UNCERTAINTY IN RUSSIAN DOMESTIC POLITICS AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS

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The newspaper “Kommersant” has reported on the visit by Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov to Washington, in an article entitled “Sergei Ivanov Goes to America to Bow Low.”

“Kommersant” reports that the White House is concerned about the recent visit of President Khatami of Iran to Russia, during which a number of contracts on arms deliveries were signed. Moreover, Russia is befriending the worst regimes in the world, from the US point of view, such as North Korea, Cuba, and Libya. Besides, the US certainly disapproves of the war in Chechnya, Russia’s alliance with Belarus, its relations with post-Soviet countries, and the situation with freedom of speech.

The Russian media has long been saying that the new Republican administration will be tougher on Russia. “Kommersant” stresses that the Bush administration is most indignant at Moscow’s opposition to America’s two main projects: creating a missile defense system and NATO expansion. “Unlike the previous administration, the Bush team does not show any desire to discuss these issues with Moscow.”

Thus, “an uneasy pause has begun in Russian-American relations.” Bush does not intend to maintain the tradition of regular Russian-American summits. This situation is extremely unfavorable for Russia: “Tense relations with the world’s only superpower may lead to Russia’s international isolation.” “Kommersant” states that the Kremlin made up its mind to “restore the dialog with Washington at any price.” The Kremlin wanted to arrange a summit with the US government to discuss all mutual problems.

However, this idea was turned down. A day later “Kommersant” reported that “Sergei Ivanov was rejected by the White House.” Russia’s proposal to arrange a meeting between Putin and Bush before the summer G8 summit in Genoa was rejected.

Certainly, in Washington Sergei Ivanov had to account for the new contracts with Iran. US Secretary of State Colin Powell had announced earlier at Senate hearings that it is necessary to make it clear to Russia that there is no sense in investing in Iran and other such regimes, since they have no future. As a result, Russia has to choose between agreeing with the US in all spheres and get its goodwill in exchange, or persisting in protesting against US projects. If Russia chooses the latter, it will face US counteraction in all fields. “Kommersant” notes that a bilateral summit is possible only if Russia makes concessions.

Europe is worried. “Kommersant” says, “Russia’s Western neighbors do not want Russia to be an impoverished and embittered country with nuclear weapons.” However, “Kommersant” considers that the Kremlin’s choice is not clear as yet.

“Nezavisimaya Gazeta” cites Colin Powell’s statements at the Senate hearings. For instance, he thinks Washington should maintain a “realistic approach in contacts with Moscow.” “The New York Times” says Powell means that Washington’s approach to relations with Russia should not differ much from the US approach to the USSR in the Reagan era. “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”, in turn, quotes Sergei Ivanov, who said that relations with the US are no longer the primary issue in Russia’s foreign policy. He said, “It is more important for Russia to consider what is going on around its borders, i.e. in the CIS.” According to Ivanov, the second most important region for Russia is Europe, which is Russia’s main trade partner. Of course, he admits that the US still plays an important role for the Russian Federation, but it has ceased to be the main goal.

Commenting on the probability of a meeting between Putin and Bush, the newspaper “Izvestia” quotes Sergei Ivanov’s statement: “Everything depends on the situation. If everything goes well, this meeting will take place at the Genoa summit in July. Of course, if some unexpected issues emerge, a bilateral meeting may be conducted earlier.”

The newspaper “Segodnya” unambiguously comments on this situation: “It is not ruled out that Powell and Rice have proposed to Sergei Ivanov – and consequently to Russia – to choose between supporting the ‘anti-American group of nations’ and open relations with the West.”

“Segodnya” considers that the West is no longer seeking an answer to the question of “Who is Mr. Putin?” It is concerned with another question: “Whose side are you on, Mr. Putin?” The fate of future Russian-American relations will depend on the answer to this question.

