THE NEW POLITICAL SEASON OPENS: "SIGNS OF CONTENTMENT AND HARD WORK EVERYWHERE"

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“Those who are expecting the usual autumn shake-ups will be disappointed,” says leading journalist Maxim Sokolov, in an effort to cool the fervor of the many predictors of impending political storms. In his article for Ogonek magazine, entitled “The Cold Autumn of 2001”, Sokolov notes that Russian society has long grown accustomed to a state of permanent media warfare, in which the victors are those who can come up with some dirt to ensure “the desired Cabinet dismissals and appointments, which enable them to carve up state funding more effectively”. The established canons “insistently demand that in late summer the public should be presented with dramatic media warnings of the government sackings to take place in early September – just as soon as the participants, tanned and refreshed, return from their vacations to Moscow.”

But one can hardly fail to notice that there has been a fundamental change in the situation. Obviously, the public’s weariness of anarchy, reshuffles, and sweeping dismissals has been a primary reason for the “Teflon popularity” of Putin and his style – irrespective of what people think of his opponents.

Sokolov writes: “The essence of the period of post-revolutionary (or post-chaos) Bonapartism is that following a period of excessive diversity, the law of contrasts means citizens start longing for some sort of monotony, even at the cost of becoming somewhat more law-abiding.” And so a golden age opens for the government: “The big talkers fall silent, taxes are collected, the budget is implemented… cries of ‘Die, tyrant!’ are viewed as tasteless grandstanding, and signs of contentment and hard work are everywhere.”

There is simply no need for personnel sacrifices. In this situation, why bother with Cabinet changes – unless it’s a matter of art for art’s sake? Sokolov considers that such excesses are completely alien to Putin’s approach: rather than Yeltsin’s cavalry charges, Putin prefers a chess-game style “in the manner of M. Botvinnik or Anatoly Karpov: step by step, he restricts the opponent’s initiatives, deprives the opponent of room for maneuver, and only then – after this lengthy and methodical preparation – does he declare his final decision.” This “ice-cold gameplay” approach is used by Putin to deal with all problems that arise.

On the other hand, even this style still doesn’t mean there is no war going on – it’s just a matter of replacing frontal attacks with special operations. So Sokolov’s concern about analysts and political consultants “having difficulty adjusting to a life of peace”, yet needing to make this adjustment, seems unwarranted. Clearly, rather than adapting to a completely untroubled existence, it would make more sense to adapt to different methods of handling current problems – less demostrative methods than were used in the past.

Kommersant-Vlast magazine, on the other hand, has no doubt that the future of the Kasianov Cabinet will depend of the fate of the draft federal budget for 2002. According to Kommersant-Vlast, the infamous budget surplus, which has been presented as the Cabinet’s greatest achievement, is in fact a repetition of last year’s trick: taking the resources for servicing most of the foreign debt beyond the framework of the budget.

However, during preparation of the 2001 draft budget last year, this happened almost by chance: the budget planners were too confident that it would be possible to reschedule Russia’s debts to the Paris crediting organization, which enabled them to reduce budget spending by $2.4 billion. However, the Russian government failed to convince the creditors, as world oil prices turned out to be very high. That is why the 2001 draft budget was initially not deficit-free. Nevertheless, high additional revenues and high inflation eventually came to the Cabinet’s rescue.

In the draft budget for 2002, most debt repayments have not been included either. But if this inevitable spending is counted, Kommersant-Vlast concludes that there will be a huge budget deficit of $7 billion. Moreover, even the supposed 126 billion ruble budget surplus can be ensured only if oil prices are no lower than $22 a barrel, which is impossible to guarantee.

As for the so-called reserve fund, a financial innovation of the Cabinet’s economists, it is supposed to be filled via another issue of Eurobonds, i.e. by once again increasing Russia’s foreign debt – a notion which is quite absurd.

Still, the main objections to the budget raised in the Duma are expected to be linked with distribution of additional budget revenues. The Cabinet’s draft budget is most unlikely to be unanimously approved by the Duma. As Kommersant-Vlast stresses, “the deputies are interested in what they can present to their voters”. Consideration of the draft budget is ususally an opportunity to extract from the Cabinet some additional resources for social and investment projects in the home regions of Duma members.

