According to the Nezavisimaya Gazeta paper, the total number of participants in May demonstrations and processions across Russia this year was 1.2 million. In many regions this year the public events involved many more people than last year. As the paper reports, even small business owners participated in marches and rallies, “and protested despite the great care the state takes of small business along with state-sector employees.” However, the former did not carry political banners.
Overall, the May holidays were not very joyful. In its first issue after the holiday break, Nezavisimaya Gazeta said in an article titled “Bad vacations”: “The twelve days of sanctioned laziness turned for the elite into Putin’s requirement to speed up economic growth, Ustinov’s call to punish the criminals in power, and another terrorist act in the North Caucasus.”
Here are the titles of the articles on the tragedy in the long-suffering town of Kaspiysk: “Undeclared war is on”, Nezavisimaya Gazeta; “Exploded Victory March” Kommersant; “The Kaspian tragedy” Vremya Novostei; “Partisan Jihad against Russia continues” Izvestia. Innumerable theories about the terrorist act in the small Dagestan town (where in 1996 an apartment building was blown up; as a result 64 people died, 20 of them children) mushroomed in Russia immediately.
As Vremya Novostei reported, the leadership of the Russian security services immediately hurried to report on the “practical revelation” of the crime in Kaspiysk. Deputy General Prosecutor Vladimir Kolesnikov, the head of the republican Interior Ministry Adilgerei Magomedtagirov and Director of the Federal Security Service Nikolai Patrushev almost simultaneously announced that the explosions had been organized by Dagestan Wahhabi leader Rappani Khalilov, who is currently hiding himself in Chechnya. The Izvestia paper quoted Khalilov’s father, who publicly disowned his son, “If I find you I will personally burn you in a slow fire.”
According to the Vremya Novostei paper, Dagestan Interior Minister Magomedtagirov made an unprecedented statement. The head of the republican Interior Ministry announced that as Dagestanian Khalilov organized that horrible crime in his motherland, “no federal force” will participate in capturing or annihilation of the terrorist, “Only the Dagestan Interior Ministry will carry out this operation upon permission from the Interior Minister of the Russian Federation.”
The minister also added that he has already formed a joint special force detachment of the republican Interior Ministry, which is to make a raid to the woods of the Nozhai Yurt district of Chechnya as according to operative data, Rappani Khalilov is hiding there.
Izvestia wrote, “Wahhabism, Wahhabis – these alien and frightening words have returned in our life. Those, who planned the terrorist act in Kaspiysk reached their aim. They wanted to shock the whole country that was celebrating the Victory Day. And they did shock it – Russia had a holiday with tears in its eyes.” Izvestia warns that it is not ruled out that the Wahhabi underground forces are preparing more, no less audacious and bloody actions than the Kaspiysk one.
Meanwhile, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta paper states, Chechen separatist leaders, who were also said to participate in the Kaspiysk crime, “seemed to be similarly shocked”. At least, Aslan Maskhadov’s informational structures condemned the terrorist act and gave their condolences to the relatives of the killed people. As for radical separatists, this times they were unusually reserved. This time their informational channels “unlike previous terrorist acts did not even dare to say something about “liberating fight of the Dagestan Mojaheds”, although it is obvious that the Kaspiysk explosion was first directed against the Russian military.” At the same time, sources of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta “with certain conviction” deny suggestions on the Wahhabi ground of the terrorist act, stating that if the explosion was organized by religious extremists, it would blasted in the capital of the republic Dagestan.
According to the paper, a much more plausible theory is the continuing opposition between sturgeon poachers and frontier guards. The paper states, the place of the terrorist act also proves this: the major units of the frontier forces, who control Caspian biological resources, are located in Kaspiysk.
By the way, the same theory prevailed after exploding of the apartment building in 1996, which was mostly resided by frontier guards’ families – then, neither customers nor executors of the terrorist act were found. As Nezavisimaya Gazeta added, “The scale of the action is adequate to the means involved in this area.”
The Novaya Gazeta paper noted that the terrorist act in Kaspiysk was carried out on the threshold of elections to the State Council of the republic, which are to be held the coming summer. The paper noted the similarity of the present terrorist act with terrorist acts in Vladikavkaz on the threshold of elections of the North Ossetia president and the last terrorist act on the Vladikavkaz market on the threshold of the Ingush presidential elections.
Overall, the theory of the “Chechen link”, the popularity of which is undoubtedly warmed up by those, who prefer fast and impressive statements, has not been proved so far.
Meanwhile, judging by everything the western attitude toward the Chechen problem has been once again re-estimated. According to aforementioned Nezavisimaya Gazeta, on May 9 a top-ranking employee of the US Department of State, ambassador Stephen Paifer said in his speech to the US Congress that regardless of prior statements, the US “can no longer see a links between Chechnya and Al-Qaeda.” Thus, the US made it clear to Moscow that its actions in Chechnya can no longer be considered an anti-terrorist operation. In these terms, Paifer recommended to the Russian authorities to “start a political dialogue with Aslan Maskhadov, as according to the general opinion in the USA, Chechen residents support him.”