“Segodnya” has also cited the opinion of Michael McFall, an analyst with the Carnegie Foundation. He believes that “Russia’s integration into the Western community is inevitable.” However, McFall thinks that there will be a break in this process for two or three years, since the Russian government is “conducting anti-American propaganda.” This is unprofitable for Russia itself. The expert is sure that “Russia without the West will be the poor Russia. It is more profitable for Russia to integrate into the Western community, mainly in the economic plane.”

The weekly “Vek” considers that there is no need to rush to make pessimistic forecasts. However, most analysts are sure that Russian-American relations will be inevitably relegated to the margins of high-level politics. Furthermore, this process has begun already. More and more senior officials in Washington are announcing that Russia has ceased to be America’s potential partner. There are a lot of politicians in Bush’s team who built their careers during the Cold War. However, “Vek” believes that it is too early to draw pessimistic conclusions from these observations. “Washington has just begun analyzing the general political situation in the world and the political situation in Russia in particular.” In the opinion of “Vek”, constant contacts between Washington and Moscow prove that they do not intend to do anything rash.

The weekly states that the current phase of Russian-American relations is just a search for new methods of resolving mutual differences. One of these is the US intention to unilaterally withdraw from the ABM Treaty of 1972. According to “Vek’s” sources, even this situation is not a dead end and there is a chance to resolve this issue.

Of course, it is clear that agreement between the two parties requires mutual respect and trust, at least to some extent. However, the situation regarding this aspect is complicated at the moment. Perhaps that is why the idea of Media Minister Mikhail Lesin to improve Russia’s image in the West has been supported with such enthusiasm.

At the same time, Michael McFall asserts that Russia does not need any special PR companies to improve its image. A simple step will be enough: for instance, Russia can close the Gusinsky case. This decision alone will yield more profit than contracts with image-makers that will cost Russia billions of rubles. Putin will gain a positive image in the West as soon as he announces that Gusinsky’s case was a mistake.

However, Russia will apparently prefer PR professionals. The newspaper “Vedomosti” reports that US consultant Mikhail Caputo, owner of the PR agency Rainmaker Interactive and one of the authors of the notorious “Vote or Lose Out” program in the 1996 presidential election in Russia, has offered his services to Mikhail Lesin. Specialists of the company are already working on the preliminary concept of the campaign. Michael Caputo says that the problem is very old and complicated already. Americans are not only sure that Russia is a country of gangsters, but are already tired of Russian news. However, the head of Rainmaker Interactive has already formulated the main conditions for success: precise audience targeting, clear goals, sufficient time for elaboration of the campaign, and modest funding. Although Mikhail Lesin has said that he will not spare any expense for this campaign, Michael Caputo highlights the modesty of his demands. “I wouldn’t say that it is necessary to launch an expensive large-scale PR campaign. Working on this contract, it is necessary to keep in mind that old ladies in Russia are living in poverty.” Russian officials are no less solicitous about these old ladies. One senior official has said that is it not logical to promote Russia by using foreign resources. He noted that Russian PR companies ask lower fees for such services, but are no less effective.

In any case, it is clear that there will be a serious battle for this contract. The magazine “Novoe Vremya” says that Russian PR companies are looking forward to some profits. The magazine notes that the secret budget items “for information counteraction” and “for mobilization purposes” will be spent on this campaign.

Meanwhile, Lesin is involved with a report on freedom of speech in the US, which should be a response to the analogous report on freedom of speech in the Russian Federation issued by the US State Department. The media minister has even promised to support groups defending freedom of speech in the US.

Ilya Milshtein, an observer of “Novoe Vremya”, has commented on the Media Ministry’s plans as follows, “Although the upcoming era looks grave, there are no fewer reasons for making fun of it that reasons for despair.” In the opinion of Milshtein, the current situation resembles the late Brezhnev era, “especially the ability of many officials to sincerely make wild statements about Chechnya, freedom of speech, and short-range or mid-range missiles.”

The Russian authorities are “aping totalitarianism, like Yeltsin’s brothers-in-arms were clumsily imitating democracy at the start of the 1990s.” According to Milshtein, in this situation it is relevant to use a slogan that used to be popular with cowboys in the Wild West: “Don’t shoot the piano-player: he is playing as well as he can.”

