READING THE PAPERS LIKE TEA LEAVES

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In the past few days, the general attention of the media has been focused on the upcoming presidential inauguration and formalities connected with it. Thus, Nezavisimaya Gazeta drew its readers’ attention to the absurdity of the situation by which Prime Minister Putin will be obliged to inform President Putin that the Cabinet of Ministers has been disbanded (the so-called “honorable dismissal”, in contrast to the variant when the prime minister is dismissed by presidential decree).

Segodnya reports that “a group of distinguished Russian human rights activists” has demanded that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church should not participate in the inauguration ceremony. In 1996, Patriarch Alexii II took part in the inauguration along with representatives of all the power branches (he did not bless Boris Yeltsin as president, but only congratulated the president and shook his hand after the latter had been sworn in). However, religious leaders of other faiths were only observers at the ceremony. This prompted Lev Ponomaryov, leader of the nationwide movement “For Human Rights”, to state that since Russia is a country of many faiths, “a display of the Russian Orthodox Church leader’s exceptional relations with the powers-that-be may be perceived as an insult by followers of other faiths.” On the other hand, “religious minorities” themselves were relaxed about the situation. Sheikh Farid Asadullin said that Russian Muslims do not consider themselves neglected by the Russian government, especially since Ravil Gainutdin, Chairman of the Russian Council of Muftis, has been invited to attend the inauguration ceremony. A representative of the Chief Russian Rabbi’s Administration was even more philosophical in his appraisal: “All this is politics, which does not concern us. If we are invited, we will attend the ceremony. And even if Patriarch Alexii II plays a major role in it again, we will not take offense.”

Meanwhile, Izvestia reminds its readers that human rights activists have criticized Putin on numerous occasions, calling him “a tyrant, a sinister agent of the security services, King Herod, etc., with whom any decent person (for instance, the Queen of England) should be ashamed to associate”. Based on this value system, Izvestia notes, the fact that Patriarch Alexii II is attending the inauguration of “King Herod” should primarily offend Orthodox Christians, whereas followers of all other faiths should rejoice at “how consistently their religious leaders hold aloof from the absolute evil personified by Vladimir Putin”. However, for some unknown reason, human rights activists do not take this logic into account.

Vremya MN has published in advance a whole compilation of well-known political analysts’ predictions of what exactly the president-elect will say in his inauguration speech. Thus, Sergei Markov, Director of the Institute of Political Research, believes that Putin’s speech will be dedicated to current Russian problems, such as the Chechen conflict (Russian soldiers must “snap the spine of Chechen fascism”), battling poverty, corruption, and organized crime (corruption is “society’s disease”, the only cure for which is “privatization of the economy and nationalization of the state”), etc. Alexander Shokhin told the paper that, in his opinion, Putin should refrain from saying anything apart from “the five lines of the presidential oath as stipulated by the Constitution”. And as for giving an account of his plan of action, Shokhin says that the new president will have a chance to do so when introducing his nominee for prime minister to the Duma deputies. Vyacheslav Nikonov, President of the Politika Foundation, believes that an inauguration speech is a specific genre which entails avoiding any reference to specific routine events and problems, while at the same time expressing “strategic or philosophical fundamentals of future policy” in picturesque literary terms.

In another article Vremya MN dwells on the possible philosophy of the new regime. In the paper’s opinion, the excessive plenary powers with which the Russian Constitution entrusted President Yeltsin, a sick and aging man, were “just what was needed” – since Yeltsin ruled rather than governed. In addition, as we know, Yeltsin was an adherent of “the well-known system of checks and balances” which created opportunities for civil society’s development in one way or another: “Political parties, individual politicians, and oligarchic groups were important and influential…” Now, the paper continues, the situation is entirely different: the person who has come to power is “a young, energetic, healthy, and clever man who apparently wishes this country prosperity, but has no experience of governing the state.” The new president aspires to govern, and is gathering all authority in this country into his hands. The paper believes that Russians will soon feel the difference between Yeltsin and Putin. “Parliament, political parties, regional leaders, and the oligarchs are of absolutely no importance from now on,” Vremya MN writes. “They all are being used as the foundation for the colossal pyramid of power currently being constructed, and at the top of that pyramid is a single person.” And this enormous construction will inevitably suppress civil society, regardless of the new president’s will.

Under the new president, a certain counterpart of the Central Committee of the Communist Party will inevitably be formed, a narrow circle of people who will undertake “the burden of making decisions”. Naturally, such a circle will not be like President Yeltsin’s “inner circle”, or like the oligarchs’ club – it will be made up of presidential advisors in various fields – economy, finance, defense, etc. “However, we can already predict that one advisor will be missing from that circle,” the paper notes sadly, “namely, an advisor on philosophical issues, a person capable of going beyond immediate economic and other problems and helping the president withstand the temptations of his omnipotence.” Above all, a person capable of helping Putin realize the necessity of reforming state power; in particular, amending the Constitution in order to restrict presidential authority. On the other hand, the paper reminds its readers, history does provide examples of cooperation between monarchs and philosophers – for instance, Catherine the Great and Voltaire: “Of course, the correspondence between them resulted only in a reinforcement of the Russian mechanism of state.”

