The “gas war” (and some other happenings as well) has revealed the existence of a certain gap between the position of V. Putin, who masterminded the successfully concluded negotiations with Russia’s major partner Ukraine, and that of Medvedev, who a day earlier, on 17 January, had quite ineptly hosted a gas summit in Moscow attended by representatives of gas consumer and transitor nations who were unanimous and adamant in their criticism of Russia. Last month, this “gap” manifested itself even more clearly on the two following occasions: at the conference devoted to the issue of stabilizing the situation in the real sector of the economy, which took place at the Moscow Saliut plant in midJanuary, and in the interview given by Medvedev to the Bulgarian press in late January. “The implementation of the anti-crisis program proceeds slower than planned and slower than is required by the situation in the economy… Many things are being done by us inexcusably slowly… In October last year I gave the Government a number of instructions, about 30 percent of which have been implemented. This matter should be looked into”. Medvedev also mentioned that in October – December 2008, the volume of production contracted, enterprises experienced shortage of circulating assets, and it became impossible for them to obtain credits. Also at the end of the month Medvedev said in a TV interview as follows: “In fact, we maintain very good relations with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
We are colleagues way back and I worked under direction of President Putin. Today we work together, me as President and he as Prime Minister nominated to this office by me. Thus, we maintain good and friendly relations but this does not mean that the President should turn blind eye to the existing problems.” So far as the sphere of public relations is concerned, Medvedev’s remarks were responded to by United Russia which organized, on January 31, an all-Russian action in support of the authorities. The press-release concerning the action contained the following statement: “…Russia’s President Medvedev, the RF Government and the United Russia party under the leadership of Vladimir Putin carry on serious work on taking Russia’s economy out of crisis”. However, the emphasis of the next passage was slightly different: “On 31st of January, there were country-wide actions in support of the anticrisis measures being taken by the RF President Dmitrii Medvedev and Chairman of the Government, Party leader Vladimir Putin”.
I think that the importance of this polemics should not be overestimated. Similar situations were plentiful in the previous epoch as well, when presidential authority, both formally and actually, belonged to V. Putin, and when ministers were subject to periodical bouts of criticism (most frequently, It should be borne in mind that part of the gas kept in the Ukrainian storages has already been bought and pumped in by the mediating company Rosukrenergo, whose services, as we are once again promised, will be rejected – and once again it will turn out that it is not easy to do so.
this criticism was aimed at Minister of Public Health and Social Development M. Zurabov and Minister of Economic Development G. Gref) and the Government as a whole, never to result in any practical conclusions. Such conclusions were made only on the eve of the 2007 parliamentary elections.
This does not eliminate the possibility that some kind of mutual or non-mutual dissatisfaction does exist in the background of this polemics, but it should be borne in mind that the main factor determining the Head of State’s capacity to pursue an independent policy is the ability to replace personnel and implement political decisions which are different from those previously taken. So far, D. Medvedev has failed to demonstrate such capacity which, however, cannot rule out the possibility of a certain escalation of his independence. Be that what it might, but so far he simply has no one to rely on in the state apparatus, it being completely devoid of “his own” people.
Some actions taken by Medvedev on the political arena in January are indeed difficult to interpret:
on the one hand, without giving any reasons for acting so, Medvedev personally confirms or submits to Parliament certain draft laws designed to further curb citizens’ rights, while on the other, somebody makes public statements on his behalf whereby he seems to promise some vague improvements in the future. Thus, on the very eve of New Year, D. Medvedev signed a law which had caused a lot of indignation not only amidst the legal community but even in the RF Public Chamber. The law has scrapped the right to trial by jury for serious and most serious crimes connected with terrorism and extremism. This right is now denied to citizens facing charges under such articles as “terrorist act”, “organization of an illegal armed formation or participation therein”, “mass riots”, etc. It should be noted that equally deprived of this right would be those whose actions have been classified as complicity in committing these crimes, which means that the law targets a relatively wide range of persons.
The right to trial by jury was not
– even in the present situation juries from time to time did pass sentences of acquittal under the above articles.
Slightly less important - although potentially even more scandalous - is the draft law which envisages that governors - that is, appointed officials - should be vested with the right to put forth to bodies of local self government the issue of removing from office the head of a local self-government. This draft law was submitted to parliament on behalf of Medvedev without having been professionally discussed. The fact that this draft law is less important than the previous one can be gleaned from the fact that the head of a local self-government can, all the same, be arrested and removed from office by law enforcement agencies - which had indeed become a widespread practice2. In other words, the new law will address the relatively infrequent situation when the federal center has no obvious complaints about the activities of a given mayor, and an appointed governor has stricken no deal with the lawenforcement agencies that they should remove from office that same mayor (if he happens to be troublesome) by arresting him – but, nevertheless, the governor now has the means to get rid of such a mayor by exerting certain influence on the deputies.
In January, two important statements were made on behalf of Medvedev. One was made by V.
