Plots of the week: administrative reforms and public phobias


The bill on new principles of formation of the Federation Council which has been widely discussed in the media lately was passed, as Nezavisimaya Gazeta remarked, “in the form which best suits the Kremlin”. The Duma committee for state structure which considered amendments suggested by the Federation Council recommended that all of them be passed, but only “partially”. As it turned out, as Nezavisimaya Gazeta remarked acidly, “there was no similarity, but only some coincidences in terms” between the amendments of the upper house of parliament and the text finally suggested by the committee. The wishes of senators were actually ignored.

Thus, on February 1, 2001 (when the new law comes into effect), a legislative agency “of a principally new type”, as the newspaper Vremya Novostei put it, will emerge. As we know, in the new Federation Council, each region will be represented by two senators: one of them will be elected by the Legislative Assembly and the other – appointed by the governor (in agreement with the local authorities). This is where the influence by local authorities over their own representatives in the upper house ends, since, according to the law, they have no right to dismiss members of the Federation Council. This is why Vremya Novostei does not doubt that the new Federation Council, unlike the current Duma “structured both on political and lobbyist principles”, will be “an amorphous mass of “local representatives” which will be influenced by the executive branch in all possible ways.” At the same time, according to the Constitution, it is the Federation Council which has the power to pass the president’s bills on introduction of martial law and states of emergency, its approval is necessary when troops are sent abroad and when borders between regions are changed. In the newly formed upper house, the newspaper states, settling these issues “will no longer depend on the political situation”, and, consequently, the new legislative agency “will never have an independent political image”. In the newspaper’s opinion, this will be a unique agency, “a parliament outside politics.”

At the same time, as the newspaper Vedomosti holds, the consequences of the passed bill “are mystery even to those who voted for it.” In particular, much will depend on those who will represent regional leaders: “If these will be deputy governors, the Federation Council will remain the same.” However, it is possible that the revamped legislative agency may also include influential regional politicians, for instance, candidates for governors, for whom the Federation Council will be a spring board for jumping right into large-scale politics. “Such a Federation Council is not the best one for passing constitutional changes, which is the main goal of the executive branch,” Vremya Novostei points out. At the same time, the newspaper admits that the bill might well be reconsidered. According to its estimate, reaching of the necessary number of deputy votes (two thirds of the overall number of deputies necessary for overriding the veto by the Federation Council) was provided by the agrarian faction (18 votes) and the CPRF (three votes). If there are any problems with the veto, it is not ruled out that the authorities might have to seek for a compromise with deputies.

Nikolai Kharitonov, chair of the Agrarian group, whose opinion is cited by Vedomosti, even believes that amendments to the Constitution may be made – for example, that the “the government must be formed depending on the results of the parliamentary election.” From the point of view of Governor Yevgeny Mikhailov of the Novgorod Region, the law is likely to be turned down and an agreement commission may be created: “If the president decides to ram through this law, there is no way of avoiding this; still, the amendments suggested by the Federation Council must be passed.” On the whole, as Vremya Novostei holds, senators have no chances of stopping the reform. Thus, it is understandable that the Duma’s decision caused a sharp reaction by heads of regions. Yegor Stroyev, speaker of the Federation Council, stated that “today the Duma does not wish to look back and see that it has no real power, and if the upper house is removed, even if for a minute, it will become illegitimate itself.” However, Duma deputies ignored senators’ warnings, on the following principle, as Vremya Novostei writes: “Let them suffer, as long as it does not concern us.”

The newspaper Segodnya presumes that a sharp statement by the reserve Stroyev only sped up the passage of the new law: “The pro-Kremlin factions got the signal: hurry up, the situation is getting out of control.” However, the Communists rebelled quite unexpectedly: as Segodnya writes, they “have somewhat spoilt the burial service for the Federation Council,” having decided on the eve of the Duma vote to vote against Putin’s draft law. The CPRF faction, in particular, insisted that senators in regions be elected by direct ballots. Nevertheless, the CPRF could not influence the vote results. In the opinion of Segodnya, the Kremlin is forcing construction of the new power structure: “Rapidity and onrush are the best way of overcoming possible resistance against the reform.”

