A CHANGE OF DIRECTION
Zavtra, No. 19, May, 2001, p. 1
Washington sources report that late April and early May saw a sharp change in the Republican administration’s policy on Russia. The first unofficial signal of this was given to Mikhail Gorbachev, who was honored with an “accidental” meeting with President Bush during talks with senior White House officials. Gorbachev was entrusted with a message for President Putin: the proclaimed policy of strong pressure and total isolation of “corrupt Moscow” from the global community has been cancelled. This was officially confirmed in Bush’s speech on missile defense, which devoted unprecedented attention to Russia. In particular, the US president gave his implicit consent to renaming the national missile defense – it will now be the global missile shield, with Russia and the European Union not only being given participation quotas in producing its components, but also being “covered” by the US nuclear missile “umbrella” (!) according to the NATO model. Moreover, it has been announced that the United States agrees to a meeting between President Putin and President Bush before the G-8 summit in Genoa – Russian diplomats have been working on this for some time. Such a radical change by Washington in favor of “drawing closer” to Moscow is explained by the lamentable results of the first hundred days of the Bush administration. They include some foreign affairs glitches and increasing economic problems within the US, drawing strong criticism from the Democrats. Nevertheless, the foundations of Republican policy remain unchanged, as evidenced by Bush’s proposal to unilaterally cut nuclear warhead numbers to the level specified by START III (1,500 warheads). It is assumed that this initiative will be warmly welcomed by Moscow, which will make similar cuts – after which Russia’s nuclear arsenals will be about the same size as those of China. This, in turn, could prompt China – which has a huge advantage over Russia in conventional weapons – into some aggressive action to the north, fully in line with the theories of Zbigniew Brzezinski…
Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, No. 16, May, 2001, p. 1
Colonel-General Anatolii Perminov, commander of the Russian Space Forces, has expressed concern about the Pentagon’s space policy directive, according to which “the US reserves the right to conduct military operations in outer space, through outer space and from outer space in order to influence the outcome of a conflict”. According to Perminov, at the same time “Russia has never had and does not have any plans to create satellites with weapons on board and place them in orbit”; the Russian Space Forces were established to “develop information-space systems in order to compensate for the decrease in the military potential of the Armed Forces after cuts in troop strength”, and “to ensure continuous monitoring of missile launch sites, space reconnaissance and so on. Our satellites would warn the control center of the commander-in-chief and the General Staff of missile attacks.”
RUSSIAN-BELORUSSIAN ANTI-AIRCRAFT DEFENSE
Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, No. 16, May, 2001, p. 1
Anatoly Kornukov, commander-in-chief of the Air Force, said on April 28 that the unified regional anti-aircraft defense system of Russia and Belarus, which will include the Baltic Fleet’s anti-aircraft defenses, will go into operation no later than mid-June. It will be managed by Valerii Kostenko, the Belarussian anti-aircraft defense commander; and funded from the budgets of the Russia-Belarus joint regional defense group and the CIS unified anti-aircraft defense system. According to Kornukov, there are also plans to carry out joint firing exercises in the Kaliningrad region, near Chita, and at the Ashukuk test site in Astrakhan within the framework of CIS anti-aircraft defense system.
READING LESS AND LESS
Rossiia, No. 17, May, 2001, p. 10
The Russian Book Union – uniting publishers, printers, and book retailers – has held its inaugural congress in Moscow.
Statistics show that 30% of Russian citizens don’t read books, newspapers, or magazines. Over 10 million citizens are illiterate. Russia’s status as “the most well-read country in the world” is rapidly fading into the past. What’s more, printing equipment is wearing out, the structure of the book trade has collapsed, and appropriate legislation is lacking…
The state has no clear policies on books and the promotion of books. The second part of the new Tax Code does not include the existing tax breaks for book publishing. So books, which are already not cheap, will become 80% more expensive. This means vast numbers of readers will be simply unable to afford books.
THE FIRST DECADE IS THE HARDEST
Ekonomika i Zhizn, No. 18, May, 2001, p. 32
The National Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) did a poll in late March on economic changes in the lives of Russian families (1,600 respondents). Only one in six families is materially better off now than a decade ago. For most families (57%), housing conditions remain unchanged (housing deteriorates quite slowly, after all).
Furniture and domestic appliances deteriorate more rapidly (41% of families report no change). The most revealing figure is family income: it has declined for 62% of families, and risen for only 15%. This affects food and clothing most of all, and standards for both have deteriorated (53-55%).
A curious detail: 48% of respondents consider that they and their families have adjusted to the “new” way of living, but only half of these respondents have managed to increase or at least maintain their previous level of family income. The other half, alas, have only adjusted to a lower standard of living.
A second VTsIOM poll is also interesting (late April, 1,600 respondents in 33 regions, margin of error 3.8%). It asked the question: “Which political goals are in the interests of your family?” The highest response, 69%, was for “development of Russian industry”; and 47% of respondents chose “protection measures for domestic producers”.
