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Russia Report: June 25, 2001

25 June 2001, Volume 1, Number 15
COMMUNISTS BUILD NEW SUPPORT Boris Makarenko, deputy general director of the independent Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, recently spoke with "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly" about the relationship between the State Duma and the Kremlin, the prospects for a merger between the Unity party and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's Fatherland, and the rising popularity of the Communist Party.

Q: Do you agree with the widespread perception that this Duma is completely obedient to the Kremlin?

Makarenko: Obedience is a relative category. Compared with the previous Duma, it is certainly more obedient. It is the first parliament in the post-Soviet era where the federal executive for practical purposes has an absolute majority. But there are [three] limits to this obedience.

Limit one is that there is opposition. There is the Communist/Agrarian opposition on the left. Yabloko for practical purposes should be treated as opposition. The Union of Rightist Forces is not in opposition but is more or less independent in decision-making. When it votes with the government, it is on its own free choice; it's not because it is part of a pro-government coalition. Even of the four groupings [Unity, People's Deputy, Russian Regions, Fatherland-All Russia] which are now perceived as the pro-government majority, they command slightly over 50 percent of the house, obedience is not absolute.

Absolute obedience is a characteristic of only one faction: Unity. With all others, there are conditions on which they agree to be obedient. Some of these conditions are of an obvious character. Basically, all factions, all members have his or her lobbyist interests....

Secondly, there is a professional disobedience particularly when it comes to appropriations. Experienced parliamentarians -- and we do have experienced budget managers -- sometimes try to bargain with the government about what they believe would be a better fiscal policy. A recent example is when two representatives sort of imposed on the government their own vision of taxation of oil industry. That's only one example. Another clear example of lobbyist character is when even obedient Duma members actively resisted -- about a year ago -- the government's move to raise drastically excise duties on alcohol, gasoline, and tobacco. They managed to significantly reduce the increase of that excise [tax].

The third type of disobedience is [that of the] single mandate deputies who belong in the relatively loyal factions, People's Deputy, Russian Regions, Fatherland-All Russia; most of them are distinguished political leaders in their communities, well entrenched in regional politics, and for practical purposes independent of the Kremlin. And of their own free will, they prefer to be cooperative and loyal to the Kremlin but on their own terms.

Q: What about the Duma's recent vote of no confidence in the government?

Makarenko: That was an example of obedience by Unity. It was part of a not-so-skillful game by people belonging to the administration of the president. Since we don't have any hard evidence, I would rather not mention names. But definitely it was a stupid game. But they attained their goal in a sense. They not only defeated the Communists in the no-confidence vote but they also effectively blocked the PR campaign which the Communists were trying to launch. But the price they had to pay for this relatively minor victory was quite high. They compromised their own faction. They made it behave stupidly.

Q: They were made to look like amateurs. But why did [the presidential administration] consider the action in the first place? To weaken the Communists, to put them in their place?

Makarenko: First of all, in the year 2000, the model of the majority that we have described is that of a "swinging majority." The government had a solid one-third of votes in the center, and for bills of different nature they could find allies with the liberals on the right or Communists on the left. So the Communists became partners rather than hard-line opposition. Then, all of sudden in 2001, the Communists started to behave independently and like a real opposition. I believe it was a shock for the people in the Kremlin who are dealing with the Duma. They sort of overreacted to it. What they did with their own faction, Unity, shows that the value attributed to this faction by the Kremlin is quite limited. They easily sacrificed it.

Q: Which perhaps makes sense since Unity is after all just a grab bag or motley assortment of individual politicians?

Makarenko: It is, but no matter who is in the faction, it is their own party. It is their own party that they will have to lead to the next elections.

Q: Couldn't it be People's Deputy group?

Makarenko: I don't think [the people in the Kremlin] are ready with their own decision on which party or how many more parties they will have in the next election. The slow and uneven process of consolidation of Unity and Fatherland is indicative of that. They continue to build People's Deputy. But of these three loyal parties or proto-parties, none is a good party. None is actually a party in the correct sense of the word. That's why they are probably wise in not making a stake on one single party since they have time before the next elections. They can let several parties and several scenarios develop and then postpone their decision until then.

Q: Do you think that Unity and Fatherland will really unite?