Meanwhile, as Kommersant-Vlast notes, the president suggested in his budget address to the Duma that it should either pass the Cabinet’s draft budget without any changes, or simply reject it. Given these circumstances, rejection of the draft budget in the first reading is quite possible. However, this would be the end of the present Cabinet, as “in case of failure Kasianov may be replaced by a security service officer”.

According to Kommersant-Vlast, the most likely candidate to replace Mikhail Kasianov as prime minister is Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo. According to the magazine’s “Kremlin sources”, Rushailo “has increased his political weight” of late – his active participation in Russia-US negotiations on missile defense supports this view, and it was Rushailo who prepared Putin’s visit to Ukraine, where not only political but also economic issues were discussed.

The Novye Izvestia newspaper recently claimed that the Kremlin has already prepared a reorganization plan for the executive branch. The plan has been worked out by Simon Kordonsky, head of the presidential analysis department, which reports directly to head of the presidential administration Alexander Voloshin. The plan proposes some rather radical measures: of the whole Cabinet, only the six most important departments are to be preserved.

For instance, the new Interior Ministry would considerably expand its authority and be in charge of all domestic issues, from the nation’s health to development of agriculture. At the same time, all the security structures, such as the Federal Security Service or the Federal Agency for Governmental Communications and Information, would be automatically included in the new mega-ministry. The Foreign Ministry is to be retained, and the Foreign Intelligence Service would become part of it. The Defense Ministry and Finance Ministry are to remain independent institutions. According to the plan, there are still doubts concerning the sixth ministry: it is to be either the State Property Ministry or the Energy Ministry; it could also be the State Control Ministry, based on “a number of special services and the State Auditing Committee”. (It seem the list proposed by the presidential administration only lacks Orwell’s Ministry of Truth and Ministry of Love.) Novye Izvestia takes the view that the aim of this action is to make Russia’s executive branch similar to the US executive branch: “The United States has no Cabinet in the Russian sense of the word; instead, it has an executive administration, which ‘resolves problems’.” So, if take the US as an example, the president himself may head such a structure. However, he would have a deputy to handle ongoing matters, a senior deputy prime minister.

Thus, in the opinion of Novye Izvestia, this actually means that the post of prime minister is to be eliminated entirely.

According to the newspaper’s sources, Alexander Voloshin will personally present this plan to the president in mid-September: “Voloshin, who has repeatedly requested permission to resign.” So why would he bother with all this? Surely not to increase the power of his successor: “Such gifts aren’t usually given to others.”

With the new structure of the executive branch, the head of the presidential administration would have simply unprecedented powers: “Perhaps more than the president himself, since he would be in charge of all day-to-day operations of the executive branch. And this state official would be competely non-accountable to the public.”

Novye Izvestia considers this proposed method of running the country to be more appropriate for a special service, not a civil society: “For a militarized organization, where success depends on the personalities of several leaders of major divisions.”

It has to be said that not only the media outlets controlled by Boris Berezovsky have noted the intention of the present regime to optimize the management system and introduce the principle of undivided authority across the country, as well as establishing a strict official hierarchy in all spheres of society.

For instance, the Vremya MN newspaper reports that the Kremlin administration is facing a difficult challenge: within six months, it has to establish a hierarchy of non-government organizations in Russia.

There are plans to hold “a kind of congress of public organizations” by November, to be called the Civil Forum.

At present, there are 300,000 public organizations registered with the Justice Ministry, and it will be ‘mega-complicated’, as Vremya MN puts it, to select those worthy of participation in the congress. The Kremlin top political consultant, Gleb Pavlovsky, is in charge of this effort. Vladislav Surkov, the Duma supervisor from the presidential administration, is to help Pavlovsky, since “he is believed to have some experience of working with the most disobedient people”. Surkov will have to work with human rights groups, whom the Kremlin views with apprehension: maybe some internationally-recongnized activist “will get up and declare that the Kremlin only wants second-rate organizations which go along with whatever the Kremlin decides”. In the view of Vremya MN, such a statement wouldn’t be far from the truth; behind all the furious activity aimed at setting up an NGO hierarchy, “there is a desire to relegate human rights groups to the bottom of the list, since they are the most inconvenient groups for the regime, while the most prominent positions would be given to groups of dog-breeders, for example, or gardeners.”

