The Kremlin’s curve to the left: the election campaign has begun

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President Vladimir Putin opened the new political season this week. On Monday, September 5, at the Great Kremlin Palace, before an audience of all Cabinet ministers, leaders of both houses of parliament, leaders of the presidential administration, and the State Council presidium, he announced some initiatives which the press has already dubbed “the Kremlin’s new course” and “Presidential Address II.”

President Putin announced that the additional 115 billion rubles included in the federal budget for 2006 at the United Russia faction’s insistence will be spent on “investing in people.” The government will be asked to focus on some top-priority national projects that “determine the quality of life” and create the necessary “starting conditions for developing what is called human capital.” (Quoted in the Vedomosti newspaper.)

The Vremya Novostei newspaper quotes Economic Development Minister Herman Gref’s explanation of how these funds will be spent. Over half the money – 63 billion rubles – will go to health care: re-equipping existing medical centers and building new ones, and radical salary increases for state-sector doctors and nurses. A further 16 billion rubles will go into education (20,000 schools will be connected to the Internet by 2007); 14 billion rubles will be spent on supporting rural areas; and the rest will go into developing the mortgage loans system and housing construction. The volume of housing construction should be increased by one-third.

In the president’s explanation of the necessity of substantial investment in the social sector there sounded the tone of the state’s paternal care for its people, lost since the Soviet era. “Economic growth figures still remain rather abstract for many people in our country. We mustn’t tolerate the fact that 25 million of our fellow citizens are living under the poverty line, and quality social services are not available to all of our citizens,” said Vladimir Putin (quoted in Nezavisimaya Gazeta).

The press unambiguously estimated the head of state’s initiatives: “benefactor-president” (Vedomosti), promulgating his project in favor of the poor” (Kommersant), “announced his election campaign” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta), thus in effect “started the election campaign, offering 100 billion rubles to the voters” (Gazeta).

Vedomostigives the opinion of Chairman of the Duma Committee of the economic policy Valery Draganov, assisting on the meeting in the Kremlin: “The essence of Putin’s speech was that we mustn’t waste the oil money, but we should manage them in the way they would do good for future generations.” However, expert of the Development Center Natalia Akindinova noted to Vedomosti that “in this case the president self-contradictions,” since “oil money will benefit only being invested into infrastructure projects, not the social sector.” Still, Akindonova added that, in her opinion, the projects suggested by the president are still more effective than “simple distribution of money to state-sector workers.”

In the presidential administration, as Vedomosti reports, they object it, stating that investments into “the human resource” mustn’t be underestimated, as they (people) will have to create “more comfort conditions” for essential economic reforms.

Economic Development Minister Herman Gref specified that the ideas, declared by the president, “were seriously worked out” by the ministry’s officials.

“In fact, the president’s speech is the ideas, formulated by the group of the GDP doubling under the guidance of presidential aide for the economy Igor Shuvalov,” says Nezavisimya Gazeta.

However, the newspaper refers to “a senior official from the presidential administration,” who has formulated the objectives of “the new course,” “if we do not do it now, we won’t have another chance. We should pass this legislation so that those who will come after us, after the elections of 2008, can start taking action.”

So, Nezavisimaya Gazeta sums up, “the long straggle against the government, the majority of which stood for investing of the budget money into infrastructure projects, and against liberals in the presidential administration, speaking for ‘investing in people’ ended with the Kremlin’s victory.”

Deputy Director General of the Political Techniques Center Alexei Makarkin states in Izvestia newspaper that the new initiatives will inevitably lead to strengthening of confrontation in the government. “The authorities see that left, populist ideas get more and more topical, and the coming election campaign is likely to be under the motto of social justice,” says Makarkin. “That’s why the Kremlin tries to set the pace, intercepting these ideas from potential rivals: the Communists, Motherland and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.” The authorities have such an opportunity, the author notes, and they demonstrate it: “while others say, we do.” This is even more up to date that in the beginning of the second presidential period “the authorities’ agenda sharply diverted with people’s expectations”: instead of the suggested “welfare growth,” the voters got the benefits monetization. Now this contradiction is being partially eased.

Nevertheless, in Alexei Makarkin’s opinion, the suggested political effect of “the new course” may be devaluated by the inflation growth, “Today already the inflation breaks the forecasted limits.”