Makarenko: Well, they haven't so far. To explain that we have to distinguish clearly between reasons and pretexts. The pretexts which we hear is that neither one of them want to dissolve because according to the law in effect that would disqualify both parties from elections for one year, although under the forthcoming law on political parties that would no longer hold true. Another pretext is ideological differences. There really are ideological differences between an average Unity member and an average Fatherland member. But [overall] ideological differences are insignificant. Here is a small illustration. Unity nominated to its ideological or programmatic commission their right-winger while Fatherland delegated its left-wing. So their starting distance in the bargaining was deliberately or artificially maximized. In effect, in terms of platform, there is much more that unites them than divides them. So this is a pretext.

The real reason is two-fold. As you mentioned, Unity is a motley crew and they know that if they merge with Fatherland, which is a party of "losers," but these losers who are strong figures in regional and sometimes in federal elites. If they merge, Unity leaders fear that they will lose the competition with much stronger, efficient political members of Fatherland.

Q: They are afraid that they will be overshadowed?

Makarenko: Overshadowed while this Duma sits. And when it comes to elections no one knows who will be on the party list. Or who will be nominated as the party candidate in their district. So they fear there will be competition.

Another reason is that according to sociological polls, the united party is not getting more support than Unity alone. So the merger will not give them any electoral benefits, at least not right now. At the same time, the Communists' ratings are on the rise.

Q: Why do you think the Communists' ratings are rising?

Makarenko: I have not gone deeply into the cross tabs of the opinion polls and that is where the real answer is. But there are two best guesses that I have. One is that the political regime is becoming more and more mono-centric. There is just one Mr. Putin and nobody else. The only other [pole] is the Communists. So Communists are becoming the one and only opposition. If you are unhappy with the present powers, you go to the opposition. The Communists are the opposition.

The second reason which probably enhances or facilitates this [new support from] voters is that under Putin the Kremlin ceased to be anti-Communist. The barrier which used to separate the Communist segment of the Russian political elite from the rest it is still there but it has become much lower. It is much easier to go over the fence. In the past, we thought we knew the utmost limit of Communists' electoral expansion, i.e., 40 percent which [Communist Party leader Gennadii] Zyuganov got in 1996 in the [presidential election] run-off which was already an exception because many people voted against [incumbent President Boris] Yeltsin rather than for Zyuganov. Now Communists are nearing this same 40 percent in parliamentary polls where a voter can choose from a long menu of parties. So the Communists have become much more acceptable.

Our center used to work in Moldavia (Moldova) many times and we saw how Moldavian Communists covered the same road. They gradually built their way into the political center in Moldavia and then they won last February. Of course, Moldavia is very different. The Russian Communist Party has undergone much less transformation into a social-democratic party compared with Moldavia. Moldavia is rural country with a provincial political culture, where communists are just another [group of] politician. So not all the conditions which led communists to win in Moldavia can be found in Russia, but still the trend is there.

Q: Are more young people supporting the Communists?

Makarenko: I don't buy the Communists' [claims] that they have built a youth base for the party. They haven't. But I do not support the statement that many Westerners and some Russian politicians made that the Communists voters will die out...I have followed the socio-economic profile of the Communist voter and compared with 1995 the age structure of Communist voters has not changed. Geographically, we can see that in some regions, the so-called Red Belt, the Communists lose votes. They certainly lost many votes in the North Caucasus, in regions where people feel the hot winds from Chechnya. There people want to vote for their commander in chief. But the Communists gained voters in many other parts of Russia, particularly beyond the Urals. The Communists so far are able to reproduce their electorate in scale comparable with their natural losses.

...There is a divide between people who tend to support the new life, and those who resent the new life. And the divide in age terms is much lower than people can imagine. People who were over 40 when reforms began tend to be unhappy and still are unhappy with the reforms. The Communists have ceased to be simply a party of nostalgia. They are developing into a populist party. And populism buys them votes among the victims of the reforms. They are victims, and there will be many more victims.

