THE DUMA DOES NOT LIKE TO LOOK AT TERRORISTS

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THE DUMA DOES NOT LIKE TO LOOK AT TERRORISTS

Izvestia, December 21, 2001, p. 2

Yesterday the Duma approved in the first reading a number of amendments to the law on the media. Some of the amendments concern procedures for registering publication titles, and others concern banning promotion of terrorism.

The “counter-terrorist amendments” aroused the most heated debate. Former FSB chief Nikolai Kovalev, now a member of the Duma security committee, and eight other deputies proposed to ban dissemination of terrorist ideas in the media and “computer information networks.” Dissemination of “statements by terrorists, extremists and others which impedes implementation of counter-terrorist actions, by either advocating or justifying resistance” to such operations was also considered inadmissible.

Only the Yabloko and Union of Right Forces (URF) factions made a mild attempt at opposing the amendments. They perceived some encroachment on freedom of speech.

“Some of these deputies had been in Dudaev’s trenches and told the press afterwards how heroic they were,” said Alexander Kotenkov, presidential representative in the Duma, obviously implying URF members.

According to Kotenkov, the president supports the concept of the amendments, but at the same time he has some criticism of them.

The rest of the amendments concerned “establishing order” in media titles. The Duma decided to specify standards for registering titles in the print and electronic media. According to the amendments, the use of words “Russia” and “Russian Federation” in media titles “is only admissible subject to a decision by the body authorized by the government to issue the necessary permission.”

“By using these words, unscrupulous publishers can convey the impression that their publications are of nationwide significance,” noted Pavel Kovalenko (Unity faction), a member of the Duma committee on information policy. In support of his words, he displayed a copy of the “All Russia” newspaper, which, as he said, “is actually pornographic in content.”

Moreover, it will not be permitted to use bad language or euphemisms in the titles of publications.

“It is impossible to avoid euphemisms. If a publisher wishes to call a newspaper ‘The Red Chair’ or ‘Difficult Days’ – how can one prove whether these are euphemisms or not?” said one outraged deputy. Nevertheless, the amendments were passed, by 250 votes in favor to 99 against.

The Duma also gave its final approval to amendments to the second part of the Tax Code, which set a concessional VAT rate for print media (at 10%). All print publications will be able to take advantage of this rate, with the exception of those whose content is primarily advertising or erotica.

GOVERNMENT SANCTIONED RISE IN GAS PRICES

Izvestia, December 21, 2001, EV

At yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, ministers for the first time discussed the Gazprom investment program for the next year in conjunction with a proposed increase in gas prices for Russian consumers. Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Andrei Sharonov suddenly stated that in the year ahead the ministry is proposing to raise gas prices by 35%. Until now, the Economic Development Ministry has opposed any increase in domestic gas prices, arguing that this would stimulate inflation.

Just as in cases of the Nuclear Energy Ministry, the Railroads Ministry and RJES, in the case of Gazprom the Economic Development Ministry was insisting yesterday on reducing the investment program. Despite expectations, Gazprom has asked for “only” 161 billion rubles of state investment in 2002, instead of 170 billion rubles. However, the Economic Development Ministry proposed that Gazprom should restrict itself to 140 billion rubles. According to ministry analysts, the remaining 20 billion rubles can’t be found anyway, since Gazprom’s budget for next year is showing a deficit – costs are 92 billion rubles greater than revenues. Most likely, Gazprom intends to get that 20 billion rubles from increasing domestic gas prices.

The question of increasing rates was not considered at the Cabinet meetings dedicated to investment programs for RJES, the Nuclear Energy Ministry, or the Railroads Ministry; since all of the abovementioned programs were drawn up based on considerable rate increases. It seems the government wants to minimize the dependence of investment in the natural monopolies on price increases, for fear of inflation. However, in the case of Gazprom yesterday the ministers deviated from this principle. According to our sources, this is becaus the nation’s budgets at all levels of government are too dependent on the activities of the gas monopoly. According to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov’s statement yesterday, “the stability of Russia’s entire economy, revenues of the federal budget and budgets at other levels” depend on Gazprom’s financial well-being. As Kasianov said, it is necessary for the government to work out a system of financing the gas industry, while Gazprom’s investment program is really called upon to ensure continued gas supplies for consumers in Russia and abroad. As a result, the government agreed to grant Gazprom the right to invest 140 billion rubles in the industry in 2002 and adjust the remaining sum by March 1.

The issue of reforming Russia’s railroads was also discussed. No specific decisions were made; since, according to the Economic Development Ministry, the legislation required for restructuring the rail monopoly is still incomplete. According to Andrei Sharonov, the main reason for the delay is a lack of agreement on restructuring the Railroads Ministry’s debt to the federal budget, which amounts to around $1 billion.

RUSSIA AND POLAND HAVE A COMMON FUTURE

Parlamentskaya Gazeta, December 21, 2001, p. 3

Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov met with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller yesterday.

In his comments to the media, Mironov noted that discussion of political and economic relations between the two states was the main focus of the conversation. At present, Poland is seriously concerned about the imbalance in trade relations. While Russia’s annual exports to Poland are worth $8 billion, Poland’s exports to Russia amount to only $800 million.

Miller confirmed that his government is now considering Polish investment in Russia’s economy and how to eliminate the trade imbalance. That is exactly what he wants to discuss with President Vladimir Putin.

Russia and Poland have an interest in laws which would promote expansion of inter-regional relations between both states. To date, only Moscow, the Kursk region, Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg have direct contacts with Poland’s provinces. Mironov and Miller are certain that despite various upheavals in the past, Russia and Poland have a common future.

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