“Russia and the US are not enemies any longer, in a way they are allies,” declared the Izvestia newspaper commenting on the results of the Ljubljana meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President George Bush.
As was expected this meeting was the key topic in the Russian press during the whole past week. There was no lack of forecasts and predictions, however, most of them agreed that this meeting would be just an introduction of the two presidents to each other, and no serious and important decisions would be made. Overall, the forecasts had been correct: the “aliens”, as Izvestia called the two presidents, meaning the differences of their habits, tastes, and the main thing, the issues they have to resolve, were rather friendly toward each other during the meeting. As President Bush’s “strict aid” Condolesa Rice noted, everything was even better than had expected.
Apparently, the clue to the success was that the presidents did not discuss such dangerous topics as the ABM Treaty, START III, and the possibility of purchasing a C-300 anti-missile complex by the US, which had been discussed by the media of both countries for several days.
As George Bush said at a press-conference: “I looked in the eyes of this man, and saw that he is a straight and decent person, and he is worth trusting him. We have dialogued with him very well. And I was able to feel his soul…” (quoted from the Kommersant paper).
President Bush especially stressed that the dialogue between the two presidents was not a bargaining: “We did not say: you do this and I’ll do this. No. We discussed broader things. And it should be understood.” The results of the meeting are very encouraging. The US president stated: “After today’s meeting I’m sure that we can be both good partners and fast friends, more than you can suppose.”
As a “top official from the Russian delegation” said to the Vedomosti paper, “our major aim was to show that despite the first rather cold stage we are ready for a dialogue, and are ready to be partners… We have 100% fulfilled this task, perhaps even 120%.”
According to the top officials, President Putin supposed that Bush was a “much more tough person”. “However, he turned to be a rather comfortable interlocutor. And it is possible to work with him normally,” said the source to Vedomosti.
The Izvestia paper also added that, according to Bush’s aides, he especially appreciates tete-a-tete meetings. As for Putin, “people in the know”, as Izvestia characterized them, state that “he is perfect in this genre, and he is able to quickly win his interlocutor to his side”. (However, the Russian media has been saying this ever since Putin took office in the Kremlin, calling him the “recruitment genius”. This skill seems to be useful once again.)
In the meantime, if judge by the standards of an average Russian, it is not quite clear whether President Putin should have make that much effort in order to win the favor of his US colleague. In the lead-up to the Ljubljana meeting, the Profil magazine informed that, according to the data of the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research (VTsIOM), only 21% of respondents consider it is necessary to take the opinion of the West into consideration while making important political decisions. Seventy percent of respondents are convinced that Russia should act without looking at the reaction of other countries; so far, nine percent are not sure about their opinion.
The estimations of the relations between the two countries are also rather interesting: 38% of respondents consider Russia-US relations to be normal; and 8% of Russians believe they are good. At the same time, 30% of respondents said Russia-US relations are rather cold; 13% of respondents called them tensed; and one percent of people think the relations between the two countries are hostile. Thus, the positive and negative opinions of the Russian respondents concerning the Russian-US relations are divided almost equally.
Meanwhile, Izvestia believes that Putin and Bush are “subtly similar” in their ruling styles. Bush considers himself to be an administrator, who prefers a “good team of his people”. He chooses his aids on the basis of personal loyalty of the people. The paper notes that Putin, in fact, is very similar: “if not take into account that there are few people who he trusts, and, obviously, he does not fully trust anyone.”
Putin’s “pro-St. Petersburg personnel policies” have been noticed long ago; and, according to the paper, the Russian businessmen have already started preparing for getting a “St. Petersburg man of their own” to every serious company, in order to “resolve issues”. (As the Versia weekly noted, Putin “is trying to place tested people in the key positions”, and to surround himself with people he trusts. Versia stresses that it is a natural wish, and anyone would be willing to do the same in Putin’s shoes. “however, it is a long process. Perhaps, he should move the Russian capital to St. Petersburg all at once?”)
On the eve of the summit the Izvestia paper dedicated a detailed article to analyses of similarities and differences of Putin and Bush. There turned to be more differences, though. A major difference is the “work conditions”. Bush has to deal with a consolidated civil society. And, according to Izvestia, in Russia consolidation of the society may be considered the result of the effort of the Russian president for knocking “the biggest part of the country together in a fist, which can now drive in the nails to the economic innovations”.
Evidently, the results of this effort are obvious in both the foreign and interior politics, and they are arising all sorts of estimations.
The Kommersant-Vlast magazine published an article devoted to the political component of the Kremlin’s economic strategies – the ideology of the 2002 federal budget. According to the magazine, since Vladimir Putin came to the power, the main thing for him has been fighting for money.
Vlast explains that at that time anyone but the president had money – tycoons, governors, and so on. “He only had the budget. Nothing was clear in the budget, except that the budgetary money were senselessly wasted on covering the inefficiency of the state sector and were simply stolen. Actually, the budget was socialist in form, and market (speaking about theft) in contents.”