Gennadii Nikolaevich Seleznev: The UnCommunist This month's heated and -- at times -- violent debate on the floor of the State Duma on the Land Code has focused new attention on the prominence of one member of the Communist faction, Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev. While Communist Georgii Tikhonov received a blow in the stomach as deputy member Vladimir Bryntsalov butted him with his head during the State Duma's turbulent discussion of the Land Code on 15 June, it was Duma Chairman Seleznev who had to be taken to the hospital. In interviews conducted after the session, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that many deputies believed that Seleznev's illness was perhaps of a "diplomatic" nature. These sources claim that during a break in the session, Seleznev spoke on the phone with President Putin who was unhappy about the Communists marching stormily out of the hall before the voting. However, sources close to Seleznev angrily denied these allegations, insisting that Seleznev was indeed feeling poorly. Nikolai Kharitonov, leader of the Agro-Industrialists Group, said Seleznev's blood pressure was 210 over 160. They also argue that when Seleznev does not agree with the policy line that the Communist faction is taking he simply abstains from voting.

Of course, only Seleznev's doctor knows for sure, but as the tensions between the Communist Party and the Kremlin/White House increase, Seleznev, who has an almost unblemished record of support for President Putin, may find himself trying to walk a fine line. However, if any politician can maintain such a delicate balance, it is perhaps Seleznev, who has developed a reputation for both tactical brilliance and diplomatic tact.

Although he was born in the Urals, in the city of Serov in Sverdlovsk Oblast in 1947, he has spent the bulk of his professional life in St. Petersburg/Leningrad. In 1963, he finished his studies at a professional-technical school after which he worked as a lathe operator at a defense enterprise in Leningrad. After a stint in the Soviet army, he worked his way up through the ranks of the Komsomol, again in the city of Leningrad. In 1974, he finished his professional training as a journalist at Leningrad State University, and began his quick ascent through the upper reaches of Soviet journalism, managing two of the most popular and important newspapers, "Komsomolskaya pravda" and "Pravda." He spent most of the 1980s as chief editor of "Komsomolskaya pravda." From 1991 to 1993 he was chief editor of "Pravda." In June 1990, Seleznev was elected as a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and almost five years later, he was elected secretary of the Central Committee -- a post which he had to give up a year later after he was elected chairman of the State Duma. From 1988 to 1991 he also served as secretary of the Union of Journalists.

In December 1993, he was elected to the new State Duma from the Communist Party list. In the first Duma he served as deputy chairman of the Committee on Information Policy, and from January to December 1995 he served as deputy chairman of the Duma. In December 1995, he was re-elected to the second Duma from the Communist Party list for the Far Eastern region. In January 1996 he won the Duma's top post, defeating Ivan Rybkin and Vladimir Lukin.

As a legislator, Seleznev has shown a keen interest in projects that would reintegrate the former Soviet states, prompting some analysts to view him not so much as a communist but as a Russian nationalist with a left orientation. Seleznev has frequently proposed that Ukraine join the Union of Russia and Belarus, and on at least one occasion suggested that the solution to the "Crimea problem" is to rejoin Russia and Ukraine.

In the summer of 2000, Seleznev launched the Rossiya movement, prompting scads of articles in the Russian media speculating that the Communist Party had splintered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2000). And indeed there have long been indications of tension in the upper ranks of the Communist Party, particularly between Seleznev and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. For example, in 1996, when Yabloko deputy Yelena Mizulina proposed putting to vote a motion to strip Seleznev of his post as chairman, Zyuganov voted with Mizulina in favor of holding the vote, according to "Izvestiya" at the time. More recently, at last December's Communist Party congress, Seleznev arrived a day late for the event and announced that he was quitting his position on the editorial board of "Pravda" because has been unable to publicize his position on the Rossiya movement.

Last summer when the Rossiya movement was founded, a number of Moscow political observers suggested that the Kremlin was in fact behind the movement's creation as a bid to weaken the Communist Party. Rumors of a close connection between Seleznev and the Kremlin began during Seleznev's unsuccessful bid to win the governor's seat of Moscow Oblast, when President Putin openly spoke out in favor of Seleznev's candidacy. Later, during the beginning weeks of the third Duma, the pro-Kremlin groups, Unity and People's Deputy, formed an alliance with the Communists and supported Seleznev for a second term as State Duma speaker.