Segodnya shares the opinion that the future style of Putin’s relations with the so-called pressure groups will radically differ from that of Boris Yeltsin. The paper considers the preservation of the “inner circle” as “a powerful mediator between the head of state and the pressure groups” to be absolutely impossible and unnecessary: “Putin needs no mediators when it comes to communicating with representatives of big business, or even his own ministers – he can simply invite the latter into his office or phone them.” As for the basic principles on which the new president’s relations with pressure groups will rest, the paper believes that the major principle here will be the president’s refusal to recognize those groups as having the right to political independence. As a result, he will encourage those pressure groups which agree to his terms, “but without creating a new ‘inner circle'”, and curb the influence of those groups claiming the right to political autonomy, “but most likely without completely destroying any of those groups”.

Thus, Segodnya believes, state officials belonging to pressure groups who are loyal to the head of state “will have a good chance of remaining in the government” (the paper recalls the case of Nikolai Aksenenko, the Roads and Transportation Minister).

Inostranets weekly considers the appointment of Andrei Illarionov, known for his liberal views and independence, as the president’s economic advisor to be a signal event. The weekly considers that “Putin is recruiting ‘lone wolves’ who are not members of any rival movements or financial and economic groupings”.

Inostranets assumes that in future the further directions of this country’s development will be determined by specialists of a new generation, who are now not widely known. “Appointing new and unknown people will become the determining line in Putin’s personnel strategy. This line will allow the new president not only to replace the power structures’ personnel, but also to alter the conceptual provisions for Russia’s development strategy.”

And in order for these “new people” not to repeat the mistakes made by their predecessors, the “young reformers”, the institution of presidential advisors “will be restored, or, to be more exact, will be legitimized”.

The new “Politburo” is planned to serve as a counterweight to the government, hence we can assert that the notorious system of checks and balances will keep functioning, although in a somewhat different form. Putin is apparently fulfilling certain commitments to “the structures which nominated him as Yeltsin’s successor”, hence he is forced to act with caution, and above all to observe a certain succession of personnel appointments. Putin cannot just dive in and make radical personnel changes in the government and the Presidential Administration. “Therefore, the change of course will be made first of all with the help of the institution of presidential advisors, an area in which Putin is not bound by any personnel commitments.”

Komsomolskaya Pravda warns that “further procrastination over the choice of a strategy is becoming dangerous for the president”. Meanwhile, it is impossible to secure social stability in Russia without established political parties that offer “competing economic strategies”. The presidential election showed that there are three really influential political parties in this country: the CPRF, Yabloko, and the party of power – the latter having neither an ideology, nor a program of its own, nor a party system. Komsomolskaya Pravda does not believe that Unity will ever become an established party: “The Kremlin sees both Unity and the CPRF merely as puppets which will never have real political power or play an independent role.”

Vedomosti says on this issue: “Unity leader Sergei Shoigu and his comrades are eager to build on the success their party achieved in the parliamentary election, and become a real power party participating in the government of this country, instead of remaining a party designed to carry out the Kremlin’s directives in the Duma. This intention is praiseworthy, but it will hardly be fulfilled.” The paper believes that it only makes sense to say “There IS such a party!” when “a mobile and efficient system for political action has already been created, a system which is ready not only to be the power party, but also to fight for that power”.

Well-known political analyst Olga Kryshtanovskaya told Kommersant: “Judging from Putin’s recent statements and those of his close confidants, Russia is headed toward a two-party political system.” Ms. Kryshtanovskaya considers that if the Kremlin is serious about creating established parties, then there will be only two parties left by the next election: “The CPRF on the left flank, and Unity on the right. The rest will either disappear or join the strongest parties, most likely Unity.” It is in this direction that the Union of Right Forces is currently drifting. “As for Yabloko, it will hardly join either of the two; rather, it will fragment and disappear.”

Segodnya, in turn, asserts that members of Yabloko more and more often view themselves as “the only upholders of European liberal values in Russia”; therefore, when discussing the possibility of merging with the Union of Right Forces, they are secretly hoping that the latter’s “pro-human-rights wing” will defect to Yabloko.

The paper considers such a scenario to be fairly plausible, especially given the fact that the right-wing parties have the support of Anatoly Chubais, this shadowy and ambitious leader who, according to the paper’s sources, has already decided “to become the next president of Russia”. Igor Bunin, General Director of the Political Strategy Center, maintains in an interview with Segodnya that Chubais, the CEO of Russian Joint Energy Systems, views the Union of Right Forces as “a springboard into federal politics in 2004 or 2008.”

