24 January 2002, Volume 3, Number 3
TV-6 AFFAIRTV-6 SHUT DOWN BY GOVERNMENT? At midnight on 21 January, Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corporation's (MNVK) TV-6 was taken off the air after the Media Ministry complied with an 11 January court order to immediately suspend the corporation's license, Russian news agencies reported. The order also forbids financial operations by MNVK and prohibits the company from handing over its broadcasting license to any other entity. In addition, a few hours after the TV-6 broadcasting signal was switched off, electricity, telephone, and Internet services were disconnected in all of the company's offices in the Ostankino television tower as well as its regional networks all over the Russia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and the other CIS states. The shutdown came a few hours after TV-6 Executive Director Pavel Korchagin met with Media Minister Mikhail Lesin to back out of a temporary broadcasting deal cut with the ministry last week, "The Moscow Times" reported on 22 January. Korchagin delivered a letter signed by General Director Yevgenii Kiselev that said TV-6 journalists decided to reject an agreement they had made with the ministry to voluntarily surrender the station's license in order to form a new company without the backing of TV-6 owner Boris Berezovsky (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2002). Once Lesin was told about the change of heart by the TV-6 team, he communicated directly with Vladimir Putin, who approved Lesin's plan to pull TV-6 immediately off the air, reported gazeta.ru on 22 January.
NEWSPAPER POLLS SHOW PUTIN LOST IN FIGHT OVER TV-6. By giving his subtle consent to the closure of TV-6, "Komsolmoskaya pravda" commented on 23 January, President Putin lost not only in the eyes of Russian democrats but in front of a wider audience: millions of television viewers. To them, Putin, who dislikes Boris Berezovsky, appears ready to sacrifice the interests of millions of citizens to satisfy his political ambitions. Putin also lost in the eyes of world public opinion. Putin's critics have been trying to convince the world that his regime is slowly moving toward authoritarianism. Few were inclined to believe that, but now Putin has provided arguments his opponents with a compelling argument. The TV-6 affair is also cooling relations between Moscow and Washington, where officials have repeatedly expressed their concern over the fate of free media in Russia. By ignoring U.S. opinion, Moscow put its new partnership with Washington to a serious test. Finally, the arbitrary liquidation by the government of a large commercial company will alarm potential Western investors and strengthen the views of those who say that doing business in Russia is too risky legally and politically.
PUTIN SKETCHES OUT HIS POSITION ON TV-6. The day before his state visit to Poland, President Putin told Polish journalists on 15 January that the government would not interfere in the situation around TV-6. Putin described the conflict as "an argument between totally independent economic structures, with which the state has virtually nothing to do." The following day, speaking at a press conference in Paris, Putin added, "[A]t some point, the so-called oligarchs took control over a number of media outlets. We tried to get them back if state interests were involved," Interfax reported on 16 January.
RUSSIAN-AMERICAN RELATIONSRUSSIA, U.S. DISCUSS STRATEGIC STABILITY... A working group headed by First Deputy Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii on the Russian side, and by Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith on the U.S. side, met on 15 January in the Pentagon, Western news agencies reported. Atop the agenda were further negotiations on reductions of strategic offensive weapons, both countries having pledged to reduce by about two-thirds their deployed strategic nuclear arsenals of more than 6,000 warheads each, Reuters reported. The meeting took place a week after the Pentagon declared that some U.S. arms should be shelved for possible emergency redeployment, a decision that did not please Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2002). In addition, the Russian delegation planned to discuss President George W. Bush's announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty this year, news agencies reported. On both sides, there is reportedly a firm commitment to find a common language in preparation for Bush's official visit to Russia this summer.
...BUT DISAGREE ON DISMANTLING OF NUCLEAR WARHEADS. Back in Moscow , Baluevskii said Russia has clarified its stance in response to the U.S. position on the reduction of its strategic nuclear arsenal, Interfax and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 January. Moscow and Washington have thus agreed on the principle of equal security for both sides, transparency of nuclear policies, and linkage between the reduction of strategic offensive weapons and national missile-defense shields. However, Moscow disagrees with U.S. plans to store some of its dismantled warheads and continues to insist on the "irreversibility of strategic nuclear cuts."
FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE HEAD UNCONCERNED BY U.S. PRESENCE IN CENTRAL ASIA... The Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Mikhail Margelov, said on 14 January that he was not overly concerned by Russian and international media reports that the U.S. is planning to set up permanent military bases in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and other Central Asian states, ITAR-TASS reported. "Russia realizes that the U.S. has a very high interest in this region, not only within the framework of the antiterrorist operation," he said. "However, Russia is sure it will preserve its influence in the region even with an American presence there." Margelov reasoned that "the United States is well aware that efforts to counter Russia's historical and geographical impact on the region are doomed to failure," adding that they will not take that risk in the name of "phantom geopolitical projects."
...BUT RUSSIAN GENERAL MORE CAUTIOUS. Federal Border Guard Service head Konstantin Totskii told reporters in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, on 15 January that the presence of U.S. troops in Central Asia will become unnecessary and "even intolerable" after the counterterrorist operation is completed in Afghanistan, Interfax reported.
RUSSIA CRITICIZES NEW U.S. ENTRANCE-VISA REQUIREMENTS AS TOO SEVERE. Beginning on 1 February, the United States will implement new entrance visa requirements for Russian citizens that include a questionnaire that "Rossiiskaya gazeta" described on 15 January as "much more severe than those that existed in the Soviet era." Although the measures were drafted as antiterrorist precautions and initially were applied only to 26 Muslim countries, the extension of the strict measures to Russian citizens effectively leaves them without a "legal way to enter the United States," NTV opined the same day.
FOREIGN POLICYPUTIN OFFERS POLAND 'HEALTHY PRAGMATISM' IN RELATIONS... President Vladimir Putin visited Warsaw for the first time since Poland joined NATO in 1999. He said after the first round of talks with Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski that the first 10 years after the demise of the Soviet Union was a "decade of lost opportunities between two countries," adding that Russia is ready to substitute healthy pragmatism for mistrust and mutual suspicion in its relations with Poland and other Western nations, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 17 January. In a nod to Polish public opinion, Putin said he would instruct the Russian government to make citizens of Poland eligible under a law adopted by the Russian parliament on compensation to victims of Stalinist reprisals. In another symbolic gesture, Putin laid down a wreath at the memorial to soldiers of the Armija Krajowa, the units that fought against Nazi German troops under the aegis of the Polish emigre government in London and traditionally were ignored by Moscow for their anti-Communist and anti-Russian sentiments. "The former USSR tried to dominate in East Europe and that could not be to the liking of the freedom-loving people of Poland," Putin said.
...WHILE CONCENTRATING ON CONCRETE POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC GOALS. President Putin added that he was pursuing very practical political and economic goals during his trip to Poland, polit.ru and "Kommersant-daily" commented on 16 and 17 January. First, he sought to iron out some understandings on the construction of a new $1 billion gas pipeline, the 'Yamal-Western Europe,' which will pass through Belarus, Slovakia, and Poland and circumvent Ukraine. Putin was accompanied on the visit by Gazprom chief Aleksei Miller and Energy Minister Igor Yusufov, who hoped to finalize the details of this deal with their counterparts in Warsaw. Second, Putin wanted to transform Kaliningrad Oblast into a "Russian window" to the European Union as soon as Poland joins. To that end, he included in his entourage oblast Governor Vladimir Egorov, Transport Minister Sergei Frank, and Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo. Putin also said he supports Kwasniewski's proposal to organize a summit of Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian presidents along with EU leaders in Kaliningrad and build up and extend infrastructure linking the region with Western Europe.
PUTIN SEDUCES 'CIVILIZED COUNTRIES' WITH JOINT DEVELOPMENT OF RUSSIA'S ENORMOUS SPACE. In a complete transcript of the interview Putin gave to Polish television channel TVP on 14 January, which was published on the president's official website (http://www.president.kremlin.ru), he shed some light on his vision of Russia in the 21st century. According to Putin, Russia's mission is the "economic employment of the huge territories that happen to be under the control of the Russian Federation, and working jointly together with Europe and other civilized [members of] mankind to reclaim these territories as a basis for raising the welfare level of the Russian nation as well as Russia's natural integration into the political, economic, and defense infrastructure of civilized countries."