In the opinion of Vedomosti, the haste of the authorities can be explained by changes in public opinion. The newspaper traces changes in the deputies’ mood from the first to the second reading and concludes that in a week or two the chances of overriding the veto by the Federation Council will considerably reduce. “We stubbornly refuse to notice the way the mood of the public is changing,” the newspaper writes. “Let us remember: when the president put forward the idea of forming a new power structure, it was unanimously welcomed by senators who were to be dismissed… And now we are seriously discussing the possibility of the upper house imposing a veto on Putin’s bills.” This, in the opinion of the newspaper, proves that “the state authorities are gradually losing the opportunity of making any decisions they like and soon they will have to agree to various compromises.”

This fact, from the point of view of the newspaper, accounts for the recent demarche by Boris Berezovsky which caused a shower of various comments: “The points which are now hidden from ordinary people are clear for those who are close to the incumbent leadership, which is why Berezovsky was the first among malcontents, followed by governors. Soon they will be joined by neophytes from the Duma.” The newspaper does not doubt that even members of the Unity faction “stunned by their own swift career growth” will try to “break from the Kremlin’s surveillance, to say nothing of the right wing. And then the government where there are few Putin’s people will start showing more independence.” Then Putin’s envoys in regions will start establishing their own relations with regional leaders. The Kremlin, the newspaper concludes, “must realize it very well. This is why it is in such a hurry.”

The majority of Russians still support Putin, writes the magazine Novoye Vremya, whereas a considerable part of the elite is already against him. Vladimir Gusinsky’s arrest was a kind of signal for politicians and entrepreneurs – those who do actually constitute the elite. The magazine describes the reaction of society to the actions by the General Prosecutor’s Office: “The press was enraged, entrepreneurs did not hide their irritation, the West was puzzled. However, the oligarch’s arrest did not produce much impression on the majority of the population.” Most people were indifferent and some felt malicious joy. It is possible to understand why public mood has taken such a shape: “Reforms failed, the country has gone poor, and the feeling of animosity coming from below mingled with fears planted from above – thus, we have got passionate love for the new tsar, unlimited trust, and complete impunity of any force actions.” This is why when Putin, engaged with strengthening personal power, acts in an authoritarian manner, he, from the point of view of ordinary people, is fighting against terrorism, corruption, poverty. “The country has bet too much on Putin to reject him so soon because of Babitsky or Gusinsky.”

“The belief in a “good tsar” is still alive, despite all disappointments,” this is the way the newspaper Vremya MN commented on the results of the poll done by the Agency for Regional Political Research (ARPR). The ARPR regularly compares poll results with the expert opinion. This time the respondents were asked: “Do you believe that Putin’s first steps at the post of president mark the beginning of true fighting against corruption?” Forty-three percent of respondents answered in the affirmative, 28% said “no”, 29% were uncertain. The elite is more critical: 46% of experts do not believe in the beginning of fighting against corruption, 29% believe in this, and 25% were uncertain. The great “trust credit” granted to Putin at the election, the newspaper writes, “includes people’s demand to establish law and order in the country.” Those who believe that establishment of law and order has already begun are, for the most part, unemployed people of secondary special education and servicemen who support Unity and the Union of Right Forces. Residents of large cities are more skeptic, as well as supporters of Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky, and Yavlinsky.

At the same time, from the point of view of the weekly Vek, the essence of the conflict between the authorities and oligarchs which was proved by recent events: Gusinsky’s arrest, the attempt to reconsider the results of privatization of Norilsk Nickel, is only indirectly linked to the national interests. “Neither absolute presidency sought by Yeltsin, nor absolute oligocracy built by Gusinsky and Berezovsky will do good to people.” In the opinion of the weekly, an attack against oligarchs “may be an unsuccessful step, but it is inevitable and was taken in the right direction.” Objectively, the weekly writes, people are right in their support of the president, since it is he who is trying to secure integrity and controllability of the state. “Oligarchs care only about their money. They are good in peacetime and when the country is prosperous, when there is no threat to anybody. When the country may disintegrate, it is dangerous to trust oligarchs.” Putin’s mistake, from the point of view of Vek, is that he is fighting oligarchs “in Yeltsin’s and Chubais’ manner” – ignoring all democratic institutions and acting “behind the scenes by means of conspiracy and hidden intrigues.” The time of such methods, the weekly holds, is gone.

