The dismissal of Gazprom-Media chief executive Boris Jordan clearly demonstrates that despite what all the analysts are saying about the next elections being just a performance, with easily predictable results, the Kremlin is still not entirely certain of the outcome.

The press has already explained that Jordan was dismissed because of “politically unreliable” incidents in coverages of the Moscow theater hostage-taking. And excessive independence, in general.

The Vedomosti newspaper quotes Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Union of Right Forces: “Jordan never used to meet with senior presidential administration officials to discuss shaping public opinion.” Naturally, senior officials were annoyed about that. In short, it is better be on the safe side a year before the election.

As Leonid Parfenov said in his interview with Kommersant, “although there were some clouds” no one thought that Jordan would be dismissed so soon. At the same time, there was no doubts that some day he would be dismissed. When, after the Moscow hostage-taking, the president spoke of a certain national television network “making money from blood” – it was clearly “more than a black mark – it was like a silk cord sent in an envelope”.

That is why Parfenov doubts that the reason for Jordan’s dismissal was “disagreements over business tactics” with the Gazprom board of directors. He says: “Perhaps there were disagreements on tactics, but it is impossible to imagine that it is more important than disagreements over the presidential tactics.”

In these terms, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper said sternly that “both tactics and the strategy of Russian business, especially the media industry, have to follow directions from the Kremlin.”

However, Gazeta notes that it will be rather difficult to dismiss Jordan from NTV: it requires a decision by the television network’s board of directors, new and legitimate, which has been elected at the shareholders’ meeting. They say it may take at least six weeks. It is extremely unfavorable for Gazprom to leave Jordan in charge at the NTV network for this period, and Gazprom is trying to come to an agreement with him. The cost of the agreement is likely to be rather high: formally, it is very difficult to break his contract, since the financial performance of NTV has been steadily improving in recent months.

According to various media, Jordan’s payoff is likely to be $10-15 million. They also say Jordan intends to demand at least $70 million. He has a good chance: according to the media, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher recently expressed concern about Jordan’s dismissal and the future fate of the NTV network.

Hence, Gazeta notes, “Impatience to carry out the Kremlin’s orders has let Alexei Miller down and complicated further relations with Jordan”, for Gazprom is least of all interested in “negative publicity at the state level”.

Nonetheless, the political reasons behind this event are obvious – the elections are approaching. As Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted, “in such troubled times every microphone, every television camera, and every quill should be mobilized to attract votes”.

Naturally, the authorities could not let such an important company as the NTV network be independent…

Besides, the first channel (ORT) and the RTR network have long been “monolith colossi”, in the words of Leonid Parfenov; they are “completely in line”. Now, NTV is to become like them.

Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation and leading political consultant, continues to note in various interviews how important it is for Duma candidates from the United Russia party to score a decisive victory over the communists.

This will send a message to Vladimir Putin about the strength of those who call themselves his main supporters; and after 2008 – the end of his second term in office – he might be willing to lead United Russia and become the leader of the Duma majority for the next four years.

At the next presidential election, in 2012, Putin could run again – and triumphantly return to power. Seems like a good alternative.

Therefore, United Russia has a powerful incentive to win; and the Kremlin has a good motive to bring such an important election resource as television broadcasting entirely under its own control.

It should be noted that the 2008 election seem to be of greater interest for the media than the upcoming 2004 election.

Novaya Gazeta says: “The 2003-04 elections will not be decisive.” According to the paper, at present the forces of opponents in the political power-struggle are approximately equal. That is why the immediate battles are supposed to be tactical rather than strategic. Each group will have to strengthen their own positions and to weaken the positions of opponents, “in order to have all odds in their favor during the 2007-08 elections.”