Besides, since the Soviet times, the Russian population has been used to subsidies on the almost free services of the housing complex. “And since they are free, no one is grateful to the authorities for them”. According to the magazine, this is the major reason for the reform: “There is nothing more free in Russia. Naturally, not everyone can pay. However, such people can always apply to the state for help, and the state will give a subsidy personally to him.” All will be satisfied, both the population and the authorities: “Not a single kopeck will go the pockets of avid tycoons or wasted on covering someone’s economic negligence. Everything will be given to loyal officials and people, who will know who to thank. And who to vote for.”
From the outside, Vlast notes, the system looks like a western one. However, there is one thing which spoils everything: “Russia is a poor country. And the president will need a lot of money to give it away to the poor. And there are very few rich citizens and enterprises which could provide this money for giving to the poor.” Besides, it should be also taken into account that the Russian officials have long been “morally prepared” for a wage increasing. “And their loyalty to President Putin will considerably lower if it turns out that he is having financial problems”.
That is why the Kremlin has been so willingly supporting the idea of a double budget, the so-called “fond for future generations”, which will not be connected directly with current budgetary spending. According to Vlast, the idea of the fund has been inspired by super-high oil prices on the world market.
In fact, this is likely to be a “piggy bank” of the president. The magazine thinks it is necessary to collect as much rent payments to the budget as possible: “They are not earned. They are just a gift of the fate”. That is why it is oil and other raw material enterprises that are to fill the second budget in. The process has started already. Export duties are being increased every two months. And it is no accident that during the latest meeting of the president and large Russian entrepreneurs, the latter demanded that the president introduced special limits on withdrawing their money from them. The president promised to do this, and gave his personal guarantees. The Vlast magazine notes skeptically: “It is natural. He who withdraws the money is supposed to give guarantees. However, later, he may require for more money. And may give other guarantees.”
The magazine runs a certain parallel between the policies of the Soviet state of the first year and the current reforms: “In their time chekists were gathering entrepreneurs of that time and suggested that they subscribed money for construction of socialism. Now everything is happening vise-versa.” To be more precise, the final goal of the action has changed: “chekists” are again levying taxes on rich people, but this time on “construction of capitalism” in the country.
The Obshchaya Gazeta paper, in turn, considers that the new 2002 budget draft has a number of “chronic drawbacks”.
First of all, the 2002 budget is a budget of a fighting country. “The biggest part of the spending is still stipulated not for people but for the defense sector.” Moreover, this part has increased from 321 billion rubles in 2001 to 262 billion rubles in 2002.
Besides, the financial stability of the country still depends on the oil prices: “It is frightful to think what will happen with our “successful” budget, if the prices start falling.” Obshchaya Gazeta considers that the new budget is being creating by means of “simply copying the previous one, with changing several numbers.”
The government has not dared yet to carry out the “long needed structural reforms in the real sector”. Moreover, no reforms are to be expected in the near future: in 2003 there will be a peak of foreign debt repayments (18 billion rubles), and 2004 is the year of the next presidential elections. The paper is convinced that the government purposely suggests the present edition of the next year budget, counting on the “pro-presidential majority in the Duma and the renewed Federation Council, which will vote for anything the authorities need”. Thus, the paper concludes, it seems that the “future generations will get nothing”. Oksana Dmitrieva, deputy chair of the Duma budget committee, estimates the new budget approximately the same in her interview with the Moskovskie Novosti weekly. She noted that the budget revenues in the new budget draft have again been understated, as well as the spending of the government – as it was done last year, when all the additional budget revenues were spent on repayment of the foreign debt and the Chechen war.
The government willingly repeats this budgetary scheme, since it gives it an opportunity to use considerable means at their discretion. “And if we consider such a planning principle normal, then it is not clear why we need the parliament at all”. In particular, as is known, the parliament was invented to control where the state money goes.
In general, Ms. Dmitrieva thinks it is important that the new budget stipulated at least doubling of the wages of budget-sector employees: “Not all regions are able to realize the promised wage increase. Soon their budgets will be deprived of a part of tax revenues, that is why it is unclear where from they are supposed to get additional money for increasing wages.”
As the Vek weekly writes, the current situation in the regions bothers many state officials. According to Vek, this situation is one of the factors that influence the already started “reformatting of the Russian political field”. The authorities are expecting for the reaction of the Russian population at the housing and pension reforms with some tension. It is clear that if the people start protesting against these reforms, the regional leaders will be the first to feel the dissatisfaction. Vek states that this is the main reason why regional elite has been “trying to please trade unions lately” – in case the situation grows worse, they will be able to use trade unions as levers for exerting influence of the federal authorities.
