a staple of NDR advertisements. NDR also benefited from several clips run repeatedly on state television that technically were not political advertisements. One featured No. 2 candidate Nikita Mikhalkov as an astronaut commenting on how beautiful Russia looked from space. All the while, news programs on channels 1 and 2 focused on positive messages about the government and upbeat assessments of the prime minister's bloc.

Still, the election results were disappointing: NDR finished third in the party-list voting with 10 percent, or less than half as much as the Communists received. Even worse, NDR won only 10 of the 225 single-member districts, compared to 58 for the Communists and 20 for the leftist Agrarian Party.

The party of power's spin doctors adopted a much different strategy in 1999, and not only because of NDR's underachieving four years earlier. Building a campaign around the themes of experience and professionalism would have played to the strengths of the Kremlin's arch-rival, the Fatherland-All Russia movement led by former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Primakov was perceived as having guided Russia from a period of economic turmoil following the August 1998 ruble devaluation to a period of relative stability. Luzhkov had run the Russian capital for most of the decade.

Rather than putting political heavyweights at the top of the party list, Unity showcased figures who were well-known and well-liked but apolitical: Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu, Olympic wrestling champion Aleksandr Karelin, and famous criminal investigator Aleksandr Gurov.

Unity's campaign images emphasized youth, vigor, and action. News and analysis programs showed Shoigu helping to resolve crises around the country. Most of Unity's free airtime consisted of wordless footage of the bloc's leaders, set to music without any voice-over or even a catchy slogan. Shoigu appeared overseeing rescue efforts, attending government meetings, and playing soccer. Karelin was shown training for, and winning, wrestling matches. Gurov took part in various law-enforcement activities. The candidates did mouth brief statements in one paid advertisement, but their words had little to do with the Duma, policy stands, or politics in general. Instead, they were uncontroversial messages along the lines that Russia should be a strong state with fair laws and citizens who can "save our country ourselves."

Unity's strong showing, nearly matching the Communist share of the party-list vote and far outpacing Fatherland-All Russia, cannot be attributed entirely to clever spin doctors. The bloc also benefited from growing admiration for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the popular military campaign in Chechnya, conditions that were absent in 1993 and 1995. (Although Putin did not appear in advertisements for Unity, his endorsement of the bloc received much news coverage.) Nevertheless, the image constructed for Unity and its leaders reflected a far more sophisticated use of state power than was apparent during the two previous Duma campaigns.

(Laura Belin has been covering Russian politics since 1995. She recently completed a doctorate on the Russian media in the post-Soviet period.)

Last week, the Communist Party was again dealt another disappointment when a bill prohibiting holding national referenda in the 12 months prior to federal elections passed in its second and third reading on 20 September. The Communist Party, which has been collecting signatures in support of conducting a referendum on land sales and other questions, opposed the bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August and 12 September 2002). Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (Liberal Russia) said "The authorities are not just trying to prevent a Communist referendum [on land sales], but referenda in general," RosBalt reported. He continued, "[The amendments] were initiated by the authorities so that the next State Duma will have a solid, pro-Kremlin majority that will approve any decision, including extending the president's term." Communist Deputy Ivan Melnikov said his party will appeal the amendments to the Constitutional Court. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that he felt "ashamed to sit in the hall when such an elementary norm and right of the electorate was violated," according to Zyuganov has asked the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to consider this "threat to Russian democracy," reported on 19 September. The bill was passed in its first reading on 18 September only after three tries. The vote was 304 in favor and 133 against, according to ITAR-TASS. A vote of 300 was required since the bill is a constitutional one. The bill was introduced by leaders of the so-called centrist factions, Unity, Fatherland-All Russia, People's Deputy, and Russian Regions, as well as leaders from Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces. JAC/RC

State Duma deputies approved the draft 2003 federal budget in its first reading on 25 September, Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 309 in favor with 112 against and four abstentions, according to Interfax. The Communist and Agro-Industrial groups voted against the bill. The draft document assumes that annual inflation will remain under 10-12 percent, the ruble exchange rate will average 33.7 rubles per dollar, and the price of oil will average $21.50 per barrel. Revenues are set at 2.418 trillion rubles ($76 billion), and expenditures at 2.346 trillion rubles. JAC

Name of law___________Date approved_______# of reading

On referenda_____________18 September___________1st
in the Russian Federation___20 September__________2nd, 3rd
2003 federal budget_______25 September__________1st

IN: Sergei Shchechkov, deputy director of the Perm-based Yuridicheskaya Kontora, will replace in the State Duma the late Vladimir Golovlev, who was originally elected from the Union of Rightists Forces (SPS) party list and was murdered in Moscow last month, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 September. Yevgenii Loginov will replace Vladmir Semenkov, who died in a traffic accident earlier this month. Loginov worked most recently as aide to the Liberal Democratic Party's faction leader Igor Lebedev.

IN: Tomsk Oblast's legislature selected on 23 September First Deputy Governor Vladimir Zhidkikh to represent the oblast's executive in the Federation Council, RIA-Novosti reported the next day. Zhidkikh will replace Yurii Gurdin, director of the Moscow-based Yunivers Kholding Company.

SHIFTED: Oleg Kiselev, general director of Media-Sotsium, has replaced Alekandr Levin as general director of TV-6, Russian agencies reported on 19 September. Levin has become first deputy general director.

OUT: Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed an order dismissing Sergei Gapeev as deputy railways minister due to his transfer to other work, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 September.

IN: Kasyanov has signed an order appointing Nikolai Tarasov as first deputy natural-resources minister, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 September. Tarasov is a former mayor of the city of Orsk in Orenburg Oblast and, more recently, headed the administration for work with unitary enterprises and establishments within the jurisdiction of the ministry, RIA-Novosti reported. Earlier in the week, Kasyanov signed an order appointing Yurii Shuvaev as deputy natural-resources minister. Shuvaev is a former general director of Ivanovoneftprodukt.

25-28 September: Sir Michael Jay, permanent undersecretary at Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office and head of the Diplomatic Service, will visit Moscow and St. Petersburg, where he will meet with St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev and presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Viktor Cherkesov, reported on 23 September

26 September: Prime Minister Kasyanov will visit Finland

26 September: State Duma's International Affairs Committee will hold a closed session on the situation in Iraq

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

27 September: Security Council will discuss the normalization of the situation in Chechnya

27-29 September: Members of the State Duma's Russian Regions group will visit Kaliningrad

29 September: Second round of mayoral elections in Nizhnii Novgorod will take place

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: Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization Abu Mazen will visit Moscow

1 October: Moscow City Court will consider the question of canceling the sentence against former Krasnoyarsk Aluminum head Anatolii Bykov

1 October: Ferry service will start between Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, according to the deputy presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, Andrei Stepanov

1 October: A new, higher duty on crude-oil exports will come into effect

3-4 October: Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen will visit Russia

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

7 October: President Putin will celebrate his 50th birthday

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

11 October: Sweden's Queen Silvia will visit St. Petersburg

11-12 October: Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov will meet with head of Georgian parliament in Tbilisi

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

18 October: State Duma will consider 2003 budget in its second reading

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

20 October: Presidential elections in Kalmykia

22-23 October: State Council will meet to discuss local self-government

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 is scheduled

8 December: Parliamentary elections in the city of St. Petersburg

1 January: Date by which Unified Energy System plans to redeem 80 percent of debts to Russian coal companies, according to company statement on 29 August.