Besides, the Finance Ministry still insists on the strict financial policy. “However, we do not sabotite the president’s orders, more so as Putin gave concrete figures, execution of which can be easily checked,” sums up the deputy director general of the Center of Political Tehcnologies. “That’s why inside the Ministers’ Cabinet the position war will develop.”

A different viewpoint on the possible reaction by the executive power on the president’s suggestions was advanced in Vedomosti by Yabloko Party deputy leader Sergei Mitrokhin.

“Earlier he has already given most of these tasks to the government, and it has never occurred to anybody to realize them,” reminds Mitrokhin. “Another pr trick… They try to show the people that the president takes care of them and offers popular reforms.” Still, no radical change in policy is possible without some personnel changes, “and the same Zurabov, Kudrin and Gref, having an entirely different ideology, will realize the president’s ideas. They are ‘trained’ for the task of avoiding inflation at any cost, including at the expense of real wages and national development.”

Communist Party leader Gennady Zuganov agrees with Sergei Mitrokhin. Answering the question of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “Does the new course of the Kremlin mean the fundamental turning point in the state policy, or is the happening a mere start of the election campaign in favor of the president’s successor who is yet undeclared?,” Zuganov stated, “The present government team won’t do anything, it will proceed the old policy. Not only a new official course is needed, but a new policy. For the time being they are just creeping into our sphere – social justice. It looks like the lections are approaching.”

Gennady Andreevich even admits the possibility of pre-term State Duma elections in the end of the next year, and in general he believes that the election theme becomes most important for the Kremlin administration, “I think now they are searching for a successor urgently.”

In the same strain Motherland’s leader Dmitri Rogozin speaks, “In my opinion, these words were caused by certain fears, connected with approachingof future election campaigns. That is why that what recently has been written by Khodorkovsky from the prison, is now factually announced in the Kremlin.”

In Rogozin’s opinion, the Kremlin sees that “a left turn” is coming, and they are determined to enter it, “We fell they try to drive us aside. But this will hardly be realized, as the president still does not dare to dissolve the government.”

As for the “successor,” he, from Rogozin’s point of view, “has not been announced because they haven’t yet agreed upon anyone, and the struggle of clans is going on.”

In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Applied Politics Institute Director Olga Kryshtanovskaya maintains that “in summer, after some extremely difficult debates, the decision about the way power will be transferred was made.” However, Kryshtanovskaya adds, “it looks like the figure of Sergei Ivanov has come to agenda again. The television intentionally works for rising of Putin’s rating, Sergei Ivanov is constantly appearing by his side.”

There can be no trifles in such questions, highlights the director of the Institute of Application Policy, “It’s a life and death matter for the regime. Beslan, Khodorkovsky’s advancement, the left turn – for them all these are trifles, honor tribute, current moment, and nothing more. In Russia, the issue of power inheriting is the question of life and death of the political elite, what does Khodorkovsky do here? These are mosquito bites, which have no principal significance.”

However, Ekspert magazine does not agree that “Khodorkovsky doesn’t matter for the Kremlin.”

“A true political battle is beginning,” says Expert. “Two forces, comparable in strength, are being formed. One of them is headed by Putin, the other by Khodorkovsky.”

Both leaders are strong, “and each of them has his own moral foundation. The first is the man who has revived the state; the other is a martyr, a prisoner, a hero.” At the same time, they both have drawbacks: “the first hasn’t done everything he was expected to do in eight years. The other is a former oligarch” – and what’s more, he has support from the West, which doesn’t contribute to his popularity in Russia.

Expert notes that they both are also equally supported by the electorate, “30% from the side of “the left turn” (social democratic side), and 30% from the side of “the rotten regime (conservative liberal).” From the outside, it seems to be odd enough not to profit from the financial capacities of the state in such a situation.

Besides, over the last time, as political scientist Leonid Radzikhovsky words it in Rossiiskaya Gazeta, “many, very different, political forces tend to the left,” including “the new irreconcilable” – “from Kasparov to Limonov,” who have declared their objective as breakdown of the regime by “a left hook.” However, Radzikhovsky says on, “the authorities are not so plain, either: there are also many fans of “the left turn.” Meanwhile, the authorities have much more opportunities for realization of “left idea” than “the right-left opposition.”