Putin will have to “destroy the myth that oligarchs are guardians of democracy”. However, the fight against them must be combined with strengthening “not only of the Kremlin machine inherited by Putin, but of other state agencies as well.” Of course, the weekly remarks, “it would be absurd to expect development of democracy from Putin”, taking into consideration the current assessment of the situation by the political elite. However, Vek suggests “not to believe, but to analyze,” thus coming to the conclusion: “Regulated development of democracy in the political process, which involves the Duma which is now loyal to the president, is Putin’s strategy in liquidating the excessive skew of state mechanisms in favor of oligarchs which emerged in the 90s.”

The magazine Kommersant-vlast sees the difference between the present and Yeltsin’s times in almost the same way. Under Yeltsin, the magazine writes, “every decent oligarch dreamed of putting a companion in jail. Some of them even openly said so during closed meetings. However, none of these dreams came true, “since Yeltsin had another vision of democracy.” As the magazine writes, this was his principal position: “Democracy is when no one is put in jail.” As a result of the policy of non-intervention adopted by the state, information wars began, whose essence is “lobbying one’s own financial interests with the help of controlled TV channels, radio stations, and newspapers.” These wars, naturally, were begun not for the sake of changing the public opinion. They were intended “for the only person, that is the president.” In such conditions, the presidential administration turned into “fixers” who helped their bosses as far as they could, but, at the same time, watched that oligarch frays continue only “until first blood appears.”

Under Putin, the situation changed radically. Now “a KGB-president symbolizes strong state power.” The majority of representatives of political and financial elites, as the magazine states, agreed to play by new rules, “if such are imposed.” Gusinsky was the only one to refuse to do so. The magazine supplies a list of sins of the rebellious oligarch. During the information war of the last fall, Gusinsky’s holding bet on Putin’s rivals. Moreover, after Putin’s victory at the election, Gusinsky continued to fight against him, “not as the president, but as an equal, as a representative of one of the groups who came to power as a result of certain scheming.” Kommersant-vlast explains that Putin’s attitude towards Media-MOST “is rather primitive: “they criticize us, and we are trying to strengthen the state, thus they are enemies of the state and must be neutralized.” Since the Russian elite has at once believed that the intentions of the new president are serious, Gusinsky’s case was perceived not as “a kind of behind-the-scenes game by the Kremlin authorities,” but as the “beginning of establishing a new order in the country.” In other words, as Yeltsin’s “sacred taboo” was cancelled, oligarchs fear that now “any of them might be put in prison any moment.” Thus, the magazine concludes, Putin’s goal – “to show who is the master”- can be regarded as achieved.

“The new model of state power does not need old tools at all,” the magazine Novoye Vremya writes. It is not ruled out that the epoch of information wars may soon be recalled as the pinnacle of democracy. This epoch is now gone along with Yeltsin under whom freedom of speech was some kind of monarch’s whim. Today the authorities “became themselves with a sigh of relief.” Now they do not have to account for their actions, or, at least, “to rack their brains over most suitable explanations.” It does not matter whether Putin did or did not know about Gusinsky’s arrest beforehand, what matters is that a “know-how” has been found, and the president will hardly want to reject it. There is a threat that against the background of the recent propaganda victories the authorities may come to believe in the “absolute reliability of such flagrant PR”, all the more so because most NTV viewers have never regarded Gusinsky as a guardian of freedom of speech. Still, many of these viewers were put on their guard by the technique of “fighting against corruption.” “Intelligentsia which voted for the right or for Luzhkov could swallow Chechnya, but it might turn out to be very sensitive about all kinds of allusions to sudden arrests.”

Obshchaya Gazeta specifies Gusinsky’s statement that the decision on his apprehension was taken by Putin personally. According to the information of the newspaper, only three people were aware of the plan: Sergei Ivanov, secretary of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service, and General Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov who has “bungled the whole business” by his awkward actions. Thus, as Obshchaya Gazeta states, the “Family” was excluded from the game and Ustinov turned out to be a scapegoat, which is “quite an expressive sign, if we recall that Ustinov had been imposed on Putin by the Family itself.”

