Dmitry Medvedev, Parliament Speakers Discuss New Parliament Center Project
Both houses of the Russian parliament, the State Duma and the Federation Council, are the first candidates to move to a newly developed area which will be annexed to Moscow this year.
President Dmitry Medvedev met with parliamentary speakers, Valentina Matviyenko and Sergei Naryshkin, to discuss the construction of a new parliament center. On April 9, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin presented his Moscow Expansion Project, aimed at annexing parts of the Moscow metropolitan area to create a bigger urban entity. The plan is to develop a whole new area of government buildings 10 kilometers south of the MKAD beltway, the city’s current boundary.
A new parliament center should create a comfortable environment for the lawmakers’ work, Medvedev said in his opening remarks. The existing premises were not built for parliament and do not meet its functional needs.
In the Soviet era, the building now used by the State Duma housed Gosplan, the state planning authority, and the one taken over by the Federation Council in the 1990s was initially built for Gosstroy, the state construction committee. Proposals to move the parliament to more suitable premises have been voiced repeatedly ever since. In 1998, the State Duma asked the government to allocate $290 million to build a new center, but President Boris Yeltsin rejected that plan in his state of the nation address.
United Russia’s Andrei Makarov, a long-time member of the lower house, agreed that in many developed countries parliament buildings are built specifically to meet the lawmaking needs, which was never the case in Russia. They need large enough rooms to discuss bills as well as premises to receive petitioners, and the building must have enough equipment, he said. At present each deputy shares his or her computer and telephone with two assistants. Parliament hearings should be broadcast by a dedicated TV channel, not only online.
Communist deputy Andrei Andreyev agrees that the State Duma building is not suitable for effective work. He also complained of deputies having unequal premises depending on their party status.
According to Medvedev’s very general description, the parliament center should be of a “reasonable” size, “complemented by a number of the necessary administrative and ancillary buildings.” Residential opportunities should be created for its staff, he added.
At present a number of Duma members live in an apartment building in northwestern Moscow, while others use service apartments in a building owned by the Kremlin administrative office.
According to estimates, construction of a new parliament center may take up to five years. Leaders of parliamentary parties discussed the issue with Naryshkin shortly before his meeting with the president. According to sources, they spoke of the need to thoroughly review the details of the project as well as Moscow’s expansion in general. Incidentally, they pointed out that a similar project to expand Paris was considered for 40 years, and one to increase London was debated for at least 20.
Foreign Experts on Russia’s Development Prospects
The new Russian government will need to formulate an action plan. Apart from a report prepared by the authors of Strategy 2020, it could also consider the proposals of foreign contributors, who have advised that privatization be accelerated and focus shifted away from innovation.
The report on the foreign experts’ views is almost as long as Strategy 2020, which was drafted with their assistance. Foreign experts attended public conferences on various aspects of the Strategy and meetings of working groups, and also contributed to evaluating it.
They say that much has been done over the past year but point to political risks that could hinder the implementation of their recommendations, especially on such controversial issues as increasing the retirement age or lifting oil export duties.
Polish economist Marek Dombrowski believes that the establishment of special institutions, such as an ombudsman to champion investors’ rights, is not the best solution because such structures cannot help create uniform business rules. Creating an international financial center in Moscow is too ambitious a goal, he said. It would be more realistic to create a center for the domestic market, which would allow Russian companies to place shares as effectively as can be done abroad. Dombrowski also doubts that the proposed decrease in insurance contributions is compatible with the strategic principle of budget stability.
Anne Krueger, a professor of international economics at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and former First Deputy Managing Director of the IMF, said the time for innovation will start in Russia only after 2020, and that until then it should focus on the competitive export-oriented advantages of its national economy. This view is partly shared by Gerard Roland from the Economics Department of the University of California, Berkeley. He said that the energy sector, a key industry for Russia, can become a high-tech industry if the right conditions are created for energy companies, research centers and venture funds to interact.
Jonathan Eaton from the Pennsylvania State University said that Russia should not blindly copy the Western experience. The Soviet experience of science and education could help Russia realize its advantages in terms of human capital, the professor said.
Russia cannot emulate India or China, large emerging economies that have become global economic drivers, said Richard Baldwin, a professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute, Geneva. Russia can either continue to export raw materials or try to diversify its economy, he said, and suggested that Russia focus on urban development. Cities are the centers of innovation and are therefore attractive to investors, the professor said. For example, London does not produce anything yet is very attractive and competitive in many ways.
William Megginson, an expert on privatization from the University of Oklahoma, agrees with the Strategy 2020 authors in that privatization should be accelerated, but shares the view of Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who said that privatization should start with state banks and end with the oil and gas sector.
Political Parties Prepare to Celebrate May Day
The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR) has sent invitations to President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to take part in its rally on May 1.
FNPR President Mikhail Shmakov commented that it was their usual practice to invite the state leaders, and 2012 was no different in this sense from 2011 or 2010. It was still unclear whether they would accept or decline, he added.
The presidential press secretary, Natalya Timakova, confirmed that both leaders had received the invitations but she could not confirm their possible participation.
The United Russia party discussed the events it is planning for May 1, 8, and 9 with the regional branches. First Deputy Secretary of the UR General Council’s Presidium Sergei Zheleznyak said they would hold a rally on May 1 jointly with the FNPR and expressed hope that tens of thousands of people supporting the government’s policy of social guarantees would do the same.
His colleague Andrei Ilnitsky added that on May 1 they will take part in a rally together with the trade unions and on May 9 would stage a joint rally with war veterans’ organizations. He denied, however, that they had discussed any moves to oppose the March of Millions, which Left Front coordinator Sergei Udaltsov was organizing in Moscow on May 6.
In St. Petersburg, a number of former members of the Communist Party (KPRF), who had to leave in the face of a campaign of purges the party has been conducting over the past five years, took preparatory steps to establish an alternative communist party.
St. Petersburg Union of Communists Executive Committee’s Semyon Borzenko confirmed that “the communists opposing Zyuganov’s policy have nothing to hope for; the KPRF leadership has led the party into an impasse.”
The activists planned to set up an inter-regional communist public organization by late May that would do the groundwork for founding a party. Thus, Gennady Zyuganov’s supporters have reared their own rivals.
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