Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia Report: November 20, 2002

20 November 2002, Volume 2, Number 39
By Laura Belin

Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has high hopes for his Rossiya movement and his Party of Russia's Rebirth. Addressing Rossiya's second congress, held in Vladimir on 16 November, Seleznev made clear that he expects to form a broad left coalition to contest next year's Duma elections. That movement will compete with the People's Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR), a Communist-led umbrella movement formed in 1996, which Seleznev officially abandoned in October.

Seleznev argued that the "left-center niche" has great potential, because "Russia by its a left country. Therefore, when we set ourselves the task of occupying the left-center niche, I think that an enormous number of people who belong to various parties may come join us -- or those who do not belong to any parties. That's the majority in Russia," TV-S reported on 16 November. Speaking to Moskoviya television later the same day, Seleznev emphasized the need to enforce social guarantees such as the right to work and to an education. He was confident of his movement's ability to attract supporters of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), because members of his party know how to solve Russia's social problems and "will not simply stand and scream about how everything has disintegrated, everything has collapsed, so let's go onto the streets and perform acts of civil disobedience."

Seleznev's position as Duma speaker guarantees him plenty of media coverage, and his party-building efforts appear to be well financed. However, many onetime Communist allies have tried and failed to form center-left alternatives to the KPRF. Then-Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin left the Agrarian Party in 1995 to head a center-left electoral bloc. He had the Kremlin's blessing and enough financing to run numerous television advertisements, but he failed to attract heavyweight allies or strike a chord with the voters. His Bloc of Ivan Rybkin gained just 1 percent of the party-list vote.

Those who attempted to fill a left-center niche by wooing Communist supporters fared little better in the December 1999 Duma elections. While the KPRF increased its share of the party-list vote to more than 24 percent, the Party of Pensioners gained less than 2 percent. Vladimir Bryntsalov's Russian Socialist Party gained 0.24 percent. Spiritual Heritage, headed by one of the NPSR's founders, Aleksei Podberezkin, won just 0.1 percent.

Having lost their Duma committee chairmanships this spring, and with it any incentive to cooperate with the Kremlin, KPRF leaders are likely to go all-out to attract protest voters during next year's parliamentary campaign. Seleznev may believe that offering a "constructive" opposition is a winning ticket. However, the voters' behavior in previous elections does not support his assertions about the center-left's massive potential.

Incidentally, if Seleznev is angling to become the main left opposition candidate in the 2004 presidential election, recent history suggests he is fighting an uphill battle there as well. Ahead of the March 2000 presidential election, three candidates who had supported Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov in 1996 and had helped form the NPSR tried to capitalize on the ostensibly winning left-center niche. Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev finished with just under 3 percent of the vote, well-known filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin gained 0.44 percent, and Podberezkin won just 0.13 percent. Zyuganov won more than 29 percent of the vote, an improvement on the KPRF's already strong showing in December 1999.

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

Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist) on 11 November introduced a bill that would amend the law on guarantees to the president. Almost immediately after Boris Yeltsin resigned the presidency, acting President Vladimir Putin signed a decree granting extensive privileges to Yeltsin. The parliament later approved a law codifying many points of Putin's decree. Among other things, Yeltsin and his family receive benefits and expenses estimated to be worth some 50 million-60 million rubles ($1.6 million-$1.9 million) each year. Furthermore, Yeltsin has immunity from criminal prosecution, and, upon his death, his close relatives will still have access to the special cars and medical services they now receive. Ilyukhin's amendment would specify that the law does not apply to anyone who served as president before 31 December 1999 (the date of Yeltsin's resignation).

Ilyukhin's bill has little chance of becoming law. The KPRF and its allies do not comprise a Duma majority; on the contrary, in many instances a solid Duma majority is aligned against them. on 12 November quoted Ilyukhin himself as saying the Duma is unlikely to revoke Yeltsin's privileges. However, some observers have suggested that the effort will help the KPRF ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for 2003. "Trud" noted on 13 November that Communist supporters are not the only ones in Russia who dislike Yeltsin; any attack on the former president will please Communist supporters and perhaps expand the potential Communist electorate.

