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Russia Report: November 6, 2002

6 November 2002, Volume 2, Number 37
By Laura Belin

Less than a week after Russian security forces stormed a Moscow theater where Chechen rebels were holding more than 700 hostages, the State Duma responded to the crisis by passing several controversial bills. Amendments to the law on the mass media and the law on terrorism narrowly cleared the Duma in their third and final readings on 1 November.

The amendments would limit media coverage in several broad respects. Publishing, broadcasting, or posting on the Internet any "propaganda or justification" of extremism, information about the tactics used in antiterrorism operations, or information about building weapons would be prohibited. More specifically, journalists would be barred from spreading personal information about members of the special services or those assisting them in antiterrorism operations. The 231 deputies who supported the amendments (a Duma majority requires 226 votes) included deputies from most factions: Unity, Fatherland-All Russia, People's Deputy, Communist, Russian Regions, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

Many journalists and media watchdogs have expressed concern about how authorities might apply the new amendments. Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 5 November, Oleg Panfilov of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations warned that if a journalist published an article examining the sources of Chechen terrorism, such analysis could be considered to be propagandizing or justifying extremist activities. Panfilov also noted that an amendment prohibiting the media from distributing information about building weapons or explosive devices might force the closure of specialist magazines about guns and the cancellation a television program about the military, which is currently broadcast on state-owned RTR.

In the political arena, reaction was mixed. One defender of the measure, Fatherland-All Russia faction leader Vyacheslav Volodin, argued that "there should be more responsibility in the journalist community," Channel 3 reported on 1 November. Similarly, Duma Information Committee member Pavel Kovalenko (Unity) told NTV that the amendments will "enable the state to protect itself from the propaganda of violence...and the propaganda of war," which are already proscribed in Article 4 of the media law.

Media Minister Mikhail Lesin's comments on the amendments were more circumspect. During the last three years, Lesin's ministry has led the drive to restrict certain types of coverage of the Chechen conflict, for instance by issuing official warnings to media outlets that have published or broadcast interviews with Chechen leaders. But speaking on Russian Public Television on 1 November, Lesin stressed the need for the journalistic community to adopt its own code of ethics for covering crises related to terrorism. (The Media Ministry has issued its own recommendations for such a code. See "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2002.)

The 106 Duma deputies who voted against the media-related amendments included members of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and Yabloko factions, who slammed the new restrictions. In an interview published in "Gazeta" on 4 November, SPS leader Boris Nemtsov worried that the changes to the media law would restrict the constitutional right to hold and express an opinion, since those who call for negotiations aimed toward securing the release of hostages could be accused of aiding and abetting terrorists. Sergei Ivanenko (Yabloko) described the new restrictions as another link in authorities' "managed democracy" project, which will limit citizens' rights and freedoms, NTV reported on 1 November. Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, co-founder of the Liberal Russia party, told TV-S the same day, "I fear that in passing this law on a sort of emotional wave, we are in the final analysis introducing censorship in our country."

Though the aftermath of the hostage crisis might have accelerated the final adoption of the amendments to Russia's media law, it is worth noting that plans to further restrict media coverage of "antiterrorist operations" were under way in the Duma well before the hostage crisis, as ORT television correspondent Olga Kokorekina observed during a 1 November broadcast. Indeed, the Duma approved the amendments to the media law in the second reading on 23 October; Chechen fighters seized the Moscow theater later that evening.

In contrast, another controversial measure recently adopted by the Duma appears to have been hastily drafted following the hostage crisis. Passed in all three readings on 1 November, amendments to the law on terrorism and the law on interment and burial authorize the government not to return the bodies of terrorists to their relatives or to tell families where such bodies have been buried. The amendments were drafted to have retroactive force, so as to apply to the Chechen hostage takers killed in the Moscow theater on 26 October. "Novye izvestiya" commentator Otto Latsis warned on 5 November that the amendments represent "reckless animosity instead of an attempt to understand what happened and anticipate the future" that would assist terrorists' recruiting efforts in Chechnya and damage Russia's image abroad.

But inside the parliament, overt opposition to the measure was thin on the ground. According to, pro-government Duma factions contributed most of the votes in favor of the amendments. Most deputies in the Communist and Agrarian factions did not vote for or against the amendments. Similarly, most members of the Yabloko and Union of Rightist Forces factions declined to participate in the vote on the bill.

