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Russia Report: October 8, 2001

8 October 2001, Volume 1, Number 24
A NEWLY CONFIDENT PUTIN. Last summer, when President Vladimir Putin took a number of stands that were at odds with public opinion, such as opposing the death penalty, some commentators suggested that Putin, as a leader, was becoming "less shy" (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 23 July 2001). However, those positions were considerably less risky than President Putin's recent enthusiastic support for the U.S.-led coalition to end international terrorism. With his suggestion that Russia may drop its opposition to further NATO expansion and his support for the U.S.'s stationing some of its troops in CIS countries, Putin is taking a stand at odds not only with public opinion but also elements within his own military and foreign policy establishments. With his recent actions, Putin has become not just "less shy," but possibly even quite bold.

But viewed in the context of his last 17 months in office, Putin's departure from previous policies can simply be seen as good tactics, because they further a goal that Putin and his administration have consistently pursued -- greater integration into Europe and international economic structures. And, it was a risk that the Kremlin could well afford. Vladimir Putin has given Russian voters exactly what they wanted: Politics in Russia has become boring. One by one, the domestic political institutions that once presented opposition for Putin's predecessor are gradually being tamed or co-opted -- leaving him more leeway to take risks in the international arena.

It is now difficult to imagine how the State Duma -- the legislative organ that once gave Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, so much trouble -- could be more obedient. The 2002 budget passed through its first reading in record time, and the government is so confident of its strength that it is now considering proposing legislation on one of the most divisive issues in Russian politics, the buying and selling of agricultural land (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 1 October 2001). The Federation Council, which was once composed of regional leaders, who were at least occasionally unruly, is now being taken over by full-time legislative "professionals." They will be based in Moscow and are widely expected to be loyal to Moscow. Already, more than a hundred senators have signed up for the pro-Kremlin "Federation" group. The Kremlin is also reportedly even playing a role in the selection of these representatives.

The media, which had also once given not only President Yeltsin but also President Putin a hard time, have been tamed. NTV is now a softer version of its once combative self, and its old stalwarts are finding that their smaller, lower profile refuge at TV-6 is now under attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2001). Ekho Moskvy, one of the few voices of opposition on the radio airwaves, continues to operate in limbo, as Gazprom delays a decision on its fate (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"16 August 2001). Even the print media, although less influential in terms of their impact on mass public opinion, are quieter. The Boris Berezovskii-financed publications, such as "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Kommersant-Daily," and "Novye Izvestiya" continue to criticize the Kremlin, but they are probably a less effective tool in influencing elite opinion. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" is being dumbed down as the number of its analytical supplements has been reduced, and the process promises to continue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2001). "Kommersant-Daily" and "Novye Izvestiya," meanwhile, now pursue their own political agenda with the subtlety of a jackhammer.

Precisely the opposite process is taking place with the country's oligarchs, who appeared to have become smarter and adopted a lower profile. Having witnessed the Prosecutor-General's relentless pursuit of Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii and of Berezovskii, Russia's oligarchs no longer challenge the Kremlin head on. Instead, they continue to carve up and consolidate their own spheres of influence both on a regional and economic-sector basis, but more quietly. Even the Central Bank, while never that rebellious, is now likely to become even less so. Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko has confirmed that he is retiring, and Vladimir Kogan, head of Promstroibank and a close Putin ally, is widely touted to replace him (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 16 April 2001). With the gathering of NGOs in Moscow next month for the Kremlin-sponsored Civic Forum, the presidential administration is aiming to co-opt a last set of players that has insisted on retaining their independence, as they lead the state-sponsored process of building a civil society.

The Putin administration has captured Moscow, freeing it to advance onwards to Brussels. And if the results of last week's EU summit are any guide, more advances may be expected. Russian and EU officials agreed to set up a joint panel to draw up a concept for a common economic space, as well as a new working group to monitor Russian-EU security issues on a monthly basis. In addition, according to "Izvestiya" on 4 October, the two sides issued a joint communique that is "fairly neutral on the Chechnya problem." Around the same time, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow stated publicly that Chechen rebels receive "enormous help from abroad," and argued that they should be convinced "to break these international ties" to "create more favorable conditions for the achievement of a peaceful agreement" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2001). Such immediate rewards for Russia's cooperative attitude may quiet any domestic critics, since Putin can argue that by dropping opposition to things that might have taken place anyway, such as stationing of U.S. troops in Uzbekistan, Russia had everything to gain and little to lose. (Julie A. Corwin)