Alexei Polukhin writes in Novaya Gazeta about the link between the president’s initiatives and the need to consider the electorate’s mood, at least during the campaign period which has already begun, de facto. “In this presidential address there are nothing what could have become by itself an object of critics,” says Polukhin. “There’s an attempt to formulate the strategy, the terms found: investing in human capital.” However, strategic investing of the kind is “reviewing of social commitments to the population in the direction of increase. In our country, we have a whole complex of reforms, decreasing the volume of these obligations.” And in this sense, Polukhin emphasizes, “the president’s initiatives contradict the course of his subordinates.”

Further, Novaya Gazeta gives concrete examples: “the president demands that 20 thousand schools should be supplied with the Internet by 2008. At the same time,

Within the framework of the education reform, school education de-facto turns paid, and teachers switch to self-sufficiency at the expense of pupils through the legalized tutoring.” The question arises, “if a pupil’s parents cannot pay for school education, does the Internet access in this school matter for the?”

In the Healthcare sphere the situation is analogous: “the president suggests reequipping of 10 thousand hospitals. Meanwhile, the healthcare reform means to cut the number of these very hospitals, developing the institution of general practitioners.”

A feeling emerges, Novaya Gazeta comments, that “Putin and Zurabov apparently misunderstand each other.”

In the opinion of Alexei Polukhin, “the president’s generous gesture” is likely to be used as “a cover operation, something sweet to ‘the bitter pill of reforms’, as in his speech he touched exactly that what is supposed to be strictly and anti-socially reformed.”

In general, as it was noted in Nezavisimaya Gazets by InDem Foundation President Georgy Satarov: “All these events can hardly be called policy.” That’s because policy-making requires an analysis of the situation: “Why precisely this amount of money, for what purpose, and so on, must be spent. There was nothing of the kind. This is a sop thrown to one group of citizens from the table of their betters, out of these gigantic oil revenues. Nothing more.”

From Satarov’s point of view, there is a single aim – maintenance of the regime’s stability, “It is crisis of fear, a crisis of ideas.”

The authorities are in the same crisis, Satarov believes, with the Year 2008 problem, and consequently, no original decisions should be expected, “There will be a successor, and I believe, more than one.”

To tell the truth, according to the data of the National Strategies Institute of Stanislav Belkovsky, today the president’s environment “rack their brains, how to prolong Putin’s presence in the Kremlin.”

Belkovsky said to Zavtra newspaper, “Putin’s most entrusted advisor Igor Sechin and some close to him businessmen” are especially anxious about the issue.

Various variants are proposed, as it is known – both introducing the amendments to the Constitution for increasing the number of possible terms of one and the sane candidate, the transaction to the Parliamentary republic, in which Putin would occupy the post of the Prime Minister. However, as Belkovsky considers, these strengthens will end by nothing, “The third Putin’s term is not willed by one influential Kremlin person – Putin himself.”

According to the opinion of Belkovsky, “the burden of power” was “too heavy” for Vladimir Putin; “he will not rescue Sechin and Co. at the expense of personal health.”

Afterwards, Stanislav Belkovsky gives a forecast, “As soon as the relatives of the former president fill their pockets with the proceeds from Sibneft, and the second president himself acquires a stake in Gazprom and $5-6 billion in live money, remaining in the Kremlin will be of no importance.”

However, there is no clarity with the candidature. The problem is described vividly in Izvestia by Sergei Markov, director of the Political Studies Institute: “Putin is the leader of a coalition of the three blocs: the corporation of chekists, liberal economists, lawyers, political scientists and the bureaucracy. That is why there’s a main requirement for a successor – he must combine the interests of all these forces.” As Markov reported, “only two” questions have not been solved yet, “the identity of the successor and Putin’s role after his term in office expires.”

Nevertheless, it seems that Vladimir Putin has decided something.

In any case, as participant of the conference Valdai 2005, director of Russian and Asian programs of the US defensive information center Nikolay Zlobin reported to edition Vremya Novostei, the President is in “excellent physical and intellectual state and looks like a man, who made some decisions and released himself from many problems.”

As for the successor, this isn’t such an insoluble problem. There is a variety of options, many of them quite unexpected. Even his wife, Ludmila Alexandrovna Putina, could become the successor.

According to Novye Izvestia, Boris Nadezhdin, secretary of the Political Council of the Union of Right Forces, has recommended Putin’s wife.

The article about this event was labeled by Novye Izvestia as “Special Successor.”

Meanwhile, this option is quite possible, especially if voters respond correctly to the new course of the authorities.

Succession, you say…

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