The State Duma Council accepted for consideration a legislative initiative of the Ivanovo Regional Duma, which suggested back in October last year to increase the presidential term to seven years. The decision of the Council (for some reason, it was made public indirectly, via the Duma web site) shocked the Lower House into total silence: the deputies turned off their mobile phones and convened in factions behind closed doors to ponder the daring initiative. Indeed, no other legislative initiative had advanced so closely to changing the Constitution.
The deputies faced an extremely difficult choice. On the one hand, Vladimir Putin has said more than once that he would not change the Constitution or allow others to do it. On the other hand, few people would dare tell the public that they are against allowing Putin to rule a while longer.
The wording of the draft, which this newspaper has acquired, is only one page long. It says, "The President of the Russian Federation shall be elected for a term of seven years by the citizens of the Russian Federation on the basis of general, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot." The supplement runs: "Seven years are a term of office of supreme agencies suiting Russian traditions."
Vladimir Putin has waived his right to free airtime on state-owned channels for his election campaign. Instead, he will appear only in news, just as Untied Russia did during the parliamentary election campaign. In reply, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov advanced the ultimatum: If the President refused to take part in televised debates with KPRF candidate Nikolai Kharitonov, the party would not take part in the elections. Kharitonov told Gazeta that Zyuganov had acted rashly.
Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the Mercator research group, told this newspaper that "it would be tactically wrong" for Vladimir Putin "to expose himself to Kharitonov's jabs during the debates. This does not befit the top leader."
Russia does not intend to join the EU, though European businessmen are not against the idea, writes the newspaper. As many as 12% of top managers of the largest EU firms would like Russia to become a member, while only 11% and 4%, respectively, want to see Turkey and Ukraine (which are striving for the goal) in the organisation.
The 12% of the top managers believe that Russia would be the best EU candidate. Russia has more friends among major European businessmen than the other EU neighbours do. The largest "friends of Russia" groups are in Spain (23%) and Italy (22%), while the smallest are in Germany (3%), France (6%), the Netherlands (5%) and Britain (7%).
However, French and German businessmen are highly sceptical of the EU expansion in general: 78% top managers in Germany and 69% in France are against admitting new members.
Russia's Gazprom, Norway and Germany will sell gas to Britain. Deputy head of Gazprom's information department Sergei Kupriyanov told this newspaper why the company wants to get a niche on the British market so much:
"The British market is interesting for Gazprom for several reasons. First, it is one of the most liberal in Europe and we are accumulating the experience of working on such markets. Second, Gazprom has a niche on the market which will grow in the future. And third, Britain is the end station of the North European Gas Pipeline, which means that working on its market will help us to form a better view of the potential demand for gas, which will be supplied to Britain via the pipeline, and take more substantiated investment decisions on the project."