Novaya Gazeta says that the three-year truce at the top of Russian politics is ending this year. However, only the military and bureaucratic elites have been able to take advantage of it, uniting into a powerful alliance. It seems to be favoring the Middle Eastern model of capitalism. According to the classification of Novaya Gazeta, there is also an Eastern model of capitalism, where everything is decided by economic and bureaucratic elites; and a Western model, where countries are ruled by economic, political, and intellectual elites. By the way, Novaya Gazeta calls the Western model absolutely unacceptable for Russia.

Novaya Gazeta says the consolidation of the military and bureaucrats is natural: both are able to unite when ordered to do so; but business leaders, politicians, and intellectuals need ideas in order to consolidate. So far, there have been no such ideas – hence, the real political elite has been steadily losing its influence over the legislative branch of the government. As for the economic elite, it has become the major opponent of the “new Entente” of the military and bureaucrats.

This military-bureaucratic alliance aims at gaining control of the Duma, in order to set favorable rules for itself in the political game. In these terms, the next parliamentary elections will be more important that the presidential election.

Then, in 2007-08, the election scenario of 1999-2000 will be repeated: large companies will play the role of “Chechen separatists” – accused of “robbing the nation” and “taking necessary resources abroad”, and so on.

The alliance of bureaucrats and the military will do its best to regain control of the “economic resources of society”. Hence, it will be an attack on the new economic elite. If it is possible to decapitate big business, medium-sized and small business can be tamed, thus preventing them from growing into dangerous opponents to the military and bureaucrats.

Simultaneously, the possibility of strong political and intellectual elites arising in the future will also be eliminated, since they are also natural opponents to the military-bureaucratic alliance.

Hence, Novaya Gazeta concludes, the prospects for democracy and a free-market economy in Russia can be described as fairly bleak. There are serious concerns that “over the next five years, the military-bureaucratic alliance will be able to inculcate a form of government which is natural for it: an Egyptian-style autocracy.”

Understandably, the bureaucrats and the military are unable to organize anything but another period of stagnation. “And since eastern despotism is an archaic phenomenon, by any measure, the process of social degradation will continue, ending in the nation’s disintegration.”

Overall, the theme of “degradation and breakup of the nation”, or at least the theme of rising premonitions of disaster in society, has never disappeared from the media, despite all speculations about stabilization or even a “new era of stagnation”.

Currently, results of opinion polls in Russia show a picture of almost complete harmony between the citizenry and the state, the Rossiyskie Vesti weekly says. Compared to the polls of 1999, when over 40% of respondents described the situation in Russia as disastrous; the present 13-14% of respondents giving this answer seem to be insignificant. Besides, this figure is steadily falling. On the other hand, the number of those who describe the situation as “stable” has already reached 23% and continues to grow.

At the same time, says Rossiyskie Vesti, there are other less comforting figures. According to other polls, over 74% of respondents are prepared to support such a radical measure as “confiscation of assets which have been dishonestly obtained, in favor of the state.” Only 12% of respondents believe that in the near future their lives may change for the better, while 32% think otherwise.

Thus, pollsters say that the still high popularity rating of the president “does not reflect public satisfaction with the present state of affairs, but rather the real lack of alternatives, together with extremely low expectations.”

Evidently, Russians are gradually concluding that the president is wasting his time and effort “mostly on purely ceremonial activities, while resolving accumulates problems is often just a simulation of effort.” In short, people are ceasing to expect anything from the president – and are content that unlike Yeltsin, Putin is young, healthy, competent, and looks good next to other world leaders in television coverage.

Rossiyskie Vesti says: “There is an impression that the generations which are most actively participating in the economy have come to accept the futility of any political activities.” Many people are convinced that the best life strategy is “adjusting to the existing, eternally unfair, world order”.

On the other hand, says Rossiyskie Vesti, the existing social tension can be used as a weighty argument during harsh election battles. They should be considered as another stage of fighting for further property redistribution and control of the major economic and political resources of the nation.

According to Rossiyskie Vesti, almost 65% of respondents would be prepared to vote for a political party which declares restoration and protection of social justice as one of its objectives.

