This week, the Russian media have focused their attention on Russia’s new foreign policy concept, the Communist Party’s court appeal against the Duma election outcome, and a purging of the ranks in United Russia.
President Dmitri Medvedev released his Foreign Policy Concept on July 15, making a policy speech to an audience of Russian ambassadors. According to Kommersant sources who were present for the non-public part of that speech, Medvedev included a “tough, Putin-style” demand for Russian diplomats to be more aggressive.
Medvedev opened with his most important point: “Russia has indeed grown stronger, and is now capable of taking on more responsibility for problem-solving on a regional and global scale.” Moreover, the rest of the world is not only listening to Moscow’s opinion, but also expecting “some sort of solutions” from Russia.
According to RBC Daily, Medvedev’s speech contained two noteworthy innovations. First: Russia is prepared to stand up for its national interests – without confrontation, and without bypassing international law (as the West did in the case of Kosovo). Second: ideology will disappear from Russia’s foreign policy motivation. “We’ve had it up to here with ideology-based investments,” said Medvedev, complaining that such investments don’t yield a return anyway, and Russia is now having to “claw back” the money spent on supporting corrupt regimes.
Kommersant notes that following the non-public part of the speech at the Foreign Ministry, meeting participants looked perplexed as they left the hall. It turns out that in Medvedev’s opinion, the power Russia has gained over the past eight years of stability isn’t being realized sufficiently – and diplomats are to blame.
A minister who attended the meeting told Kommersant: “His criticism of the diplomats was extremely harsh, but largely justified – because they really need to get their asses into gear.” The source explained that Medvedev’s complaints come down to the following: Russian ambassadors aren’t being aggressive enough in standing up for Russia’s national interests or making enough effort to counter Russia’s critics.
The word “aggressive” was reported by all Kommersant sources, including Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s envoy to NATO: “Medvedev is a modern thinker. He’s a good manager, and he wants to see Russia’s ambassadors working effectively and aggressively. He’s calling for united management in foreign policy – but the old school types aren’t ready for that.” When Kommersant asked if this is expected to lead to any changes at the Foreign Ministry, Rogozin’s reply was brief: “I’m sure it will.”
As consolation, Medvedev ended his speech by promising the diplomats that he would improve their remuneration packages; he will submit a bill to the Duma about special terms for state civil service at the Foreign Ministry.
Medvedev also spoke of this when addressing an audience of younger Foreign Ministry personnel, after the policy speech delivered to senior diplomats. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the second speech included Medvedev’s views on solving the human resources problem.
Medvedev said that it will require creating normal employment conditions: “These conditions should be fully comparable to conditions applying in other countries. Normal social benefits packages, salaries, and other opportunities.”
Medvedev also said: “People have to want to work for the state, and such a desire arises when a person engaged in diplomatic work agrees with the state’s ideology.” In Medvedev’s view, it is very hard for public servants to meet the state’s needs if they dislike the state’s foreign policy course or disagree with its choice of priorities.
“If these two conditions are met, we will be able to establish the modern school of diplomacy – the will to work, and normal employment conditions,” said Medvedev.
All the same, says Kommersant, the promise of higher salaries didn’t do much to lift the spirits of the diplomats in the audience. “Things aren’t going to get better, because they’ve already been better – back in the Soviet era,” said one ambassador. “But they won’t get worse any more, either – because they couldn’t possibly get any worse.”
However, as Kommersant notes, the foreign policy sketched out in Medvedev’s speech will now have to be implemented by the federal government, not by the president himself. Kommersant emphasizes that the key difference between Medvedev’s foreign policy concept and Putin’s concept can be found in the document’s final chapter: “Making and Implementing Foreign Policy.” A separate point in this chapter specifies that “the federal government is responsible for taking measures to implement foreign policy.” Eight years ago, when then-President Putin signed his foreign policy concept, there was no mention of the government having a foreign policy role.
RBC Daily notes that political analysts are describing the new concept as a sweeping document – but only in geographical terms. “There is no distinct statement about goals. It isn’t clear what our diplomats should concentrate on, or what they should be doing and how,” says Konstantin Simonov, president of the Russian Political Conjuncture Center. All the same, the new concept makes it plain that Russian diplomacy is indeed maintaining foreign policy course continuity. Simonov says: “President Putin followed a clear principle: less politics, more economics. And Medvedev’s concept builds on that thesis.”
“The court hearings would be quick and polite, but not fair”
On July 16, after a week of hearings, the Supreme Court ruled against the Communist Party (CPRF) in its bid to annul the results of the December 2007 Duma elections. As Kommersant reports, the CPRF is now considering the possibility of appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) – in cooperation with the Union of Right Forces (SPS), which has also tried legal action and been rejected by the Supreme Court. CPRF lawyer Andrei Klychkov told the Gazeta newspaper that the CPRF is likely to appeal to the Constitutional Court this autumn.
Vremya Novostei notes that the CPRF produced an impressive list of complaints against the Central Electoral Commission (CEC). These included what the CPRF saw as unequal media coverage of the election campaign (especially on television), and the CEC’s reluctance to respond to complaints, and the decision to change the form of ballot-papers during voting.
Duma member Vadim Soloviev, head of the CPRF legal affairs service, shared his impressions of the court case with the Novye Izvestia newspaper: “After the second or third day of our case being considered, when we applied to have Vladimir Putin called as a witness, the court was openly intent on cutting the process short.” According to the CPRF, all these indirect signs made it clear that “the court hearings would be quick and polite, but not fair.”