And following his re-election as speaker, Seleznev's record of voting in the Duma and public pronouncements have added fuel to the speculation that Seleznev is closely allied to the Kremlin. For example during the initial stages of the Media-MOST scandal -- when its head Vladimir Gusinskii was arrested and placed in the notorious Butyrka prison -- Seleznev was one of the few Moscow-based politicians to not criticize the Kremlin for its handling of the affair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2000). On other occasions, Seleznev has also managed to arrange to be out of the country during key votes on bill over which the Communists and Kremlin were at odds.

Following the recent Land Code brawl, Seleznev is likely to retain his post if only because there are so few eligible candidates to replace him. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted on 21 June that "most factions have already made it clear that they wouldn't mind seeing Gennadii Seleznev replaced." Members of the new pro-Kremlin majority would like someone from the Unity faction or People's Deputy group to replace Seleznev, such as Deputy Speaker (Unity) Lyubov Sliska or head of the People's Deputy group Gennadii Raikov. However, according to the daily, no deputies thought Sliska was competent enough to assume a top leadership position. And Raikov similarly has too little experience with national-level politics. So until a new replacement can be found, Seleznev may remain at the Duma's head. (Julie A. Corwin)

LAND CODE CLEARS FIRST HURDLE AS FISTS FLY... As Duma deputies approached the end of the spring session, the legislative activity appeared to shift into high gear, as the more controversial bills, such as the Land Code, were finally considered. Two weeks ago, deputies passed the Land Code in its first reading following a raucous session on 15 June where deputies exchanged not only harsh words but heavy blows. The vote was 251 in favor with 22 opposed and three abstentions. The framework bill, which is supported by the presidential administration, excludes consideration of agricultural land and allows regions considerable latitude in regulating land transactions. As expected, the Communists and Agrarians strongly opposed the measure, and following speeches supporting the bill, Communist Party leader Zyuganov led a delegation of left deputies out of the hall. JAC

...AND POLITICAL PARTY LAW MOVES ON TO UPPER HOUSE... Perhaps more important were the bills that deputies passed in their third and final readings. Among the most significant of these was the law on political parties. It passed with 238 votes in favor and 164 opposed. If this bill also passes the Federation Council before it finishes its spring session, new rules for Russian parties could come into force as soon as next month. Under the bill, each party should have at least 46 local organizations with no less than 100 members, and any additional local organizations should have at least 50 members. Only full-fledged parties may participate in State Duma or national presidential elections. For each vote that a party earns in State Duma election, it will receive annually 0.005 of minimum wage units, which is now equal to 1 ruble, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 June. For each vote for their candidate in the presidential election, parties will receive the same amount per vote but it will only be a one-time payment. A party can refuse government assistance and live off its membership dues, entrepreneurial activities, or the sale of property and other goods, but the amount it can earn in this way is limited to no more than 10 million minimum wage units a year for the party as a whole and no more than 200,000 minimum wage units for a single regional department. According to ITAR-TASS, the law bans the creation of regional parties, and no person can be a member of more than one party. According to the agency, the ban on the creation of regional political parties should prove controversial in the Federation Council. And, at least 300 votes would be necessary in the Duma to overcome an upper house veto. Also passed in the third reading was a bill preventing regional governors and majors from resigning their posts and then running again in the next elections. [This method had been used most recently by Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 January 2001)]. The bill passed in its third reading with 302 votes in favor one opposed and five abstentions. JAC

...KEY ELEMENT OF JUDICIAL REFORM MOVES FORWARD... Passed in its second reading was the Criminal Procedures Code with 290 votes in favor and just two against. Under the bill, the power to issue search warrants will be transferred from prosecutors to courts by 1 January 2004, and jury trials will be introduced nationwide by 1 January 2003. In addition, retracted confessions can no longer be admitted as evidence, according to "The Moscow Times" on 21 June. Opinion of the new bill appears to be sharply divided, with Sergei Vitsin, a member of the Presidential Pardons Commission, telling the daily that the new code brings "Russia closer to real adversarial trials and it takes the ground out from under the old system, which was built on forcing an admission of guilt from the suspect." Meanwhile, former Moscow City Court Judge Sergei Pashin said the bill is seriously flawed and that "some of its provisions are worse than in Soviet times." Within the Duma, Communist faction member Viktor Ilyukhin was the most vocal opponent of the bill. JAC