Besides, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta the forthcoming series of international summits and negotiations will be historic for Russia, as they “will not only fix Russia’s confessions in the foreign politics, but can also give a start to serious internal changes.”
Nezavisimaya Gazeta reminds of direct negotiations between Moscow and Berlin on new social status of the Kaliningrad region, which started in March. Besides, the paper mentioned the recently ended in Washington out session of the World Tatar Congress, which “discussed further cooperation between Kazan and the Tatar Diaspora in the form of American Tatar Association.” At the same time, the paper noted, representatives of the influential Center for international and strategic research in Washington “noted a special meaning of the coming population census in Russia from the standpoint of identification of the Tatar nationality and expressed their intention to attend the census in Tatarstan.”
However, there are other changes in the relations between Russia and the US.
According to military observer of the Vremya Novostei paper Yury Glotyuk, Russia has actually agreed to help the US with creation of space vehicles with nuclear plants. The agreements on supplies of enriched 238 uranium from Russia to the US with this purpose has been coordinated in the course of the visit of the Russian Atomic Ministry head Alexander Rumyantsev. Rumyantsev’s US colleague, US Energy Secretary Spenser Abraham announced about it. Vremya Novostei comments, “Rumyantsev-Abraham agreement can only prove that Russia agreed to render real aid to the US in creation of the orbital echelon of their national missile-defense system.”
At the same time, Izvestia drew the attention of its readers to the results of the US visit of another Russian minister, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. After negotiations with head of the US Foreign department Colin Powell, ministers started a press conference an hour before scheduled time, as “they achieved agreement on the most important issues very quickly”.
Thus, Izvestia state, Ivanov and Powell “made a gift to their presidents”: in fact, START is ready for signing. According to the paper sources, Putin and Bush will only have to judicially fix the agreement on reduction of strategic nuclear warheads down to 1,700-2,200 during the forthcoming summits in Moscow and St. Petersburg and then have their parliaments ratify them.
The only thing that is not determined yet is whether the treaty is to be in a traditional format or an agreement on behalf of the executive power. The difference is considerable: if it is a treaty, two thirds of the US Senate are to ratify it; while if it is an agreement, a majority is enough for its ratification. As a result of such linguistic discussions, a really Solomon’s decision was found: in Russia this document will be considered a treaty, in the United States it is to be considered an agreement. They say, the Russian side accepted this decision in order to prevent the “treaty-agreement” from bogging down in the US Senate.
Besides, as Director of Russian and Eurasian programs of the Washington Center for defensive information Nikolai Zlobin said in his interview with Izvestia, it is important to Russia to demonstrate its readiness to change its prior irreconcilable position concerning storing the US warheads. Zlobin stated the Russian leadership may agree with annihilation of only warhead carriers, such as missiles, submarines, bombers, while the warheads are to remain in storehouses.
At the same time, even synchronic statements of both Russian and US presidents that the START agreement has been achieved did not shake the confidence of the majority of observers that Russia and the US did not agree on most painful issues
To prove this, the Vremya Novostei paper cites the statement of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who commenting on the statements of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief explained: they do not mean “Russia has no more objections to the US’s plans to store, not annihilate part of the warheads they take off duty.”
The US did not change its approach either. In these terms, Vremya Novostei quoted a dialogue between a “top-ranking military” (according to the paper, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and US journalists aboard a plane flying to Moscow. Answering the question on Russia’s objections on storing off-duty warheads, he said, “In my opinion, the Russians understand we will do it anyway, and it is reality.” As for possible objections, “I think, the Russians consider it important to conclude the agreement. That is why we are trying to work with them and construct a mechanism that would meet this need of theirs, but at the same time to provide the necessary flexibility.” Moreover, answering a rather direct question, “So, this is in fact a PR-campaign to support Putin?”, he said directly, “I think the president believes, that Putin has made a strategic decision on closing with the West, and it is important to us to try strengthen all this, having increased his positions.”
According to Vedomosti paper experts, “Russia has simply put up with the impossibility to change the new nuclear strategy of the US, while the treaty will allow President Putin to save his face.”
At the same time, disappointment among the military is great. “Why sign meaningless agreement that reduces nothing and obliges no one, which will only deteriorate the atmosphere of bilateral relations, like it was with START 2 that as a result has never been implemented?” asks expert of the Center for Disarmament issues Pavel Podvig.
Another expert of the Center for Defense information Ivan Safronchuk states in his interview with Vedomosti that signing of the agreement is possible only because President Bush need this agreement.
“Democrats criticizing presidential administration noted that withdrawal from the ABM Treaty undermined the system of treaties controlling armaments, because of which the Congress could cut down assignments on national missile defense system by $1 billion. No the Democrats are deprived of this trump card,” explained Safronchuk. As for Putin, he needs the agreement “to demonstrate that the US that lately has not taken anyone into consideration, respects Russia’s opinion.”