(Laura Belin has covered Russian politics and media issues since 1995.)

By Laura Belin

The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) suffered a setback on 1 November when Duma deputies declined to create a special commission to investigate the hostage crisis and the way security forces resolved it, which led to the deaths of at least 100 hostages. As SPS leader Boris Nemtsov explained in an interview published in "Gazeta" on 4 November, the SPS wanted a parliamentary commission to examine two questions in particular: How did a group of "bandits armed to the teeth" manage to come to Moscow? And would it have been possible to save more people during the rescue mission? He complained that in refusing to look into those questions, the "cowardly and irresponsible" parliament declined to perform "its most important function: oversight."

The SPS proposal was never likely to succeed; by 29 October it was clear the pro-presidential factions that command a near majority in the lower chamber oppose it. However, the tiny Yabloko faction's refusal to support the initiative added insult to injury and sparked a round of mutual recriminations between Yabloko and the SPS.

In his interview with "Gazeta," Nemtsov complained bitterly about Yabloko's opposition to forming the parliamentary commission. More generally, he characterized Yavlinskii as "pathologically incapable of coming to agreement" and suggested the Yabloko leader's judgment has suffered from spending 10 years "without serious practical work." For their part, Yabloko members last week accused SPS leaders of using the hostage crisis to promote themselves and of spreading false rumors that Yavlinskii is angling for a cabinet appointment, TV-S and Channel 3 television reported on 1 November. (The SPS is not the only source of rumors that Yavlinskii will be offered a cabinet post. See "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2002.)

Yabloko and the SPS agree on many issues and often cast similar votes in parliament. For instance, members of both factions voted against and sharply criticized the new media restrictions approved by the Duma on 1 November. Leaders of both parties have repeatedly called for coordinating their activities before the next presidential election, most recently at the fourth All-Russia Democratic Conference in Moscow on 22 October.

However, the flap over the effort to create a parliamentary commission illustrates how difficult it will be for the SPS and Yabloko to cooperate in any meaningful way during the next election cycle. Before the last two Duma elections, Yabloko leaders and politicians now affiliated with the SPS voiced the need for Russia's "democratic" forces to work together. Each time negotiations broke down -- in part over economic policy differences and in part because of personal animosity between Yavlinskii and key politicians who now back the SPS, especially former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar and Anatolii Chubais -- the current head of the Unified Energy Systems electricity monopoly.

In the spring of 1995, speculation was rife that Yavlinskii and Russia's Democratic Choice leader Gaidar would form an electoral alliance. When those prospects collapsed, Gaidar accused Yavlinskii of "stabbing democracy in the back." During the campaign, some members of Russia's Democratic Choice, which adopted an electoral strategy based on anticommunist rhetoric, slammed Yabloko for using slogans such as "We are fighting poverty, not communism."

In the autumn of 1999, leaders of Yabloko and the newly formed SPS reportedly agreed not to attack each other during the parliamentary campaign. However, Chubais repeatedly called Yavlinskii a "traitor" for calling on the government to cease large-scale bombing in Chechnya. Yavlinskii and Sergei Kirienko, who headed the SPS party list, clashed in a debate televised on NTV. Yabloko members also accused the SPS of orchestrating a "dirty tricks" campaign against Yabloko in many Russian regions (see "RFE/RL Russian Election Report," 10 December 1999).

Before the hostage crisis, a meeting of the united political council of the SPS and Yabloko had been scheduled for 14 November. It is not clear whether that meeting will go ahead. Even if it does, the resentment in each party over the other's reaction to the crisis may linger for some time. Nemtsov is now advocating a union of democratic forces "without Yavlinskii and [businessman Boris] Berezovskii." Although he has left the door open to other prominent figures in the Yabloko faction, such as Vladimir Lukin, Aleksei Arbatov, Sergei Ivanenko and Tatyana Yarygina, it is hard to imagine those heavyweights joining forces with the SPS after so many years of loyalty to Yavlinskii. The rivalry between Yabloko and SPS leaders seems likely to continue, despite their similar views on so many salient political issues.

