VLADIMIR PUTIN REFORMATS RUSSIAN POLITICS

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“Congress of the Victors”. That’s how the media described the recent joint conference of Unity, Fatherland, and All Russia, held in the Column Hall of the House of Unions. According to “Izvestia”, the mood at the conference was indeed celebratory. In the presence of 200 delegates from each organization, Sergei Shoigu announced that the unifying congress of the new party will be held on December 1. The party is being referred to as ShoLuShai (from the names of the leaders: Shoigu, Luzhkov, Shaimiev). It will be a new type of pro-government party, with a mission of uniting “all healthy political forces, and all of society, for the sake of a single purpose – Russia’s prosperity”.

Unfortunately, “Izvestia” comments, no one has bothered to explain to Shoigu that the word “party” is derived from the Latin for “part” – and a party is defined as a political organization defending the interests of a specific part of society. Consequently, efforts to create “a political organization for all healthy forces” are meaningless, by definition. “Izvestia” says that what Shoigu is attempting to create ought to be described quite differently: “a movement, a front, a league – the CPSU, in effect”. Essentially, it’s something from a bygone era.

Nevertheless, the positive mood of the founders of the new political organization was unfeigned – right up until they started talking about the specific objectives of their future party.

It was explained that the new party will immediately split in two: the political staff (the party elite) and the campaign office staff (ordinary members). The first category is already doing well: some big names, lofty goals, and the will to lead the movement. The second category isn’t looking as good.

Firstly, it is not intended that ordinary members will participate in public politics. This has puzzled many people: if that’s the case, what’s the point of joining this pro-government party? Moreover, there will be compulsory training in special party schools for everyone, from the political leaders to ordinary members. The emphasis will once again be purely on campaign work.

Of course, this is a sensible move; as Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Foundation, says in one of his interviews, “The effectiveness of any political organization is tested in elections – there are no other criteria.”

But it’s precisely here that problems arise. According to a recent poll by the Public Opinion Foundation on the merger of Unity and Fatherland, two-thirds of voters in the regions know virtually nothing about what these parties do.

As ever, only the Communist Party draws attention to itself as a political party nationwide.

Among those respondents who did know about the intention to create a unified party, just as many opposed the move as supported it. Clearly, under these circumstances it’s somewhat over-confident to plan on winning a parliamentary majority in the 2003 elections (a popular theme in speeches made in the Column Hall).

It has to be noted that the atmosphere at the conference was far from untroubled. The day before it convened, it was learned that General Prosecutor’s Office investigators were visiting the Sergei Shoigu’s Emergencies Ministry. Moscow’s political elite spent the whole weekend guessing who might have “ordered the hit” on Shoigu, as “Moskovskii Komsomolets” put it. “Moskovskii Komsomolets” says that despite hints from Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov about the Union of Right Forces being involved (and the fact that Viktor Pokhmelkin didn’t bother to issue a categorical denial), the cause of this sudden activity by the prosecutors should be sought either in the Kremlin or within Unity itself.

“Moskovskii Komsomolets” notes philosophically that “despite presenting an outwardly united front, the leaders of Unity have always been like a lot of spiders in a jar”. Apparently, the “St. Petersburg wing” of the president’s team doesn’t like Shoigu; this is particularly true of Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration. The Kremlin’s political consultants have long wanted to see the pro-government party headed by “someone other than Shoigu the outsider, someone who’s a tried and tested St. Petersburg team member” – like Boris Gryzlov, for example. “Moskovskii Komsomolets” points out that an attempt was made to oust Shoigu as Unity leader a year ago; the General Prosecutor’s Office informed him that it was unacceptable to be a Cabinet minister and a party leader at the same time. Back then, the president stepped in to protect Shoigu. This time there is talk of financial irregularities. This is serious: those who seek, always find. “The law enforcement agencies have been saying for a long time that something very strange is going on within the Emergencies Ministry, but the minister’s political influence has prevented anything from being done about it.”