RUSSIA'S MEN IN BRUSSELS. Following the successful Russia-EU summit last week, officials on both sides now must prepare for a new set of meetings on a monthly basis of a new working group on security. Likewise, the proceedings of the NATO-Russia Council is widely expected to be invigorated. Already, the NATO-Russia Council has issued a statement condemning the attacks on the U.S. Leading these efforts in Brussels on a day-to-day basis for the Russian side will be two men of diverse background: the Russian ambassador to the EU, Vasilii Likhachev, and the Russian ambassador to NATO, Sergei Kislyak. Kislyak is a career diplomat, while Likhachev was a successful regional politician, having once served as Tatarstan's vice president and chairman of Tatarstan's legislative assembly.

Kislyak, 51, is the former director of the department for security and disarmament affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He studied at Moscow's Engineering-Physics Institute and at the Academy for External Trade. Kislyak was appointed to his current position in March 1998. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Vershbow told an Italian newspaper in 1998 that Kislyak is "a difficult negotiator" who is at times "ferocious in defending the Russian position." That toughness has likely come in handy, since over the past three years he has been subjected to more disruptions than your average foreign diplomat in Brussels.

Since its creation in 1997, the NATO-Russia Joint Permanent Council has gone through at least two rocky periods -- one following the U.S.-British air strikes against Iraq and another following NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia. In December 1998, then-Defense Minister Igor Sergeev had been scheduled to attend a meeting in Belgium, but cancelled his visit to protest U.S.-British air strikes against Iraq. (Moscow had also recalled its ambassadors from the U.S. and Britain for consultations.) At that time, Kislyak said that the Russian government feared that the bombing of Iraq represented a precedent for new kinds of NATO action outside of its traditional territory. And again, in March 1999, Moscow froze relations with NATO following air strikes against Yugoslavia. Kislyak's military counterpart, the chief military representative of Russia to NATO, Lieutenant General Victor Zavarzin along with Kislyak, were recalled in March. In June Kislyak was allowed to establish phone contact again with NATO officials, but the next session of the NATO-Russia Council was not held until 23 July following various postponements because of failures to agree on agendas and joint statements. For example, a meeting for 20 July had been scheduled but was postponed because the two sides could not agree to an agenda for the meeting following the deployment of Russian troops in Kosova.

Russia-EU consultations have been considerably more mellow, but at the same time they have not been marked by significant progress. Russian officials have complained of lack of engagement by the EU. In an interview last November, Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vasilii Likhachev, noted that Russia has "proposed concrete forms of cooperation," such as long-range air transport and possible access to Russian satellite information, but "so far we have no answers from the EU side." In an earlier interview, Likhachev also voiced some frustration that Russia was not being provided with clear answers on EU expansion. Meanwhile, EU officials have also expressed frustration. According to "Izvestiya" on 3 October, "although the Russian side blames European bureaucrats for all the delays, EU officials state that there are 30 agencies in Russia handling the country's relations with the EU, and so it is practically impossible to understand which agency is responsible for what issue."

Russia's point man for the EU in Brussels, Vasilii Likhachev, 49, though, is well qualified to smooth over any irritations. When he was tapped to head Russia's EU effort in May 1998, he was already serving as deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and he was deputy chairman of the Federation Council. Born in Nizhnii Novgorod, Likhachev was educated in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, where he spent the bulk of his professional life. But he always showed an interest in foreign policy, writing his doctoral dissertation on "Problems of modern international rights," as well as a taste for the exotic, spending a year each teaching in Madagascar and Guinea-Bissau.

This international experience has perhaps given Likhachev a degree of sensitivity for how Russia is perceived by others. In comments to reporters in Kazan on 25 April 1997, one year before he was sent to Brussels, Likhachev confided that "an anti-Russian mood prevails in the Council of Europe. They do not know our country or trust it. Up until now, they have been afraid." Perhaps in light of that old distrust, it therefore came as much as a surprise to Likhachev and Kislyak that Russia and the EU and NATO could make such bold strides earlier this month. (Julie A. Corwin)

DEPUTIES GIVE NEXT YEAR'S BUDGET THEIR INITIAL APPROVAL... The State Duma passed the draft 2002 budget in its first reading on 28 September. The vote was 262 in favor, 125 against with two abstentions, according to ITAR-TASS. The OVR faction along with Unity and People's Deputy voted in favor of the budget. The Communists and Agro-Industrial group were opposed. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin acknowledged that the second reading of the budget would likely go less easily than the first, but he nonetheless predicted that the document would still be passed in more or less its original form. JAC

