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Russia Report: February 2, 2001

2 February 2001, Volume 1, Number 3
PUTIN TO PUNT LAND ISSUE TO REGIONS? While declaring that Russia needs "unambiguous" land laws, President Vladimir Putin left his own position on such legislation ambiguous. In a speech to the presidium of the State Council on 30 January, Putin avoided taking a stand on exactly what the legislation should accomplish, declining to weigh in on the controversial issue of the disposition of agricultural land. Putin suggested only that legislation on land should be discussed "at a high political and expert level" at the presidium. After which, documents of this discussion would be forwarded to the government and hearings on the issue would be held in the Duma.

Addressing the same State Council session, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said that agricultural land will likely be excluded from the land code and will be dealt with separately. By leaving out the most controversial element of land legislation, the government may be hoping that a new draft bill will avoid the fate of previous versions of the land code which either failed to pass the lower and upper legislative chambers or were vetoed by former President Boris Yeltsin from the time the code was first introduced in June 1994. But on 25 January, a bill introducing chapter 17 of the Civil Code that regulates the right to own non-agricultural land was passed by the State Duma in the first reading with the slimmest of margins -- just three votes. The Communist faction walked out of the Duma after the vote in protest, and a second reading of the legislation promises to be even more difficult.

An unidentified high-ranking source in the presidential administration told ITAR-TASS on the same day as Putin's speech to the State Council that the Kremlin is likely to give Russian regions the right to decide themselves whether land sale or purchase should be allowed, since that approach represents "a reasonable compromise which will not stir up public opinion." At the same time, the official admitted that some members of the government do not favor this option, since it might "disrupt the common economic space of Russia." It might also work at odds with one of Putin's oft expressed goals vis-a-vis the regions, i.e., to create a common legal space.

While disappointing some members of the government and right-wing factions in the Duma, such a solution would likely appeal to many regional leaders, many of whom still hold seats in Federation Council. Any land legislation after it gets through the Duma will also have to be passed by that body. Tatarstan President and presidium member Mintimer Shaimiev said on 29 January that while the right to buy and sell land should be enshrined in federal law, such legislation should also be differentiated according to region. In Ufa, Bashkortostan, a member of the republic's land resources committee also expressed his support for a region by region approach to land legislation, RFE/RL's Kazan Bureau reported. Of course, their more left-leaning and Communist counterparts, such as Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev, like Communist members of the Duma, continue to speak out against any kind of private ownership of land.

Currently, the right to private ownership of land does exist under the 1993 Constitution, article 27, and as laid out in government resolutions and presidential decrees throughout the 1990s. And, last year, more than 1 million land transactions were registered, according to Ministry of Justice data, Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces) reported on 25 January. But according to Krasheninnikov, these transactions take place without the benefit of clear legal guidelines, creating opportunities for corruption and fraud at the local level.

In a comment for the "Johnson's Russia List" on 22 September 2000, Stephen Wegren of Southern Methodist University predicted that a land code will be adopted but the issue of agricultural land turnover will be regulated by separate laws. And he concluded that whatever new market develops will be a regulated one. "The politics of the land market have in fact suggested this outcome for several years, as only a small minority have held out for an unregulated land market," he said. "There is, quite simply, little constituency for an unregulated market among policy makers, agricultural officials in Moscow or most regions, among farm managers, or among the rural population." JAC

NEW MEDIA LEGISLATION SLAMMED AS REPRESSIVE. A group of deputies from the Duma committee for information policy have introduced a series of amendments to the law on the media that immediately triggered criticisms from their own faction leaders. The proposed amendments would regulate the activities of news agencies and transfer the right to give out licenses for television and radio broadcasters to the federal Media Ministry, "Segodnya" reported on 29 January. According to "The Moscow Times" on 30 January, the amendments would also make it easier for prosecutors to construe criticism of authorities as open calls for riots. The amendments would also eliminate the section of the current law that allows journalists to protect their sources and gain access to areas closed to civilians. Deputy head of the Yabloko faction Sergei Ivanenko has harshly criticized the bill, charging that Russians "may one day wake up and find themselves in another country" as insignificant amendments, which reduce the rights of journalists and of free speech, are introduced one right after another, according to "Segodnya."

