READING THE PAPERS LIKE TEA LEAVES

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The decisive actions of the new authorities, whose inevitability the national press has been writing about for so long, have started, after all. As usual, there are plenty of explanations of the reasons for exactly this development of the situation, as there are forecasts regarding their possible consequences. Some analysts consider Vladimir Putin to be a great reformer of Peter the Great’s level, others assert that the new Russian president is weak and incapable of coping with numerous threats to this country’s existence, still others are certain that every new move of the new head of state directly threatens the recent democratic achievements and warn Russian society about the danger of a new totalitarian regime to allegedly be established in Russia.

However, practically all observers are unanimous in the assumption that, as it is usually the case in Russia, the actual results of the reforms will most likely differ greatly from the expected ones. Izvestia predicts in this connection that “this coming fall we will be living in an absolutely different country”, and the living “is going to be interesting”.

“A new revolution in Russia, and again from above,” Kommersant announces. It is clear that any revolution is a risky affair, the more so in the current situation in Russia, on the eve of “fairly possible economic difficulties”. According to the paper, by October Russia will get into another budgetary crisis, “first of all owing to the necessity of fulfilling the social obligations President Putin has undertaken”. In addition, in the near future an energy crisis may well befall this country doe to a sharp decrease in oil and gas output, a growth of the tariff rates, the suspension of the economic growth, and inflation.

It is only possible to overcome these difficulties with help of “a hard-working and well-adjusted administrative team”. From this very viewpoint the paper analyzes the capabilities of the power system created by President Putin. Kommersant believes that there are many internal contradictions in that system. For instance, after the presidential decree on creating seven federal zones an opposition between governors, who, according to the paper, “have been written off too early”, and the president’s deputies appears to be inevitable. In turn, a new high status of the president’s representatives will “literally urge them to venture excessively independent actions”, and we may assume with surety that “the Presidential Administration will not lose the chance of drawing the president’s attention to the uncontrollability of his deputies, and governors will start gathering materials compromising President Putin’s representatives…”

In addition, the presidential representatives will certainly aspire to found “their own power centers, for which purpose they will try to take over control of the federal power structures in provinces”. This will inevitably result in conflicts with the federal government, which is full of internal contradictions as it is, for “it represents the main oligarchic and bureaucratic structures opposing each other”.

This shaky administrative structure, in the paper’s opinion, may operate only on one condition, namely in presence of an authoritative arbitrator who would tell each member of that structure where to get off, distribute the plenary powers, and punish and encourage, when necessary.

Kommersant believes that this role may well be given out to the Security Council, a fairly constitutional body.

The Security Council has already made (naturally, under President Putin’s supervision) a number of important decisions in the sphere of foreign policy (including the decision on de-freezing the relations with NATO, the working-out of a new conception of foreign policy, and several others). Recently, according to the paper, “not only documents having to do with foreign policy or industry but also those dealing with agriculture have been submitted to the Security Council for coordination”.

The paper considers the aforementioned facts to be the signs that “the decision-making center is gradually drifting towards the Security Council,” which is to become the coordinator of the new power pyramid. “On the other hand, even such a system will hardly work normally in Russia,” the paper concludes skeptically.

The magazine Itogi, which, as is known, belongs to a group of media supervised to the anti-Kremlin Media-Most holding, also writes about the Security Council’s role in the new power structure. The magazine maintains that the Security Council is entrusted with the function of a certain political “supervisor”, “The Kremlin strategists have decided to transform this body, which has always played the role of the fifth wheel in the system of Russian power, into a ‘political’ government and to leave the Kasyanov team the role of ‘a technical Cabinet of Ministers’.”

The magazine believes that the major danger of such a decision is the high possibility that the decisions to be worked out by this “political cabinet” which comprises mainly military chiefs will lack economic substantiation. “Furthermore, people who are incapable of establishing order in the armed forces will get the chance to influence all spheres of life in Russia.” In this connection Itogi reminds its readers a well-known saying, “War is too serious a business to be left to generals.” “This maxim is even more correct when applied to managing the state,” the magazine concludes.

