PUTIN WANTS CHECHEN BUSINESSPEOPLE TO PARTICIPATE IN RESTORATION OF CHECHNYA
Izvestia, April 28, 2001, p. 2
On April 27, prime minister of Chechnya Stanislav Ilyasov announced plans to return all refugees to their homes. As evidence that life in Chechnya is stabilizing, Ilyasov noted that a congress of Chechen entrepreneurs and manufacturers will soon be held in Chechnya. Ilyasov said that President Putin has told him to involve ethnic Chechen businessmen in restoration of the republic.
JOHN TOBIN SENTENCED TO IMPRISONMENT
Izvestia, April 28, 2001, p. 2
On April 27, the Leninsky District Court of the city of Voronezh sentenced American citizen John Tobin to three years and one month in prison, without any fines. The prison term is considered to have started on February 2, 2001. Tobin’s lawyers have a week to appeal. It is not ruled out that President Vladimir Putin, who is to come to Voronezh after the May holidays, might pardon the American postgraduate.
PATRIARCH INTENDS TO RETURN PRIESTS TO EMBASSIES
Izvestia, April 28, 2001, p. 2
On April 27, the Religion and Diplomacy conference opened at the Diplomatic Academy of the Foreign Ministry. Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad delivered greetings from Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia to the participants. In his message the patriarch said he wished to restore the institution of embassy priests. According to him, this is not contrary to accepted global practice.
RUSSIAN GAS TO BE TRANSPORTED TO EUROPE VIA BALTIC SEA
Trud, April 28, 2001, p. 1
Heads of the companies Gazprom (R. Vyakhirev), Ruhrgas AG (B. Bergmann), Wintershall AG (G. Detharding), and the stock company Fortum (M. Wuoria) have met in Moscow. Participants in the meeting agreed to build a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea.
Gazprom and Fortum have already worked out the technical plans and financing.
Participants in the meeting believe that giving this project the status of a Trans-European network will help them gain political support of countries of the European Union in any problems with the project. It will also help attract investment from the European Union, including the European Investment Bank.
CHUBAIS TO BE REDUCED TO MINIMUM
Kommersant, April 28, 2001, p. 1 EV
The annual shareholders’ meeting of Russian Joint Energy Systems (RJES) is scheduled for April 28. Restructuring the electricity monopoly is not on the agenda. Shareholders will consider amendments to the RJES bylaws that will reduce the role of RJES management to a minimum and place Anatoly Chubais fully under the state’s control. However, things could be even worse for Chubais, since many influential people wanted him dismissed.
The amendments will make it possible to dismiss the chairman of the board by a simple majority of votes. At present, 75% of votes are necessary for this. The state is the majority shareholder in RJES. This means that the government can move to dismiss Chubais at any moment. However, Chubais is sure that this situation is only favorable for him. He said, “A year ago, when the governing board had a conflict with minority shareholders, I proposed to redistribute powers in favor of shareholders.”
Chubais seems to be telling the truth. The matter concerns billions of dollars that may be either lost or gained as a result of restructuring the company. The cost is so high that it is easier to share it with the board of directors, where the state has a majority.
NOT A WORD ABOUT POLITICS
Versty, April 28, 2001, p. 1
According to the National Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), no more than 7-8% of respondents read serious news publications. The tabloids, or purely entertainment publications, have a larger number of readers. For instance, 10% of respondents prefer “Moskovsky Komsomolets.” Around 48% of women and 20% of men regularly read women’s periodicals. But in general, over half of respondents can do without newspapers and magazines. Around 65% of respondents never read political articles in newspapers, and 44% say they try to avoid this topic in conversation.
To all appearances, the incessant political scandals have made Russians despise politics as such.
HOLIDAYS AND BUSINESS
Novoe Vremya, No. 17-18, April, 2001, p. 9
The May holidays are here – the longest and most widely celebrated holidays other than the Christmas and New Year period. In a recent poll, respondents were asked which holiday they would describe as “a holiday for everyone”. The top choice was New Year: 48% of respondents said it was a holiday for everyone. Victory Day (May 9) and Easter scored 14% each. Next was Christmas with 5%, then March 8 (Women’s Day) and May 1 with 4% each. The remaining respondents were undecided.
The low score of May 1 indicates that most people no longer remember it’s “the international day of workers’ solidarity”. The state of workers’ solidarity isn’t too good in Russia either, as attitudes to labor unions indicate. In a recent poll, only 16% of respondents said Russian labor unions were doing a good job; 45% had a negative opinion of their performance, and 39% were uncertain. These opinions were consistent across all respondent groups, although managers and the elderly gave the unions a slightly higher positive assessment – 20-22%.
Attitudes to businesspeople seem wildly enthusiastic by comparison: 51% of respondents took a favorable view of them, 25% were neutral, and only 17% disapproved. Only 7% were undecided. Understandably enough, most businesspeople had a favorable opinion of themselves (86%). But 45% of workers also gave a positive response, with 14% disapproving. Only among the elderly did unfavorable responses (33%) outweigh the favorable (30%), with 28% being neutral. Only 3% of students don’t approve of businesspeople – they obviously value the future employers among them. The supporters of most political parties had a favorable view of businesspeople, with the exception of Communist supporters. However, class antagonism is rather weak even among Communists: 35% gave favorable responses, 34% disapproved, and 23% were neutral.