But “Moskovskii Komsomolets” considers it unlikely that the Kremlin will permit a worst-case scenario: after all, if one of Unity’s founders is declared to be corrupt, who’s going to vote for the pro-presidential party at the next elections?! So it’s more likely that Shoigu isn’t facing any real threat of prosecution; but a blow has undoubtedly been dealt to his reputation. “And therefore,” concludes “Moskovskii Komsomolets”, “Shoigu’s chances of becoming leader of the new pro-presidential party have been reduced even before the party is officially born.”

But “Izvestia” considers that Shoigu is in a better position than ever before: the president approves of progress on rebuilding the flood-ravaged town of Lensk, and preparations are underway to give the Emergencies Ministry some “extra spheres of responsibility”. And the prosecutors have been sent in just for the hell of it, “to keep the minister on his toes”.

At the same time, “Izvestia” does not miss a chance to draw a parallel between the failed Shoigu’s case and the case of Transportation Minister Nikolai Aksenenko. There is a great number of coincidences in this case: the sudden information on claims of the General Prosecutor’s Office, then denying of the rumor about the head of the department and confirmation of the information about the deputies, and so on….

According to the paper, the answer to the mystery is simple: the matter is that “there is less power and resources in vast Russia than claimants for it”. Moreover, there are very few qualified claimants, “Izvestia” specifies.

That is why in all areas, from party construction to railroad transportation, the authorities have to choose between “friends and aliens”. As the paper emphasizes, the main issue of the Kremlin is that “friends want to lead, and aliens know how to lead”.

From the standpoint of the “Obshchaya Gazeta” paper it is next to impossible not to notice the resemblance of the two leaders of Russian natural monopolies, Nikolai Aksenenko and Rem Vyakhirev.

In fact, on the one hand, Vyukhirev just like Aksenenko liked to “spend money on building five-star hotels in Sochi”. On the other hand, he never ever refused to give money to the authorities for their political games, “He gave money for the NTV network, for the elections, whenever he was asked he gave money.” However, when time came to appoint another “St. Petersburg colleague” as the Gazprom head, accusations of misappropriations showered on Vyakhirev.

Aksenenko’s situation is exactly the same. “Obshchaya Gazeta” writes hat he financed the Unity and the “Going together”, “He was generous, but alien. Everyone knew that he was a member of the Family and an associate of Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky.”

It has long been known about Aksenenko’s “financial spree”, however, the General Prosecutor’s Office kept silent. The paper stresses, “Apparently, there was no signal from the Kremlin “. Now the signal has been given and right on the threshold of the beginning of Transportation Ministry reform.

As “Obshchaya Gazeta” explains, dismissal of Aksenenko will “free lots of interesting positions for big bumps” and will create new opportunities for redistribution of properties. Besides, in order to annihilate all doubts, simultaneously with the beginning of the Transportation Ministry case, the General Prosecutor’s Office announced Aksenenko’s former head Boris Berezovsky wanted.

“In fact, Nikolai Aksenenko and Boris Berezovsky are the same corrupted product, but differently prepared,” wrote the “Rossiyskie Vesti weekly.

According to “Rossiyskie Vesti”, Berezovsky is already searched for, while Aksenenko “is still on the sad crossing – prison, freedom, emigration”. Moreover, the weekly believes he is not the only one to make this choice.

As is known, at present there are rather many proteges of the Yeltsin’s “Family” both in the Kremlin and in the governmental structures. According to “Rossiyskie Vesti”, all of them have a certain “immunity credit”.

So, according to the paper, it is not ruled out that Nikolai Aksenenko is only the “first touch in the bold line that is to be drawn under the results of activities of a whole group of Russian officials, who were inherited from Yeltsin’s times.”

As a radio Liberty correspondent Valery Portnikov writes in the “Vedomosti” paper accusing Nikolai Aksenenko could be interpreted as a sign of fighting for controlling the future monopolist Russian Railroads. However, the interests of the General Prosecutor’s Office to the Emergency Ministry in the day when its head was holding a congress of the future party of power together with the Unity is a “completely different story”, as Portnikov put it.

