MOSCOW, February 9 (RIA Novosti)
Political parties in Russia/ Frontrunners in March local elections/ Political tricks / The president and oil companies / Gazprom-style entity in the nuclear industry
(RIA Novosti does not accept responsibility for the articles published in the press)
Kremlin's "party optimization" threatens to alienate people - experts
The continuing attempts to reduce the number of political parties in favor of "ruling party" United Russia is threatening to spread to the provinces, where political life is still varied, and to alienate voters and promote "wild," rather than "civilized," opposition, business daily Kommersant quotes Russian political experts as saying.
Dominant at first glance, United Russia suffered a series of blows in regional elections last year, in which people either increasingly voted "against all" candidates (normally 10%-12%, in some regions more than 20%) or supported opposition parties that had a stronger grassroots base (Pensioners' Party, Rodina, smaller regional blocs). This led to a gap between federal and regional political postures, denied the central government the effective leverage it has in Moscow, and promised United Russia electoral problems in the 2007 parliamentary elections.
The government seems to have reacted by expanding its well-oiled system of expelling the uncooperative from electoral short lists into the provinces and by ensuring governors' imperative involvement with United Russia. Experts doubt, however, whether this will help harness grassroots activism and warn that further shifts toward "party optimization" could lead to public frustration about the role of elections in establishing real authority.
"Protests have been concentrated around issues on the ground, which are specific to the region," said Dmitry Oreshkin, president of Moscow-based think tank Mercator. He said these activists were very unlikely to be persuaded to support a "civilized" opposition movement.
"There is a growing impression that the official representation of interests does not work," said Dmitry Badovsky, an analyst with Moscow's Institute of Social Problems. "The people do not see voting itself as a meaningful, effective process. This raises questions about the political, not electoral, system."
Frontrunners and outsiders of the March 12 elections
Russia is preparing for its first joint election day, March 12, when local elections will be simultaneously held in 60 regions throughout the country. Independent candidates and 23 parties will wage election campaigns, but only pro-Kremlin United Russia, the Communist Party (KPRF) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) will actually participate in all of the elections. The candidates of nationalist party Rodina (Homeland) are being denied registration almost everywhere.
Alexei Makarkin, deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies, said the regime trusted the LDPR and the KPRF because the two parties, as well as United Russia, had proved their effectiveness as parliamentary factions. The LDPR is a reliable ally and partner of the regime, while the KPRF is a trusted opposition party.
"The LDPR is valued for its predictability and its ability to consolidate a significant part of the opposition electorate," Makarkin said. "[LDPR leader Vladimir] Zhirinovsky steals votes from the real opposition and is, at the same time, loyal to the regime. The KPRF is a viable opposition party with a stable electorate, which is also predictable and apt to agree with the regime."
Political scientists say a thaw in the regime's relations with the Communists began after the "Red" supported Viktor Yanukovich in the 2004 parliamentary elections in Ukraine, thus supporting the Kremlin. United Russia and the KPRF also took a common stand in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
But the regime is irritated by the unpredictability of Dmitry Rogozin's nationalist Rodina (Homeland) party. "Now that his party is being pushed out, Rogozin has to increasingly provoke tensions" with the authorities, Makarkin said. "The denial of registration points to a trend in the regions, which look to the center."
The situation is complicated by the fact that regional elites, who stand in opposition to local government, are running for office on Rodina lists, thereby strengthening the local government's desire to ban the party from the race.
Government anti-fascism increasingly resembles political trick
The federal authorities have all the necessary tools to exert pressure on appointed governors, but cannot use them in full for fear of tarnishing their reputation. This is when they resort to information wars.
Oleg Chirkunov, Governor of the Perm Territory and one of a small number who have not joined the "party of power," the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, has yet to face a major attack from the state-owned mass media. A damning television program has now been created about him, and is ready to be broadcast. The thrust of the program is that at a recent youth congress in Perm, he gave the floor to representatives of nationalist organizations.