As Viktor Militarev, president of the Development Institute Foundation, said in his interview with the Konservator newspaper, in fact, “there are two political forces in Russia: the Communist Party and Putin. Moreover, people seem not to see any fundamental difference between them.” According to the author, the difference between Putin’s voters and the Communist Party’s voters is not a matter of substance, but rather of style, and probably sub-ethnic to some extent. Putin’s voters dislike the ritualized Stalinism in Communist rhetoric, the archaic culture of the Communists, and their shame-faced anti-Semitism. Communist Party voters dislike the ritualized pro-market views and pro-Westernism – stated, but not always carried out – in Putin’s political rhetoric. Overall, these two groups make up 70-80% of voters.

In short, Viktor Militarev thinks that Putin’s electorate is the electorate of the left-wing non-communist parties, which in fact do not exist in the country as yet. At the same time, there is a demand for such a party and judging by the growing anti-tycoon trends in the society, this demand will also increase.

Another viewpoint on the nearest prospects of Russia is revealed in the document which the press called the “Serafimov club manifesto”. It was published in the Vedomosti newspaper under the title “From the policy of fear to the policy of growth”. Its authors are well-known journalists – ORT political observer Mikhail Leontyev, scientific editor of the Expert magazine Alexander Privalov, famous columnist Maxim Sokolom, and Expert’s editor-in-chief Valery Fadeev.

As Vedomosti reports, together with film director Alexei Balabanov and producer Sergei Selyanov, they have established a club “the main objective of which is discussion of the key issues in the country, working out and promotion of conscious solutions for such issues.”

Actually, the Serafimov Club starts its manifesto from the most important question, “Why does Russia remain an economically and – consequently – politically insolvent country? Why has not our country stood on the way of steady economic development over the past decade, or even 17 years, if we count from the beginning of perestroika in 1985?”

According to the authors, it is because from the very beginning of the reforms, the power and the elite have been paralyzed with all sorts of fears. Consequently, they have been able to react only to concrete situations rather than work out strategies. So they have been removing symptoms instead of treating the cause of the disease.

First, in 1991, there were fears of famine in Russia; later – of the communists’ return; then – of rising inflation, and a budget deficit; and now – of oil prices falling.

This latter fear has become the absolute symbol of the post-Soviet period. “The whole country, from prime minister to a rural pensioner, is afraid of a drop in global oil prices. It is convinced that its welfare depends on these prices – moreover, the prime minister is no more willing to do anything about the structure of Russia’s exports than the pensioner.”

Besides, from the very beginning, Russia has been terribly afraid of appearing “not progressive enough” to the West. “It has been afraid of not only the IMF, the World Bank, and Bill Clinton, but also of any con-artist who has lectured it on how to behave.”

All present issues are caused by a greater than in Soviet times dependence on the raw materials sector, the smaller consumer sectors, and the dying innovation sector – all of them resulting from the fear policy. “The liberated weak economy not directed by the public and state will, is moving along the only “free” way – to stagnation and degrading.”

This inertia should be overcome, “Frightened people cannot restore Russia.” Overall, the major problem of our country, according to the authors, is the imperturbable conviction of the Russian elite that the “ship is sinking”.

Meanwhile, the manifesto says, if there is any hindrance in the country which prevents it from effective development, it is the “irresponsible and defeated tuned elite which is afraid of putting serious objectives to itself and the country.”

At the same time, there are all conditions for an economic growth: there are more than enough resources in the country. Over the years of reforms, a new layer of responsible entrepreneurs has appeared in the country; an internal demand has appeared.

Moreover, according to the authors, the word crisis can become an additional factor to stimulate the development of the nation. “The globalization era in our earlier understanding of it has ended. No one knows for sure how the world will continue developing.” In these terms, all countries are equally weak, even the most powerful of them. “However, any crisis means new opportunities. Those, who will realize these opportunities the first will win at the next turn of the world development.”

