REGIONAL ELECTIONS, RUSSIAN TYCOONS, AND A LITTLE ABOUT PARADOXES OF THE RUSSIAN NATIONAL MENTALITY

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Regional elections are one of the topical issues in the national media this fall. Political analysts note that their attention is being shifted from Moscow to the regions. The newspaper Segodnya notes that by the end of the year heads of regional administrations will be elected in 43 regions, and legislatures will be elected in 37 regions. The newspaper says that the elections will be a serious test for the Putin system: “The Kremlin is aware of the fact that the winners of the regional elections will elect the president of the Russian Federation in four years.”

Therefore, in spite of the Presidential Administration’s announcements of its noninterference in election campaigns, the Kremlin is engaged in thorough preparations for the elections. All the information concerning the elections is being monitored and analyzed by Kremlin structures.

Besides, if previously the main intrigue of regional elections was opposition between the Communists and democrats, now the main merits will be patriotism and closeness to the president.

As Segodnya has put it, “This fall the Kremlin will be so passionately loved that everyone will feel hot.”

There are a few vivid examples of how effective this strategy can be. For instance, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Mayor Alexander Dudnikov, a candidate for Kamchatka governor, used to be supported by 15-20% of Kamchatka residents. However, he based his election campaign on his alleged closeness to President Putin, and now he has outstripped all his rivals and stands to win the election.

Segodnya highlights another peculiarity of the upcoming elections: a lot of military and special service officials will run in the elections. Federal Security Service (FSB) Generals Kulakov, Surzhikov, and Yegorov will run in regional elections in the Voronezh and Kursk Regions and the Mariy El Republic respectively. Army General Vladimir Shamanov, a participant of both wars in Chechnya, will run in the regional election in the Ulyanovsk Region.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta wonders how many regions will undergo a change of government. In the opinion of the newspaper, the Kremlin desires to remove some regional leaders but does not have enough resource to do this. In 1997-98, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) nominated 600 candidates for regional legislatures: and only five of them (less than 1%) were elected. Now that the LDPR’s popularity has halved, and its only governor has gone over to Unity, it is clear that the LDPR has no chance to counter the current governors.

The situation surrounding Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces is not much better. Yabloko members who were running in regional elections in 1996-98 were supported by 4% of voters on average. It is worth noting that Yabloko nominated its members as candidates for governors only in those regions where its popularity was 30% higher than in other Russian regions. The support base of the Union of Right Forces (URF) increased at the end of 1999 thanks to those who supported Putin but did not wish to vote for Unity, and those who liked Sergei Kirienko. And now the URF’s rating has gone back to its old 2%. Thus, it is fair to suppose that in 2000-01, Yabloko will not have any of its members elected governors, even if it allies with the URF.

Thus, it is clear that there are only two political forces with a real chance for victories in regional elections: the Communist Party (CPRF) and the Kremlin. The CPRF could have won the elections in those regions where the Communists have most supporters. However, these regions are mostly governed by “red” governors already. The only exception is the Republic of Altay. Thus, the CPRF will hardly have great successes in 2000-01 regional elections, as well as great failures.

According to experts’ general forecasts, most of the current regional leaders will be reelected in 2000-01. There will be very few new people among governors. Some of these new people will be the Kremlin’s proteges, some of them will be nominated by the CPRF. Members of Yabloko and the URF will not be elected governors at all.

Izvestia highlights another aspect of the upcoming election campaigns. The newspaper does not doubt that unlike the previous regional campaign, Russia’s political landscape will not change. At the same time it is clear that changes of government is a number of regions will have obvious economic outcomes.

There is no doubt that the elections is only one episode in the battle for redistribution of property and influence spheres in regions. Izvestia stresses that the elections are only the start of this war.

Vremya MN has found something new in election methods. According to its observations, refusal to run in elections is the most fashionable PR trick this season. Perm Governor Gennady Igumnov, Kamchatka Governor Vladimir Biryukov, and Krasnodar Governor Nikolai Kondratenko have already announced their refusal to run in regional elections. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev has not determined his position about his participation in the election campaign. The newspaper notes that some other regional leaders may refuse to run in elections by December.

Vremya MN believes that this technique has been borrowed from Boris Yeltsin, who resigned a few hours before the new year, thus making it extremely easy for his successor to gain power. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov repeated Yeltsin’s trick three months later, when he resigned allegedly because his voters had no confidence in him when they did not vote for him in the presidential election. After this trick Titov easily won the election in his region, having considerably outrun even Kremlin proteges.

The newspaper notes that this scheme has been considerably updated since. Krasnodar Governor Nikolai Kondratenko, for instance, has accounted for his resignation by the fact that his “heart and souls are aching” from what is going on in the country. He thus provoked a mass appeal of Krasnodar Territory residents to him not to leave. It is not clear if Kondratenko will run in the election in December but it is clear that he has secured strong support for himself or his protege in the regional election.

