“A moratorium on reforms.” “Reforming the reforms.” “The end of the military reforms.” “Tryshkin’s taxes.” These are just some of the headlines from the past week. The general idea is that once again, the regime is putting a freeze on reforms in order not to provoke another outburst of public dissatisfaction before the elections.

Andrei Kolesnikov writes in the Konservator weekly of a belief that implementing any reforms of social consequence could mean mortal peril for President Putin’s approval rating. And these fears are entirely justifiable.

In spring 2001, the National Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) studied the attitude of Russians to the housing and utilities reforms: then, one out of three respondents supported the idea of 100% payment for communal services by wealthy citizens, and targetted subsidies for the poor. Those were unusually favorable conditions for beginning the reforms, Konservator notes. However, some time later, after the reforms started in several regions, the ratio between supporters and opponents of the reform was 19% to 75% respectively. The reasons for the phenomenon are obvious: the reforms led to a steep increase in housing rates. At the same time, the quality of services substantially decreased. Kolesnikov writes, the corner stone of the housing and utilities service is torturing the population. Almost all promoted reforms transformed into an unprecedented growth of corruption. Apparently, if the rest of reforms will be the same, any support from the population is out of the question. No wonder, now the authorities are afraid even to say the word “reform”.

The situation with the tax reform is no better. The Vremya MN newspaper writes, “By 2004, the radical tax reform will be brought to a routine moving of the money from one state pocket into another.”

At the recent governmental meeting, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov announced that further decrease of the tax burden is necessary for further economic growth. However, he honestly admitted that it will be possible only after the peak foreign debts are paid in 2003. The paper added: and after the 2004 presidential election.

The Finansovaya Rossia weekly stressed that by admitting the need to decrease the tax burden, Mikhail Kasianov has once again started an indirect argument with the president. As is known, Vladimir Putin said in the Kremlin on September 25, “We have approached the line beyond which it is impossible to decrease taxes”.

However, the present position of the prime minister grounds on the fact that over the past nine months the remnants on the budget-recipients’ correspondent accounts have made up around 100 billion rubles. According to expert calculations, it is a usual situation: budget sector spends 18% of all spending in December. That is why Mikhail Kasianov warned that all the means not used in time would be confiscated to the federal budget. Simultaneously, the prime minister concluded, “If the means are not used, perhaps, it is unnecessary to collect that many taxes.”

This position of the government has given hope to the Russian tycoons. The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RUIE) immediately suggested an innovation program for the taxation area. They suggested that the single social tax should be decreased from 35.6% to 11%. According to RUIE, this will increase the tax base, for “gray” salary payments will be generally rejected. However, the Finance Ministry was more realistic: Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov announced it is possible to discuss the reduction of the single social tax by no more than 5%, and no earlier than from 2005.

As Alexander Livshits noted in his interview with Vremya MN, former finance minister and present deputy general director of the RUSAL company, “Why make people angry before the election?”

According to the sources of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, today many people in the presidential team think it would be reasonable to freeze real implementation of reforms until after the next election.

The paper says Putin would prefer not to stop reforms, as they are likely to contribute to his election chances. However, according to the paper, “The situation in the state is so complicated that any reforms hit either the whole population or some elites.” In these terms, “PR-reforms” are much safer.

The fate of Dmitry Kozak’s municipal reform is a very convincing example. First, the paper says, the reform was carried out fast enough; however, of late its tempo has considerably slowed down. At present, there are numerous consultations with regional leaders – main opponents of the municipal reform; various consultations at different levels; delays with introducing the bills to the Duma. According to the paper, it is a clear sign that “someone who has the right says, “No hurry”.

Besides, it is a dangerous self-deception to believe that regional leaders have finally voluntarily left the political arena, says the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper.