In the meantime, the Moskovskie Novosti weekly stresses, the coming Russia-US summit arose a surge of criticism of Vladimir Putin’s foreign politics. The gap between the still high personal support of the president and rejection of his pro-western course is increasing. According to the weekly, “It is a paradoxical and purely Russian phenomenon.”
The internal resistance of the elite that has to submit to Putin is, by definition of Moskovskie Novosti, “an issue of Putin’s political regime, his interior stability.” Besides, a weekly author Irina Kobrinskaya, deputy head of the European Security sector of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, thinks that the Western disbelief is also a serious issue for the Kremlin – despite everything, Putin has been unable to overcome it. The West still does not consider Russia to be a democratic country.
Kobrinskaya writes, “This is the situation: the West does not trust Putin, being aware of anti-western moods of the Russian elite. The president is unable to overcome the resistance of the elite because there are no stable partnership relations with the west, which would prove the correctness of the chosen course. This is a vicious circle.”
According to the author, the only way out is to “enroot democracy”, which first of all requires strengthening of the economy. That is why, Kobrinskaya believes, Putin makes his confessions to the West, “He is ready to keep his eyes closed concerning the still virtual national missile defense system, on expansion of the breaking-up NATO, make confessions on START – realizing that Russia will still have more that enough warheads for nuclear containment and the US will not attack Russia – on Georgia and Central Asia, in exchange on real partnership in the economy.” Apparently, it is senseless to speak of democracy in economically weak country.
Observer of the Vremya MN paper Leonid Radzikhovsky says the goal of the present ambitiousness of Russia the necessity of which has been so much discusses lately, is hardly likely to be “to catch up with and overrun America” or to “join Europe”. “All these are senseless dreams for the next decades, writes Radzhikhovsky, the real issue for Russia is to stay in the second echelon.”
As the Vremya MN observer explains, this echelon is “large and fast-developing countries,” such as India, China, Mexico, Brazil. Some of them have already overrun Russia by GDP; others are ahead by growth tempo. Evidently, the author notes, the “national ambition that is raised with Pushkin, Gagarin, and competition with the West, is hardly likely to be inspired with competing with India – the goal is too unusual.” Let alone competing with Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia or Turkey. “But at present the matter is not ambitions but survival.”
At present Russia should fight for the foreign investment marker as selflessly as “60 years ago it fought under Stalingrad.” Radzikhovsky stresses, “The aim is the same – to survive, but the methods are entirely different.”
If Russia does not achieve this goal, it will “die, decay” and remain a country where submarines drawn, television centers burn, roofs of testing modules in space centers fall down, and extremists explode towns to demonstrate who is the master there.
Meanwhile, the Novaya Gazeta notes, resistance in the elite becomes more and more noticeable. According to political scientist Andrei Piontkovsky, the elite has several times demonstrated its dissatisfaction to the president. In these terms, the reaction on the presidential speech in the Federation Council in the form of “gloomy deathly silence” and “suppressed and growing annoyance” is very indicative.
“The elite knew that the president knew that the people in the hall of the Federation Council had not only posed but had also successfully realized so ambitious goals that their grand-children will remember of this with thrill.” And it was “audaciously tactless” to require them to catch up with some Portugal.
Besides, according to Piontkovsky, the elite has another reason for annoyance, which is “very Russian”. The general astonishment caused by coming to power of the president-former KGB officer was replaced with general support and people’s love, which at present is replacing with general disappointment. The elite cannot forgive Putin for its own fear, “He was expected to be incredibly and unprecedented brutal…. And he was unable to kill two birds.”
The result is obvious, and in such cases, either the “court” should be changes or the court will replace the king.
Taking into consideration the aforesaid (as they used to say in Soviet times), it is apparent that Bush’s visit to Moscow is “destined to be a success”.
As the Vremya Novostei paper notes, Moscow and Washington need one another, they are having their “honeymoon” and willingly play into each other’s hands. Presidents Putin and Bush have often admitted their mutual liking since they met in Ljubljana. Each is trying to make the life of the other easier. To be on the safe side, they both stated that if they do not manage to agree on some points in the course of the summit “they will not consider it a tragedy or a loss.”
Overall, if we believe Izvestia, the only unresolved issue seems to be what movie president Bush will watch on the plane on his way to Russia. They say there are about twenty movies to choose from, though, according to the paper, it is not ruled out that Bush “will prefer a documentary on Moscow cathedrals and St. Petersburg architectural sights.”
There is nothing unusual about this. As Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says in his interview with the Vremya Novostei paper, referring to the words of President Bush, the US head of state is now deliberately reading Dostoyevsky, in order to get a sense of the “St. Petersburg atmosphere.”
This will be a real American gift to his friend Vladimir.