However, from the standpoint of the authors, it is possible to overcome the present difficulties only by means of consolidation of the efforts of business and the state. “The goals of the business and the state should be united. Only those countries have carried out the breakthrough which had the state will, the ideological unanimity, and the general spirit for development.”

The authors stress that they do not mean the restoration of the prior administrative system, “It is necessary to aim at releasing the creative forces of the Russian businesses and on creation of maximally favorable conditions for them rather than for some abstract investors.”

Authors of the document stress that this is not a matter of economic development and strengthening of Russia’s international positions alone. It is a matter of the nation’s survival and preserving its state unity: “If the present economic situation continues, it’s only a matter of time until the nation falls apart.”

The Konservator weekly has started arguing with the Serafimov Club members. According to the weekly, the stagnation of Russia is actually directly connected with the position of the elite. However, this position has been determined not by any mystical fears of some possible misfortunes that never eventuate, but rather by concerns about their own fate.

Konservator says, “Our elite as a whole – rather than a body of nice people like the authors of the manifesto – is most afraid of ‘Russia’s revival’ in any form.” That is why it will block all further growth absolutely harmless for itself, for instance, making plans for “further development of the raw materials sector”.

According to Konservator, the reason is very simple, “Our elite does not feel strong enough to be able to control a nation which is any stronger than Russia is at present.”

Konservator thinks that the main objective of the manifesto authors is to find a secure for the present elite version of the national idea based on the “not changing the privatization results”.

According to Konservator, this is the root of all anticipations of the Russian elite and the reason for its ardent willingness to preserve things as they are, “Caesar said, it is better to be the first in the village than the second in the city… Our first guys only want the village to remain a village… No matter how much the weary Russian horse demonstrates its good temper and lack of rebellion, they will continue grudging hay for it, fearing that it might start galloping and throw them.”

The Vedomosti newspaper says that the columnists of the Serafimov Club are targeting the government: Mikhail Kasianov is to become their first victim, since he is unable to cope with the natural resources orientation of the Russian economy. The second target is Finance Minster Alexei Kudrin, who considers the budget proficiency to be very significant. The third is Herman Gref, who is in charge of the economic development general direction.

Vedomosti says, “The core of United Russia’s position in the upcoming election campaign will be unbridled criticism of the government.” In these terms, the columnists have done their best.

At the same time, the paper notes that the authors of the manifesto are not addressing voters, but the sponsors of the next election campaign: tycoons. The stakes at the parliamentary elections are extremely high for them: “They will raffle off not only Duma seats, but also the shares for participation in the campaign team for Putin’s second presidential race.”

Besides, the paper notes, it should be taken into account that unlike the previous elections, the Russian financial-industrial groups have come with billions of free cash for the forthcoming elections. There is something to fight for.

Vedomosti says, “Kasianov’s cabinet has nothing to be jealous of – our political Nietzsche followers are planning to make money for the presumed ‘future Russia drawing’ from its political funeral.”

Overall, the election chopping has started on the top.

In these terms, the latest warning from the perennial Vladimir Zhirinovsky in his interview with the Mir Novostei magazine comes to mind: “Russia is pregnant with another Ivan the Terrible!” Zhirinovsky says Russia needs a tough and strong-willed leader who would be able to stop the brawling at the top, would make bureaucrats honest, make politicians smart, and would restore the nation’s former international prestige.

As for Putin, Zhirinovsky advises him to leave his post before it is too late: “If Putin declines to run for a second term, he will leave good memories about himself; while if he remains for four more years, the situation will be different, and he realizes it. He will have to carry out the energy reforms, housing and utilities reforms. All hell will break loose! Next time, he will leave the Kremlin followed by curses.”

Which Russian leaders has ever stepped down at the peak of his popularity? On the other hand, serious observers have long noticed: when the authorities want to send a message, Zhirinovsky is their mouthpiece…