Surkov, the author of many among the political initiatives carried out in recent years. He promised to clarify the issue as to the introduction of alterations into the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure in the part concerning state secrets, high treason and espionage. The draft law submitted to Parliament by the Government in December envisages that the definition of spying should be broadened to include “rendering financial, material, consultative, or other assistance to a foreign or international organization, or to representatives thereof, in activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional system, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity and statehood.” As in the case of mayors, the significance of this draft law should not be overestimated, because some dubious “spy trials” have already been conducted in Russia, while dissidents are dealt with under the well-known Article 282 of the RF Criminal Code, concerned with extremist activities, although the authorities use it with relative circumspection. In the two capitals, with their active mass media, the cases of it being actually applied are extremely rare, and when this article is applied in the provinces the courts, as a rule, pass suspended jail sentences.
The second statement was made by D. Muratov, Editor-in-Chief of the Novaia Gazeta – a semioppositional newspaper - after his meeting with D. Medvedev, in the course of which they had discussed the murders of the prominent lawyer S. Markelov and journalist A. Baburova. According to In recent years, criminal proceedings were initiated against approximately one quarter of heads of the municipalities which are the capitals of the Federation’s subjects.
Muratov, D. Medvedev expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and explained that he had not done so publicly only in order not to influence the criminal investigation (!). At one time, V.
Putin had gone so far as to negatively characterize another murdered journalist, A. Politkovskaia, but the situation then was different – the victim being an outspoken opponent of V. Putin and R. Kadyrov.
As regards the new victims of terror, they were not involved in any overt oppositional activities3 and it beggars comprehension why a public expression of condolences to the victims’ relatives on the part of the Head of State could have been harmful.
It is rather difficult to establish the motive for these murders (it seems that Baburova’s assassination was not premeditated) – Markelov was the defense counsel in too many cases of symbolic importance, including a number of “Chechen” ones. We should recall not only his defense of the Kungaev family in the case against the notorious Colonel Budanov, but also the cases concerning murders, disappearances and the use of torture in the territory of Chechnya which have reached the Strasbourg Court. In this connection, one should not exclude the possibility of a link existing between this crime and the murder, in Austria, of the political emigrant U. Israilov. Although that latter assassination was practically ignored by the Russian mass media, the case is fraught with very unpleasant consequences for Russia. Israilov, the former body-guard of the head of Chechnya R. Kadyrov, had filed a suit against his ex-boss with the same Strasbourg Court, accusing Kadyrov of personally committing a number of grave crimes (Russia, in its turn, had demanded that Israilov be extradited from Austria). Several suspects were arrested in the wake of the murder, all of them Chechens.
In January, the Russian authorities, for the first time, publicly admitted the severity of the economic crisis engulfing Russia. RF Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Finance A. Kudrin announced in Parliament that in 2009 inflation could rise by more than 13 % in connection with decline in demand and devaluation of the ruble, and that the outflow of capital from Russia was expected to be at the level of 100 – 110 billion USD. “Budget revenue may tumble from the planned 10.9 trillion rubles to 6.5 trillion rubles, which would mean a 4.4 trillion-rubles drop in revenues by comparison with the plans. If we do not change our budget targets, and simply replace this lost revenue with money from the reserve funds, the budget deficit will be 6.1 percent of GDP… The rate of economic growth… will be close to zero”.
In January, V. Putin made two rather symbolic public addresses aimed at foreign audiences. These are his speech at Davos and his interview to the Bloomberg agency. Prime Minister Putin acknowledged that the Russian economy was hit by a deep crisis. However, according to Putin, the only culprits were the US and EU authorities, while their Russian counterparts were blameless of any wrongdoing – Putin once again has not budged a single inch from his position of never admitting his mistakes. Among the positive measures being taken by the Russian Government, Putin noted the accumulation of the budget’s reserve funds, which made it possible for the authorities to maintain the stability of the ruble long enough for the citizens to take well-weighted decisions on the future of their savings;
and the increase in the social expenditures of the Russian budget. So far as Russian institutions were concerned, Putin, as usual, spoke of protecting private property, and attracting foreign investments, decreasing the state regulation of the economy (here he referred to the negative experience of the USSR). At the same time, he said that the economy (and especially the banking sector) should be further concentrated and assisted.
As regards the world economic situation, Putin put forth several ideas. The first idea was that the activity of national administrations in the sphere of monetary policy should be further limited (as an example he referred to the EU rules and regulations). “The entire economic growth system, where one regional center prints money without respite and consumes material wealth, while another regional center manufactures inexpensive goods and saves money printed by other governments, has suffered a major setback”, said V. Putin. He also mentioned disproportions between “the scale of financial operations”, “corporate appetites” and “the fundamental value of assets”, as well as between “real-life corporate effectiveness”, “the increased burden on international loans” and “the sources of their collateral”. Putin warned against the danger of protectionism and called for an increase in hydrocarbon prices: “It is necessary to return to a balanced price based on an equilibrium between supply and de Lawyer Markelov accepted both some formally oppositional cases (for example, he was the defense counsel in the case of the Khimki human rights activist M. Beketov - an active opponent of the administration of the town of Khimki) and formally pro-authorities cases (for example, he was the defender representing the plaintiffs in the Budanov case – one of the cases of symbolic significance for R. Kadyrov.
mand, to strip pricing of a speculative element” (although he did not specify how to achieve this). And he once again emphasized the necessity of introducing new “regional reserve currencies”. This time, however, the ruble was not mentioned as one of such currencies.