CHUBAIS BETWEEN GAIDAR AND NEMTSOV
Vek, No. 18, May, 2001, p. 2
According to our sources, in the lead-up to the Union of Right Forces congress, Anatoly Chubais, the “unofficial leader” of the right, has decided to “firmly and consistently” support the candidacy of Boris Nemtsov for URF party leader – since Nemtsov, unlike Chubais, has “at least something resembling charisma”. Analysts believe Chubais is baffled by Yegor Gaidar’s financially and administratively unsupported bid for the leadership. Analysts believe that if it comes down to a choice between Nemtsov and Gaidar, Chubais will take the side of Nemtsov.
WE’RE ON THE RIGHT PATH, COMRADES!
Novoe Vremya, No. 19, May, 2001, p. 9
According to various polls, if presidential elections were held right now, Putin would once again get over 50% of the vote – just like he did last year. To put it differently, 80% of those who voted for Putin last year would do so again, and he would gather a number of new voters. Support for Putin is also boosted by the lack of any new political figures of any note: in the hypothetical election, no one even comes close to challenging Putin. His closest rival, Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov, would get only 10% of the vote; and all other candidates would be in single figures.
The foundation of support for Putin is the hope that “he alone will restore order in Russia”; 25% of respondents continue to believe this. And 70% of them believe this requires a “strong hand”, while 42% think “all power should be concentrated in one person at this time”. Thus, no matter what kind of state power hierarchy Putin chooses to strengthen, they believe it’s all for the best.
Putin’s second year in office does not promise him political troubles. The Duma is not popular with the people. Only 19% say it is doing a good job; 53% say it is not, and 28% are uncertain. There is no serious opposition in Russia. If a parliamentary election were held today, the Communists would get 28% of Duma seats, Yabloko 11%, the Union of Right Forces 9%, and the alliance of Unity and Fatherland – All Russia would get 49%. Given these figures, Putin’s laws are virtually guaranteed to be passed.
THE UNION OF RIGHT FORCES PARTY CHARTER IS READY
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 12, 2001, pp. 1, 3
A draft charter has been released for the Union of Right Forces party, which the URF is scheduled to confirm at its inaugural congress on May 26. It finally sheds some light on what the URF party will be like.
The authors of the charter were forced to leave out many “authoritarian” postulates. Nevertheless, the URF leaders have managed to include a fairly rigid party hierarchy – paradoxically, this is capable of picking up moods “from above”. According to our sources, the draft was written to take into account the harshest possible requirements of the law on political parties, which has not yet been passed; this law will require all party charters to be closely examined by the Justice Ministry.
The most interesting parts of the charter are those covering the powers of the head of the URF political council, and the virtually total subordination of regional branches to the center. The powers given to the future head of the political council essentially make this person the full-fledged leader of the party.
So despite the compromise approach of the URF – having several co-chairs – the party will actually be based on the principle of having one leader.
According to the law on political parties, each regional branch must be re-registered with state bodies and given the status of a legal entity. According to our sources, once the charter has been adopted this will enable the future leader of the URF to change almost all the leaders of regional branches, replacing them with people who are more loyal to the central party organization.
INFLATION HIGHER ON THE AGENDA THAN PENSIONS
Kommersant, May 12, 2001, pp. 1, 6
At a Cabinet meeting on May 11, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov named those responsible for rising inflation: the Cabinet itself, Russian Joint Energy Systems, the Rail and Transport Ministry, and Gazprom. In addition, Cabinet ministers discussed pension reforms and restructuring the aviation industry.
Inflation was not on the official agenda for the Cabinet meeting. However, as we reported earlier, on Thursday President Putin met with all ministers responsible for the economy and demanded a drastic reduction in the inflation rate. Kasianov opened the Cabinet meeting by identifying the guilty parties. He said that inflation in the first few months of this year had been higher than the 12% figure factored into the budget, primarily due to supplementary budget spending permitted by the Cabinet. Moreover, the natural monopolies had raised their rates over the past six months.
True, Kasianov didn’t personally punish anyone; instead, he named the heroes of the battle against inflation. These turned out to be Taxes and Duties Minister Gennadii Bukaev and Customs Committee chairman Mikhail Vanin.
THE PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE REHABILITATES ITS OWN
Kommersant, May 12, 2001, pp. 1, 6
The General Prosecutor’s Office has closed investigations into two former general prosecutors, Alexei Iliushenko and Yuri Skuratov. General Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov even issued an apology to Iliushenko for the groundless accusations against him. Thus, the General Prosecutor’s Office is trying to rehabilitate itself – to overcome the legacy of political cases.
Sources at the General Prosecutor’s Office described the closing of these cases as significant. One spokesman said: “Vladimir Ustinov has repeatedly noted that such cases do nothing for the image of the investigation bodies.” What’s more, Ustinov understands that if circumstances change, he could find himself in the same situation as his predecessors (he has been accused of obtaining property unlawfully). But the main point is that Iliushenko and Skuratov were removed from the political stage due to these criminal investigations against them. And now the General Prosecutor’s Office – which has all too often dealt with political cases in recent times – is itself in need of rehabilitation.