In recent years, the major objective of the Kremlin has been to reduce this factor to zero. There were several reasons for this. Argumenty i Fakty says, the “objective reasons were “too great” political weight of regional leaders, their claims for a special attention from the government, and attempts to get some exceptions from common economic and legal rules.” The weekly mentions as the subjective factor the personal insult from former Federation Council regional leaders to head of the presidential administration Alexander Voloshin: they refused to dismiss Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov by Voloshin’s order. “As a result, regional leaders were banished from the Federation Council, received supervisors in the form of presidential envoys to the federal districts, removed from large politics.” Besides, a legislative procedure for dismissing regional leaders and local parliaments was introduced and the regional leaders lost control of security structures and courts. Now, the Kremlin is “perfecting” local self-administering by means of turning it into a system of opposition to the gubernatorial power. The most painful attack was deprivation of regional leaders of their financial resources. Money currents have been radically redistributed in favor of the federal government. In addition, according to the new bill prepared by Dmitry Kozak, the procedure of “regional bankruptcy” is being introduced: if a region is unable to fund the spending stipulated by the federal government, a direct federal financial rule will be introduced there. Now, there is another Kozak’s reform, which is likely to turn the local self-administration into an organized system to oppose the gubernatorial power. From the standpoint of Argumenty i Fakty, now it is extremely important to answer a simple question: can the Kremlin rely on governors’ support at the parliamentary and presidential election? Regional leaders have been deprived of many privileges, frightened, moved back to their regions. However, instead of new- though tougher – rules for cooperation between the federal government and regional leaders, the Kremlin is still using the stick and rude pressure policy, says Argumenty i Fakty. The weekly notes, it is possible to ignore the offended regional leaders while the presidential popularity rating is high. “However, if something happens to the president or a social-economic crisis breaks through, the “gubernatorial factor” will powerfully work against all initiatives from the federal government.”

Of course, regional leaders are “putting up with presidential envoys and others” only because they are covering with Putin’s name (It is no accident the article is headline “Love of the regional leaders, with a hidden catch”). In this situation it is much more reasonable to remember about the “cooperation between power levels” and ritual PR-actions.

The situation with the military reform is very similar. As the Kommersant-Vlast magazine says, at the beginning of Putin’s first term, in 2000, Russia has a unique chance to finally reform its armed forces: “A young president, popular with the military, had come to power; his name was not connected with the painful breakup of the USSR or the sharp deterioration in the military’s social status.” Besides, the stabilization of the economic situation in Russia made it possible to increase the funding for the military reform.

The Security Council was charged with development of the military reform concept, “While this body mostly consists of former military, it is subdued to departmental ambitions.” Moreover, Sergei Ivanov, the developer of the concept and close friend of Vladimir Putin was appointed the defense minister. The magazine says the idea was good, “a civilian but not alien to the military person could freshly estimate the situation and put the Armed Forces in order.”

However, the magazine writes, soon it turned out that the concept worked out by Sergei Ivanov did not differ from the traditional rotations, merging, and reductions.

The experiment for transferring the army on a contract basis was not a greater success. Vlast says, “Having charged the General Staff with this, the minister closed the issue: no general is able to destroy the matter of his whole life.” The magazine says the minister was unwilling to assume the responsibility, which is understandable. According to the magazine’s sources, the surrounding of Sergei Ivanov seriously hopes that in 2008 Putin will “appoint the present defense minister his successor.” That is why the head of the military department is being very cautious: “With the Kremlin’s administrative resource, it is possible to become the president without sensational victories on the reforming grounds – or rather without any victories; while it is much harder to become a president after sensational failures.”

It is also easy to understand the president: “There is a risk that once starting a radical army reform, we will lose the present army and will not create the new one.” Meanwhile, the Chechen war is still on. Besides, Russia has entered the pre-election period and the failure with the army reform may “deprive the present president of his major electoral basis.”

According to the Novoye Vremya magazine, the attempt to win the “red and brown” electorate from the communists can explain the suggestion to return the five-point star to army banners.

While, Nezavisimaya Gazeta has no doubts that Ivanov’s “star initiative” in fact means that Putin “has agreed to postpone the real army reform”.

Meanwhile, the press is predicting substantial reforms in the security structures connected with new objectives for fighting terrorism.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that a new anti-terrorist department is to be established. It is likely to be headed “by not a military but rather an experienced politician from the past, for instance, Andrei Kokoshin, Sergei Stepashin, or Anatoly Kulikov.”

According to the paper, Sergei Ivanov will coordinate the activities of all security structures – there are eleven of them in Russia. Apparently, only a person “extremely close to the president” can be appointed at such position, he will have the status of deputy prime minister.

In these terms, the position of defense minister will become vacant. There are three candidates for this position: General Staff head Anatoly Kvashnin, head of the Duma defense committee Andrei Nikolaev, and Navy Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Kuroyedov. “The Kremlin considered his candidacy two years ago, but then Kursk tripped him up. Now, the passions have calmed down.”

In turn, Interior Forces commander-in-chief Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, Main Intelligence Department head Colonel General Valentin KOrabelnikov, and Kvashnin’s first deputy Yuri Baluyevsky will be claiming for the position of the General Staff head.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta thinks the personnel changes can start in March-April 2003, a year before the presidential election.