Thus, the issue in question is the process of consolidation of two significant groups – supporters of further radical market reforms and their opponents.
Vek connects the “second line of reformatting of the Russian political field” with the end of the epoch of prevailing of people from Boris Yeltsin’s milieu in the power.
It seems, Vek notes, there is nothing strange that Boris Yeltsin appeared in the public on the tenth anniversary of his first election as president. However, according to the weekly, this event was quite telling. As Yeltsin mentioned in his speech, personnel changes are a normal process and that every leader has the right to form his team at his discretion. The weekly believes that this must mean that “the informal agreements between Yeltsin and Putin on a certain moratorium on personnel changes in the top circles have expired.” The first Russian president made it cleat that he had no objections to any changes. However, the weekly notes, it was just an additional stress on the processes in the Russian politics which are attracting everyone’s attention. Replacement of the “eternal” Rem Vyakhirev with St. Petersburg official Aleksei Miller, institution of a criminal prosecution against Sibneft, which is unbreakably tied with the name of the “Family’s” cashier Roman Abramovich are the sings that “the power and influence are being gradually transferred from Yeltsin’s veterans to Putin’s proteges, although in a rather particular Russian form.”
One more indirect evidence of the inevitable changes is the behavior of Boris Berezovsky, the most vigorous opponent of the incumbent president. Berezovsky is obviously feeling that the “old Yeltsin’s guards” are losing their influence in the Kremlin. Otherwise, why would he need topredict bad prospects for the new president, or to turn the Nezavisimaya Gazeta paper from what it used to be for the Russian intellectual elite into a combat leaflet of the opposition? Why would be start founding an opposing party? The disliked tycoon is preparing to decisively attack the Kremlin once again: “no one can easily part with influence and properties”.
The Argumenty i Fakty weekly wrote: “Lately, Boris Berezovsky has been seriously absorbed with preparing his autumn attack on the power”. Traditionally, autumn is a socially tense time for Russia; this year it will be also burdened by the housing reform, and a high inflation rate… Mr. Berezovsky decided to unite the slogans for social justice and the movement for protection of liberal values. In order to do this, he is gathering “under his wing” well-known right protectors, who he has been financially supporting lately; Duma deputies who are close to them, and he hopes that by autumn representatives of the “dissatisfied people’s masses” will also join them.
These autumn plans of the famous tycoon were the reason for dismissal of Vitaly Tretyakov from the position of Nezavisimaya Gazeta editor-in-chief – by the autumn, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta paper, which is now headed by Tatyana Koshkareva, will in fact be turned into a propaganda leaflet.
After Nezavisimaya Gazeta “became steadily more supportive of the federal authorities, and its editor-in-chief became a frequent Kremlin visitor, Tretyakov’s days at the paper were numbered,” wrote Valery Vyzhutovich in the Moskovskie Novosti weekly.
Another question is why did Berezovsky do all that? Vyzhutovich believes that the answer “for a propagandistic accompaniment for the opposition he is founding at present” is too shallow and far from being the truth. “Yesterday’s favorite is not trying to found any opposition. There is nothing to oppose to. So far the present authorities have created nothing substantial, sensible, or distinct, and Berezovsky is the first to announce this to the whole world.”
According to Vyzhtovich, the tycoon’s choice of his present fellows proves the same: “The Civil Liberties Foundation and the right liberal party of Sergei Yushenkov, who are receiving tens of millions of dollars from the tycoon, represent no one and nothing but their spiritual father”. All them are undoubtedly very decent and worthy people, however, their “criticism of the authorities has no system, empty, and helpless.” They believe (or pretend to believe) that they are mobilized in order to protect freedom and democracy, while the real goal Berezovsky gathered them for is completely different – “he wants them to be his living shield”.
The former tycoon is using about the same tactics with the media he controls: he needs them not for carrying out a propagandist campaign inside Russia but for demonstration of the media to the west.
For instance, the new Nezavisimaya Gazeta paper is supposed to confirm the “rebel intentions of all the press possessed by Boris Berezovsky, and thus to explain the reason why he is being persecuted.” Evidently, the previous Nezavisimaya Gazeta did not fulfill this objective. While presently, “Berezovsky’s owning of several newspapers, a magazine, a radio station, a television company, plus a constant fuss around them, create him an image of a media-magnate in the west, not an Interpol “client”. All this helps him to create an image of an exiled struggler, and not a person under investigation on the Aeroflot case”. At the same time, the present situation is favorable for both sides: after this who will dare to say that there is no conformity of opinions in Russia?
“Putin has an autumn ahead” – this is the title of an article on one of the direction of Putin’s reforms, the reform of the Interior Ministry, published in the Inostranets weekly.
