IVAN RYBKIN MEETS WITH CHECHEN SEPARATIST REPRESENTATIVE
Kommersant, August 17, 2002, p. 1
A meeting took place on August 15 at the Savoy Hotel in Zurich between former Security Council secretary Ivan Rybkin and Akhmed Zakaev, a representative of Aslan Maskhadov. In talks behind closed doors, the two discussed a concept of a peace settlement in Chechya. The details of the conversation are unlikely to be revealed until reports are delivered to President Vladimir Putin and Aslan Maskhadov. According to Rybkin, the results of the meeting persuaded him that it is possible to settle the Chechen conflict on terms acceptable for Russia, and he will say as much to President Putin.
Stanislav Ilyasov, prime minister of Chechnya, said on August 16 that his attitude toward these talks is “absolutely negative”, since “Ivan Rybkin had not been authorized to hold this meeting”. At the same time, Ilyasov emphasized his respect for Rybkin.
Mayrbek Vachagaev, an authorized representative of Maskhadov, also said that the meeting was private and should not be considered official. Zakaev himself declared that Maskhadov had entrusted him with this commission in order “to discuss a number of issues which might contribute to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Russia and Chechnya”.
FOREIGN MINISTRY DENIES VISA TO DALAI LAMA
Izvestia, August 17, 2002, p. 3
According to Interfax, the Foreign Ministry has once again refused to grant a visa to the fourteenth Dalai Lama. This autumn he had intended to visit the Buriat territory, Tuva and Kalmykia. According to the Asia Department of the Foreign Ministry, all the documents concerning this visit are awaiting approval. Given the list of visitors, some political shading to the proposed visit can be discerned. Some time ago, representatives of Dalai Lama spoke of the visit as being of a purely religious nature. That is probably why the decision has not been made in favor of the Dalai Lama and Russian Buddhists. Granting a visa to the Buddhist religious leader would spoil the relations with China, whose army has controlled Tibet’s territory since 1959. Since that time, the Dalai Lama has been living in voluntary exile and using his numerous trips around the world to promote the idea of Tibetan independence. China refuses to hear any talk of independence for Tibet. Perhaps the escort of the Dalai Lama would include activists of the Free Tibet movement, which has branches in London and New York. The presence of such followers would politicize the visit. On the other hand, these people are close associates of the Dalai Lama, and he is seeking the liberation of Tibet. If the Foreign Ministry doesn’t grant a visa to the Dalai Lama, it would be a violation of the constitutional rights of Russian Buddhists.
Russian Buddhist leader Hambo Lama Damba Ayushev says: “We are Russian citizens! If such a decision is made, we would organize a protest right in front of the Foreign Ministry building on Senate Square.”
DOOMSDAY IN A SEPARATE COUNTRY
Moskovsky Komsomolets, August 17, 2002, pp. 1-2
The government knew about the impending flood disaster in the North Caucasus, but nothing was done about it.
“The situation is not under control. More than 27 dams on the territory of Russia are in a state of neglect. We draw special attention to the condition of the Krasnodarsk and Kuybyshevsk reservoirs,” says a letter a group of Moscow scientists sent to government some years ago. The dams protecting the coast and Novorossiysk used to be strong, but have now begun to fall. The disaster in Novorossiysk happened not through the fault of Nature, but because of the negligence of some specific people. The weather bureau says that a storm warning was issued. The authorities say that nobody let them know there would be so much water. All this could be predicted. The whole Black Sea coast is protected by a network of small dams, so that resorts will not be washed away by mountain torrents. The torrent went down through Sukhaya Stchel and Shirokaya Balka. Dams located there 15 years before were no longer in place. Now there are at least five reservoirs threatening Novorossiysk. This is 12.5 million cubic meters of water. If they break, the port will be washed away.
Scientists claim that such a situation is not natural. The disaster is man-made. Here is the explanation: somewhere along the Laba (a tributary of the Kuban River) a small dam broke, a dam which hadn’t been repaired for 10 yeas due to funding shortages; water flooded the surroundings.