Unity faction leader Boris Gryzlov distanced his group from the legislation despite the fact that two of the five deputies who introduced the amendments were members of his faction. He told reporters that most of the amendments "could be regarded as the promotion of narrow lobbying interests or as a technical mistake during the work on the legislation," according to "Vremya MN" on 27 January. The media legislation is the second bill in the past two months proffered by a Unity faction member that Unity's leadership later renounced, the first being one that would make governors' position an appointed rather than elected position (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 December 2000). The Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction has also distanced itself from the amendments despite the fact that one of the bill's sponsors, deputy Nikolai Bulaev, is an OVR member, according to "The Moscow Times." JAC

THE POLITICAL CENTER GETS MORE CROWDED. At a founding conference held on 26 January, delegates voted unanimously to create a People's Deputy movement on the basis of the deputies' group present in the State Duma. Gennadii Raikov, the leader of the group in the lower legislative house, was also elected leader of the new movement (see "Profile" below). According to Raikov, the movement already has branches in 47 regions across the country and plans to increase this number to include even Chechnya, "Vremya novostei" reported on 29 January. In comments to reporters on 26 January, Raikov did not exclude the possibility that the new movement might be transformed into a political party over the next year and a half. He said that decision will be made in December 2002, a year before the next round of State Duma elections.

Raikov was careful to state that the People's Deputy will not merge with the other pro-Kremlin group in the Duma, Unity. He said "these two particular bears will never find themselves in one and the same lair," according to "Vremya novostei". Vladimir Averchenko, chairman of the movement's organizational committee, said "Our cadres are stronger, let them join us," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 January. However, Unity member and First Deputy Duma Chair Lyubov Sliska, who attended the People's Deputy founding conference, appeared to want to hold out the possibility that the groups could merge in the future. She suggested that if the People's Deputy movement becomes a party, then it could enter into a bloc with Unity during elections.

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" suggested on 27 January that the Kremlin's desire may be the same as Sliska's: "obviously, it would be much easier for the Kremlin to work with one group, rather than two of the same thing." In addition, the two groups claiming the center could split the electorate, the newspaper suggested.

Indeed, the two group's platforms do seem oddly similar. Unity, which only recently decided that an ideology might be desirable, touts its pro-presidential philosophy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2000). At the same time, People's Deputy head Raikov has called his group's stance "pro-presidential" and said that their "ideology is close to the left center." "On social questions, we lean in some way to the left side, but in principle we have a centrist ideology," he said.

But reports that the Kremlin is less than pleased with Unity have been rife for the past few months. The group has lacked not only an ideology but reportedly also discipline, a fact that Unity leader Sergei Shoigu acknowledged at the party's second congress last October. In addition, during regional gubernatorial elections, Unity branches did not always back the same candidate as Unity's central organization. In recent comments to reporters, Raikov has explained that Unity and People's Deputy groups have similar aims but different methods. They also have different leadership, and the People's Deputy group leaders may be trying to demonstrate to the Kremlin that the superior group organizationally will be more worthy of the Kremlin's resources come the next election. JAC

MINI-PROFILE: Gennadii Raikov. People's Deputy leader Gennadii Raikov was born, raised, and spent most of his professional life in Siberia, achieving a national-level office only in the past four years. Raikov, 61, was born in Khabarovsk and educated in Omsk, where he completed a degree at the Machine-construction Institute in 1961. Throughout the sixties and seventies he worked as an engineer, rising to general director of the Tyumen Motor Construction Association in 1983. In 1990, he was elected chairman of Tyumen's city council, and in August 1991, President Boris Yeltsin by decree named him head of the city's administration, a post from which he resigned two years later. He was then elected as a deputy in Tyumen Oblast's legislature and served as deputy general director of Tyumenneftegazstroi from April 1993 to November 1995. He then took up his current profession, winning election to the State Duma from a single mandate district in Tyumen Oblast. From 1996 to October 1999, he was a member of the Russian Regions group. He was then independent for two months until he was re-elected in the 19 December 1999 elections. When the new Duma was formed, he was elected head of the new People's Deputy group. During the recent gubernatorial elections in Tyumen Oblast, Raikov appeared to back the incumbent Leonid Roketskii, who lost to deputy presidential envoy to the Volga district Sergei Sobyanin. JAC