From the point of view of the weekly, the contents of the police reform is depriving regional governors of their levers for exerting influence on local law enforcement bodies. It is just an example of violation of the rights of the local elite. Passing amendments to the law on elections regional governors by the Duma, in accordance with which regional leaders can be elected either by an overwhelming majority or as a result of the second round of the elections, became one more strike for regional leaders. It should be said that so far the discontent of the regional governors with the presidential course for strengthening the power hierarchy has mostly been rather latent, with very few outbursts. However, Inostranets notes, there are first signs that somewhere regional leaders have started “stirring” and began to take certain measures for creating a political counterbalance to the Kremlin.
The weekly notes that open opposition is out of the question so far, since currently undercover work is enough. Inostranets notes that it is easy to imagine what organization resources regional leaders have for creation of the opposition or stimulation of spontaneous protest actions. Such actions may take place this autumn already.
Sociologists are stating reduction of the president’s rating. Their estimates vary from 32% to 50%. This tendency seems to be irretrievable, since the main reason for reduction of the rating is the incessant war in Chechnya. Besides, inflation is likely to grow in the near future, and some “customary autumn tensions” are also not ruled out. In this connection Inostranets notes in autumn “a qualitatively new political cycle is likely to start.” These changes will be caused the fact that the actual political opposition may be formed by that time. Of course, the opposition will not overthrow Putin: this is an exaggeration launched by Berezovsky. However, some social forces, e.g. regional elites, may try to “tame” the president. In other words, a new stage of the fight for influence over the president may start.
Meanwhile, Patrick Cockburn, a Moscow correspondent of the London newspaper “Independent” and an observer of the journal “Sreda”, asserts in his article written specially for Novaya Gazeta that the role of leader of Russia is traditionally exaggerated.
Cockburn says, “The truth is that despite the numerous talks about Putin’s KGB past, he is a rather inane inexpressive personality. He is one of the leaders who have come to power not because he had many capabilities but just because he had a lot of enemies.” Cockburn states that this is not a purely Russian phenomenon: “Look at President George W. Bush with his permanent shadow of a smile! He looks as if he does not believe that he has gotten to the White House.”
According to Cockburn, Bush has become president only because he is such a nonentity that only around him all factions of the Republicans could unite. As for Putin, he is also such a nonentity that he has become the center many parties and movements have united around.
However, Patrick Cockburn believes that this is not bad for Russia: “It is impossible to solve most of Russia’s problems by means of decrees issued by the powers-that-be.” Russia is a weak state, it does not have an integration ideology, and “the current governing elite has clung to the power too tight, and it is very difficult to get rid of it.”
The author believes that the press has also played its important role in this situation. Many publications contribute to fortification of the myth that leaders can transform entire societies. This myth has been generated by several historic trends. Cockburn is of the opinion that the most difficult trends for the West to understand are “worshipping anyone who has gained the top power in Moscow” and sabotage of any of his/her decisions.
However, Cockburn states that “many other leaders in the world stick tot he policy developed by King Louis XV of France, who announced that he was going to sleep every time the situation grew worse and would wake up only when the situation was better.” And indeed, every time the situation improved more or less. However, as Cockburn ironically states, “it sounds much more thrilling from the journalists’ point of view when in an article a journalist earnestly considers the possibility of introduction of the institute of general-governors and concludes that Putin will soon become a new czar.”
Meanwhile, it is clear that the Russian president will hardly “provoke tectonic shifts in the world balance of forces.” Cockburn states that the US is too strong and Russia is too weak, and China will hardly ally with Moscow at least because tense relations with America will cost it too much.” At the same time, although the US “is the only superpower left, it is not the Roman Empire.” Furthermore, “for the 100 days of his presidency George Bush has managed to irritate a lot of influential world forces. He has quarreled with the Chinese because of a surveillance plane, annoyed Arabians because of his fervent support for Israel, and irritated Europeans because of America’s refusal to stick to the Kyoto Treaty on limitation of emission of carbon monoxide to the atmosphere.”
It is not ruled out that it is troubles of the first days of Bush’s presidency that have led to what Sergei Karaganov, a Moskovskie Novosti correspondent, has called “the Ljubljana spirit.” Russian observers note that the current improvement of the Russian-American relations has stopped their five-year decline. They are hoping that this tendency will develop. Karaganov notes that the “highlighted friendliness of the two presidents is based on estimation of interests of the two countries.”
Nevertheless, as the author believes, “it is necessary to avoid the error of all the previous Soviet and Russian administrations: exaggerated concentration on relations with the US.” In this case Russia’s positions will inevitable grow weaker. Karaganov also notes that one more danger lies in wait for Putin: he may pay more attention to the “more interesting foreign policy” that to the domestic situation. It should not be forgotten that reforms require “the president’s personal heed.”
However, Russia is a country of extremes. If it manages to avoid one danger, it does so at the expense of some other danger, no less serious. The main tendency of Russia’s history is reflected in the saying: “Out of the frying pan into the fire.”