At the same time, Chubais behaves like an experienced participant in bureaucratic games rather than a politician. “And, according to the rules of those games, it is better to break through to the periphery of the power party and offer it expert advice (and that is one of Chubais’ important resources) than try come to terms with the opposition movement.”

If the idea of an alliance with Yabloko fails, Bunin predicts, centrifugal trends within the Union of Right Forces will inevitably increase.

On the other hand, it is hard to say whether Yabloko will eventually benefit from those trends in a rival movement. At any rate, “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” considers the Union’s attempt to unite with Grigory Yavlinsky, “who, having lost all his political influence, is still trying to play the role of opposition leader”, to be a mistake. Of course, the paper notes, Yavlinsky cannot fail to realize that Yabloko will turn into a completely marginal party if he does not compromise with the Union of Right Forces. However, “should the Union actually attempt to rescue Yavlinsky? Should not it look after its own political future instead?”

Literaturnaya Gazeta believes that it is high time the public asked the president-elect “a few unpleasant questions”. The paper quotes “Foreign Affairs” magazine, “the ideas of which often provide a basis for the actions of the US and the entire free world”. The March/April 2000 issue of this magazine carried an article entitled “Putin’s Plutocrat Problem”. The article says that just as under President Yeltsin, the oligarchs still rule in Russia. It is very strange, the magazine notes, that the new Russian president, the Duma, the Federal Security Service, the Interior Ministry, and other competent bodies overlook this fact.

“It is even stranger that the new Russian president promises the British prime minister to prevent any property redistribution in Russia!” adds Literaturnaya Gazeta. Further on, “Foreign Affairs” recalls, as does George Soros, “the unmentionable word ‘nationalization’ which is almost banned in Russia”: since what happened in Russia was “a giveaway of the lion’s share of state property to a narrow circle of speculators,” what is now essential is “an urgent re-nationalization of that property, and only after that a fair re-privatization should be undertaken.” At last the West has realized, Literaturnaya Gazeta says, that “the oligarchs are an even more dangerous phenomenon than the Chechen war”. It is the oligarchs who hamper the fulfillment and observance of anti-monopoly laws, it is they who prevent major foreign investments from coming to Russia, it is because of them that Russia has failed to become “a democratic country with a real market economy”.

In this connection, the paper poses the question: “So, where are your promises and your plan now, Mr. Putin? It is time to act, and now you will be judged by your deeds, not just your words! Yes, you did promise Tony Blair that there would be no property re-distribution in Russia; however, it was not Blair who elected you, but the people of Russia, who now demand that you carry out their will just as you have done in Chechnya.” Especially since it now turns out that the West is ready to support Putin’s intention to establish “dictatorship of the law” in Russia.

Literaturnaya Gazeta quotes what Putin allegedly said to one of the Russian oligarchs: “You may keep what you have managed to steal up to this point, but from now on you must cooperate with the state.” This is not the right attitude to take, the paper believes: “Cannot the president-elect understand that it is precisely his task, his right, and his duty to return all that has been stolen to Russia?” As examples the paper recalls Franklin D. Roosevelt (“who outwitted the monopolists and saved America”), Charles de Gaulle (“who nationalized several major French firms and banks, and thus rescued his Motherland”), and even General Alexander Lebed (“who deprived Anatoly Bykov of what he had stolen, took legal action against Bykov, and is now trying to return the stolen billions of rubles to Russia”).

“Is it that the new president simply lacks courage?” the paper asks. “If so, why not ask for assistance and support? Why not ask General Lebed? Or the Russian people?” It is necessary to return stolen assets to Russia, and there should be no talk of state secrets: “The main secret is why the oligarchs, the mafia, and gangsters who have divided Russia are still at large,” Literaturnaya Gazeta concludes.

Vek weekly believes that the main reason why Putin’s popularity rating remains fairly high after the presidential election is because the president-elect is perceived by the people as a bold knight who has penetrated into “the den of those enjoying the rewards of Russian oligarchic capitalism”. Nobody can even think that Putin is capable of sincerely sympathizing “with the most detested members of his current milieu, which he has been forced to inherit from his predecessor”.

An open struggle against “the oligarchs’ fortress” is bound to fail, as evidenced by the fate of Yevgeny Primakov, who suffered a complete defeat in that struggle. Therefore, if a frontal assault of the fortress is impossible, a cunning plan is needed – and here Vek recalls the famed siege of Troy and the Trojan Horse.

“That Putin is most likely playing the role of a Greek in the Trojan Horse is indisputable.” However, to win a victory in this battle demands, apart from other things, good timing of the attack.

“A wise politician who comes to power must prepare a basis for his further actions – place his confidants in key posts, enlist the support – or at least neutrality – of foreign states, meet regional leaders halfway, etc.,” Vek continues. “Only a waiting strategy and small cautious steps will enable him to win and continue the offensive.”

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