We should say that many papers and magazines have recently been speaking on the topic of “militarization” of the state power structure. Segodnya writes in an article dedicated to the president’s decree on forming seven federal zones in Russia, “Russia’s military territorial re-division is becoming reality.” As is known, the federal zones’ borders in the majority of cases coincide with those of the military districts.

Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie weekly reports that Anatoly Kvashnin, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, and Colonel General Yury Baluevsky, Chief of the Main Operative Department, were among the active authors of the documents on the federal zones signed by President Putin. In addition, as it has turned out, five out of the seven presidential deputies in the federal zones are representatives of the security ministries, the other two being “an administrative worker and a politician”, according to Kommersant.

Segodnya notes, “By the way, this very correlation between military and civilian chiefs was used in the 1970’s when the so-called military-civilian juntas were being formed in the Latin American countries.”

The press asserts that there is a good motive behind the appointment of each of the five generals as president’s representative. General of the Army Viktor Kazantsev (Rostov-on-Don) was promoted for “having distinguished himself in Chechnya”, Segodnya reports. Lieutenant General Konstantin Pulikovsky (Khabarovsk) commanded the August 1996 storming of Grozny, which was followed by the Khasavyurt armistice. According to Segodnya’s sources, now General Pulikovsky is to “counteract separatist efforts in the Far East”. As for Colonel General Pyotr Latyshev, Deputy Minsiter of the Interior (Yekaterinburg), “rumors have it that recently he has successfully carried out a very important task to collect materials compromising the St. Petersburg governor.” For this he was rewarded, according to Kommersant, by the appointment to “Russia’s hard currency granary” (the Urals zone covers the territories where the major volume of Russian oil and gas is produced).

Lieutenant General Viktor Cherkesov, Senior Deputy FSS Director (St. Petersburg), “Mr. Putin’s old colleague” and a career security officer who became famed in the 1980’s for fighting dissidents, has been appointed to the president’s native town, where he, according to Kommersant, is to fight Governor Vladimir Yakovlev recently elected for the second term (“Apparently, President Putin has not forgiven Mr. Yakovlev for the betrayal of Anatoly Sobchak, and it was exclusively as the fate willed that he was forced to support Mr. Yakovlev’s candidacy in the gubernatorial election.”)

Finally, General of the Tax Police Georgy Poltavchenko, reputed for his toughness, has been appointed to the capital. “Apparently, the president believes that Moscow does need the general’s services,” Segodnya notes. Kommersant expresses its view in a more straightforward manner, “The Kremlin is obviously intent on keeping the mayor of Moscow in check.”

Moskovsky Komsomolets holds the opinion that the new president is simply cajoling the security ministries: the fact that five out of the “seven samurais”, as the central press has already christened the presidential representatives, are members of the security ministries serves as evidence of President Putin’s intention to pay off to those who supported him in the election.

In addition, Moskovsky Komsomolets notes, “the military’s frame of mind” cannot fail to interest the Kremlin. Naturally, President Putin is interested in further support on the part of the military, “So now the president is trying to tame the army. With such treatment, the army simply cannot fail to become loyal…”

“The plan to restore the power vertical chosen by the president is typical of a former security officer,” Izvestia states. The paper means not only domination of representatives of the security ministries among the state officials newly appointed by President Putin, but also the very approach to the problem, “President Putin is first of all concerned about the creation of an administration and the system itself which would rest on a clear understanding of state officials’ authority… The president puts the economy on the back burner as something not covered by simple charts and plans.”

