MOSCOW, December 4 (RIA Novosti) Western countries kick up a fuss over Russia's elections / Russians turn away from liberals / New State Duma may be dissolved before its term ends / Russia to sell India 300 upgraded tanks / Russia's government forms strategic gas reserve / Thousands in Russia make their own pistols
Western countries kick up a fuss over Russia's elections
The December 2 elections to the lower house of Russia's parliament have predictably come under criticism from Western countries and international organizations. Although they have failed to work out a common approach to many important contemporary issues, the United States and Europe always show a remarkable unanimity whenever it comes to discussing democracy in Russia. The West has called for investigations into alleged violations at Sunday's parliamentary vote in Russia, giving no details of the said violations. In other words, the Kremlin has not been presented with any specific evidence.
Building on the statements of disapproving international observers, Western countries are already considering their projected response to the March 2008 presidential elections in Russia. They say the outcome of the March vote will greatly influence their further policies toward Russia, including that of the European Union, the United Nations and the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations. But is this really true?
Russia's lack of democracy and the imperfections of its election practices have been two favorite targets for Western criticism ever since the collapse of the communist regime. However, Moscow has never suffered much from this kind of pressure. No international sanctions were ever imposed, and the idea was not even discussed in earnest. Russia was not shut out of any pro-Western organizations, and they never really tried. No harsh demands have been put on any Russian leader that he ensure the Russian people's rights and freedoms. It follows that Western partners prefer to make a lot of fuss and then forget about it.
The Kremlin, with its growing energy clout, feels it has no need to fear observers discontented with the outcome of a vote. As for Russia's democratic development, it isn't even an issue as far as the Kremlin is concerned.
What we probably should do in this situation is ask Western critics of Russian elections what alternatives they see to the triumphant march of United Russia. Former chess champion and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov with his United Civil Front? They would most probably say it is "up to the Russian voters." And so it is - Russian voters make the only choice left to them by a system which the Kremlin's Western partners criticize loudly but leave alone.
Russians turn away from liberals
The social results of the December 2 parliamentary elections in Russia are no less important than the political outcome. The populist and nationalist parties have won about 30% of the vote, which means that the left-wing tilt is becoming stronger in Russia, an energy analyst writes in the business daily Vedomosti.
Konstantin Simonov, director general of the National Energy Security Fund established in summer 2006 to study the interrelation between political factors and the oil and gas sector in Russia, writes that the Communist Party, Liberal Democrats and A Just Russia together received more than 27% of the vote.
The figures are 28% for Moscow and 35% for St. Petersburg, which is indicative because the middle class mainly lives in large cities. There is a major share of paternalist voters among the electorate of the pro-Kremlin United Russia.
The liberal parties have suffered a crushing defeat and now have to choose between three options, Simonov writes.
They can continue weeping in the belief that they simply need to be more active in telling the electorate more about themselves and the people will see the light. This will completely marginalize these parties, which may soon sprout militant wings and intellectual Internet ghettos.
Or they can wait for the collapse of the regime, praying that the oil gods turn their back on Russia. But the current energy situation does not look like collapsing.
The third option is to admit their political death. One of these liberal parties has long been leaning towards social democracy, while another, which claims to be fighting bureaucracy and state capitalism, is led by ex-government officials and heads of natural monopolies.
The issue of the "new right-wing forces" is not new in Russia. They are probably nonexistent in this country, but we can try to develop them, the expert concludes.
New State Duma may be dissolved before its term ends
The Kremlin intends to use the new State Duma, the lower house of parliament, to put a greater distance between the parliamentary and presidential elections. To attain this goal, it will need to dissolve the Duma before its term ends, or force Vladimir Putin's successor to resign.
Holding two such elections in a row is very difficult and risky for the Kremlin, which did not dare to alter this during the previous election cycle. Judging by Putin's comments on the results of the December 2 parliamentary elections, the task of doing this will be assigned to his successor.
The president said at a Monday meeting with the government that he would issue an order on the convocation of the new Duma before the proper date, but also hinted that its term might also expire sooner than stipulated by law.
There are two ways to put a greater distance between the presidential and parliamentary elections. One is the resignation of the president or the dissolution of the Duma, which implies early elections three months later.
The other is extending the term of the president or parliament by amending legislation. But this will solve the problem only four years later, as Russian law prohibits extending the term of an organ of power while its term is still in effect.
Experts like the Kremlin's idea.
Dmitry Badovsky, deputy director of the Institute of Social Systems, said: "Major efforts were taken to mobilize the electorate ahead of the parliamentary elections. It is extremely difficult to keep up the people's mood and activity for another three months [after such elections], especially when the issue concerns changes in the top layer of power. This is a political rather than a technical issue."
Yelena Dubrovina, a member of the Central Election Commission, shares this view. She said: "We must put a greater distance between the parliamentary and the presidential elections. We cannot act now, because the election dates have been set and approved. But we can do something about the next elections. The parliamentary and presidential elections should not exhaust the people."