The main purpose of the forthcoming Civil Forum is to approve the establishment of the so-called Civil Chamber, a permanent consultative body directed by the president. However, Vremya MN notes that the consultative body is not expected to be very helpful in Russia, since such bodies are usually bypassed in the decision-making process.

But the “authorities have their own reasons, since they are always able to place people in such consultative bodies who may be useful in future”. In short, the Kremlin will feel much calmer when all NGO activists are constantly kept in clear view.

As usual in Russia, the idea has rapidly been taken to the level of absurdity. Vremya MN reports that the Kremlin administration has ordered the regions to hold mini-congresses of regional NGOs, and “take note of the necessary ones”. Regional leaders and mayors are being involved in the process; moreover, rumor has it that regional administrations will have to report on the number of public organizations on their territories. And since, as a rule, in the regions “the entire active layer of society could fit into the local administration building, it may be assumed that each state official will establish a public organization of his or her own, and will report on its activities.”

Overall, NGOs are in for a rapid growth period: “Over the next six months we can expect the number of NGOs to increase substantially, especially since the question of funding from state sources at various levels is also to be decided.”

Meanwhile, the Vedomosti paper informs its readers about the Kremlin’s efforts to establish a new enterprise body. Big business has the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RUIE), while small business still remains unsupervised. In October an RUIE counterpart is to be established for small business in Russia, to be called OPORA, or the Russian Union of Entrepreneur Organizations.

The project is in full swing: Vedomosti reports that the organizing committee for preparing and holding conferences of entrepreneurs has already been working for several months, and of course has “coordinated its activities with the presidential administration”.

According to a Kremlin source, the Kremlin is impatiently waiting for the arrival of this final missing piece in the Kremlin’s plan to unite the private sector in “three columns”: the RUIE for big business, the Business Russia movement for mid-sized companies, and OPORA for small business.

However, the RUIE doesn’t approve of the Kremlin’s contacts with small business – the RUIE accuses the presidential administration of intending to “take control of everything”. The major entrepreneurs believe they are quite capable of representing the interests of Russia’s entire private sector. But small business owners prefer to be independent, given the appropriate support from above. As for the Kremlin, it claims it is impossible to establish a middle class in Russia if small business is unaware of its own interests.

On the other hand, the Kremlin also has other reasons, which are less altruistic. In the opinion of Valery Fedorov, director of the Political Environment Center, several years from now the movement now being established could become a real support for the president: “Thus it will be very easy to resolve the problem of the independence of Putin’s party from financial magnates. It is clear that when thousands of people support you, you are an active player, while if you stake everything on support from one source, you invevitably become dependent on that source.” Dmitry Orlov from the Political Consulting Center shares this opinion: according to him, the lobbying opportunities of the new structure (the main reason people are applying to join), will not be very great. Business Russia and the RUIE are good enough lobbying channels for the Kremlin, and the “present leadership, unlike the previous one, prefers not to establish extra channels.”

According to Orlov, “in the given case, the regime – which is probably the force behind OPORA – aims to create a tool for top-down influence, rather than yet another lobby group”.

Party-building – or, to be more precise, party re-building – will continue in the new political season.

The media maintains a lively discussion of the possibility of early parliamentary elections. Vek weekly says the fate of the present Duma depends on how soon – and with how much resistance – it passes the 2002 draft budget.

The presidential team has long been “dissatisfied with low discipline and excessive independence of most members of parliament”, since the authorities have to make a tremendous effort to reach agreement with them.

On the other hand, it is not clear if the benefits of a pre-term parliamentary election will outweigh the possible disadvantages. In fact, if the elections are held ahead of schedule, it is most unlikely that the new law on parties, widely promoted in the pro-Kremlin media, can be used. Meanwhile, all the Kremlin’s attempts to neutralize the Communist Party by “either turning the Communists into social democrats or setting up rival parties” still haven’t yielded any results, and are unlikely to do so in the time available.

That is why it’s now become imperative to “consolidate politicians loyal to the president around the slogan of supporting his policies”. One way to achieve this is to create a strong pro-presidential centrist party – this is the reason for merging Unity and Fatherland. So far, the process is slower than the Kremlin expected it to be. The cause of this is “covert opposition between the staff of the two parties”. At the same time, it is possible to overcome this obstacle, as demonstrated by Yevgeny Primakov in stepping down as leader of the Fatherland – All Russia faction.