The last few years must have been disappointing for veteran Communist Duma deputies like Ilyukhin. Having had a commanding position in the Duma for four years following the 1995 parliamentary election, the KPRF lost clout following the December 1999 election. For two years, the party retained control of many powerful Duma committees, thanks to a January 2000 deal with the pro-Kremlin Unity faction. This past spring, however, the roof fell in as other Duma factions conspired to take away all the committee chairmanships held by the KPRF and by its ally, the Agrarian faction.

Nevertheless, Ilyukhin's initiative shows that the KPRF can still derive benefits from parliamentary activities, even if the party no longer controls which laws gain approval. LB

"Moskovskii komsomolets" on 13 November published extracts from a document purportedly revealing Boris Berezovskii's plans to buy his way back into the Liberal Russia party from which he was expelled last month. The document lists 43 members of Liberal Russia, along with estimates of how much money it would take to win their support. Party activists, identified by their initials and the region they represent, are divided into three groups: allies for whom there is 100 percent certainty of their support, "wavering" people who require further "incentives," and those with whom it is "impossible or useless" to work. The document estimates that $270,000 would be needed to buy the loyalty of enough members. Whether or not it is authentic, its publication is likely to damage the efforts of Liberal Russia leaders to leave Berezovskii behind and build the party without being tainted by his reputation. Meanwhile, regional party activists who opposed Berezovskii's expulsion are planning to hold a party congress in early December. The large-circulation daily "Moskovskii komsomolets" has long been close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, one of Berezovskii's nemeses. Since the mid-1990s, the newspaper has published numerous damning articles about Berezovskii and his business activities. LB

"Moskovskii komsomolets" on 16 November alleged that Berezovskii is trying to buy spots on the KPRF party list ahead of next year's parliamentary elections. Berezovskii denied the report in an interview with Ekho Moskvy the same day. He admitted having met recently with some people from the "left camp," including "Zavtra" editor Aleksandr Prokhanov. But he charged that buying spots on a list is more in the style of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, in which "everything is bought and sold." (Berezovskii helped create Unity, the precursor to Unified Russia, in 1999. At that time, opponents accused Unity of bribing politicians to join its party list.) High-ranking KPRF member Valentin Kuptsov told Ekho Moskvy that his party is neither negotiating with Berezovskii nor pursuing an alliance with him. Half of the 450 State Duma seats are distributed among the parties that gain at least 5 percent of the vote, and since the KPRF is one of the few parties guaranteed to clear that hurdle, candidates near the top of the Communist party list are virtually assured of winning Duma seats. LB

The Union of People for Education and Science (SLON) held its founding congress in Moscow on 16 November. According to REN-TV, some 230 delegates from 50 regions of the Russian Federation adopted a charter, a program and an official symbol (an elephant, which is what "slon" means in Russian). The party's leader, Vyacheslav Igrunov, was a prominent member of Yabloko throughout the 1990s but split acrimoniously from Grigorii Yavlinskii's party last year (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 20 September 2001). TVS quoted Igrunov as saying that SLON is a party for the new generation, which will be neither left nor right. LB

The State Duma on 15 November passed in its second and third readings an amendment to the law on the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation, and other Russian news agencies reported. The amendment would mandate that the Cyrillic alphabet serve as the basis for the written languages of all peoples of the federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February and 6 June 2002). The use of any other alphabet would have to be approved by a special federal law in each case, Interfax reported.

Representatives of the Republic of Tatarstan condemned the Duma's move. Tatarstan's State Council adopted an alphabet for the Tatar language based on Latin script in 1999, and that law went into effect in September 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September and 19 October 2001). The new orthography is being introduced gradually, with both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets in use until 1 September 2011. Speaking to Ekho Moskvy on 15 November, Nasif Mirikhanov, Tatarstan's representative to the Russian Federation, called the amendment passed by the Duma a "violation of human rights." Duma Deputy Fendes Safiullin (Russian Regions), who represents a district in Tatarstan, also spoke out against the bill. He pointed out that the Latin alphabet is used for Karelian (related to Finnish), the titular language of the Republic of Karelia, and no problems have arisen, ORT reported.