As Gazeta reports, the CPRF notes the irony here: on July 15, President Medvedev spoke of the need for independent courts and the principles of legality – but on July 16, the Supreme Court responded with a politically-motivated ruling.
CEC Chairman Vladimir Churov maintains that the court ruling was entirely justified and proper. As Kommersant reports, the CPRF upset Churov by using the court as a platform for “setting out their political views.” Moreover, according to Churov, the CPRF’s preparations for the hearings were inadequate.
Churov said: “There is no evidence that our country’s electoral system isn’t among the best structures in Russia and Europe.”
But the CPRF quotes its own sources as saying that Churov may be in line for a new appointment soon, requiring him to step down as chairman of the CEC. As Radio Liberty reports, the CPRF regards this alone as moral compensation for losing its case.
Tatiana Stanovaya, chief analyst at the Political Techniques Center, told Vremya Novostei about the subtext in this court battle: “The CPRF is attempting to take advantage of the contradictions built into the relationship between the new president, Dmitri Medvedev, and the previous head of state, Vladimir Putin, along with their teams. Medvedev’s style and rhetoric are quite different from Putin’s, although he is maintaining full continuity in terms of content. But even stylistic differences offers plenty of scope for game-playing.”
Stanovaya says: “The CPRF is seizing a convenient moment to propose a unique bargain: telling Medvedev that it is prepared to establish a different kind of relationship with him, not like the relationship it had with Putin.”
At the same time, says Stanovaya, the CPRF is aiming to entrench its claim to being the one and only left-wing opposition party within the system. Just Russia, headed by Sergei Mironov, has been challenging the CPRF for that place. So the CPRF’s message is addressed not only to Medvedev, but also to other political “investors” who are still making up their minds about whom to back in Russia’s developing “tandemocracy” system.
Lawyer Dmitri Agranovsky told Novye Izvestia that even though the CPRF lost, its case will be useful in democratizing the electoral system anyway. “By taking legal action, the CPRF is doing some very important work toward establishing a law-based state in Russia,” said Agranovsky. He maintains that the courts have become a promising arena for the opposition’s battle: “The opposition is using civilized methods, via the judicial system, to speak out about problems in our state.”
United Russia getting rid of its “hangers-on”
United Russia has issued some new instructions to leaders of its local and regional branches: by August 15, they should review the personal affairs of anyone who is discrediting the party – or simply expel them.
Novye Izvestia notes that these clean-up efforts have been prompted by party leader Vladimir Putin’s famous speech in April, when he said that the organization should be reformed and purged of people who “are only out for their own gain, pursuing their personal goals.” This was consistent with Putin’s earlier hints about there being plenty of “hangers-on” around the authorities and United Russia.
United Russia’s general council presidium met on July 16 and resolved to “take tough action against any United Russia members whose behavior discredits the party.”
Actually, the regions figured out which way the wind was blowing some time ago, anticipating the official announcement of the campaign. The party is being purged – from the lower levels to senior ranks. This week alone, two city mayors were expelled from United Russia. Mayor Alexander Migulya of Blagoveshchensk was expelled for “breaching the standards set in the party’s charter and making statements that discredit the party.” Mayor Andrei Gelmut of Irbit (Sverdlovsk region) lost his membership card that same day; so did three members of the municipal legislature, who “breached the charter severely” and “performed poorly during elections.”
Sergei Popov, head of the party’s central oversight and inspection commission, drew special attention to certain “problem regions.” Gazeta quotes Popov as saying: “The leaders of regional branches in the Amur, Samara, Sverdlovsk, Tver, and Nizhny Novgorod regions, and the Primorye territory, have been complacent about lawbreaking by some of their members. There have been cases of people on the international wanted list holding high office in regional branches.”
In general, the party leadership is making it clear to ordinary members that all this won’t be confined to membership audits – which showed that 4% of people listed as members had “lost touch” with the party, according to Vyacheslav Volodin.
Andrei Makarov from the November 4 Club told Gazeta that the party shouldn’t cling to its quantitative superiority in membership numbers: “It wouldn’t be so bad if United Russia’s 2 million members are reduced to 1.7 million or even fewer.”
Popov told Kommersant that public protest rallies (against regional leaders or mayors who are United Russia members) are not sufficient evidence of “discrediting the party.” He maintains that it would be “nonsensical” to make “an important decision” in response to a protest organized by the CPRF.
According to Novye Izvestia, experts aren’t expecting any further expulsions of high-ranking United Russia members. Valery Khomyakov, general director of the National Strategy Council, said: “A mayor is indeed a fairly substantial figure, but I wouldn’t describe this as the upper ranks of the party. It’s an open secret that city mayors and regional leaders don’t get along. Most likely, those particular mayors were expelled not because they’re really bad party members, but because the regional leaders intervened – seeking to have their own people installed as mayors.”
Popov agrees. He told RBC Daily that inspections are often used to settle scores with undesirable party activists.
Khomyakov’s overall assessment of United Russia’s personnel policy: “fairly dubious.” His advice to United Russia: make some real efforts to address “what is lying on the surface,” by expelling members “who ought to be in jail.” Khomyakov says: “There are some scary things going on at the municipal level. And everyone knows that it’s United Russia.”
Yuri Korgunyuk, head of political research at the InDem Foundation, told Kommersant that the “purges and new membership rules” in United Russia are “a simulation of taking action, and won’t change anything” within the party.