...AND DEPUTIES ACT TO RESTRICT SMOKING... Also passed in its third reading was a law limiting tobacco smoking. The law forbids the sale of tobacco products to persons younger than 18 years old or the sale of cigarette or papirosy in quantities smaller than 20 per package. Smoking is banned in the workplace, on local, city, transport, and during flights of less than three hours duration. Manufacturers will also be required to carry a warning about health risks on each pack of cigarettes. On 21 June, deputies passed in its second reading a bill which lays out the procedure for admitting new subjects into the Russian Federation. The bill passed almost unanimously with 391 votes in favor, one abstention and none against. The bill was passed in first reading back in December 1999, when leftist deputies were then hoping that Russia might be expanded with the regions of Abkhazia from Georgia, Pridnestr from Moldova and other former Soviet territories, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 June. Now, if the constitutional bill becomes law, it is considered more likely that it will result in the merger of two or more regions into one (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 April 2001). According to Interfax, more than 40 amendments were added since the first reading. Also on 21 June, deputies discussed three variations of laws laying out the new government program for privatization, and wound up accepting the government's version. The vote was 266 in favor with 132 against and no abstentions, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

...AND SET PROFIT TAX RATE. On 22 June, deputies voted to pass in its second reading chapter 25 of the second part of the Tax Code dealing with the profit tax. The vote was 339 in favor with six against and no abstentions. The government and Duma's faction leaders forged a last-minute compromise on the day of the vote. As a result, the profit rate for enterprises will be lowered from its current rate of 35 percent to 24 percent. The government had originally suggested 25 percent of the new rate, while the Budget Committee had proposed 23 percent. Of the 24 percent that was agreed upon, some 14.5 percent will be sent to regional government coffers and 7.5 percent to the federal budget and 2 percent to municipalities, according to the website Regional governments will also have the right to grant exemptions of up to 4 percent of the 24 percent rate. JAC

LEGISLATION Law__________________Date Approved____# of reading

On the basic guarantees of ___13 June____________2nd
election rights _____________14 June____________3rd
(on early resignations)

Land Code__________________15 June______________1st

Criminal Procedures Code______20 June____________2nd

On political parties____________21 June____________3rd

On the order of admitting new____21 June_____________2nd
subjects into the Russian Federation

On limiting tobacco smoking______14 June____________2nd
_____________________________21 June_____________3rd

On privatization_______________21 June_____________1st

Tax Code, Second Part____________22 June____________2nd
(chapter 25)

COMINGS & GOINGS IN: Igor Yusufov, most recently general director of the Russia State Reserves agency, was named on 16 June Minister of Energy, replacing Aleksandr Gavrin. Gavrin was dismissed for his role in the energy crisis in the Far East last winter (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Report," 5 March 2001).

IN: Vitalii Artyukhov, most recently first deputy transportation minister, was named on 16 June minister of natural resources, replacing Boris Yatskevich, who has been transferred to an as yet unnamed position.

POLITICAL CALENDAR 26 June: Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov will visit Vladivostok to discuss energy supply problems in the Far East

28 June: Duma may consider four more bills that are part of presidential administration's judicial reform package, on the status of judges, on the constitutional court, on the judicial system, and on lawyers' activities and lawyers, according to ITAR-TASS on 22 June.

5 July: State Duma will consider seven alternative drafts of the new Labor Code

5 July: State Duma will consider in its second reading a bill to limit the number of governors who can seek a third term (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 June 2001).

12 July: Fatherland's Central Council and the presidium of Unity's political council will hold a joint session, according to "Vremya MN" on 15 June

20 July: Federation Council will hold its last spring session, according to ITAR-TASS on 19 June

20-22 July: G8 summit will convene in Genoa, Italy.

September: The public organization Business Russia, or "Delovaya Rossiya," will hold its founding congress in St. Petersburg, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 April.

September: President Putin to visit Finland, according to Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 10 May.

7 October: State Duma by-elections will be held for the single-mandate districts in Amur Oblast and in Arkhangelsk Oblast. Two seats were vacated when former State Duma deputy Leonid Korotkov was elected governor of Amur and deputy Aleksandr Piskunov was named an auditor at the Audit Chamber.

13 October: Fatherland will hold a congress to reorganize the movement into a party

November: Russian NGOs will hold a congress in Moscow, according to Aleksei Leonov, chairman of "Slavyanin," on 12 June.