If Putin's plan is implemented, the powers of the new Duma or the new president will be terminated before their official expiry in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Russia to sell India 300 upgraded tanks
Rosoboronexport, Russia's state arms exporter, has signed a contract with India to supply 347 T-90S tanks worth $1.24 billion. Against all odds, Russia remains India's chief supplier of military hardware largely thanks to its readiness to export technology, and good relations between Rosoboronexport's management and Indian authorities.
The news that India signed a large contract with Russia at the end of last week came from a source in a federal department.
Another source familiar with the negotiations said: "the matter concerns upgraded T-90S tanks; there will be about 120 vehicles in the first shipment."
Russia and India have been negotiating the contract for several years.
T-90S tanks must gradually replace the outdated T-55 and earlier T-72 versions. All in all, India plans to adopt 1,657 new T-90S tanks.
India agreed to sign the new contract despite problems that have plagued other agreements with Rosoboronexport.
Among them, Russia recently proposed that India increase the price of the upgrading contract for the carrier cruiser Admiral Gorshkov by $1 billion. Disruptions occurred during the construction of the first Project 1135.6 frigate at the Yantar shipyard, and delays marked the acceptance of Il-38SD patrol aircraft, upgraded in Russia.
Experts, however, note that Russia still remains the main supplier of military products to the Indian market.
"India is a very proud country - it spurns compromises with Western countries, and they are unwilling to share military technology with it," said Ruslan Pukhov, member of the Defense Ministry public council.
"The only country aside from Russia ready to transfer technology is Israel, but it is engaged in a number of projects with the United States. India has been unable to develop a tank of its own, while German and British vehicles are much costlier than Russian ones."
Maxim Pyadushkin, editor of the aerospace edition of the Russia/CIS Observer, said that India was a more open market than China: "Everyone is ready to sell weapons to New Delhi."
But New Delhi, he said, does not always buy arms at international tenders, while Rosoboronexport's management has a good personal relationship with local authorities.
Russia's government forms strategic gas reserve
Russia's natural gas monopoly Gazprom has become a potential owner of over 5 trillion cubic meters of gas. The government has approved a list of 32 gas deposits that can be transferred to companies for development without auctions, and these fields are likely to go to Gazprom, experts say.
Although the resolution has been made public, this does not mean that the deposits will be immediately distributed, said an official from the Industry and Energy Ministry. According to him, the resolution is aimed at tightening control over the distribution of mineral resources. The Ministry of Natural Resources, which used to decide who will hold the license, will have to coordinate its decision with the government and the departments concerned in the future.
Gazprom managers have repeatedly said that major gas fields should be transferred to it without auctions. "The government will probably raise some money through the auction, but it will lose out strategically because no other company can guarantee rational use of such deposits," said a Gazprom manager on December 3, trying to explain Gazprom's stance.
He declined to say which deposits from this list are of primary interest to Gazprom.
Another Gazprom source said the company can develop all the listed fields. Earlier, Gazprom asked the government to transfer the Chayandinskoye field and some blocks of the Sakhalin-III project to it without auction (the resolution mentions the Kirinsky block of the project with gas reserves of 75.4 billion cubic meters).
"Gazprom held only an exploration license for some fields in the Yamal Peninsula. The company is likely to get these very deposits without auction," said Maxim Shein, head of the research department at the BrokerCreditService investment company.
"The cost of licenses for other deposits will most probably depend on [the government's] political will. Their purchase by a state-controlled company is in fact the transfer of budget funds from one pocket into another," said Alfa Bank analyst Konstantin Batunin.
Thousands in Russia make their own pistols
The Irkutsk Region police department reported on Monday the death of a clandestine craftsman who manufactured homemade pistols. The man was discovered after shooting himself with a firearm he had made.
Experts say that in the regions making homemade guns is a hobby of anyone who cares to put their hand to the craft - according to Interior Ministry statistics, police identify 16 such artisans daily.
Homemade firearms are manufactured in the regions without control and in large numbers.
"The process requires minimal metalwork or turning skills," said Alexander Nikolayev, general director of a firm that helps people to obtain arms licenses.
"The usual practice is to convert rubber-bullet firing or gas pistols and flare guns to genuine weapons capable of killing, or to produce so-called 'shooting pens', the length of pipe, using a small nail and a spring. As a rule, such devices can fire two shots."
The expert said arms are made chiefly for self-protection or to guard crops, and are very seldom used in domestic crimes.
"Professionals will always find somewhere to buy real weapons," Nikolayev said.
The Interior Ministry admitted that the manufacture of crude pistols has become widespread.
"In the first nine months of 2007 police have registered 4,300 instances of unlawful manufacture of weapons, mainly among workers of large arms factories, for example in Tula and Izhevsk," the newspaper was told at the Ministry's press-service.
They said that "now arms factory personnel are having their wages raised, and the number of clandestine arms makers is on the decline."
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