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Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, December 27

© Alex StefflerRussian Press - Behind the Headlines
Russian Press - Behind the Headlines - Sputnik International
State Duma Deputy Criticized for Reportedly Misusing SIM Card \ Kremlin Unhappy with Medvedev’s Government \ Russian Economy Spends Good Year Bracing for New Crisis

MOSCOW, December 27 (RIA Novosti)


State Duma Deputy Criticized for Reportedly Misusing SIM Card

Andrei Lugovoi, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Security Committee, has asked the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General’s Office to look into reports that Ilya Ponomaryov, a member of the A Just Russia Party, had allowed Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov to use a secure communications network reserved for members of parliament.

Lugovoi says the SIM cards are provided to members of parliament for use in Moscow and across the country. The subscription plan is financed from the federal budget.

In December 2007, Ponomaryov received an official SIM card after winning a State Duma seat on the A Just Russia ticket. The card was issued by cell phone operator MTS in line with an unlimited corporate VIP tariff plan, which costs almost 6,900 rubles ($225) per month. The State Duma Administration gets a discount and pays 1,700 rubles ($55) for each tariff plan.

In 2008, Ponomaryov gave this SIM card to his Left Front colleague Sergei Udaltsov, who is still using it. Therefore, Lugovoi argues, Ponomaryov should be deprived of parliamentary immunity.

Lugovoi is confident that Udaltsov is using the communications network in violation of the Criminal Code’s Article 165 (“Inflicting Material Losses”), and that Ponomaryov has violated Article 285 (“Malfeasance”).

At the same time, Ponomaryov may face an administrative penalty in line with Article 7.27.1 of the Administrative Offenses Code, if his actions don’t fall under the Criminal Code. In that case, he would have to pay a fine five times the amount of the losses incurred.

Ponomaryov has denied the accusations and says that it is standard State Duma practice to give official SIM cards to other persons.

He says members of parliament often give these cards to their spokespersons, and that Udaltsov’s wife, Anastasia Udaltsova who is also Ponomaryov’s aide, uses his card, too. Ponomaryov claims that State Duma SIM cards do not protect their owners from wiretapping.

Natalia Gerasimova, First Deputy Chairperson of the State Duma’s House Regulations Committee, said an administrative fine was the maximum penalty for this violation.

Previously, Udaltsov told Izvestia that he did not know the origin of his telephone number.


Kremlin Unhappy with Medvedev’s Government

Rumor has it that the Kremlin is dissatisfied with the government’s failure to implement Putin’s election promises and to launch unpopular reforms.

President Vladimir Putin will meet with the government today to discuss its performance in 2012. He said during his December 20 news conference that he is satisfied with the government’s performance, but, according to Vedomosti sources, he has reason not to be.

The government is dragging out implementation of the six-year plan, a Kremlin source said. That view is shared by federal and government officials.

The biggest problems are affordable housing and the housing and utilities sector, said a government source: nothing has been done to help large families, to develop housing lease programs, to improve the quality of utility services and to attract private investors to the sector.

The government has not approved an action plan to 2018 or a socioeconomic development strategy to 2030 because it was decided that they should include the president’s proposals made in his address to parliament, a government source said. These documents are to be approved in January 2013.

The government regularly reports on its actions, but most of them were insufficient, a Kremlin source said. The situation is especially difficult with the allocation of land plots to large families and of housing to public sector workers, young professionals and other categories, and with the development of Siberia and the Far East. A Kremlin source said wage rises in the public sector must be complemented with structural reform.

After Putin criticized the government in September, Medvedev reprimanded Regional Development Minister Oleg Govorun, Labor and Social Development Minister Maxim Topilin and Education and Science Minister Dmitry Livanov. Govorun has resigned.

Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said the president is unlikely to discuss problems with implementing his orders today.

Medvedev’s press secretary Natalya Timakova said the prime minister has warned against postponing the implementation of the orders.

A working group on the orders’ implementation has been established in the Kremlin and meets at least once a week, a source said. “So far, the departments’ efficiency is only judged by the ability to implement the president’s orders on time.”

A high-ranking official said the Kremlin is dissatisfied with the government’s failure to launch unpopular reforms. “The window of opportunity will close in 2016, when a new election cycle begins,” he said.

A government official argues that they have taken many unpopular decisions, such as the budgetary rule that limits the use of oil and gas revenues, and that privatization and cuts in allocations to defense are hindered by the Kremlin.

The window for unpopular reforms opened in 2004, when Putin decided to run for re-election, said Boris Makarenko, chairman of the board at the Center for Political Technologies. “The president did not use it, although he had the funds and people’s trust.”

It is the president who must take political decisions on unpopular reforms, such as increasing the retirement age, said Yevgeny Gavrilenkov, chief economist at Sberbank CIB.


Russian Economy Spends Good Year Bracing for New Crisis

Russia’s economy held steady during 2012, with all the key indicators near record levels, the World Bank said in a report in October. Yet, a challenging external environment and worsening business sentiment and consumer confidence translate into weak growth prospects.

If in July 2012 someone in parliament or at a government meeting had said that Russia had hit the peak of its economic development, the audience might have thought the speaker was dazed by the midsummer heat. But the World Bank delivered its report in October, when the economy was well past its peak, and clearly indicated that it would be pointless to try to reach new heights.

By winter, it had became clear that GDP growth would stall in coming years and that there are no grounds to expect growth of even 5 percent.

Russia seems to have failed to notice an entire year of stability flowing by, and consequently failed to get all excited over disposable incomes rising 4 percent, inflation falling below expectations despite the crop failure, and domestic demand supporting the economy better than exports, which indicates weaker commodity dependence. In fact, Russia has spent the year bracing itself for impending problems. The official version said these vague problems would stem from a European crisis, but Russians prepared for a local crisis as well – just in case.

Creating safety cushions for any crisis that might come seemed to be a top priority with one of the most important and efficient economic regulators – the Bank of Russia. Russia actually stopped worrying about the ruble exchange rate after the gradual transition to a floating rate was implemented and went as smoothly as in dozens of other countries in the past.

Official agencies even tried to explain that in the current situation capital outflows, something long regarded as one of the weak spots of Russia's economy, was to be seen as a natural process, rather a good thing for the economy than otherwise.

The fears of having passed the peak and set into a lower trajectory have in fact proved useful, helping economic officials push through some initiatives which had previously met with resistance. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov sponsored a budget rule – a regulation that limited spending and de-facto reinstated sovereign funds, which the government and the Kremlin were on the verge of channeling into other projects.

Other initiatives such as education reform and several roadmaps for improving the investment climate were also adopted faster and easier – in 2006 such initiatives would have sent the government on strike.

The government, as well as everyone else in Russia, is well aware that the crisis for which everyone is carefully preparing may still hit unexpectedly. On the other hand, as the economy is already past its peak, anything that comes after it might be termed a crisis.

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