COLLECTIVE SECURITY NATIONS GATHER IN ARMENIA
Izvestia, May 25, 2001, p. 2
President Putin’s unexpected trip to Yakutsk did not disrupt his previously-agreed schedule. The president flew from the flood area to Yerevan, where the Collective Security Treaty council meeting will be held today. One of the main issues on the agenda is likely to be creating a collective rapid response force – a kind of joint special operations team from the six states involved.
The heads of these six states which have signed the Collective Security Treaty – Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and Tajikistan – all arrived in Yerevan yesterday. They gathered for an informal dinner, though even here there was a separate list of topics for discussion.
Officially, there are not very many items on the agenda for the meeting: it will look at implementation of prior decisions, and the specific parameters of the collective forces to be created – management, financing, procedures for deployment. The heads of state instructed their respective agencies to work this out last year, at their previous summit.
Basic coordination on these issues has already been achieved by the Security Council secretaries and defense ministers of the six states. The heads of state will only need to add their signatures. However, final discussions at the level of ministers will be continued – before the summit, the heads of Security Councils, Interior Ministries, and the military will meet.
It is unlikely that much information about the decisions will be revealed to the public. Unlike many previous meetings, this one in Yerevan will involve fairly detailed discussion of military and technical issues, not general political formulations. Apart from the key agreements defining how the collective security system and rapid response forces will be developed, there may also be a decision to set up a new advisory body within the Collective Security Treaty – a chiefs of the general staff committee.
DUMA DEBATES AMENDMENTS TO BILL ON POLITICAL PARTIES
Izvestia, May 25, 2001, p. 3
Vladimir Zorkaltsev, chairman of the Duma committee for public and religious organizations, delivered the opening address; he brought with him two sizeable folders, filled with the amendments to the bill on political parties which the committee has approved.
Over 1,500 amendments were proposed; all were considered by the committee, and around 500 have now reached the Duma.
There have been no fundamental changes to the bill, but some significant concessions to existing parties have been made. Firstly, registration of parties will be considered as acknowledging that a party has been formed, rather than permission for it to be formed; secondly, bureaucrats will be given less leeway for “individual decisions” in registering parties and monitoring their activities. Of course, creating regional parties will not be permitted; but the legal and financial scope for regional branches of federal parties has been expanded (e.g. property ownership, relations with sponsors). The disputed issue of state funding for parties remains in the bill; the proposed funding level has even been increased (i.e. Duma deputies have decided against turning down the prospect of state funding).
Debate on the amendments began around 1 p.m. Duma deputies even sacrificed part of their lunch break, but as we went to print, only one-fifth of the amendments had been covered.
INFLATION: WHICH FORECAST IS MORE BLEAK?
Rossiiskaya Gazeta, May 25, 2001, EV
Presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov says the Cabinet’s predictions of a 12-14% inflation rate are too optimistic; the Cabinet and the Central Bank will have a tough job keeping inflation around 18-20% this year.
Illarionov says the events of the last few days lead him to this bleak forecast. He considers that the Cabinet has approved the wrong plan for restructuring the electricity sector – not the plan developed by the group led by Illarionov and Kress, which the president described as a compromise plan.
These reforms will lead to rising electricity prices, Illarionov believes. What’s more, if the reforms take a long time, prices will start to rise very soon. This will be the first significant stimulus for inflation.
The second stimulus is linked to the assumptions being made about budget revenues in 2002; the Cabinet is presently working on the budget. It is proposed to base the budget on moderate oil prices, while any extra revenues which come in if oil prices are high will be directed into a stabilization fund. But what figure should be chosen for oil prices? Illarionov considers that budget calculations should be based on a minimal price of $10-12 a barrel, so that whatever happens, the budget won’t fall apart at the seams. His opponent, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Kudrin, proposes to use the figure of $18 a barrel – saying that unless this is done, the government’s social obligations will be jeopardized. However, Illarionov predicts that using the higher figure will create a threat for the budget if world energy prices drop suddenly. It could also stimulate inflation. Illarionov hopes that this time his proposals will receive some attention. The Cabinet will meet to discuss the budget for 2002 on June 7.
THE PRIME MINISTER GOES TO WARSAW
Moskovskii Komsomolets, May 25, 2001, p. 2
In recent weeks, the prevailing opinion among state officials has been that the much-discussed imminent Cabinet changes will turn out to be another anticlimax. It is said that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov has managed to convince the president that his plan for staff changes is right. Hence, despite all the fuss, no real changes need be expected in key Cabinet positions. The most disliked and weakest ministers will be dismissed, the number of deputy prime ministers will be cut, and some state agencies will get a shake-up.
However, President Putin does have a reputation for liking conspiracies and complex game-plans. No senior official, not even the prime minister, can guarantee that events will unfold as described above.
Now the prime minister is off to Poland – a country with which Russia has close ties, but a very complex relationship.
Kasianov’s visit to Poland has two main goals, and the goal of most interest to the public involves a discussion of visa requirements. Poland will become a European Union member in two years. It will then be more difficult for Russian citizens to travel there. But Poland has decided to speed things up: instead of tightening visa requirements in 2003, it wants to do so this summer. Given that around 4.5 million Russian citizens visit Poland each year, the consequences of this move are predictable.
Natural gas supplies will be another important item on the agenda in Warsaw. For some time, Russia has been trying to persuade Poland to agree to a new gas pipeline across its territory, a pipeline which will bypass Ukraine. To date, Poland has refused. But the prime minister hopes that pressure on Poland to agree will be successful this time.
CIS SPECIAL SERVICES MEET IN MINSK
Trud, May 25, 2001, p. 1
A meeting of the council of heads of intelligence agencies and security services in the CIS opened in Minsk yesterday.
Over two days, the representatives of CIS security services will discuss organizing joint operations and investigations into transnational organized crime groups which threaten the collective interests of CIS nations. The council intends to reach agreement on measures to cut off the flow of funds to terrorist groups and work out joint training procedures for counter-terrorist squads. It will also discuss methods of ensuring environmental safety for CIS nations during transport of toxic, radioactive, and poisonous substances.
In his welcome message to meeting participants, President Putin stressed: “Given the threat posed by international extremist and terrorist groups, and increasing transnational crime, uniting the efforts of CIS intelligence agencies and security services is an important factor in ensuring collective security.”