As political commentator Vladimir Zhirinovsky immediately pointed out in his interview with the Rossia newspaper, the main reason for Primakov’s resignation is the inevitable merger of Unity and Fatherland: “Primakov does not want to take on the leading role in the argument with Unity leaders about who will head the new party.”

As political scientist Andrei Ryabov added, this is especially true if we consider that after the merger, Primakov would be unable to retain a leading role: “Unity and the circles that support it do not like Primakov very much.”

According to the Vek weekly, if the presidential administration fails to consolidate the scattered parts of the pro-government party, it is likely to eventually give up the idea of early parliamentary elections. “And the political order for consolidation of centrists would be extended, although the participants in the project may be replaced.”

Another important intrigue in the Duma concerns the right wing, of which Boris Berezovsky has recently been trying to gain control. On the one hand, the Union of Right Forces is declaring its support for the president and his liberal course. On the other hand, occasionally the URF considers it necessary to demonstrate its independence, which naturally annoys the Kremlin.

As Vek explains, “Putin and Berezovsky are two centers of gravity, between which the right wing as a whole and the Union of Right Forces in particular will be wavering this autumn. The Kremlin’s accumulated dissatisfaction with the behavior of the Union of Right Forces leaders may end up its support going to an alternative right-wing party, in the form of Mikhail Prusak’s Democratic Party of Russia.”

Meanwhile, according to the Vremya MN paper, Mikhail Prusak will be officially elected as leader of the revived Democratic Party of Russia (DPR) in early October during a nationwide party congress in Moscow. Prusak has already stated that the DPR supports “a reasonable level of state control, the existence of state property, and certain state institutions – without rejecting the market economy.” Certain financial circles are already prepared to support the Democratic Party of Russia, and the party’s regional branches are full of enthusiasm because of this. Moreover, unlike the Union of Right Forces, the DPR “will have a distinct inner structure and follow the principle of undivided authority”. In short, this party will be entirely to the Kremlin’s taste.

At the same time, Gleb Pavlovsky – a leading transmitter of the Kremlin’s ideas – is insisting that the Duma should decide to disband itself. The formal reason would be to create a greater interval of time between the parliamentary and presidential election campaigns. As Pavlovsky says, the parliamentary elections will once again be a formality: “Instead of calm discussion of the political platforms of the parties, the whole country will be excitedly discussing the ratings of the presidential candidates. In consequence, the results of the Duma election will not reflect the real preferences of the voters.”

Besides, says Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation, it is much better to hold elections in a politically stable situation – which has now been achieved. Overall, according to Pavlovsky, it is always possible to find a technical solution to any complicated problem – given the political will, of course: “Moral issues cannot be resolved technically, but political ones can.” It is only necessary to find the correct approach and to act without haste.

To all appearances, President Putin’s chief opponent – Boris Berezovsky – has also came to the same conclusion. In his recent dialogue with the Gazeta.ru online newspaper, Berezovsky confirmed his earlier statements about a totalitarian regime being rapidly established in Russia.

Nonetheless, as the Rossia newspaper comments, for some reason Berezovsky did not confirm his earlier claim that Putin would not serve out his term as president.

However, the conclusion of Rossia – that Russia “safe from political upheavals until 2004” – seems overly optimistic. The situation in Russia is changing too rapidly – it hasn’t been all that long since the media was discussing the apparently unbelievable durability of the Yeltsin regime. Meanwhile, no one would dispute that there is hardly anything left of the Yeltsin system today.

Still, it is evident that Berezovsky, so sensitive to political circumstances, is admitting that the search for a solution may take quite some time. At least, so far he has preferred legal forms of battle, appropriate to the situation, via the media he controls.

At the same time, it is not ruled out that the confrontation between the president and the former tycoon is just one side of the coin. According to Novaya Gazeta, over the past six months Berezovsky has managed to secretly visit Russia about three times; in part, he visited Moscow and St. Petersburg. And this is possible only if someone at the top guaranteed that Berezovsky wouldn’t be arrested while in Russia. Does that mean both sides have come to an agreement?

But then we would have to agree with Maksim Sokolov when he says that no significant political upheavals will take place in Russia in the foreseeable future.

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