After Perm Governor Gennady Igumnov’s verbal announcements of his refusal to run in the election, many residents of his region started to appeal to him to change his mind. Inasmuch as the Regional Election Commission has not received any such application from him in writing, the newspaper believes that he has simply boosted his rating in this way.

This new trick is typical for many regions, as Vremya MN states.

The weekly Moskovskie Novosti writes about regional elections as follows: “Four years ago the regional bureaucracy feared this horrifying event, and lost elections, as a rule. Today, regional bureaucrats have become subtler: now they prefer pre-term commitments to brace themselves for another term in office.” The weekly notes that a dozen of the subtlest governors managed to have themselves reelected even before the summer holidays. This means that regional elites have adopted this technique.

However, the weekly considers that something has changed in public opinion on the eve of the regional elections. Unlike previous campaigns, voters are no longer interested in exotic escapades of candidates. “People want peace. Therefore, the chance of considerable changes in the lineup of governors is not very great.” Even military officials may not win these elections. The experience of such generals as Lebed, Rutskoy, and Gromov prove that the military is not all that successful in this field.

The magazine Novoe Vremya considers the Kremlin’s “regional strategy” analyzing the example of Tatarstan. The Tatarstan government’s attempt to reschedule the presidential election in the republic to an earlier date has shown that although the Kremlin yielded on the matter of allowing Shaimiev to run for a third term, it has also displayed its toughness, and made it clear that it “will not let governors completely disregard federal law.”

As a result, a semblance of compromise was gained. The election will be held on time, although Shaimiev will run for re-election. However, Novoe Vremya says that residents of Tatarstan “are tired of him already.” The magazine also writes that Moscow has suffered a defeat again, and everyone has seen that Shaimiev is not a puppet, and his fate will be decided not in Moscow, but in Kazan.

The magazine states that similar situations will be observed in other regions where elections will be held. Moscow may count only on “modest compromises for the sake of maintaining the status quo.”

Rossiiskaya Gazeta stresses that there is another important participant in Russian election races: Russian tycoons. The newspaper believes that “by the start of autumn most sensible business leaders had realized that they had made a gross blunder when they supported Putin in the presidential race.” The new president’s policy is unprofitable for oligarchs, and they have decided to set up “regional-oligarchic opposition.”

The matter chiefly concerns the main oligarchic player on the Russian political field, Boris Berezovsky. According to Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Berezovsky is almost the only person to fully realize what gubernatorial intrigues are. Berezovsky has allegedly prepared “a rebellion behind enemy lines.” Top executives of the media outlets controlled by Berezovsky are said to have received orders to promote those candidates for governors who would display “understanding of the tycoon’s position.” It is clear that on the eve of elections, the support of Moscow media is valuable. If Berezovsky manages to set up his own “governors’ bloc,” various radical methods of fighting the Kremlin may be employed. Such methods may include artificial delays of payments of pensions and salaries to state sector employees.

The newspaper uses as an example Roman Abramovich’s intention to run for governor of the Chukotka Peninsula. Abramovich is Berezovsky’s partner.

The newspaper asks why the aluminum and oil magnate needs Chukotka. On the one hand, this region is rich in natural resources. On the other hand, this is a budget-dependent region with a population of only about 70,000. These circumstances give the future governor a lot of room for maneuver. This tycoon would be able to create “Arctic emirates” on Chukotka. At the same time, he would also be capable of leading this region to complete devastation. As the newspaper notes, to fulfil the second scenario the governor should not do anything at all; he should only give up any attempts to start a dialog with Moscow.” In any case, Chukotka will become “one hundred percent dependent on the situation on the fronts of the Berezovsky-Kremlin war.”

In 1996, having promoted Boris Yeltsin, the tycoons disregarded the regions. Now that the current president’s behavior does not appeal to tycoons, they have nothing else to do but establish a base for themselves in the regions.

The newspaper does not doubt that tycoons’ fight against implementation of the president’s plans in the regions will sooner or later reach the federal level. Volgograd, Ryazan, Chukotka, Magadan, etc. serve as mere transition bases for governors.

Argumenty I Fakty has published an article by Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation, the Kremlin’s top ideologue. He says, “Democracy in elections is necessary for the best people to gain power in Russia.” He also says that it is wrong to assume that Putin has suggested that tycoons should all be at an equal distance from him. “In reality, he has doomed them to complete political insignificance, as a condition for their business prosperity.” Those prosperous ones who have realized this, such as Abramovich, Potanin, and Khodorkovsky, have “peacefully withdrawn of their own accord.” Those who have remained in the Russian political arena (certainly Berezovsky is implied) “are not like the best businessmen or the best people in Russia.”