RUSSIAN AND LITHUANIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN MOSCOW. Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis met in Moscow on 15 January to discuss economic support for Kaliningrad Oblast, Russian news agencies reported. Moscow wants to be sure that the looming accession of Lithuania to the European Union will not create difficulties for Russians who live in Kaliningrad Oblast or for the transit of Russian cargo, RIA-Novosti added. Improving conditions in Lithuania for Russian business and Russian-speakers was also on the agenda.
PUTIN ARGUES THAT FRANCE AND THE EU SHOULD CONSIDER RUSSIA A PARTNER. During his talks with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris, President Putin complained about the unwieldy bureaucratic procedures of the European Union, news agencies reported on 16 January. He said he would like to improve political and economic relations between the EU and Russia, saying the current bilateral commodity turnover is $3.5 billion -- which is far too low, RIA-Novosti reported. Putin added that Russia's trade turnover with Poland amounts to $6 billion, adding that Russian-German trade turnover exceeds $20 billion.
...AND DISCUSSES RUSSIAN-JAPANESE RELATIONS. On 18 January, Putin met with Japanese Prime Minister Juintiro Koizumi's envoy, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, Russian news agencies reported. Mori was stumping the upcoming international conference on Afghanistan's economic recovery set for Tokyo on 21-22 January. Mori was accompanied by Deputy Muneo Suzuki, the Liberal Democratic Party's representative in relations with Russia and the CIS, RIA-Novosti reported. It was the second visit by former Prime Minister Mori to Moscow in a week. On 14 January, he made a short stopover in Moscow on his way to Uzbekistan during which he visited the Church of Christ, the Savior and met with Patriarch Aleksii II, RBK news agency reported.
POLITICAL ECONOMYRUSSIA PROPOSES CENTRAL ASIAN GAS CARTEL... Following three hours of talks with visiting Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 21 January, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that a gas cartel composed of Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan be created, RIA-Novosti reported. According to Putin's proposal, such an alliance could secure a balance between supply and demand for natural gas supplies and protect the interests of "Russia's and Central Asian states' consumers." Putin said the four-country alliance would implement a "single export-channel policy," the basis for which could be Gazprom's pipeline network in the region. Putin and Niyazov also discussed the possibility of cooperation between Gazprom and Turkmenneftegaz in building a gas-export pipeline to China, vedomosti.ru reported. The two sides failed, however, to sign the long-term bilateral agreement on sales of Turkmen gas to Russia for which Niyazov had hoped, partly because the Turkmen side submitted its draft of that agreement only when Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visited Ashgabat two weeks ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2002), and partly because Russia rejected as too high the price of $42 per thousand cubic meters that Ashgabat demanded. The two presidents agreed that their respective foreign ministries should begin work drafting a new bilateral agreement on friendship and cooperation, according to Interfax.
...AND DEALS FOR OIL IN AFRICA. The Russian-Belarus company Slavneft, headed by Mikhail Gurtseriev, has signed a $126 million production-sharing agreement with Sudan for the exploration of oil deposits located in the center of that country, pravda.ru reported on 18 January. Although Sudan is on the United States' blacklist of states supporting terrorism, the loosening of economic sanctions against the country at the end of last year by the United Nations paved the way for Slavneft's entry. Sudan currently produces about 12 million tons of oil per year, and Slavneft is banking on the lion's share of it. In addition, Slavneft has recently signed oil contracts with Angola and the Republic of the Congo.
NEW RAILWAYS MINISTER AXES PREDECESSOR'S PET PROJECTS. The Railways Ministry has rejected a plan to construct a rail link between Sakhalin Island and the Russian mainland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2002), RIA-Novosti reported on 10 January. Newly appointed Railways Minister Gennadii Fadeev told reporters in Moscow that the ministry simply does not have enough resources to develop the project. Last year, then-Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko expressed optimism that the $10-14 billion project would be completed, according to ntvru.com. Fadeev also slashed a plan to extend the Trans-Siberian Railway westward into Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as scrapping agency offices in Germany, Finland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and North Korea, "Vedomosti" reported on 21 January.
FSB INTERVENES IN REFORM OF RAILWAYS MINISTRY. Deputy Railways Minister Anna Belova announced on 17 January that the government has reached a compromise with the Federal Security Service (FSB) on transforming the Railways Ministry into a shareholding company, "Vedomosti" reported. The FSB had argued that such a move would threaten Russia's national security, and that the ministry should remain under state control. The appropriate warning was formulated in the letter sent to the government by the FSB General Konstantin Larchenkov, who is in charged of security on the railroads, "Vedomosti" reported on 14 January. However, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry lobbied heavily for the privatization of the railways, and eventually the FSB gave its approval under the stipulation that provisions be made banning the sale of Railways Ministry property and its confiscation in potential legal disputes.