Meanwhile, the paper continues, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the economic aspects of restoring Russia’s integrity may in the near future become the most topical. As is known, the Russian industry is to a great extent comprised by city-forming enterprises whose directors in their native regions enjoy influence fairly comparable to that of governors. Not to mention the fact that many of those gigantic enterprises directly have to do with what is called “the oligarchs’ property in provinces”. And, as is known, any attempt of pressing on the oligarchic structures invariably results in “a hysterical reaction by the media controlled by the given oligarch, etc.” So, the paper concludes, President Putin must realize that to curb the regional political elite is only half of the problem.

Moskovskie Novosti weekly, to the contrary, is certain that now one may get a clear idea of not only the direction of the president’s decision in the economic sphere but also of the means of fulfilling those decisions. The aim of decree on forming seven federal zones to be headed by the president’s representatives is “to form a centralized state which would be totally controlled by the Kremlin, including in the economic sense.”

Meanwhile, practically simultaneously with the signing of the said decree the World Bank presented a draft decree on reforming the regional budgetary system. That decree, to the contrary, is aimed at “decentralizing the regions and rendering them more independent”. From the viewpoint of Moskovskie Novosti, “the former decree determines President Putin’s actual position and further actions, whereas the latter demonstrates the manner in which those actions will be presented to the public.” The weekly states that President Putin “intends to play a game of freedom and independence with the governors”.

Under the World Bank’s draft decree, the federal center is to be responsible for the fulfillment of all the federal programs, whereas the regions may freely spend the taxes they have collected on local social programs. In reality, the situation is absolutely different: the center adopts a program and charges the regions with its fulfillment. Nevertheless, up to now the governors have not been objecting to such a practice: they have always been possible to explain the poor fulfillment of the federal programs by the fact that there is no money in their regions. However, this situation, fairly typical of Russia, when the severity of the law is compensated by its optional observance, has recently become exhausted: residents of a Russian regions have won a case against the regional administration regarding “social payments” and the court has arrested the regional budget. This first trial has been followed by more and more court hearings, and by now the Novosibirsk regional administration alone has already lost over 7,000 such cases.

The weekly writes further that the state has appreciated the position of the governors who found themselves under the sword of Damocles in form of legal prosecutions and, with the World Bank’s assistance, has found resources for reforming the budgetary system – nearly simultaneously with the decision on forming seven federal zones.

There is nothing amazing in this fact, Moskovskie Novosti believes. “One thing that will never happen is a war between the federal center and the regions… As long as Moscow overlooks the regions’ closed budgets, they are likely to agree not to split with the center. And the naive World Bank hopes that local budgets will become transparent after the implementation of its project…”

Obshchaya Gazeta is of the opinion that the regional leaders have not yet realized what President Putin’s new initiatives threaten them with. The paper cites a condescending utterance by Chuvash President Nikolai Fyodorov, “When a young team comes to power, it gets possessed by the natural desire to change the way of state rule. I see nothing new in these attempts of the power to reform itself.” Mr. Fyodorov is seconded by Lipetsk Governor Oleg Korolyov, “I feel myself well at ease, for I have survived many attempts to reform the power bodies. I remember no fewer than 15 such attempts. I am not to be surprised by anything.”

Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev was even more certain, “No matter what is written in the decrees, the regions will still be managed by us (i.e. the governors).” Nevertheless, Obshchaya Gazeta considers the decree on federal zones to be symptomatic: it has demonstrated the new power’s working style – amendments to the mechanism of ruling the country are being made without any preliminary consultations with the constitutional power structures and without any previous information campaign.

Vitaly Tretyakov, Editor-in-Chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta who has dedicated a series of articles to the beginning of President Putin’s reforms, believes that the appointment of generals to five out of the seven posts of presidential representatives in the regions is unlikely to contribute to settlement of Russia’s problems. Mr. Tretyakov allows the possibility of a strong resistance to the reform, “including on the part of the so-called oligopolies” (the author explains that this term was coined by a well-known political analyst Andranik Migranyan and means a certain “structure aimed at subduing the power in Russia to its own interests”, in a way “a state within the state”). However, nobody can guarantee that “generals will be capable of radically changing something”.

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