At the same time, the Profil magazine consider the creation of the National Guard as the most indicative stage of the authority’s preparation for the upcoming election and social upheavals.

An expert with the Gorbachev Foundation, Valery Solovei, wrote in the paper that at present, despite all efforts of the authorities, the state is still very weak, inefficient, and unable to ensure the security of its own citizens. “In 1995, there was Budennovsk, in 1999 there were explosions of apartment buildings, in 2002 there was the Dubrovka theater hostage-taking. What is next?” According to Profil, another disaster is likely to eventually bury the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of the society. “Actually, at present the state is still afloat only due to the personal popularity of Vladimir Putin; at the same time, sociological polls register the growing alienation to the power and mistrusting it.”

In fact, only special security structures are able to efficiently fight terrorism and its infrastructure in Russia, for “they are vested with substantial authorities and are directed by an iron political will,” Valery Solovei writes. The National Guard does not suit this role. Why was it established then?

It is easy to understand why the security structures ardently supported the idea. The General Staff thinks the National Guard should be a part of the Land Forces – thus, it hopes to receive additional funding and “to press the upstarts from the interior forces.” In turn, the Interior Forces leaders are hoping to increase its status and financial abilities even more.

At the same time, the author believes the real objective of the new structure is to become the president’s praetorian guards, “his sole reliable support in the weak and torn apart state”. Further continuation of the painful for the population reforms is likely to sharply increase the social tension in Russia. Profil writes, “It is an interesting coincidence: the National Guard is to be established in 2005; at the same time, experts say, Putin will start large-scale reforms that are currently being restricted.”

The Voronezh “housing rebel” earlier this year demonstrated the entire inability of the police to cope with a large-scale chaotic protest. The army is also able to become rebellious – the innumerable emergency situations of late in all units and divisions demonstrate it very well. “That is why the president will need a well-paid, elite, and devoted personally to the president National Guard – a last argument of the authorities in the unsuccessful dialogue with the society.”

Famous politician and Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov reminded in his recent interview with the Novye Izvestia newspaper, that even without such new formations the federal budget spending on the security structures has increased from 22 to 29%: one out of three budget rubles is spent on the security structures.

According to Ryzhkov, “An authoritarian regime with certain features of African or Latin American types with huge destitute, silent, and apathetic population is being formed in Russia.” The controlling political class is greatly interested in preserving its status-quo and hence it is rapidly strengthening the police functions of the state and falsifies the elections, turning them into an imitation of the political process.

On the other hand, it is known that each people has a government it deserves. Vladimir Ryzhkov says the peculiarity of the Russian political culture makes Russians to prefer an authoritarian leader to a democratic one; an appointed governor to elected ones.

“It is a peculiarity of our country which has formed over past five centuries, explains historian Ryzhkov, For modern European such mentality seems to be wild.”

In these terms, it is interesting to compare two ratings published in the Kommersant paper recently. The first rating bases on the research carried out by the Pew Research Center (U.S.A.). The research was devoted to popularity of political leaders in different countries and involved residents of 44 countries. Vladimir Putin is the fifth with 85% popularity rating. The world top most popular leader is Uzbek president; Mali, Ivory Coast, and Uganda leaders are following him. None of western countries got to the top ten, despite the 71% popularity rating of George Bush.

Another rating was published by the UN High Commission for Refugees: it ranged the states whose residents most often apply to western countries for political asylum. Russia is the sixth in this rating, after Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Turkey, and China.

Kommersant says the only consolation is that the number of those who are willing to leave Russia is growing steadily but slowly: it has grown only by 2% against the past year. Meanwhile, there are countries where desire to emigrate spreads among the population as fire: in Georgia, the number of potential political refugees has grown by 48% over the past year; in Zimbabwe, the same number has grown by 97%.

Apparently, Russians are more patient – or more apathetic. As Vladimir Ryzhkov says, “the main, determining feature of our political class and the whole society is conformism, or, in other words, conciliation and carelessness.”

Nonetheless, Ryzhkov, as a representative of the new generation of Russian politicians, says it is not the end. He says the general belief that the result of the next presidential election is predetermined is a gross mistake. “I think the election campaign of 2003-04 are the turning point when we should stand our grounds protecting democratic Russia and say to the whole society, “NO retrieval!” Otherwise, Ryzhkov says, in six years “there will be nothing to give up on.”

Many people share this approach: it is no coincidence the interview with Ryzhkov was published in Novye Izvestia, a newspaper belonging to Berezovsky. One way or another, it is clear that as the election approaches, both the authorities and the opposition will be using more old slogans.