PRIME MINISTER MEETS OIL BARONS TO DISCUSS GLUT. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov met with the heads of the largest Russian oil companies on 22 January to discuss the oversupply of oil products on the Russian market that has negatively affected Russia's energy-export sector, RBK reported. Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, LUKoil Vice President Leonid Fedun told Kasyanov that mild winters in the United States and Europe have led to a drop in the demand for oil, adding that refineries in Russia are filled to capacity and domestic oil prices have fallen to about $5 per barrel. Fedun asked Kasyanov to order state-run pipeline operator Transneft to cut off export supplies, but the premier said such a move is impossible due to Russia's obligations to OPEC and consumers. However, Kasyanov suggested that the oil companies could cut their own exports. "Without this, the Russian state budget -- 20 percent of which comes from taxes on oil companies' revenues -- will experience serious tension," Kasyanov said.
GOVERNMENT TO IMPOSE REGULATIONS ON PRESCRIPTION DRUG MARKET. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko announced on 22 January that the government has made recommendations for the introduction of measures to control the Russian prescription drug market, reported RIA-Novosti. The government has recommended that the Health Ministry cancel licenses of pharmacies that sell prescriptions at 30 percent markups over wholesale costs. In addition, product labels are to be affixed with the maximum allowed sale price along with the wholesale price paid by retailers. Matvienko said that in Russia there are over 7,000 medicine distributors and markups on some products reach 800 percent. In order to better control the situation, the government would like to see the number of distributors reduced to seven or eight networks -- "as is accepted in civilized countries," she added.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENTFSB LAUNCHES PROBE OF CUSTOMS COMMITTEE INVESTIGATOR. The Prosecutor-General's Office has ordered the interrogation of State Customs Committee Chairman Mikhail Vanin following allegations that his agency violated procedures during its investigation of Russian export company Three Wales, "Vremya novostei" and RBK reported on 22 January. Vanin headed an investigation last fall into the company, whose owner, Sergei Zuev, was accused of failing to pay customs duties of $5 million. During the Customs Committee's investigation, it was revealed that the co-owner of Three Whales, is Evgenii Zaostrovtsev, the father of Federal Security Service General Yurii Zaostrovtsev, who heads the FSB's Economic Department and is a deputy to FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev. Vanin's findings also alleged that Patrushev himself may have been involved in the so-called "furniture scandal," since at the time of the deal he was in charge of the FSB's monitoring of the Customs Committee. However, working with the Prosecutor-General's Office, the FSB responded by opening its own case against Vanin, "Kommersant-Daily" reported.
PROSECUTOR-GENERAL INVESTIGATING VOLOSHIN'S BUSINESS ACTIVITIES. Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov announced that his agency is investigating Aleksandr Voloshin, the chief of the presidential staff, in connection with former business activities, Russian news agencies reported on 10 January. The investigation is focusing on 1991-98, when Voloshin was involved in controversial business dealings on behalf of various privatization funds and banks. During that period, Voloshin had close ties to Otari Kvantrishvili, a reputed kingpin of the Russian underworld who was killed by an unknown sniper in 1993; was a business partner of magnate Boris Berezovsky; and served as a broker in the privatization of lucrative state assets to Roman Abramovich and other Russian oligarchs. Ustinov said the investigation was requested by State Duma Deputies Ivan Shandybin and Yurii Nikiforenko from the Communist Party, Aleksei Mitrofanov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Dmitrii Savelev of the Union of Rightist Forces. Voloshin is widely considered a figure who symbolizes the corruption of former President Boris Yeltsin's regime, and his continued presence as head of the Kremlin administration provokes constant criticism from all parts of the political spectrum.