Boris Panteleev, a legal expert for the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, believes that there are no legal grounds to overturn Tatarstan's law introducing a Latin alphabet. In a commentary released on 15 November (see, Panteleev also argued that the Cyrillic-only law violates several articles of the Russian Constitution: Article 55, Part 2, which states that no laws should be issued that revoke or reduce citizens' rights and freedoms; Article 68, Part 2, which states that republics have the right to establish their own state languages; Article 68, Part 3, which states that, "the Russian Federation guarantees to all peoples the right to preserve their native language and to create the conditions for its study and development"; and Article 73, which states (rather awkwardly) that "outside the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and the powers of the Russian Federation on matters that fall under the joint jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and Russian Federation subjects, Russian Federation subjects possess full state power."

How the Federation Council votes on the Cyrillic-only bill will reveal the clout of Tatarstan and Russia's other ethnic-based republics in the upper chamber. LB/RC

The Duma on 15 November voted by 236 to 47 to pass in the first reading more amendments to the law on the mass media, RBK reported. The amendments would introduce an additional justification for annulling a broadcast license: "refusal of the license-holder to further use the frequency indicated in the license to broadcast." The amendments would also give courts the right to annul broadcast licenses (currently, the agency that issues licenses has that right). The law on the mass media, approved in December 1991, anticipated the adoption of a separate law on broadcasting, but no such law has ever been adopted. Media experts agree that the law on television and radio broadcasting is perhaps the single most important missing piece of media legislation in Russia. Its absence has allowed licensing rules to be determined by a patchwork of laws, presidential decrees, and government and ministerial directives. LB

Also on 15 November, the Duma approved in the first reading amendments to a law setting rules on leaving and entering Russia, RTR reported. Among other things, the amendments would introduce a new type of four-month visa to allow temporary residency in the country, so as to curb illegal migration. LB

State Duma deputies on 13 November rejected a draft resolution that would have called on the government to take countermeasures when NATO expands eastward, reported. The failed resolution also called on President Vladimir Putin to withdraw from the Partnership for Peace program. The draft was sponsored by the Communist, Agrarian, and Russian Regions factions, and its authors suggested that Russia form an alliance of countries that are unhappy with NATO policies. Arguing against the resolution, Deputy Aleksei Arbatov (Yabloko) said the measures proposed by the resolution are very weak and ineffective. He said Russia should demand the Baltic states sign the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) before they join the alliance. The resolution received 171 of the 226 votes necessary for passage. VY

The Duma on 15 November rejected a draft law that would have set limits on imports of foodstuffs and would have increased customs duties on imports of meat, dairy products, cereals, and sugar, Ekho Moskvy reported on 18 November. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii sponsored the legislation, which was backed by 193 deputies, well short of a majority. LB

Generals representing the Defense Ministry persuaded members of the State Duma Budget Committee to reduce additional planned spending on counterterrorism in the 2003 budget from 3 billion rubles ($97 million) to 1.5 billion rubles, "Vedomosti" reported on 14 November. Plans to allocate an extra 3 billion rubles to fight terrorism alarmed Defense Ministry officials because that spending would require cuts in other defense-related budget articles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2002). In late October, the Federation Council Budget Committee recommended that the Duma increase expenditures on combating terrorism by 3 billion rubles, but that committee's chairman, Yevgenii Bushmin, told "Vedomosti" the senators had envisioned reallocating the extra 3 billion rubles from all parts of the budget, not just the defense and security articles. According to "Vedomosti," the government has so far not intervened in the dispute. LB