According to Pavlovsky, August was the crucial time for the myth of tycoons. There were no tycoons in sight when the Kursk sailors were dying. The reproach is somewhat unexpected, since this is a completely new point of view on this tragedy. Pavlovsky says that oligarchs were strong in a motionless nation under a paralyzed government. “They used to be experts on mass political hallucinations. In August it turned out that they were hallucinations themselves.”

Prominent political analyst Fedor Burlatsky, a Parlamentskaya Gazeta columnist, believes that the main issue regarding tycoons is the fate of their capital. Burlatsky says that tycoons “made fun of democracy and turned elections into political farces.” Moreover, they made it clear that they were the main people in the state. Burlatsky says that there is no wonder that Putin has made up his mind to get rid of them.

At the same time it should not be forgotten that these people won $300-400 billion, although this money is hidden abroad. Taking into account that fact that Russia’s yearly budget totals a bit more than $20 billions, one can see the scale of the problem. In this connection removal of tycoons to Gibraltar and some other such places is not a good solution to the problem, since “they take their money with them.”

It is obvious that change of elites in Russia is inevitable, but this process is not that simple.

The weekly Vek considers that those who are against the main political trend of the government fall victim to this process. Gusinsky and Berezovsky have not found a place for themselves in the new power system because they started opposing the president, whereas the rest of the ruling elite have consolidated around Putin. Vek writes that this was Gusinsky’s and Berezovsky’s personal choice, since despite the fact that Luzhkov and Primakov also used to oppose Putin, they managed to find a place for themselves in the power system.

However, the weekly notes that the change of elites is caused not only by tycoons’ demonstrative disobedience but also by the change of priorities of the new time. “The sense of Yeltsin’s rule was in providing new hosts’ rapid seizure of property.” Those who had “steel jaws and reliable schemes of pumping money from the state budget were at a profit.”

Vek writes that the new president is actually interested in the country’s modernization and development of its technological and intellectual potential. Therefore, most of those who were doing well in old times do not suit for these tasks.

Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak asserts in his interview to Obshchaya Gazeta that the country’s current problems may be solved only by means of consolidation of elites. If Putin starts doing it, if he does not fight the Federation Council but listens to it, this will lead to good results. However, if the word ‘elite’ stands for various oil and gas magnates that have become the main political players, the state will hardly bear it, as Prusak believes. He has said, “These people have formed the government having appointed their proteges there, they have proposed to Putin to establish the institute of presidential envoys and conduct such reforms through them that will destroy the government in order to gain power themselves.”

Mikhail Prusak is sure that the governmental program was dictated by tycoons. “Before this program was approved they had used natural resources practically free of charge, and now they will be also spared the income tax.” Therefore, Prusak thinks, “The principle of tycoons’ equal distance from the Kremlin declared by the government is actually the Kremlin’s connivance of tycoons’ redistribution of property.” Thus, he notes that nothing has changed under Putin in this field.

Trying to understand why every new stage of the Russian history produces new problems and every time it seems that people have been deceived, Vek asks the rhetorical question: “What sort of people are we?” All analysts trying to explain the essence of the Russian way of life and the reasons for its absurdness “are driving themselves into a pit trap from the very beginning, like a person trying to measure electric currency in meters or kilograms.” As a rule, they take into consideration only two factors: economics and politics. They forget to count with the Russian national psychology. Vek believes that in this sense there is no difference between democrats’ announcements that the Russian society was spoiled by the 70 years of the Communist regime and “patriots” explaining all Russia’s problems by the “Jewish conspiracy.” The weekly notes in this connection that it is curious why the “Jewish conspiracy” has led such countries as the US, France, etc. to prosperity and Russia to the ruin.

Answering this question, the weekly states that Russian tycoons Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Khodorkovsky, etc. are Jews only ethnically, and their psychology and morals are purely Russian. Jews have different morals nourished by the thousands of years of their history. In the opinion of Vek it is impossible to imagine that in Israel short-term treasury bonds would be paid to banks and foreign investors (actually, to citizens of the same country who set up their firms in offshore zones) at interests over 100%, whereas teachers and doctors would get their salaries only before presidential elections. “If this had happened in Israel, the government would have been tried and put to prison.”

As for Russia, here people’s attitude toward the government is quite different. According to the Russian Public Opinion Study Center (VTsIOM), in July the president’s rating was 72%, and in August, despite all the catastrophes that took place in August, Putin’s rating fell only to 65%.

It is more curious that answering the question if there is more order in the country than a year ago, 39% have said that the situation about order is the same, 31% have said that there is more order now, and only 24% have said that there is now less order. At the same time 79% of respondents have admitted that they are afraid of terrorist acts, possible bomb blasts in their homes or in public places.

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