As is known, Shoigu was appointed as the leader of the party of power by Yeltsin’s closest surrounding. It is also an open secret that Putin’s milieu would prefer this position to be taken by a much more loyal to the second president Boris Gryzlov.

Vitaly Portnikov believes that the issues of Mikhail Nikolaev during the presidential election campaign in Yakutia are also connected with the aforementioned events. Mikhail Nikolaev is “one of the closest to the first president’s milieu regional leaders”. It may be supposed that the implacable position of head of the Central Election Commission Alexander Veshnyakov is backed by not his respect for the constitution only.

“While Boris Yeltsin is having a rest in the Crimea, someone very influential is organizing a completely different microclimate in the some day closest surrounding of the first president of Russia,” Portnikov says. Though this attack of Putin’s milieu on the “Family” may fail like it was before, “This attack still seems to be too well-planned and goal-oriented.”

Portnikov also reminds that in 1991 Mikhail Gorbachev lost his power within several days of staying in Foros. Nowadays, Foros is a residence of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Boris Yeltsin only visited it. But this has been enough: “During his staying in the Crimea the ‘Family’ is very quickly losing the guarantees for surviving and well-dong that the second president obviously promised to the first one.”

The “Rossia” paper also adds that the Yakutian leadership has long annoyed the center with its “narrow-minded nationalism” – as it turned out it is the only Russian region that has official citizenship of its own. Besides, this is the only republic of the Russian Federation the Constitution of which stipulates the right of the president of the republic to form regional armed forces. From the viewpoint of the Federal center the Yakutian economy is also strange: the ALROSA company that mines 20% of the world diamonds has lately become unprofitable for the federal budget. The same may be said about Yakutian coal and gold mines. And after Lensk was again “suddenly” flooded in spring, Mikhail Nikolaev should not rely on support from Moscow.

Nevertheless, the paper writes, the Yakutian president stoke his all and announced after this meeting with President Vladimir Putin that the head of the state is ready to support him “for the third time”.

This statement created in sensation both in the republic and in Moscow. The situation is more than mysterious and the Supreme Court of Yakutia will have to clear the things out: it started hearing the case on annihilation of registering of the major candidate at the republic presidential elections.

However, the “Kommersant” newspaper thinks that Nikolaev still has a chance. The paper reminds that it was the Yakutian Supreme Court that in September allowed the president of the republic to stand in the election for the third time.

The fight is on and the “Yeltsin’s closest milieu” is hardly likely easy to defeat for those who hope to redistribute the positions soon.

Yegor strove does not rush to leave the Federation Council either. He recently won the gubernatorial election in the Orel region with an incredible result: 91.52% of votes.

According to the law Stroev must leave the position of the speaker of the Federation Council no later than January 1, 2001. He is obviously unwilling to do this. However, according to the “Vremya Novostei” paper, the Kremlin hurried to announce that there is no ground enough for allowing the Orlov governor to keep his position of the speaker of the upper parliament house.

On the other hand it is still unclear who can be the candidate for Stroev’s position in the Federation Council. Some mention Yevgeny Primakov as a possible speaker, but he would have to pass through regional elections to head the Russian senate. But the Kremlin believes this issue is not hard to resolve – as soon as the candidate is chosen, the region will be “found”.

The Federatsia group, which is loyal to the Kremlin, is ready to hurry Mr. Stroev as they have a candidate of their own, Sakhalin region senator Valery Goreglyad. Besides, former leader of the Tyumen region Leonid Roketsky, who managed to form a support group of his own in the Federation Council is also ready to stand in the competition.

According to “Vremya NOvostei”, at the next September 14 meeting the members of the Federatsia and Roketsky’s supporters intend to rise the question of Stroev’s status.

Another interesting episode concerning personnel changes is the scandal around the failed attempt to dismiss Aleksei Miller. The “Kommersant” paper reported that the scandal was provoked by information on Gleb Pavlovsky’s Internet sites strana.ru and lenta’ru; the supposed reason is the inability of the present Gazprom leader to “form a strong team and control the financial currents”.