MOSCOW MAYOR CLASHES WITH CHUBAIS PROTEGE. Yurii Luzhkov has asked President Putin to intervene in the critical situation that has developed regarding Moscow's electrical power supply, which is provided by Mosenergo, an entity of Unified Energy Systems (EES), RosBalt reported on 18 January. In a letter to the president, Luzhkov indicates that the crisis began after EES appointed Arkadii Yevstafiev as acting director of Mosenergo earlier this week. Luzhkov demands that Putin insist on Yevstafiev's dismissal, as the acting director "both by his experience and training is very far away from the energy area." Indeed, an economist by education and a close associate of EES head Anatolii Chubais, Yevstafiev made his name during the presidential campaign of 1996, when he was detained for attempting to take some $530,000 from a government office. Yevstafiev was eventually released following strong pressure from within former President Yeltsin's entourage.
PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE INDICTS TOP SIBUR OFFICIALS. Leonid Troshin, the head of the Department for Information and Public Relations at the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office, announced on 19 January that his agency has arrested and officially indicted Yakov Goldovskii, the president of petrochemical company Sibur, and his deputy, Yevgenii Koshits, for misusing funds from Sibur parent company Gazprom for illegal financial operations, ORT reported. Troshin added that Vyacheslav Sheremet, Sibur's board chairman and Gazprom vice president, has been released from custody but remains under investigation.
DUMA CORRUPTION COMMISSION INSISTS ON FURTHER INVESTIGATION OF TOP OFFICIALS. The Duma's Anticorruption Commission has announced that it will demand an explanation from the Prosecutor-General's Office concerning the termination of criminal investigations of several former top Russian officials, RIA-Novosti reported on 21 January. Specifically, the commission is seeking the resumption of the investigations of Transport Minister Sergei Frank, Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, and former Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov. The commission stressed that the materials it handed over to the Prosecutor-General's Office pertaining to those individuals so clearly pointed to their guilt in massive corruption that the only remaining job for the office is to decide upon the appropriate provision within the Criminal Code for their prosecution.
PROSECUTORS GET CLOSER TO FORMER RUSHAILO CRONY. The Prosecutor-General's Office provided more details about a criminal case begun against retired Lieutenant General Aleksandr Orlov, who once worked as an assistant to former Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2001). (Rushailo is currently secretary of the Security Council.) Vladimir Kolesnikov, an aide to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, told reporters on 11 January that Orlov is suspected of interfering in the management of stocks in the Kochkanar ore plant and of misusing service cars and official documents. Media reports have also suggested ties to organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2001).
DUMA CALLS FOR LIFE SENTENCES FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS. Vladimir Lysenko (Russian Regions) announced on 16 January that the Duma has sent a proposal to President Putin to allow sentences of life imprisonment for drug dealers and traffickers, and those found guilty of operating drug dens, "Vremya novostei" reported on 16 January. Lysenko went on to say that, while the rapidly growing number of drug addicts in Russia has already resulted in social tension and threats to national security, only 40 percent of those accused of peddling illegal drugs were sentenced to prison in 2000.
HUMAN RIGHTSFEDERATION COUNCIL HEAD RALLIES BEHIND PASKO. Sergei Mironov said on 10 January that he is ready to personally step in as Grigorii Pasko's "guarantor" if the military journalist is released from custody, RIA-Novosti reported. Mironov argued that the information published by Pasko was not classified military information, and that in Pasko's case "world public opinion has long defined who is guilty and on whose side lies the truth."
PASKO REJECTS RUSSIAN PRESIDENT'S OFFER TO CONSIDER PARDON. Military journalist Grigorii Pasko's lawyer, Anatolii Pushkin, announced on 16 January that his client has declined an offer by President Putin to review his sentence for espionage for a possible pardon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001 and 7 January 2002), RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. In reference to the offer that Putin made in front of journalists in Warsaw the same day, Pushkin said Pasko "welcomes Putin's proposal" but will not seek a pardon as he does not consider himself guilty and is demanding complete exoneration.
SECRET SERVICESPUTIN TELLS FSB IT MUST BETTER PROTECT STATE SECRETS, ECONOMY. Speaking on 18 January to the Collegium of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the agency's top administrative organ, President Putin said he is satisfied with the work of the Russian intelligence community in the past year. But he said the organization must improve its ability to react to new threats to national security, RIA-Novosti reported. In particular, he said the FSB should concentrate its activities "on the protection of scientific [and] technological secrets, the military-industrial complex, and problems of drug trafficking and illegal immigration." He noted that the routes for illegal immigration coincide with those of drug trafficking and illegal financial flows. According to Putin, nonresidents of the Russian Federation receive up to 45 percent of the country's annual cash turnover of foreign currency through national credit institutions and siphon those funds into shadow or criminal businesses. He added that last year the FSB exposed about 100 officials who helped criminal entities gain control of significant chunks of the energy, metallurgical, and raw material sectors.