There are two approaches to the problem. The first is preventive. That means spending a few hundred thousand rubles, to secure dams, to pay adequate salaries to meteorologists, and finally to switch on the locators. The other option is to put money into rescue operations.
There is another theory for the flooding in Krasnoyarsk. The upper reaches of the Laba were blocked by accumulated garbage and tree-trunks, and the Emergencies Ministry simply blew up the blockages. Damages are now being assessed. According to forecasts made in the mid 1990s, the peak of man-made disasters in Russia will come in 2003.
After the disaster in Novorossiysk, many Russians are asking whether the government has any plans, or has allocated additional budget funds.
THERE ARE EXTREMISTS IN MOSCOW, BUT NOT MANY
Novye Izvestia, August 17, 2002, p. 1
According to the Public Opinion Foundation’s latest poll, over half of respondents in Moscow believe there are some extremist organizations in the capital, but not very many. Over a quarter of Muscovite respondents consider that there are a number of such organizations; 7% think that there are no extremists in Moscow. And 16% of respondents were uncertain. According to the poll, the threat comes mainly from nationalists – this is the belief of 18% of respondents. Around 15% of Muscovite respondents think that neo-fascists present the major threat; 12% say it is religious organizations; and 3% name soccer fans. More than 36% say that all these groups are equally threatening. And 16% of respondents were uncertain.
UNITED RUSSIA GENERAL COUNCIL TOURS THE NATION
Versty, August 17, 2002, p. 2
Members of the general council of the United Russia party have spent a whole month touring Russia. During a news conference, Aleksandr Bespalov said: “United Russia hasn’t begun its election campaign, but any political movement is constantly campaigning.”
The United Russia members visited 19 regions. The tour was aimed at attracting more members. The number of members in every local branch should exceed 1,000 by the end of the year. The party is expected to have 1 million members this year, and 2 million by late 2003. Bespalov said: “Neither the left nor the right will be playing any significant role in Russian politics.” He also emphasized that United Russia will never become an analogue of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – the only party in the country.
Following the tour, United Russia will take into account the specifics of various regions in resolution of budgetary relations. The party leaders propose giving the federal draft budget a preliminary reading at meetings of the State Council, which consists regional leaders. At present, amendments to laws on bankruptcy and joint stock company assets have been postponed. It is proposed to abolish the 5% sales tax, and in future to reduce value added tax in order to improve the investment situation in Russia.
The members of United Russia also took part in a conference in Chechnya, where the party has two thousand members. At the end of this, the United Russia General Council approved the idea of holding a referendum on a new Constitution for Chechnya.
PUTIN APPROACHES GORBACHEV AND SHOIGU
Versiya, August 12, 2002, p. 12
Rumor has it that the Kremlin has unofficially approached the leaders of United Russia, the Russian Party of Life, the People’s Party, and the Social-Democratic Party with an offer to form a single movement for the parliamentary elections in 2003. The APN news agency reports that the unification plan has been developed by Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, on direct orders from President Vladimir Putin. Putin is concerned about the growing trend for power-struggles among the Kremlin cliques to spill out into public politics; therefore, he has concluded that one pro-presidential party would be far better than four. It remains unclear how the ambitious leaders of the four abovementioned parties – Sergei Shoigu, Sergei Mironov, Gennady Raikov, and Mikhail Gorbachev – would get along within a single party.
VESHNYAKOV WILL RESTRICT THE FREEDOM TO LIE
Kuranty, No. 30, August 14, 2002, p. 4
Central Election Commission chief Alexander Veshnyakov is planning to restrict the number of political consultants active in Russia – by introducing licensing requirements for PR agencies.
According to Veshnyakov’s plan, licenses would only be issued to agencies with a record clean of any attempts to fake voter signatures, disseminate compromising materials, or other dirty techniques.