The Duma on 15 November voted to form a conciliatory commission to work out a compromise with the Federation Council over amendments to the law on state regulation of tariffs for heat and electricity, RTR reported. State Duma Banking Committee Chairman Valerii Zubov (People's Deputy) will chair the conciliation commission, which will include representatives of the government and presidential administration, as well as members from both houses of parliament. The Duma had approved amendments stipulating that tariffs for electricity set by commercial organizations would be established annually before the Duma approved the federal budget. The electricity rates could be changed during the year only if parliament had already approved an amendment to the budget parameters. The Federation Council rejected that bill. LB

The Duma Regional Policy Committee on 14 November held a hearing on a draft bill on altering the administrative borders of Russian regions, reported. Deputies and experts at the hearing expressed two main schools of thought. Some supported the government's efforts to merge certain regions, while others back the so-called ethnic republics and urged expanding the independence of federation subjects. Deputy Boris Nadezhdin (Union of Rightist Forces) argued that the number of federation subjects -- currently 89 -- must be reduced. He argued that the criterion for each separate constituent must be its economic viability. "Small nations cannot be economically self-sufficient," Nadezhdin said.

Radio Mayak reported on 14 November that the economic expediency of merging regions will be a key consideration as the draft law is prepared. In addition, the Duma appears likely to give federal authorities a role in approving mergers of regions. According to Radio Mayak, the current proposal calls for agreements between regions to be approved by regional referenda, then ratified by the regional legislature with the consent of the federal government. VY/LB

The Duma on 13 November voted down two proposals to establish a special parliamentary commission to investigate last month's hostage crisis in a Moscow theater, Russian media reported. Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) offered competing proposals; Yabloko's version gained 124 votes and SPS's just 38, "Izvestiya" reported on 14 November. SPS had already tried and failed to win the Duma's approval for a special investigation, and Yabloko's refusal to back that proposal angered SPS leaders (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 6 November 2002).

According to "Izvestiya," the main difference between the two resolutions offered on 13 November was that SPS wanted primarily to determine whether the authorities had taken adequate and exhaustive measures to save hostages injured when special forces stormed the theater. The newspaper quoted SPS member Boris Nadezhdin as saying that his faction believed the storming itself was handled "brilliantly and professionally." In contrast, Yabloko wanted the commission to examine, among other things, the authorities' handling of the raid. More than 100 hostages died and scores more were seriously injured when special forces released a gas to knock out the hostage takers. LB


Name of law______________Date approved___________No. of reading

On the languages of the______15 November_____________2nd and 3rd
peoples of the Russian Federation
(mandates use of Cyrillic alphabet)

On the mass media__________15 November_____________1st
(changes licensing rules)

On entering and leaving Russia_15 November_____________1st

The Federation Council approved on 13 November amendments to the law on the mass media that would regulate the coverage of antiterrorism operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2002), RTR and other Russian news agencies reported. According to Interfax, 145 senators voted in favor of the amendments, one voted against, and two abstained. According to RFE/RL's Russian Service, First Deputy Chairman of the council Valerii Manilov told senators before the vote, "With the help of these [amendments], we can increase the effectiveness of the fight against terror and consolidate our society for this fight." In a written message to Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov submitted before the vote, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii appealed to senators to reject the amendments, writing that they "would create the basis for limiting freedom of speech and persecuting the mass media." He called the language in the amendments "slippery and vague" and said the changes would make it possible for the executive branch "to prosecute any journalist writing about Chechnya or terrorism." RC

The Federation Council on 13 November also approved amendments to the law on combating terrorism that would authorize the government to refuse to turn over to relatives the bodies of those killed during antiterrorism operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2002), RTR and other Russian news agencies reported. Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the council's Defense and Security Committee, said the changes "are a warning to terrorists that the battle against them will be merciless." The vote was 133 for and two against. RC

Senators on 13 November overwhelmingly rejected amendments to the Family Code that would have legalized marriages for people as young as 14 years old "in extraordinary circumstances" with the permission of local executive-branch officials, Russian news agencies reported. The amendments were unanimously passed by the Duma on 30 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2002), but just four senators voted for them, while 134 opposed them and four abstained, according to RIA-Novosti. During discussion of the amendments, senators spoke out harshly against the legislation, and the council also voted not to form a conciliation committee to discuss the matter with the Duma.

