TURNKEY PARTIES

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TURNKEY PARTIES

Delovaya Khronika, September 3, 2002, pp. 26-28

July 14 marked two years since the new law on political parties came into force. Previously-registered socio-political movements were given these two years to re-register in line with the new requirements.

The Justice Ministry’s list now includes 24 parties which have gained the coveted accreditation. Two years ago, there were 199.

However, specialists believe the number of new parties will double by December. Any parties registered later than that would be unable to participate in the parliamentary elections of 2003. Still, it seems the record set in December 1999 – when there were 169 parties ready to take part in the Duma elections – will never be broken.

“A political party is an expensive pleasure these days,” says one political consultant who “organized” five parties in two months in autumn 1999. Back then, getting a political party to “turnkey delivery” stage cost only $10-15,000, and required only three or four people working on it. The consultant estimates that two-thirds of those 169 parties were “made to order”.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to the real political parties which have been re-registered: the Communist Party, the Union of Right Forces (URF), Yabloko, or the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). However, the new list of registered parties already includes, for example, parties like the Russian Political Party of Peace and Unity, led by Sazhi Umalatova. Interestingly enough, it is registered as having 16,465 members; while the URF has only 14,646 members. Then there are the 13,996 members of the Svyatoslav Fedorov Russian Self-Government Party, led by Levon Chakhmakhchian. And the 11,780 members of the Russian Stability Party, based in St. Petersburg and led by Vladimir Sokolov, honorary member of the Russian Geographical Society and council member of the Russian Union of Suvorovites, Nakhimovites, and Cadets. It will become clear soon enough why these parties have been registered.

The political consultant comments: “Creating a new party these days, right up to turnkey stage, costs at least $250,000. Or a political order comes in from the Kremlin. The Conservative Party of Russia, led by Lev Ubozhko, was probably registered to order for the Kremlin. Ubozkho is a fringe element, and the few journalist who know of him openly describe him as a madman. It’s hard to believe that Ubozhko managed to find 10,630 supporters.” And the Constitutional Party of the Russian Federation, led by Yaroslav Ternovsky, has 10,286 members. However, one undoubted virtue of both these parties is that their acronyms – CPRF – are likely to confuse a few thousand supporters of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation when the time comes to vote.

IT’S STILL MORE COMFORTABLE IN THE SHADOWS

Ekspert, September 2, 2002, pp. 4-7

The State Statistics Committee defines the shadow economy as all forms of business which for one reason or another are not included in official statistical reports, since they take place without a company being registered or any taxes being paid.

It appears that the government’s expectations have not been fulfilled. It predicted that cutting taxes and reducing red tape would make the shadow sector shrink – but this hasn’t happened. On the contrary, the number of people working in the shadow economy has risen by almost 300,000 over the past year.

For around 2 million (23.6%) of those employed in the shadow sector of the Russian economy, this is an extra source of income. For almost 8 million (77%) it is their sole source of employment. Most of them are engaged in forms of small business (the State Statistics Committee defines this as enterprises employing five people or fewer).

The proportion of rural residents working in the shadow sector (29%) is much higher than the figure for urban residents (11%). According to the State Statistics Committee, the high proportion among rural residents is due to the fact that this category includes all income from selling farm produce grown on private plots of land and not declared for income tax purposes.

Ivan Grachev, head of the Development of Enterprise socio-political movement: “It’s quite understandable that the number of people working in the shadow sector has been on the rise lately. There’s still no incentive for them to make the transition into the legal sector of the economy; on the contrary, conditions are only getting worse. Despite all the government’s promises, tax collection has been increased, not reduced. Forecasts for next year don’t offer any joy either – the draft budget for 2003 says that the amount of revenue from provisional tax will triple. Most business owners can’t cope with that.”

CHECHNYA: TERRORISTS TARGET AIRCRAFT

Argumenty i Fakty, September 4, 2002, p. 2

Following the crash of the Mi-26 transport helicopter in Chechnya, and then the crash of the Mi-24, the war in Chechnya has moved into a new phase. There are substantial reasons to believe that the Chechen terrorists have transferred almost all their attention from ground targets to air targets.

Two years ago, representatives of Aslan Maskhadov managed to purchase around 150 late-model Igla portable missile launchers. It is not entirely clear who the sellers were – part of the Russian Armed Forces or the military-industrial complex. Other reports say the SAMs were sold to the Chechens by certain structures in Ukraine or Poland. In any case, it is said that one of the conditions of sale was a two-year delay before the weapons were used, in order to cover the tracks of the deal.

According to some reports, the Igla systems sold to the terrorists had a very important feature disabled: the one which prevents these missiles from targeting aircraft sending out signals that identify them as Russian aircraft.

Around 150 of these high-precision missile systems, which are not fooled by heat-detection tricks or other decoys, present a serious threat not only to Russian military and civil aviation. If they should fall into the hands of Osama bin Laden’s militants, for example, American aircraft would also be endangered. And this cannot be ruled out.

PUTIN’S APPROVAL RATING

Zavtra, September 5, 2002, p. 1

According to our sources in the think-tanks servicing the Kremlin, Putin’s unprecedented tour of the nation – Moscow to Vladivostok, then to the Kuzbass, then to Chita, then Kazan, then back to Moscow – was a response to a catastrophic drop in the president’s approval rating over recent weeks: something which made the pro-government party very concerned. Overall, Putin did a splendid job in Operation Rating. Analysts note that he made only three serious mistakes: his explanation of ethnic relations, using the violation of the rights of Tatars in Bashkortostan as an example; his description of Vladivostok and Primorye as fully-fledged participants in Pacific Region development; and his uncontrolled response to a request for coal prices to be reduced – Putin said the government’s priority is to raise natural gas prices, whereas coal prices could go either way.

However, the end result of Putin’s tour may be considered zero, since this publicity stunt bears absolutely no relation to real problems in the interaction between the state and society. There have been no substantial personnel changes in the Cabinet or the presidential administration – this only serves to emphasize how dependent Putin is on “Yeltsin’s Family” – and on Anatoly Chubais, who gave a confident solo performance in Vladivostok. The appointment of M. Barsukov, a former Kremlin insider and close friend of A. Korzhakov, as the federal auditor for a number of law enforcement bodies only serves to emphasize that the president cannot make his own personnel decisions at the top. As a consequence, the Kremlin’s damaging socio-political agenda is being continued; and the highest level of public discontent is being caused by reforms to housing and utilities, in connection with rising energy tariffs – as well as wage arrears for state-sector workers.

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