MOSCOW STEPS UP MEASURES AGAINST BIOTERRORISM. Nikolai Filatov, Moscow's chief health inspector, told journalists on 16 January that the Russian capital has launched a three-year program to combat bioterrorism that includes measures for protecting the city's water supplies, subway, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, and food products, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 January. Filatov added that state and public offices, the French and Chinese embassies, and other organizations have been the recipients of some 400 "hooligan" letters containing powder and threatening notes. While none of the letters were found to contain anthrax, authorities are maintaining a high level of alert.
FSB SAYS MOSCOW IS VULNERABLE TO TERRORIST ACTS. The chief of the FSB Directorate in Moscow, Viktor Zakharov, said the use of radioactive, biological, and chemical substances in terrorist acts pose a real threat to the city, Interfax reported on 17 January. According to Zakharov, Moscow harbors a number of "small terrorist cells and individuals" that are capable of carrying out such attacks. He said that "youth religious-extremist organizations" are another potential source of danger. However, independent Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov said the same day on Ekho Moskvy radio that he considers Zakharov's statement a "provocation causing fear and panic." He said that if the FSB has information related to planned terrorist acts it must do what it needs to do to prevent them, but should not engage in self-promotion.
DUMA DRAFTS BILL ON COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY FOR TERRORISM. A group of State Duma deputies from Unity, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia have drafted a bill on the material responsibility of terrorists' family members for damages resulting from terrorist acts, RosBalt reported on 10 January. Under the proposed bill, those who are aware of the preparation of terrorist acts by a family member would be responsible for paying financial compensation to the victims if the act is carried out, with the amount defined in closed-door trial proceedings.
TRENDS AND IDEASPUTIN LOOKS TO HISTORIANS FOR NATIONAL IDEAS... In the first days of the new year, President Putin met behind closed doors in the Kremlin with groups of historians specializing in ancient Rus to gain insight into how to form a national ideology, "Versiya," No. 1, reported. According to the investigative weekly, Putin asked the scientists to outline the most important events in the history of ancient Rus, and to answer questions such as: "What Russian city can be considered the historical and cultural center of Russian civilization?" and "How, based on the historical forms of Russian statehood, can one formulate the modern Russian national idea?" The weekly said the historians advised the president to look for clues in more recent history. Meanwhile, "Sobesednik," No. 1, commented that Putin has modeled himself after Tsar Nicolas I, who ruled from 1825 to 1855 with draconian discipline but enjoyed considerable popular support.
...AND IS HONORED BY PRO-KREMLIN JOURNALISTS GROUP. The Moscow Union of Journalists, which is headed by "Moskovskii komsomolets" Editor in Chief Pavel Gusev, announced it awarded its annual prize "For Openness in the Press" to President Putin, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 January. Gusev added the prize was awarded to Putin in recognition of "his sincere desire to bring the state reforms to each Russian." Gusev also said similar prizes were awarded to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Deputy Prime Ministers Ilya Klebanov and Valentina Matvienko.
COMMUNIST PARTY CONGRESS ON COLLISION COURSE WITH PUTIN. Speaking to an extraordinary congress of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) held on 19-20 January in Moscow, party leader Gennadii Zyuganov sharply criticized President Putin's policies as the "third stage of the betrayal of Russia's interests following the presidential terms of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin," Russian media reported on 20-21 January. Despite a warm letter from Putin to the congress, in which he called the KPRF "a creative and constructive political association that united a considerable part of society," Zyuganov attacked Putin's regime as neglecting "Russia's geopolitical heritage." Accordingly, it "cannot exist for too long," he added. The closed-door congress decided that the KPRF is in "irreconcilable opposition" to the Russian president. The KPRF did not have to wait long for Putin's reaction: On 21 January, Kremlin guards did not allow KPRF leaders to visit Vladimir Lenin's tomb, saying that "Monday is a non-working day at the Lenin memorial obligatory for everyone."