Russia's electoral rules have been altered before every parliamentary and presidential election cycle in the post-Soviet period, and the current Duma is continuing the tradition. On 24 October deputies approved in the first reading a draft law on presidential elections. Like previous versions of the law, the bill outlines a two-round system in which a runoff between the top two candidates is needed if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round. But some changes reflect the law on political parties adopted last year. For instance, political parties that gained at least 5 percent of the vote in the most recent federal parliamentary election would be allowed to nominate a presidential candidate without collecting the 2 million signatures needed for candidates seeking the presidency without the backing of such parties. The bill would also raise the maximum campaign spending to 150 million rubles (some $5 million) from the current level of 30 million rubles. (During the presidential campaigns of 1996 and 2000, it was widely acknowledged that the leading candidates vastly exceeded campaign-spending limits.)

The system for electing the lower house of the parliament may change as well. On 25 October, deputies approved in the second reading a new law on elections to the State Duma. Among other things, that bill would raise the threshold for receiving Duma seats allocated according to proportional representation. Half of the 450 Duma seats currently are distributed among political groups that receive at least 5 percent of the vote on the party-list ballot. The new bill would raise that threshold to 7 percent. However, the Duma elections scheduled for next year would retain the 5 percent barrier. The 7 percent threshold would take effect only in the next elections, to be held in 2007 unless the next Duma is dissolved early.

The system for tabulating results in all elections may be regulated by a new bill on the use of electronic voting machines, which the Duma approved in the first reading on 30 October. A vote-counting system using computers was introduced for the 1996 presidential election. Then and now, opposition politicians and some independent analysts have expressed concerns about the potential to use such a system to falsify the election results (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October and 6 November 2002). LB

Deputies on 30 October also unanimously approved in its third and final reading an amendment to the Family Code that would reduce the legal marriage age from 16 to 14 with the permission of the local executive branch. Although the amendment requires mayors to consider the opinions of the parents of prospective newlyweds, it does not oblige them to heed those opinions. RC

A bill passed by the Duma in the first reading on 1 November would distinguish between ordinary weapons and those that have significant historical or artistic value, TV-Center reported. Currently Russia's Criminal Code does not distinguish between collectors of rare weapons and people involved in criminal arms sales. Duma Security Committee member Akhmed Bilalov, a supporter of the bill, told TV-Center that the proposal would apply to weapons such as an automatic rifle that once belonged to Stalin, which was dismantled in order to take it out of circulation. In the process, the material and cultural value of that rifle was destroyed, he noted. LB


Name of law________________Date approved_____No. of reading

On the mass media___________1 November__________3rd

On terrorism________________1 November__________3rd
(relating to media)

On terrorism________________1 November________1st, 2nd, and 3rd
(on not returning bodies of terrorists)

On interment and burial_______1 November________1st, 2nd, and 3rd
(on not returning bodies of terrorists)

Law on presidential elections____24 October___________1st

Law on parliamentary elections__25 October____________2nd

Law on automated___________30 October____________1st
vote-counting system

Family Code________________30 October____________3rd
(marriage age)

On weapons________________1 November____________1st
(collectible weapons)

The Federation Council on 30 October unanimously approved the new Civil Procedure Code, and other Russian news agencies reported. The code was passed by the Duma on 23 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 24 October 2002). The new code, which regulates labor and family disputes, is considered a landmark in Russian legal reform and strictly limits the role of prosecutors in civil disputes. It also establishes strict deadlines for each phase of a civil dispute, a move that is intended to prevent long, drawn-out cases. If signed by the president as expected, the new code will take effect on 1 February. RC

By Oleg Rodin

Nizhnii Novgorod elections become more scandalous every year. In 1998, the big scandal was that businessman Andrei Klimentev, who received the most votes in the mayoral race, was arrested days later and sentenced to several years in prison for financial manipulations. In 2001, Klimentev tried to run for governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast but, thanks to crude attack advertisements against him, did not reach the second round. The presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District, Sergei Kirienko, voiced his satisfaction that a person with a criminal past did not reach public office, and there were strong reasons to believe that Kirienko's office helped organize the negative advertisements against Klimentev. In this year's mayoral race, Klimentev was not allowed to participate: Less than a day before voting began, a court revoked his registration because of campaign-finance violations.