Veshnyakov spoke about this new idea at a meeting with candidates for governor of the Krasnoyarsk territory. He said that although the Krasnoyarsk elections were far from being the most tainted among Russia’s regions, around 200 complaints had already been received by the territory’s election commission.
Veshnyakov was lukewarm about the idea of prison terms for political consultants convicted of violating electoral legislation; but he expressed approval for the idea of introducing licensing requirements. He described this as realistic, acknowledging that some PR agencies “have already become a threat to elections, and this must be prevented”. Veshnyakov said this would also require amending media laws in order to “restrict the freedom to lie and make money by dishonest methods”.
A SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE FROM THE RIGHT?
Argumenty i Fakty, August 14, 2002, p. 2
The idea of a single right-wing presidential candidate, which Boris Nemtsov proposed to his colleagues two months ago, caused a great stir. Although the politicians soon departed for their summer vacation, the idea from the Union of Right Forces has taken on a life of its own. It was recently the topic of an online poll on the mail.ru website.
Almost four thousand site visitors voted. A third of them were in favor of the Union of Right Forces initiative.
Another 29% of respondents consider that the various democratic parties will never be able to reach agreement among themselves. A third of respondents said they didn’t care; but only 10% were completely opposed to the idea of having a single presidential candidate.
Of the possible candidates, Boris Nemtsov was the top choice (945 respondents, or 25%). He was followed by Grigory Yavlinsky (23%), Irina Khakamada (20%), and “some other candidate” (a total of 14%). Anatoly Chubais was the choice of 10% of respondents, Vladimir Lukin got 5%, and Sergei Ivanenko got 3%.
PROBLEMS AND LIVING STANDARDS
Novoe Vremya, August 18, 2002, p. 9
According to the latest polls, Russian citizens still view five problems as being the most acute: poverty, rising prices, drug addiction, crime, and unemployment. Drug addiction has moved to third place in recent years: in urban and rural areas alike, 31% of respondents name it as Russia’s most disturbing problem. Overall, half of respondents consider poverty to be the most serious problem.
Five percent of well-off respondents consider that Russia’s economic situation has been improving significantly. Five to six percent of the poorest respondents – those who have difficulty affording enough food – believe the economic situation is growing significantly worse. The 20% of respondents who say that their families “spend almost all income on food” consider that Russia’s economic situation has grown slightly worse over the past year. The third of respondents who say they “have difficulty making ends meet” generally believe that the economic situation has remained unchanged over the past year. The 40% of respondents who describe their circumstances as “doing reasonably well, although we have to work as hard as we can” consider that the economic situation has improved slightly.
Around two-thirds of respondents (63%) describe their present mood as “good, confident”; or, despite any concerns they may have, their mood is “generally calm and settled”. Around a third of respondents say they are feeling “anxious, irritable, or alarmed”.
Many consider that Russia isn’t doing very well in general: 32% say “current events are leading us into a dead end”, while only 28% say “we are moving in the right direction”. And 40% of respondents were uncertain about this question.
PLUSES AND MINUSES
Finansovaya Rossiia, August 15, 2002, p. 3
Foreign investment in the Russian economy came to $8.4 billion in the first half of this year. This was an increase of 25.2% compared to the same period of 2001. However, direct foreign investment in the Russian economy was only $1.87 billion, or 25.4% less than in the first half of 2001. Foreigners are prepared to invest in Russia – but not directly.
Russia will lend 2.567 billion rubles to other CIS nations in 2003. Up to 2.188 billion rubles will go toward implementing inter-government agreements within the CIS in 2003, including: up to 1.53 billion rubles for the budget of the Russia-Belarus Union, 115.45 million rubles for the common budget of CIS agencies, and 36.3 million rubles for the budget of the Euro-Asian Economic Community. The upper limit of debts owed to Russia by other CIS members has been set at $3.3 billion as of January 1, 2004. Friendship between nations is costing us more and more.