Both Gazprom and the government denied the reports of Miller’s dismissal. Gleb Pavlovsky promised to carry out an internal investigation in his Internet departments relating to “a low standard of work with unconfirmed information”.

Nonetheless, as “Kommersant” noted, “it is hard to believe that such a sensational news item could get on the site without an approval from the famous political consultant himself”. The paper thinks Miller was being tested for suitability to the position of head of the largest Russian company. So far the only thing clear is that “The personnel purges are not over in the gas monopoly”.

According to the “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” paper, the scandal in Gazprom was caused by an attempt of “Vyakhirev’s” old team to take revenge on the “St. Peterburg team”.

However, Aleksei Dybal, the head of the information policy department of Gazprom, whose opinion is quoted by the “Vedomosti” paper, coinsiders that reports about Miller’s dismissal were placed with the intention to profit from a drop in the company’s share price (according to “Gazeta”, Gazprom’s losses totaled $1.4 billion).

“Vedomosti” also reports that the government is convinced it is necessary to look for people who might profit from the scandal. The new Gazprom CEO has “deprived many people of their traditional revenue sources”.

At the same time, “Vedomosti” reported that another St. Petersburg official and former leader of the Our Home is Russia Duma faction, Sergei Belyaev, is ready to take the position of the head of the Sheremetievo International Airport company.

According to the paper, Belyaev’s candidacy has already been approved of by head of the presidential administration Alexander Voloshin. Besides, “Vedomosti” remind that in 1990s Belyaev headed the State Property Committee right after Anatoly Chubais and he did not look great after his charismatic predecessor: he continued the privatization program, but very slowly. However, even after Belyaev left the State Property Committee, the law enforcement bodies continued taking interest in him: in late 1998 he was charged with abusing his position, but six months later the case was canceled.

As we can see, each upsurge of activities of the General Prosecutor’s Office ends up similarly. Moreover, unlike Sergei Shoigu, who was taken to hospital after all the troubles, Belyaev get away with it rather easily: he had to forget about his political career.

Well-know political scientist Roy Medvedev dedicated a special research to the personnel management of Soviet and Russian leaders, from Lenin to Putin. The results of the research were published in the latest issue of the “Moskovskie Novosti” weekly.

From the viewpoint of Roy Medvedev, the personnel policy of the present president may be considered rather soft, comparing to the style of Boris Yeltsin, who dismissed his subordinates all of a sudden without any explanations. Medvedev writes that so far Putin was rather moderate with dismissals and personnel changes.

Apparently, Medvedev says, the president does not want his personnel policy to “create new enemies or new friends.” However, this shows that Putin’s personnel reserves are not large, “It seems forming a new team in the leadership of the country will be on for a long time”.

The “Vek” weekly commented on the latest presidential initiatives in the foreign politics (support of the US military action in Afghanistan and liquidation of Russian military bases in Vietnam and Cuba) and stressed that far from all in the Russian elite support them. Although, so far the actions of the popular head of the state are not being criticized.

In particular, says “Vek”, along with the military and the patriots who regret the loss of the last symbols of former imperial grandeur of Russia, many Russian businessmen are also discouraged with the new policy, as they are “used to functioning in the half-closed Russian economy”.

The present open position of the country to the west is likely to cause loss of their positions in the competition with western companies.

“Vek” stresses that those, who are concerned about their interests, “will use every opportunity to not only ‘correct’ the president but to also restrict his legal intention to carry out an independent politics”.

According to the weekly, there may be two ways out of the situation. First is a compromise with the opponents: concessions in domestic politics in exchange for freedom in making foreign policy decisions. The second solution is more radical: the president may “change the balance of forces in his team”, though, according to “Vek” this may destabilize the situation in the country. Nonetheless, the constant struggle for influence between various groups of the Russian elite proves that “the present balances are unstable and the forces participating in them are unwilling to maintain the status quo”.

Thus, the president has a perfect reason to “reformat his domestic support base”.

It is not ruled out that we are now watching this “reformatting” process. Who could turn down a chance to secure the home front in these turbulent times?

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