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Russia searching for "third way" to elect Putin for third term
Political scientists are increasingly considering two ways for presidential power to be transferred during the 2008 elections. President Vladimir Putin will either hand over his powers to a successor who will carry on his policy, or the Constitution will be amended to allow Putin's re-election.
However, one more possible scenario of keeping Putin at the top has appeared.
Under it, a fully loyal successor is elected in 2008 and leaves a year later, at the most, "unable to shoulder the burden of power." New elections are scheduled and Putin returns to the Kremlin, getting the electoral support for two more terms.
Who may agree to sit in the Kremlin for one year? One possible candidate is St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko.
Sources say Vadim Tyulpanov, the speaker of the city's Legislative Assembly, said off record during the recent celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the first State Duma in St. Petersburg that the 2008 elections would proceed according to this scenario.
However, he later said in reply to a direct question from Moskovskiye Novosti that he had not said anything of the kind and refused to comment on "the third way" and possible candidates for a "temporary president."
Skeptics doubt that the voters would accept a temporary president. On the other hand, if they support the idea and Matviyenko is elected, her team might later convince her that the people want another Catherine the Great.
Putin is no lame duck
President Vladimir Putin's rating has reached 54%. His popularity is almost back to its level of two years ago, even though last year the president's ratings fell to almost 40%. Sociologists told the paper that judging by the current rating the president cannot be considered a lame duck.
In a survey on May 13-14, 2006, the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) addressed 3,000 respondents in 200 Russian cities and townships.
The poll showed that Putin's popularity ratings had risen by 4 points since the previous survey of 10 days ago. Last year, they ranged between 47-49%. Now that the downturn has been reversed, the dynamics look paradoxical against the backdrop of Putin's repeatedly stated desire to leave office in 2008. But the electoral ratings of his potential successors - Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov - are very low now, at 1% each, and do not even exceed the statistical margin of error (2.5%).
The Foundation conducted the survey just a few days after Putin made his state of the nation address to the Federal Assembly. FOM head Alexander Oslon said the president's soaring rating was linked to his address to the political elite on May 10. "There is a factor that can be easily cited - it is the address [to the Federal Assembly]. There was nothing else," the sociologist said.
Oslon pointed to higher awareness about Putin's latest address to the elite among the population - 41%, whereas the index was 30% in the previous year. "Asked what they liked most about the address, 36% of respondents chose demography," the head of the monitoring agency said. "The very theme was impressive."
According to Oslon, the previous speeches the head of state delivered to parliamentarians mattered most to the MPs and the press and left only a meager share of the population interested. "Nothing special was proposed before and it was the selling point that impressed huge masses this time," Oslon said.
Kremlin out to split liberals
The leaders of the Union of Right Forces (SPS), the Republican Party and the Business Entrepreneurial Development party have announced they intend to unite with a view to creating a new democratic party.
The People's Democratic Union, led by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, is reportedly attending the talks.
But the Kremlin and experts do not believe the enterprise will be a success.
A source in the presidential administration said it was a ruse, because Republican Party leader Vladimir Ryzhkov wants his party to run alone in the 2007 parliamentary elections.
This statement may be disinformation designed to ruin the plans of the democratic opposition, but experts do not believe in the unification of the democratic parties either, although for different reasons.
Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the National Strategy Institute think tank, said SPS leader Nikita Belykh "would prefer to team up with Kasyanov" but "Anatoly Chubais and Leonid Gozman, who brought him to power in the SPS, are spurring him to unify with the Yabloko party within the Kremlin project."
The expert said the administration had no need for democrats, who could only win the 7% of the votes needed to take up seats in parliament with the help of the Kremlin. The presidential spin doctors do not want democratic structures to become the springboard for Kasyanov's claim to the presidency in 2008, because the Kremlin regards the former premier as a real threat.
Boris Makarenko, deputy director general of the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow-based think tank, said there should be a marriage of convenience between democrats, who "have party structures but no real presidential candidate", and Kasyanov.
So far, two centers of power are developing in the democratic camp - the SPS and Yabloko, which will prevent either from overcoming the 7% barrier. Moreover, the expert said the Kremlin was doing everything possible to hinder the unification of democrats, in particular by "stimulating several alternative projects."
"The Kremlin will spread the rumor that it needs a constructive liberal party, while simultaneously trying to split liberals so that none of them wins seats in the State Duma," Makarenko said.
