NOWHERE TO GO
Konservator, No. 1, January 17, 2003, p. 3
According to polls done out by the National Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), the political mood in Russia may be described as apathetic.
If the election were held next Sunday, slightly under half of respondents are uncertain whom they would vote for; 15% of respondents would ignore the election; over 9% would vote “against all candidates”; and 17% of respondents don’t know what they would do. People aged between 25 and 54 are the most uncertain about their political choice (44%, against 37% of younger and older age groups) – a sign of rising disillusionment in the idea of elections being able influence people’s everyday lives.
At present, there are two favorite political forces: the United Russia party and the Communist Party, each with 17% of supporters, or 28% of the number of those who intend to vote. When asked if they would vote for United Russia at the upcoming Duma elections, 41% of likely voters do not rule it out; most of them are aged between 24 and 39. People between 40 and 54 are less inclined to support United Russia (37% and 56% respectively).
Most respondents consider United Russia to be the pro-government party, and the closer it is to the government, the more voters will support it. If Vladimir Putin’s name should appear at the head of the United Russia party list, the number of United Russia supporters would rise by 15-17% across all age groups.
Voters are seeking alternatives – over half of respondents think that Russia needs oppositional political forces. Young people support this view especially strongly (61.1% for, and 18.1% against). At the same time, voters cannot see any such alternatives at present – fewer than a third of respondents would describe any of Russia’s present political parties as oppositional. Around 40% of respondents don’t trust any of the existing oppositional forces.
CHERNOMYRDIN WILL STAY IN KIEV
Konservator, No. 1, January 17, 2003, p. 3
The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine made a final decision on January 13: Viktor Chernomyrdin will continue his diplomatic work in Kiev. He was accused of discourtesy toward the Ukrainian government. However, the indignation of nationalist members of parliament from the Our Ukraine party is no surprise: they would seize any pretext to criticize Russia.
There is another curious aspect here: Yulia Timoshenko, a member of parliament who usually agrees with Our Ukraine on all key issues, has defended Viktor Chernomyrdin. However, this is also understandable: Timoshenko’s Ukraine should be “Ukraine a la Chernomyrdin” – haughty, rude, slow, careless about diplomatic protocol, and untalented in the arts of diplomacy. It needs to be convinced that its “Slavic brothers” will always be on its side; and thus, it will surrender one position after another.
RUBLE YEAR TO REPLACE THE YEAR OF THE EURO
Finansovaya Rossia, No. 1, January 16, 2003, p. 9
On December 24, the Central Bank of Russia permitted the exchange rate to move outside the limits which had contained it since March last year. This means that the ruble will decline against the dollare even more slowly this year. In 2003, the government promises to keep the average exchange rate at 33 rubles to the dollar. As at January 1, 2003, it was 31.7844 rubles to the dollar. If the Central Bank continues its gradual ruble devaluation policy, by the end of the year the rate will be 34.22 rubles to the dollar. This means the ruble will fall by 7.66% against the dollar in 2003, compared to 5.46% in 2002.
This plan seems quite unrealistic. Firstly, global oil prices are still high; and if the military conflict between the US and Iraq is escalated, they are likely to rise further. Hence, export revenues are likely to remain high this year, and the Central Bank will have difficulties maintaining the exchange rate: it will have to print more rubles, stimulating inflation. Besides, the rising euro is increasing both the value of Russia’s foreign debt and the prices of European imports, which make up a considerable amount of Russia’s consumer spending. Keeping the euro rate growth close to ruble is possible only by allowing the ruble to rise against the dollar. That is why the former pattern of ruble-to-dollar exchange rates is likely to be restored sooner than the euro rate or the oil prices stop increasing.
SHUTTING DOWN THE "LIGHTHOUSE"
Novaya Gazeta, January 16, 2003, p. 4
One of the largest facilities of the Nuclear Energy Ministry and the only Russian enterprise which reprocessed nuclear waste – the Mayak (“lighthouse”) plant in the Chelyabinsk region – has had its license revoked, and has ceased operation from January 1, 2003. The State Atomic Inspectorate made this decision due to the plant’s flagrant violation of the federal law on environmental protection. Mayak was dumping medium-level and low-level nuclear waste into Lake Karachai and the Techen cascade water reservoirs.
Vladimir Clivyak, a co-chairman of the Russian branch of EcoDefense! International, says: “The State Atomic Inspectorate must have coordinated this with the Nuclear Energy Ministry. Apparently, in exchange for closing this enterprise, the Nuclear Energy Ministry wants to receive permission to import US nuclear waste into Russia. It is no coincidence that in 1999, Nuclear Energy Minster Yevgeny Adamov signed a preliminary contract with the US on ceasing reprocessing of nuclear waste in Russia in exchange for economic aid.”