...PASS MORE JUDICIAL REFORM LEGISLATION... The previous day, the Duma adopted in the first reading a bill amending the law on the Prosecutor-General of the Russian Federation. Some 244 votes were cast in favor of the bill. The bill would eliminate the extra-budgetary fund for prosecutors. This fund is made up of contributions from commercial firms whose interests have been represented by a prosecutor during a lawsuit. If they win, firms contribute 10 percent of the court judgement to the fund. Deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak, who has spearheaded the Kremlin's efforts at judicial reforms, said last February that such lawsuits conducted in the name of commercial firms should be stopped, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 September. JAC

...AND AGAIN REJECT BILL MAKING REGIONAL ELECTIONS SUPERFLUOUS. Deputies also accepted in the first reading a bill banning the privatization of housing which has been granted for social needs. According to the law, needy citizens who received an apartment from the government, cannot become the owner of that property. Legislators also voted in favor of a bill amending article 37 of the criminal code regarding self-defense. Some 238 deputies voted in favor of the bill, 91 against, according to ITAR-TASS. The bill, authored by Igor Artemiev and Sergei Ivanenko of Yabloko, attempts to clarify the norms by which a citizen can act in self-defense. 362 deputies voted in favor of the bill. Deputies also resoundingly rejected a bill that would have given governors the right to appoint mayors of cities and the president the right to appoint governors. Only 15 deputies voted in favor of the bill and 183 voted against it, according to ITAR-TASS. The bill was sponsored by deputy Vitalii Lednik, who had sponsored a similar bill that would have made the office of governor an appointed position. Although Lednik is a member of Unity, neither bill was supported by the faction. JAC


Name of Bill______________Date passed_________# of reading

2002 Budget______________28 September__________1st

On the Prosecutor-General____27 September_________1st

On the privatization of _______26 September_________1st
housing fund

Criminal code (article37)_____26 September_________1st

POLITICAL CALENDAR 8 October: Swiss prosecutors to interrogate Union of Belarus and Russia State Secretary Pavel Borodin in Geneva

9 October: IMF Managing Director Horst Keller will visit Moscow, according to Ekho Moskvy on 27 September

10 October: Federation Council will consider Land Code

11-12 October: A congress of Russian citizens living abroad will gather in Moscow; President Putin to speak, according to ITAR-TASS on 20 September

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

14 October: State Duma by-elections will be held in a single-mandate district in the city of St. Petersburg for the seat vacated by Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin and in the Tuva Republic for the seat vacated by Nikolai Loktionov, who also went to work for the Audit Chamber

Middle of October: State Duma will consider a new version of a law on reforming the election system, according to Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov on 11 September

Middle of October: U.S. Secretary of Commerce Don Evans will visit Russia, according to ITAR-TASS on 19 September

19 October: Duma will consider 2002 budget in its second reading

20-21 October: President Putin will take part in the ninth informal summit meeting of the Asia Economic Cooperation forum in Shanghai, according to ITAR-TASS on 2 July

25-29 October: Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio will visit Russia

27 October: Unity party to hold its third congress in Moscow

28 October: Gubernatorial elections in Orel Oblast

29 October: Espionage trial of political scientist Igor Sutyagin to resume in Kaluga Oblast

End of October: French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to visit Moscow

November: Unity and Fatherland to hold unification congress in Moscow

November: Russian-EU working group for the creation of a single European space to meet, according to Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko on 3 October

14 November: Nationwide act of protest to be organized by independent Russian trade unions, according to "Vremya novostei" on 27 September

16-17 November: Civic Forum, a gathering of more than 250 NGOs, to be held in Moscow

21 November: Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov to address Duma on efforts to combat corruption within government ministries

27-28 November: Federation of Independent Trade Unions to hold congress in Moscow

30 November: CIS summit to be held in Moscow

End of November: Fatherland to hold an all-Russian congress of agrarians, according to TV-Tsentr on 3 August

December: Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to visit Brazil

Early December: President Putin to visit Greece, according to Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov

1-12 December: International chess championship to be held in Moscow, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 August

16 December: Presidential elections in Chavash Republic and Komi Republic

23 December: Presidential elections in Sakha Republic

28 December: Duma's fall session will come to a close, according to ITAR-TASS on 13 July

January: Presidential elections in North Ossetia.