According to local political analysts and commentators for Nizhnii Novgorod media, Kirienko has huge influence over the election process and results. On 15 September, the day of the first round of this year's election, his assistants occupied the offices of the heads of raion administrations. The goal was obvious: to control the work of the raion leaders and reduce or eliminate the influence of "administrative resources" on the outcome of the voting. On the eve of the second round, Kirienko's assistants again confidently and urgently entered the raion administration offices -- in one case in the absence of the raion chief himself -- as if during a search-and-seizure operation ordered by the procurator's office.

These and other manipulations appeared designed to make the Nizhnii Novgorod mayor someone acceptable to the president and especially to the presidential envoy's office. Of the 20 candidates before the first round, the one chosen for that role was Vadim Bulavinov, a State Duma deputy and member of the People's Deputy faction as well as the owner of the television station Seti-NN. In the summer, the president awarded him a medal "For services to the Fatherland," although no one can explain precisely what services he performed.

As if to help ensure Bulavinov's victory in the first round, two strong candidates -- Mikhail Dikin of the Union of Rightist Forces and Yurii Sentyurin, the candidate favored by Governor Gennadii Khodyrev -- "voluntarily" dropped out of the campaign following secret negotiations. The governor faced strong pressure to agree to have Sentyurin withdraw from the mayoral race. Sentyurin had been quickly gaining popularity, even though he was not a Nizhnii Novgorod native.

So, of the five favorites ahead of the 2002 mayoral election, Dikin and Sentyuri were out, although preliminary opinion polls suggested they had the support of about 12 percent of voters. A court excluded the businessman Klimentev from the ballot, although Klimentev's rating before the first round was nearly 20 percent. That left two leading candidates: incumbent Yurii Lebedev and Duma Deputy Bulavinov. On 15 September, Lebedev gained 31.4 percent of the vote and Bulavinov 30.85 percent. Perhaps because Klimentev was struck from the ballot, 30.35 percent of voters cast ballots against all candidates. That is a high protest vote; and in fact it was even higher -- approximately 37 percent -- but some 10,000 protest ballots were declared invalid because of additional marks on them. Voter turnout was low at 29 percent, perhaps also because of Klimentev's exclusion from the contest.

An alarming prospect arose for the second round: that the incumbent Lebedev might win. That outcome did not suit authorities at the federal or regional level. Lebedev pursued an independent and populist policy. He was elected mayor in 1998 as a virtual "double" of Klimentev, with virtually the same program, and he kept his promise to hang a portrait of Klimentev alongside pictures of other city leaders. But he was unable to implement his populist program. Moreover, because of the redistribution of budget funds in favor of the federal authorities, the city amassed huge debts to energy suppliers and began to experience problems with street lighting, and heat and hot water in residential homes as well as schools, hospitals, and children's establishments. Supporters of Bulavinov ran an aggressive campaign on the city's problems and the mayor's mistakes.

Immediately before the election, Nizhnii Novgorod prosecutors opened several criminal cases involving Lebedev and his assistants that were plainly intended to discredit the current mayor. Energy companies did not rush to turn on the heat in the city, despite the cold weather, in order to arouse popular discontent. City residents received notices in the mail of sharp increases in fees for utilities, ostensibly on Lebedev's orders. (Those notices turned out to have been falsified.) The general director of the Gorkii Auto Works, Aleksei Barantsev, announced that Lebedev was being kicked off the factory's board of directors. Local media reported that in the raion near the factory there was plenty of hot water in the pipe system, but local residents were not getting any heat or hot water in their homes.

In addition, representatives of the federal government demonstratively supported Bulavinov's candidacy. Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov told local journalists in early September that he would like to see Bulavinov elected mayor. Klebanov noted that if Bulavinov were mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod, the Industry Ministry would implement several projects in the city.

Vyacheslav Volodin, leader of the Fatherland-All Russia State Duma faction, also endorsed Bulavinov upon leaving a meeting with Kirienko. Volodin called Bulavinov "a member of our team" who "will bring the city peace and constructive work." Volodin also promised that the Fatherland-All Russia faction would help provide new investment in the region and additional federal funds for city projects such as resettling people from dilapidated housing. The leader of Unified Russia's political council in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, Aleksandr Kosarikov, announced, "If there's no Vadim Bulavinov, there will be no money for the city; because money is given to people who are trusted, and there's no trust in Klimentev or Lebedev." So during the election campaign a sort of vote buying took place, but law-enforcement agencies and electoral commissions ignored those violations of electoral legislation.