INCOME TAX CHANGES AND THEIR EFFECT
Finansovaya Rossiia, No. 15, April, 2001, p. 3
Ever since the flat-rate 13% income tax came in on January 1, the government’s tax receipts have risen sharply: in the first quarter, they were two-thirds higher than for the same period of last year. The government has hastened to claim success for its tax policies.
However, the Russian-European Economic Policy Center (REEPC) has published a special report on how the introduction of a flat-rate tax has affected the legalization of incomes. The conclusion is clear: the income tax collection successes can be explained by tighter tax administration; they are in no way due to the changes in tax rates.
The authorities had calculated that citizens would find a 13% tax rate acceptable, and become more open in disclosing their incomes to tax agencies. However, opinion polls show that most Russian citizens don’t make their own decisions about paying taxes – their employers do it for them. Only 4 million out of Russia’s 70 million workers actually file tax returns. REEPC analyst Marina Krasilnikova says: “No matter how low tax rates are, citizens will always consider them too high and ‘unfair’ – due to their firm conviction that the state is corrupt and irresponsible toward the people.”
DOES THE KREMLIN NEED MEDIATORS?
Vek, No. 17, April, 2001, p. 4
Mikhail Gorbachev, former General Secretary of the CPSU and president of the USSR, is leading an interesting life these days. He’s constantly turning up at the center of “social upheavals” – whether it’s as a “link” between NTV and the president, a television host in Germany, or the head of the Gorbachev Foundation.
A well-informed source reports that Gorbachev recently decided to make his status “official” in some way. Before his meeting with Vladimir Putin, he drafted a decree on his own appointment as the president’s special representative for foreign affairs, or an “assistant” to the foreign minister. There was a good pretext for doing so: Moscow isn’t concealing its wish for a face-to-face meeting between Putin and Bush before the G-8 summit in Genoa.
We have learned that President Bush’s team is preparing for a certain maneuver. The key points are as follows: taking advantage of the NTV affair in order to create a hiatus in the Washington-Moscow dialogue – the resulting vacuum to be filled not by officials from the Russian Foreign Ministry or the Kremlin, but mediators like Mikhail Gorbachev. He has long been acquainted with Colin Powell and former president George H. W. Bush. The latter could easily put Gorbachev in touch with his son. Thus, in theory, a “special communications channel” between the White House and the Kremlin could be created.
But the diplomats, having worked out what was happening, have moved to forestall this. During their recent meeting in Paris, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed to arrange a Bush-Putin meeting “as soon as possible”. True, no date has been announced; but such a meeting cannot be ruled out during Bush’s forthcoming European tour. Just days before Gorbachev arrived in the United States, his possible mission was repudiated.
All this might be viewed as just a curious incident in foreign affairs, if not for one point. We have learned that numerous “messengers” have started offering the Kremlin their services as mediators in resolving various problems. For example, there have been around 30 proposals for the Kurile Islands alone; some of which have virtually open backing from Japan. It seems that in some parts of the Russian establishment (and abroad), “personal mediators” are becoming fashionable. Apparently, some people think international politics is rather like business, where much depends on personal relations between partners.
WHY KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA COULD BECOME A HOT-SPOT
Obschchaya Gazeta, No. 17, April, 2001, p. 3
As summer approaches, the situation in the North Caucasus is growing more alarming.
Dagestan and North Ossetia are the most frequently mentioned areas. This is understandable: both share a border with Chechnya, completely transparent borders which can be crossed by small groups with no difficulty at all. The question is whether such crossings are required. In talking of a prospective flare-up in the North Caucasus this spring, informed people are mentioning Karachaevo-Cherkessia more and more often: a small republic with a population of only 250,000, a quiet backwater of Russia until recently – but now a testing site for behind-the-scenes techniques.
Some say that all local wars these days are battles for control over energy resources and their transport routes; they follow the routes of existing or potential oil pipelines. Karachaevo-Cherkessia is unfortunate enough to have the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline virtually along its southern border. And that’s only half the problem: this pipeline’s capacity is only 100,000 barrels a day, given the restricted hydrocarbon reserves in the oilfields of Azerbaijan. The Tengiz (Kazakhstan) – Novorossiisk pipeline is due to open this year, with a capacity of 1,340,000 barrels a day. This will be the first pipeline controlled by Russia to link Asian oilfields with the Black Sea coast. It so happens that this route will also pass close to Karachaevo-Cherkessia, near its northern border.
Russia would prefer oil to be transported to Europe across Russian territory, but there is an alternative: the Baku-Ceyhan (Turkey) pipeline. Another plan has Moscow’s active support: tankers carrying oil to the port of Burgas in Bulgaria, then pipelines transporting it across Macedonia to the port of Vlera in Albania.
There are many doubts about this latter option: the situation in the Balkans is unlikely to be resolved for years. But any deterioration in the North Caucasus situation also works to the detriment of Russian oil tranport routes.
Argumenty i Fakty, No. 17, April, 2001, p. 12
According to the Justice Ministry, there are 1,004 prisoners serving life sentences in Russia. Their numbers increase by 200 a year. Budget allocations for their maintenace last year amounted to 13.70 rubles per prisoner per day, although the actual cost was around 20 rubles.
These prisoners are held in penitentiaries in a number of regions, and hard labor penal colonies in Mordovia, Bashkortostan, Komi Republic, Udmurtia, and the Yamalo-Nenetsk autonomous district.