PR campaigns, as well as money spent on them, have become an important factor in international and domestic politics. This was recently proven by the scandal surrounding the vote of no confidence in the Cabinet. This scandal surprised all observers.

Yury Shchekochkhin, an observer with the “Novaya Gazeta” paper, suggested the simplest common-sense explanation of the event. For a long time, no one, including the pro-Kremlin Unity faction, could understand what all the fuss was about. “Is there an upheaval in Russia? Is there a war between the mostly obedient Duma and the president? Is Kasianov’s dismissal – because he had forgotten about the foreign debt while planning the federal budget – as terrible as the Kursk submarine disaster?” The real meaning of the situation became clear later; but the observer of the “Novaya Gazeta” paper is convinced that his guesses are true: “the Kremlin PR consultants aimed to disband the Duma and hold early parliamentary elections, hoping to make good money from this.” And that is the point: “Elections mean money. No elections mean a blow for the political PR techniques. A year without any elections means a waste of money. It means they waste their money.” This primarily concerns Gleb Pavlovsky, who was behind Unity’s support for the Communists; it also concerns other political consultants, who thus had received great opportunities to demonstrate their skills. According to Shchekochikhin, other Russians, the so-called Russian electorate, are just a “part of an ordinary financial pyramid” for them.

“Profil” magazine also tried to draw the attention of its readers to the financial aspects of the intrigue. It is clear that as a result of a favorable situation on the world oil market there is money in Russia, says the magazine, “and if there is money, it is necessary to use it”. While parliamentary elections are “the best reason to make oil barons spend some money”.

According to “Profil”, this argument “cannot be reasonable for political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky, who has stood by the Kremlin”. That is why it would be wiser to expect him, as well as other “players on the electoral market” to try to carry out other cunning maneuvers in order to “develop the current Duma machinations”.

“The present crisis is just a training for the brains of the PR and political consultants, who long for some real action, while the president is either unwilling to make any political decisions or is really afraid to seriously disrupt political stability and consolidation,” says “Itogi” magazine.

In the meantime, the magazine says, the whole intrigue with the vote of no confidence to the government has had some real political consequences; moreover, it entailed some side effect, the initiators of the crisis were not planning to have.

The Duma crisis once again demonstrated that there is no “real politics” in Russia, no “real competition between the executive power and a focused opposition”. “Itogi” stresses that the leaders of the Duma factions are mostly concerned about not even their image or the image of their parties but about “maintenance of good relations with the Kremlin and in particular, with President Vladimir Putin, so that none of the really influential officials could even suspect them of being a real opposition.” At the same time none of the participants in the intrigue, neither the Communists nor Unity, “are embarrassed by the vulgarity of the spectacle now defined as politics.”

Otto Latsis in the “Novye Izvestia” paper draws the attention of readers to the fact that this time the intrigue invented by the Kremlin, despite all the statements of Unity Duma faction leader Boris Gryslov, has failed. And it failed because of a real trifle: because of the stubbornness of some members of the pro-Kremlin factions, who had until now obediently and unconditionally fulfilled all the orders of their direct superiors, faction leaders and, consequently, the Kremlin.

The observer of “Novye Izvestia” asks: “Why should they have been obedient? From the very first days of existence of the current Duma, when the Unity concluded an unprecedented and unfortunate alliance with Gennady Zyuganov’s communist Duma faction, the pro-Kremlin deputies has been the symbol of political unscrupulousness. So, was it possible to expect any scrupules from them, a firm devotion to party interests, in a situation when scruples would be against their personal interests?”