The second round on 29 September was marked by interference in the electoral process never before seen in Russia. On a court order following an election-night appeal by Bulavinov, ballots were seized and counting was halted when some 70 percent of the votes had already been counted and Bulavinov and Lebedev were running even. Kirienko linked the court ruling to "distrust toward the district and territorial electoral commissions," adding, "Ninety percent of the workers in district commissions are municipal workers, so it's not hard to understand that they were dependent on the [city] administration." Kirienko claimed to have received reports that an order was given to spoil ballots not cast for the current mayor once the polling stations were closed.

The seizure of the ballots was lifted after more than 12 hours, when a preliminary count of 90 percent of the vote suggested that Bulavinov was winning by a tiny margin of 0.5 percent. Politicians and experts sharply criticized the turn of events. Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov announced, "The judicial system is not functioning independently, and any court ruling will now raise doubts." State Duma Deputy Dmitrii Savelev called what happened a mockery of democracy and "a sign that we are building not a civil society in our country but a dictatorship of certain individuals who are striving for power and money." The local political analyst Sergei Kocherov described the situation a crisis and slammed the "sickening sight" of "authorities who are interested in preserving their power and privileges at all costs, ignoring the interests of Nizhnii Novgorod residents."

Most analysts have concluded that Nizhnii Novgorod was a rehearsal for techniques that might be used in future presidential elections. The new mayor's triumphant inauguration has taken place. Bulavinov is replacing workers in the city administration, for the most part returning those who worked in the administration before Lebedev's tenure. People closely linked to the energy sector are being appointed to leading posts. Heat has begun flowing to residences, and the new mayor is promising to look after the needs of Nizhnii Novgorod residents -- just as his predecessor promised. People are calming down, life is gradually stabilizing, and it's possible that everyone will forget Kirienko's words: "An election is always a war. It's simplest to stand on the sideline, but it's more correct to take a position."

But what goals were behind the dirty and brutal war waged in the mayoral elections? Can such electoral games be considered democratic procedures?

(Oleg Rodin is an RFE/RL correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod.)

11-12 November: President Vladimir Putin scheduled to visit Belgium and Norway

11-18 November: Representatives of Khabarovsk Krai will present the region's economic potential and the possibilities of its transportation infrastructure to potential trade and investment partners in Shanghai, China

14 November: Meeting of united political council of Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko is scheduled

14 November: Government will meet to consider Russia's energy strategy through the year 2020

15 November: Russian and French foreign and defense ministers to meet in Paris for the Russia-France Security Cooperation Council

16-17 November: Former Yabloko party member and State Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Igrunov will hold a founding congress in Moscow for his new party called the Union of People for Education and Science (SLON)

21-22 November: Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov scheduled to visit Prague for NATO summit

22 November: State Duma to consider draft 2003 budget in its third reading

25 November: The Energy Ministry and the State Construction Committee will present a report on their preparations of the country's energy and heating infrastructure for the winter

26 November: Gubernatorial elections to be held in Taimyr Autonomous Okrug to replace former Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, who was elected governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai in September

29 November: State Duma will consider package of electricity-sector reforms in its second reading

30 November: Date by which Denmark is expected to make a decision regarding the extradition of Chechen Vice Premier Akhmed Zakaev to Russia

End of November: President Putin will visit Yekaterinburg

December: Armenian President Robert Kocharian to visit Russia

1 December: Date by which Gennadii Seleznev's Russian Revival Party will be registered at the Justice Ministry, according to party spokesman Sergei Kostornoi on 30 September

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

26 December: Deadline by which regions should form permanent election commissions in order to comply with new federal legislation

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

1 January: Jury trials will begin to be held in St. Petersburg, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service

3 January: Date until which Colonel Yurii Budanov will remain in custody on charges of murdering a young Chechen woman

1 February: New Labor Code will come into effect

2 February: Gubernatorial elections will be held in Magadan Oblast to replace Valentin Tsvetkov, who was assassinated in Moscow in October

Compiled by Laura Belin (LB)