President orders Interior Ministry reshuffle
Last weekend, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev undertook the largest reshuffle the Interior Ministry has seen for years. First Deputy Minister Mikhail Sukhodolsky, Deputy Minister Yevgeny Shkolov, Deputy Minister and Investigative Committee head Alexei Anichin and Head of the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Department Vladislav Piotrovsky all lost their posts. The first three, according to the official account, were removed in a routine personnel rotation, but Piotrovsky’s replacement by Sukhodolsky is a different story.
The presidential decrees were published last Saturday. Kommersant’s sources inside the ministry describe these changes as the most far reaching it has seen in its recent history.
The president changed generals in three key positions in one fell swoop, and reappointed four deputy ministers.
The official statement was quick to follow. “Mikhail Sukhodolsky, Yevgeny Shkolov and Alexei Anichin passed their re-evaluations, each showing themselves in a positive light,” said Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev. “They are highly responsible leaders with great experience in their field. At the same time, we have the principle of personnel rotation and so the president decided to appoint Shkolov and Anichin to other positions.”
That explanation failed to satisfy everyone. “The considerable changes made by the president in the upper echelons of the ministry are more likely to puzzle than to prompt either approval or censure,” said Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of the State Duma’s security committee.
True, the Anichin and Shkolov cases may well fit the rotation rule. But that of Sukhodolsky stands apart. General Sukhodolsky rose through the ranks of the Interior Ministry with lightning speed. In 2002, he took over the main directorate for non-departmental security, in 2005 he became a deputy minister and in 2008, first deputy minister. His name was often mentioned among those likely to replace Nurgaliev when the time comes.
Therefore Sukhodolsky’s appointment to St. Petersburg is seen by many sources in the ministry as a serious demotion.
Two possible explanations are circulating in the ministry corridors. One is that such an ambitious person as Sukhodolsky would only have agreed to the change if he had reason to hope for a new and higher post further down the line. The second story suggests Sukhodolsky was forced to accept the regional job for lack of any other offered him.
As for Vladislav Piotrovsky, he appears to have failed his re-evaluation, submitted his resignation report and was sacked by the president. Nurgaliev said that the qualification commission put some personal questions to Piotrovsky, but his answers failed to satisfy. It was therefore unanimously decided not to reappoint him.
Alexander Gorovoi was appointed the new first deputy minister. In the past, Gorovoi headed the Interior Department in the Krasnoyarsk Territory and that for the Stavropol Territory.
Putin’s Popular Front: Workers, unite!
Vladimir Putin has called on Russian companies to join his broad Popular Front alongside public associations and individuals. Some seem decidedly disconcerted by the idea.
The procedure was changed after companies started complaining of being denied membership, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov explained. “We had a lot of raised eyebrows from company executives,” said Dmitry Babich, a Popular Front official, “Why is it that public associations are allowed to join but the workforce isn’t?”
Until recently, companies could join up as members of professional associations. A source close to the Russian Technologies corporation said they could be considered members after the Russian Engineering Union supported the Popular Front as a public association.
The Siberian Business Union, an industrial group, said 39,000 of its employees have applied for Popular Front membership as individuals.
Now membership is also open to companies. There is no definite procedure, but Babich suggested they hold a general vote. If the majority agrees, the company can apply online or at one of the prime minister’s regional offices.
However, many companies seem at a loss over how to respond to this unexpected proposal. Gazprom representatives declined to comment, as did Viktor Vekselberg’s IES Holding, Oleg Deripaska’s En+, and even AvtoVAZ.
Spokespeople for Aeroflot and Rosneft said they have not yet discussed the issue.
“The Popular Front concept is developing so rapidly we are failing to keep up with it. We need time to make a decision,” was the slick explanation offered by Alexander Malis, president of the Euroset mobile retailer.
Some companies firmly rejected the proposal. VimpelCom spokesperson Anna Aibasheva said supporting any political or religious movement is in conflict with the mobile operator’s corporate ethics code.
MTS, a public company traded on the NYSE, cannot support any political groups, explained its representative, Valeria Kuzmenko. “At the same time, the company’s social responsibility ethos includes active support for all the government’s social development projects as well as high technology and innovation-related initiatives,” she added hastily.
A representative from Utair said any carrier that serves a broad range of customers cannot afford to support the Popular Front because it risks offending those with different political preferences.
Vadim Dymov of Dymov Sausage said his company focuses on making high-quality products, and that joining the Popular Front is not part of that effort. He also said he hopes that Popular Front membership will not become obligatory, as that would reek of the old Soviet Communist Party approach.
Yevgeny Fyodorov, head of the lower house economic policy committee, warned that Russia’s successful development requires a total consolidation of the population, public associations, and businesses.
Anton Danilov-Danilyan, vice president of the Business Russia association, pointed out that the front is not a legal entity; therefore, joining it involves ideological support rather than legally binding membership.
Yelena Lukyanova from Russia’s Public Chamber said it is illegal for companies to express any party-political affiliation. Therefore, by joining the Popular Front, companies are simply agreeing to host United Russia groups in disguise, she added.
Belarusian riot police disperse export protest
Tough export bans introduced by the Belarusian government triggered a protest on the Polish border. Riot police were dispatched to disperse the protest. The Belarusian opposition believes the country is on the verge of mass protests against the rapidly deteriorating economic situation.
On Saturday, the national Council of Ministers passed Resolution No. 755, which severely tightens the limits on Belarusian citizens and foreigners exporting goods, and lists banned export items.
Under the resolution, special duties are levied on exported pork, poultry, sugar, flour and rennet cheese (up to two kg), butter (up to one kg), Belarusian tobacco products (only two packs), canned meat and dairy produce (up to five cans). Belarusians are forbidden to export Atlant refrigerators, gas ranges and cement. People started buying household appliances en masse during the ruble devaluation to sell them abroad in an attempt to safeguard their savings. Motorists traveling abroad can top up their fuel tanks and carry an extra ten liters of gasoline across the border once in five days. Minsk explained these measures as their attempt “to facilitate the state’s economic stability and to guarantee citizens’ constitutional right to a decent standard of living.”
These increased restrictions sparked a protest in the Grodno Region on the Polish border where many local residents rely on border trade for their income. After the resolution was adopted, border guards began stopping Belarusian trucks bound for Poland, including those that cross the border twice daily. This caused widespread popular discontent. On Sunday, over 100 truck drivers blocked the Bruzgi border checkpoint at 6:00 p.m. When the Grodno riot police arrived, the protestors linked arms and sang the Belarusian national anthem. The riot police had to use tear gas and truncheons to disperse them. According to Kommersant’s sources at the scene, the police used considerable force to disperse the protest, and continued to beat those they detained.
Alexander Tishchenko, head of the Belarusian State Customs Committee’s press service, said the government was trying to prevent cheap goods being exported and fight traffic jams created by shuttle traders at the border. “You can cross the border by train, bus, bicycle or foot as often as you like. But you can only cross the border by car once every five days,” explained Tishchenko.
Analysts have slammed the authorities’ actions. Former Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Chigir said the government resolution restricting exports was “deeply ill-conceived.” He said the entire world is striving to expand exports, that exports generated foreign-currency revenue and helped create jobs in conditions of the Belarusian crisis. “Why hinder that?” he asked.
The Belarusian opposition is trying to exploit the situation. Vladimir Neklyayev, leader of the “Tell the Truth” civilian campaign, told Kommersant that spontaneous social protests were erupting across the country. He said current local protests will only continue to escalate.
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