President Vladimir Putin appointed Chirkunov governor just two months ago. He was in fact one of only a handful of regional leaders who were really appointed. The others, elected by popular vote, were simply re-appointed. Watching the wave of re-appointments, experts assumed that the federal center did not want to accomplish a complete re-staffing, partly because it wanted to retain the possibility of using formerly elected regional heads as scapegoats. If the president now dismisses his own appointee, he will have to acknowledge his lack of foresight in his own staffing decision. He will not do this under any circumstances.
This is not the first time the opposition has resorted to accusations of fascist sympathies. Commenting on the Perm scandal, representatives of the liberal party Union of Right Forces (SPS) recall the recent election campaign for the Moscow City parliament, when the same tactic was broadly used.
The government's efforts against fascism can be used to discredit anyone or hoist anyone to power. But if the same technology is used against an appointed governor, who could in theory be dismissed by a presidential decision, there seems little point in debating the law that abolished governor elections, when the president does not in any case use his right, due to considerations of authority or reputation. This seems to be the other side of the continual centralization of power.
President's statements contradict his actions - expert
Russian President Vladimir Putin's statements that "no one is going to nationalize" private oil companies and that the oil industry should find a balance between state and private ownership have been met with too much enthusiasm in certain business circles. Some seriously believe that business will no longer be at risk because "the boss said so." But according to Vladimir Milov, president of the Energy Policy Institute, Putin has already said too much about how well the Russian government will behave in the economy.
The state was making these statements, welcomed by the market, while establishing control over Yuganskneftegaz, Sibneft, Silovye Mashiny, Kamov, OMZ and AvtoVAZ. As to the removal of the two-tier ownership structure of Gazprom's shares, it took years to accomplish and was accompanied by a law that allowed the government to secure a more than 50% stake in the gas producer (which had not been envisaged from the start) and made it virtually impossible to attract investment through additional share issues, undermining the very essence of liberalization.
This is not about whether re-nationalization in Russia will continue. Bill Clinton once faced impeachment for lying under oath about a minor episode in his private life. In Russia, we are witnessing the president's public statements on the most important economic issues consistently contradicting the authorities' actions.
Judging by Putin's words at a meeting with the head of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power - "Nuclear energy has never let us down" - the leader of the country that survived the Chernobyl catastrophe may be suffering not only from a poor ability to predict, but also amnesia.
In any case, there is no longer any reason to believe Putin's statements. He says one thing, but something else happens.
Government sets up Gazprom affiliate in nuclear industry
The Russian government is set to firmly take charge of the nation's nuclear industry as state-controlled Gazprombank, which recently consolidated control of nuclear power engineering monopoly OMZ, has announced plans to delist the company and convert it into a closed corporation, reports business daily Biznes.
The company, also known as the Uralmash-Izhora Group, will probably become part of a new vertically integrated group already christened Atomprom. The group is going to be involved in the full civilian nuclear cycle - from uranium production through engineering and construction to nuclear waste disposal.
"Conceptually, the OMZ restructuring probably has to do with its nuclear arm's presumed role in the nuclear industry development project announced by the head of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power," Troika Dialog analyst Gairat Salimov said.
"OMZ's nuclear reactor case unit is going to receive 10% of the $60-billion order. From 2010, the increase in orders will raise OMZ revenues to $500 million and market capitalization to $1 billion," he added.
The government has been using gas monopoly Gazprom and its subsidiaries to create a state-owned nuclear monster, experts say, citing the 2004 Gazprom acquisition of a controlling stake in Atomstroiexport, the nuclear machinery export monopoly.
"It became clear last year that power generation engineering is a promising business; the Siemens bid for Silovye Mashiny was a signal that the West had seen profit in manufacturing industries," said Igor Vagan, chief communications officer for Motovilikhinskie Zavody, a defense producer. "In Russia, however, you need to be a vertically integrated system to obtain the highest profit, and what we see between Gazprom and OMZ, and between UES and Silovye Mashiny, is just that."
Vagan also hinted that the government could be consolidating promising properties with the intent to privatize them later at a higher price.