It is remembered very well how the election candidate lists of the Unity were formed: in a rush, in a hurry – and they mostly used people selected at random, who had never before hoped to play any major role in politics. “But no matter if people are randomly-selected or not, no one wants to part with the fortunate Duma seats they received so unexpectedly, as well as with all the privileges the mandates provide until the scheduled four years are over.” The result is clear: the ideal unscrupulousness of the present Duma is obvious. It is also necessary to mention the new Federation Council with its senators and the Federation group, that officially announced that its major objective is to support the president. Besides, it is necessary to remember the recently established institution of presidential envoys, as well as “lawlessness of the prosecutor’s office and the Media Ministry”. As a result, the “Novye Izvestia” observer believes, we will have the “completed image of a system the essence of which can be expressed in two words: a managed democracy – which is not democracy at all.” Otto Latsis is convinced that all this is being done for the sake of the idea that is so beloved by many Russian politicians – strengthening the state. However, it is impossible to gain the cherished objective this way: “The problem is not only that strengthening the state for the sake of strengthening the state is senseless; the trouble is that turning this into an end in itself makes it unachievable.” As a result of these methods the regime and the political consultants have chosen, Russia will only receive a “new version of stagnation”, concludes the observer of “Novye Izvestia”.

The “Vek” weekly says: “What now looks like a clumsy political game, may eventually turn out to be a rehearsal for more serious political battles.” “Vek” has no doubts that the political crisis and the Duma dismissal did not take place only because the president did not need this. It is the combination of the forces “the Kremlin – the Cabinet – the Duma – regional leaders” that defines the logic of the battle for supremacy in Russia. Of course, it is too early to start this battle, “but soon it will be just the right time”.

“Vek” recalls the situation during the 1996 presidential elections, when the “red Duma” inspired the communist candidate to start a serious battle for the presidency: “Let us imagine that the Duma had been more restrained. Then, it would be very hard for Boris Yeltsin to prove to the elite and to the whole society that he was the major candidate from the reforming forces.”

The present Duma, known for its loyalty to the Kremlin, cannot be a base for promoting a real alternative candidate for the presidency. That it why it is absolutely senseless for Vladimir Putin to dismiss and replace the Duma – it is quite harmless. Moreover, even if the Communist deputies had started to strongly resist presidential reforms, it would be only favorable for the Kremlin, considers “Vek”. According to the weekly, “The real positive results of the liberal reforms will not be obvious by the next presidential elections. And the fact that the results will be slightly different from the expected ones can always be blamed on the Duma’s stubbornness.”

Thus, there can be only one reason why the Kremlin would need a parliamentary crisis: if there is a real rival to Putin in the Duma. So far, the Communists, as usual, will have to play the role of the “Kremlin’s sparring partner”.

Nonetheless, the techniques for developing a parliamentary-governmental crisis will be thoroughly scrutinized by experts, “just in case”.

Judging by everything, this uncertainty on the domestic front, as well as the aforementioned uncertainty in foreign policy, has made the Kremlin speed up its search for an experienced regulator for Russia’s information policy, in particular for information directed at the West. However, the choice was easy to predict: according to “Segodnya”, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky has been appointed to head a new informational directorate in the presidential administration.

According to the paper, from now on the presidential administration “will have a new approach to providing information on behalf of the Kremlin”. The paper promised to reveal the essence of the new approach later; so far, according to “Kremlin sources”, the “area of activities of Sergei Yastrzhembsky will be rather broad, and will not be limited to the role of an intermediary.” Judging by the fact that the staff of the “Kremlin’s major information-maker”, as “Segodnya” called Yastrzhembsky, is to be doubled, he is likely to have a lot of work.

Meanwhile, after a short break, the Russian media has again started reporting about another expert in information management, who once promised to seriously address the new Russian government’s image in the West – Boris Berezovsky.

“Nezavisimaya Gazeta” described in detail how Berezovsky has gained full control of the TV-6 television channel. At the same time, “Profil” magazine reported that all the evidence in the Aeroflot case concerning Boris Berezovsky would be declared a separate case, “consideration of which is to be postponed”.

They say the delay of the case can be used as a “threat against Berezovsky”, for as long as necessary. The exiled tycoon dared to make some bold statements, first angered by the Kremlin’s rejection of his recommendations, and then by its rejection of his services as a mediator in contacting “certain circles” in the West.

In any case, according to “Profil”, Berezovsky can now risk returning to Russia. And that means Russian politics will stop being boring.

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