Russian Railways, Siemens ink high-speed train contract
On May 18, Russian Railways (RZD), the country's rail monopoly, inked a contract after two years of talks with Siemens for the purchase of eight custom-made high-speed trains worth 34.5 million euros from the German company. A 300-million-euro pre-contract agreement stipulating a 30-year warranty and post-warranty support was also signed.
In 2005, former RZD president Gennady Fadeyev signed a contract on purchasing 60 Siemens bullet trains that were to have been assembled at the Demikhovo machine-building plant in the Moscow Region, owned by engineering giant Transmashholding. But current RZD president Vladimir Yakunin said on Thursday that Russia lacked the required technical base for implementing this project.
"RZD, which paid 40 million euros for the bullet-train project, will own all production forms and records," said RZD vice president Valentin Gapanovich. RZD plans to operate one such ten-car train based on the Velaro train, with a speed of 250 km/h, along the Moscow - St. Petersburg route. The German trains will be able to travel at up to 300 km/h after Russia upgrades its rail track.
Yakunin said the price of the trains had been halved during the talks. Gapanovich said the expense was justified, because Russia has not been able to find technology of this kind anywhere else.
Natalia Odintsova of the Russian Funds investment group said the contract price matched the cheapest European contracts in this category. "This is a mutually advantageous contract, because Siemens considers Russia a strategic market."
Interior Ministry focuses on information security at July G8 summit
The Russian Interior Ministry has purchased the KRIT software package from Russian company Smartware to ensure information security at the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg this July. The company previously sold software packages to the CIA.
Dmitry Shchipakov, marketing director at Smartware, said a command center to ensure security and analyze media and Internet reports using KRIT's help had already been established in St. Petersburg.
Smartware, which was created in early 2005, developed KRIT software later that year. Roman Romachev, general director of R-Techno, a distributor of analytical systems, said Smartware employees had previously worked for the Russian office of a company selling analytical software to the CIA.
"The Interior Ministry, which chose KRIT because Smartware has many clients among security agencies, will now spend over $40,000 on introducing this software," said Romachev.
Shchipakov said the Interior Ministry had bought other software from Smartware, while KRIT was a large-system module for singling out information on legal entities, private individuals and their contacts.
Interior Ministry officials declined to comment. "I am not sure whether this information has been coordinated with the presidential administration," said Pavel Klimovsky, head of the ministry's press service.
The market offers at least 10 KRIT-type analytical systems, which are used as monitoring tools by federal agencies, while businessmen use them for corporate intelligence and market surveys.
Internet providers have been using SORM security and confidentiality protection software for the last eight years. The Russian Communications Ministry ordered them to help secret services and to install Internet traffic analysis hardware and software.
"The System Archive software similar to America's i2 Investigative Analysis Software [upgraded by Russian experts], is the best SORM option," said Romachev.
Government to replace Yukos shareholders
Yukos, an embattled oil company, has filed a motion with an American court seeking to lift a ban on the sale of its foreign assets that was introduced at request of its temporary administration. Shareholders want to sell Yukos's stake in Mazeikiu Nafta, a Lithuanian refinery, and pay off their debts to the government. But the authorities are getting ready to replace the beleaguered major's shareholders.
"If the transaction is not completed soon [the Lithuanian government set the deadline at May 26], we will most probably lose it, and the plant can be nationalized," Yukos admitted.
Objections of temporary administrator Eduard Rebgun could be a sign that the government is working on a new scenario for Yukos's property. Most probably, the company will survive and keep all of its assets, but its shareholders, i.e. Menatep Group, will be replaced.
So far the Prosecutor's General Office does not have any financial charges to bring against Menatep shareholders, which means that it cannot seek its foreign assets to be arrested, confiscated and handed over to state-owned firms.
The government now hopes to receive assistance from Alexei Golubovich, Yukos' former director for strategic planning and corporate finance, recently arrested in Italy. Investigators expect him to testify about the illegal operations of Yukos shareholders, about certain threats on the part of one of them, Leonid Nevzlin, and about attempted murders that were allegedly prepared on his orders. But more importantly, he is expected to testify about the company's and its shareholders' involvement in money laundering.
Yet this is where the detainee will face the greatest danger. If he gives the necessary evidence, he will testify against himself, as he was in charge of all financial operations. This means that he will be automatically accused of money laundering and will not be able to get away with a suspended sentence.
Golubovich was told "not to resist" extradition to Russia, as his wife Olga Mirimskaya runs a successful business in Russia, the Russky Produkt company.