Duma Speaker Seleznev told reporters on 14 November that the Duma will attempt to override the 13 November Federation Council's rejection of the changes, reported. During the Federation Council debate, senators said that adopting the amendments would force the legislature also to modify other laws, including those against statutory rape, the drinking age, the voting age, and others. Seleznev said the amendments had also been endorsed by the government's representatives to the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov and Andrei Loginov. Commenting on the Federation Council vote, Seleznev said: "I don't know what happened. I'm going to find out."

The controversy over the proposed changes to the Family Code generated considerable comment in the Russian media, as members of the Duma and Federation Council expressed remarkably different interpretations of what was at stake. Federation Council Deputy Speaker Andrei Vikharev criticized the attempt to allow "young and incapable children" to marry, while Valerii Manilov went so far as to say that the bill approved by the Duma would "legitimate the seduction of minors [and] facilitate efforts to attract them to the porn business and the sex industry," "Vremya-MN" reported on 14 November.

Various Duma deputies pointed out that the current Family Code allows those under age 16 to marry in certain circumstances, when permitted by regional law. However, the code does not set a minimum marriage age nationwide. The Duma deputies sought to close that loophole, so that any marriage involving children younger than 14 would be illegal. Appearing on Moskoviya television on 13 November, Svetlana Goryacheva (independent), who chairs the Duma Committee on Women, Family, and Youth Affairs, noted that 22 regions of the Russian Federation have set the marriage age below 16. She added that three regions have not set any minimum age for marriages. Sparring with Goryacheva on that program, Valentina Petrenko, who chairs the Federation Council Committee on Social Policy, alleged that the bill passed by the Duma contradicts the Criminal Code. However, Goryacheva denied that the proposed changes to the Family Code in any way contradict articles in the Criminal Code that prohibit the sexual exploitation of minors. RC/LB

Aleksandr Kazakov, chairman of the Federation Council's Committee on Federation Affairs, recently weighed in on the appropriate method for choosing Federation Council members. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 November, Kazakov criticized the current system, under which "any of us can be recalled, replaced at any moment." In his view, the "constant rotation" in the upper house serves neither the regions nor the Federation Council well, especially when members are replaced after just a few months on the job. Without a fixed term of office, "We are deprived of solid guarantees of independence, and our rights and duties in relation to regional authorities are vague." Kazakov argued that "a truly influential, authoritative, competent upper house can be formed only through elections by the population for a term of at least four years."

At the same time, Kazakov did not advocate direct elections to the Federation Council; he argued that direct elections "have a political character." In order to form an upper house that truly "expresses the interests of the regions and their residents," he favors using councils of electors who would represent municipalities, business, various social and professional groups, and political organizations. Since the electors would be "knowledgeable, decent people with authority and influence in the region," they would insist that potential Federation Council members demonstrate "knowledge and understanding of the region's problems," thereby reducing the possibility of "manipulating the elections."

Kazakov's logic is not particularly convincing: If regional political and business elites are responsible for manipulating direct elections across Russia, it is unclear why councils made up of those same elites would be free from manipulation. But his comments are yet another sign of influential opposition to the current method of choosing Federation Council members. (Usually, parliamentarians resist efforts to change the system under which they gained their mandates.) Since the Federation Council was created in 1993, three very different systems have been used to choose its members. President Putin's federal reforms do not appear to have been the last word on the subject. LB


Name of law_______________Date approved

On the mass media___________13 November
(coverage of antiterrorism operations)

On combating terrorism_______13 November
(refusal to turn over bodies of terrorists killed)

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 their 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: Postal rates to increase for the second time this year

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 company statement on 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

Late January: International Monetary Fund mission scheduled to visit Moscow to evaluate the development of Russia's economy, according to Ekho Moskvy on 15 November

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.