UPPER HOUSE TAKES SOME, LEAVES SOME. On 31 January, senators approved four bills and rejected three others. As expected, the upper chamber still composed mostly of regional leaders approved the bill allowing governors to seek a third even a fourth term. Senators also approved the bill extending immunity from criminal prosecution and other privileges to former Russian presidents as well as the bill extending the terms of Constitutional Court judges and lifting the mandatory retirement age for them. During the first vote on that bill only 107 members favored it; 133 were required. But according to Chuvash Republic President Nikolai Fedorov, more senators were persuaded to support the bill after lobbyists from the Kremlin showed up, "The Moscow Times" reported on 31 January. The final vote was 144 in favor with one against and four abstentions, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC


Name of law______________Date____________Action On the Constitutional Court_____31 January_____approved

On the demarcation of ________31 January_____rejected
governmental ownership of land__________________________

On presidential immunity______31 January______approved

On principles for organizing______31 January________approved
legislative and executive organs in the regions__________

On the use of nuclear energy____31 January________rejected

On the Kovykta gas-condensate___31 January_______approved deposit

On introducing changes and _____31 January_______rejected
and additions to Criminal Code and Criminal Procedural Code

MEET THE PRESS. During a three-hour meeting with journalists from the embattled NTV on 29 January, President Putin stressed his commitment to freedom of the press, saying that he wants to see the embattled television channel remain independent and retain its editorial staff. Putin said that while NTV's attitude to authorities is often critical, "that is both normal and useful." Putin added that he would welcome the foreign investment from CNN's Ted Turner in the company. However, when asked to intervene with the office of the Prosecutor-General on the behalf of NTV and its parent company, Media-MOST Group, Putin stuck to his previous stance that that office is independent, and the only way to challenge the prosecutors is legally, through the courts.

That he is powerless to affect the Prosecutor-General's policies has been Putin's mantra since the controversy over Media-MOST and its head Vladimir Gusinskii began with Gusinskii's first arrest last June. Asked about that arrest soon after it happened, Putin denied any foreknowledge, saying on 13 June that "if it's the Prosecutor General [who arrested Gusinskii], they are independent and make decisions on their own. I don't know anything about it" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2000). And at a recent conference of prosecutors from around the country, Putin appeared to defend the nations' prosecutors, noting "the times when the prosecutor's office was a cover for lawlessness in our country...are gone."

According to one person present at the meeting with NTV journalists, Viktor Shenderovich, creator of the satirical puppet program "Kukly," Putin seemed convinced that NTV journalists act on specific instructions from Gusinskii. Shenderovich told "Moskovskii Komsomolets" on 30 January that Putin said "we know that you speak with Gusinskii for hours." Shenderovich assured Putin that he had "never once received any kind of instruction from Gusinskii about anything," but he said that he and his colleagues "did not succeed in convincing" the president. JAC

IS PUTIN PLANNING A PURGE? Speculation about the future shape of the government continued with "Moskovskii komsomolets" reporting on 29 January without reference to sourcing that Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov will be the only deputy prime minister of the current six to retain that title under Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's reorganization plan (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Report, 22 January 2001). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" went a step further, reporting on 31 January that President Putin will mark his one year anniversary in office this March by conducting a thorough purge of the cabinet and administration. The reason for the purge is so that Putin can put in place officials more loyal to him. According to the daily, which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, among those officials who should be preparing their resumes are Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin and most of his deputies. The leading candidates to replace Kasyanov are reportedly Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, and presidential envoy to the Volga district Sergei Kirienko. JAC

OUT: First Deputy Chairman of the Audit Chamber Yurii Boldyrev's term in that post expired on 17 January, and according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 January, it will not be renewed. According to the newspaper, Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin plans to nominate Aleksandr Semikolennykh, who has worked with President Putin, to the post. (On 1 February, the chamber launched its own web site

POLITICAL CALENDAR 8-10 February: State Council's presidium will consider schemes for reforming electricity system in Russia, according to
20-21 February: Next full session of the State Council will convene, according to the presidential administration's press service.
22 February: The State Duma will consider legislation on investment funds in its second reading, according to the Duma's Legislation Committee.
End of February: The government will present its draft of the Land Code to the Duma, according to Prime Minister Kasyanov's spokeswoman Tatyana Razbash.
18 March: Election for the State Duma seat in the Kolomenskii single-mandate district in Moscow Oblast will be held. That seat has been vacant since the death of German Titov last year.