Mayak’s license will probably be extended, but its closure is enough to demonstrate to the US that we can do it. Mayak is in a very poor technical condition and it will be closed in the near future anyway.
WELCOME TO ARMS!
Novaya Gazeta, January 16, 2003, p. 4
From now on, Russian weapons will be sold abroad with NATO names and NATO labels. The Russian State Standards Committee and the National Directorship Council for NATO cataloguing signed this agreement on Tuesday. According to the State Standards Committee, cataloguing of Russian weapons and military hardware for export will reduce state spending on purchasing and using weapons, and will make it possible to increase the quality and competitiveness of Russian products on global weapons markets. Introduction of the cataloguing system will not reveal any military secrets. The issue here is that NATO has two levels of participation in this system. The level Russia will use will mean that information on weapons can be given only to specific customers.
STRANGE ASPECTS OF MACRO-ECONOMIC GROWTH
Moskovskaya Promyshlennaya Gazeta, January 16-22, 2003, p. 6
Summing up the results of the past year, the State Statistics Committee registered an amazing phenomenon. While real incomes seem to have risen by 9%, the number of people living beneath the poverty line also increased by 9%. At present, there are 50 million such people, or a third of the population. How can this be?
The secret lies in rising income imbalances. Due to inflation, the cost of the minimal consumer basket is now around 2,000 rubles per month; compare that to the 1,500 ruble salary of a rural teacher. Cabinet and Duma members say they never stop thinking about achieving social harmony. They have promised to greatly increase the salaries of especially poor Russians. The minimum wage will rise from 450 to 600 rubles a month. Student allowances will be doubled to 4,000 rubles a month. At the same time, the Duma has been unable to increase child support payments – they seem to remain at 70 rubles a month. By the way, the consumer basket for a child costs almost as much as an adult’s, or 1,795 rubles a month.
Obviously, only Russian tycoons can keep pace with the inflation rate; moreover, they actually dictate its schedule. We can say nothing about the incomes of senior state officials, but Duma members have been brave enough to release the Duma’s budget. Last year, the lower house of parliament spent 2 billion rubles on its own maintenance; this year, 2.44 billion rubles will be provided. Roughly calculated, each member of parliament – with many aides and assistants – will receive an additional one million rubles to compensate for inflation.
WOLVES IN THE CITY
Rosskiiskaya Gazeta, January 18, 2003, pp. 1-2
Recently, a report resembling a police report appeared on a website. It is an extract from a Moscow Interior Affairs Department repoart “on terrorist acts possibly in preparation”. In part, it says Chechen guerrillas are planning a terrorist attack to overshadow all others, including the Moscow hostage-taking. It also says that Shamil Basaev has called on all Chechens living in Moscow to leave the city, sell their cars and apartments, and to convey the money abroad in order to fund the guerrillas: refuges have already been prepared for them in Britain, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Germany.
On the basis of this data, the police have orders to step up security at especially important facilities and public places; to gather information on preparations for the terrorist act in advance; and to check all “Chechens and Ingushetians who live in Moscow, as well as hotels, markets, and train stations.”
Colonel General Nikolai Kulikov, head of the Moscow government administration, says: “This is a real document prepared by the police department of one Moscow district.” According to him, the police have received intelligence from Germany about a terrorist act being prepared by Chechen guerrillas.
Viktor Zakharov, FSB chief for Moscow and the Moscow region, reported at a Moscow government meeting that Basaev is preparing to carry out these plans. According to him, since the theater hostage-taking the FSB department has received over twenty serious warnings about terrorist acts. Two days ago, there two cars were found on the Zvenigorod Highway: their gasoline tanks and trunks were filled with powerful plastic explosives. Whether this is connected with Basaev’s planned terrorist act is under investigation.
Question: Do you think Basaev’s call for Chechens to sell their homes and property in order to fund Chechen terrorists is an attempt to threaten Chechens, or to frighten Muscovites with the idea of more terrorist acts?
Zakharov: I think, both. The bandits need money and they are reminding people of it. Any reasonable person understands that people will not rush to comply with these absurd orders. However, by demanding it, Basaev demonstrates that the lives of Chechens are no more valuable to him than the lives of Russians. If he is preparing an exceptionally violent terrorist attack, it is clear that some Chechens who live in Moscow will also die in it. This must be a way to keep Russians tense. Of course, after all the past terrorist acts in Moscow and other cities, there will be no panic; but we should not be complacent.