The magazine Itogi writes that Putin “is dependent on his colleagues from Lubyanka, the further the more.” At first glance, the magazine reasons, there is nothing horrible about this. “All in all, why former KGB-people are worse than former secretaries of regional and city CPSU committees who, for the most part, constitute both the Federation Council and the Duma?” However, in the opinion of the magazine, there is principal difference between these two categories of current representatives of the political elite. Former KGB-people “are innately incapable of ruling the country when society is closely watching their actions.” As for former party officials, they have got used to “ruling when there is political opposition and free press.” From the point of view of the magazine, the problem is not in the KGB past of the current state officials, but in the fact that they take great pride in it. The minds of these people were transformed in a peculiar way: “from early childhood, they have been told that they are the salt of the earth, fighters for the great idea which is so good that all is fair for its protection.” From the postulate that the security of the country depends on them, former KGB officers came to the conviction that “they are flawless, they cannot be mistaken, because the supreme knowledge is open to them.”

The break-up of the USSR aroused a painful feeling in employees of security agencies that they “did not defend the great country.” Moreover, they were witness to the process when those who recently were under investigation have become “masters of minds”, made political careers and fortunes. And when, at last, the highest state post was occupied by a former KGB career officer, his colleagues were inspired: “now we will build the right state.” “There are only two possible positions in Russia for the security services which came to power,” the magazine writes, “the one supported by the leaership and the anti-state one.” In keeping with the “defensive way of thinking” characteristic of KGB employees, they are now looking for enemies.

As for civil freedoms in general and freedom of speech in particular, these are “not absolute values for the current rulers, but something like a decent suit which they have to wear, although it is a bit tight.” Moreover, they are convinced that the West is indifferent to these freedoms either, and “the fighting to preserve them is nothing but a special operation the purpose of which is to weaken Russia.”

At the same time, the magazine emphasizes, security service employees are characterized not only by specific views of the outside world, but also by specific morals. “The necessary features of investigative activities: interference in private life, blackmail, threatening, lies cause moral relativism in a person which allows to justify any actions as long as they are taken in the interests of the state.” This is why one of the most important tasks of the authorities of any country is “to keep security services in check.” In Russia, employees of security services came to power themselves, and now “they formulate state interests in precise conformity with their character,” the magazine concludes.

The weekly reminds the reader that the theory about a conspiracy by security services “which poses a tremendous threat to democracy, rights and liberties of citizens” was first verbalized by Berezovsky. This theory, the weekly writes, found active support in political circles which even called for the creation of a broad coalition “from Chubais to Zyuganov” with the purpose of defending the country from dictatorship. Vek emphasizes that it is not important that such a coalition will never be created. “What matters is that the enemy has been found – security agencies employees who actively supported Putin all the way.” Now the president may be deprived of this support.

There are opposite theories, for instance, that the Family is the one to blame in everything, since it “purposefully embroils Putin with all his potential partners not in Russia alone, but in the West as well.” Only Putin is keeping silent. Of course, Vek remarks, the president has the right to keep silent, but in this case “some personnel decision must be made” which will make it clear whom he holds responsible. If such a decision is not taken, “this is regarded as a wish to “go with the flow”, at best, and as incapability of controlling the situation, at worst.”

The magazine Novoye Vremya considers possible ways of acting for the new leadership. The best development possible, from the point of view of the magazine, is as follows: “Putin, a liberal and a patriot, brings oligarchs and free-wheeled governors to heel and establishes tough order in the country.” Corruption will be defeated and the president, on the groundswell of public support, will accomplish reforms. One of bad developments is: the president, tightly linked to oligarchs, will balance between their interests seeking only to preserve state power. The worst development possible is as follows: supported by security services, Putin will bend governors, oligarchs, the left and the right, subdue economy and the media and will actually create a new system of power, bordering on totalitarianism and authoritarianism. It is hard to say which of the forecasts will come true. In any case, as Novoye Vremya puts it, “we are in for a very interesting life.”