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    Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, October 7

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    Birthday wishes for “Sun President” Vladimir Putin / United Russia – racing to the 2012 elections / No foreigners: Store-owners banned from hiring migrants

    Moskovsky Komsomolets

    Birthday wishes for “Sun President” Vladimir Putin

    Putin, who turns 59 on Friday, has made himself the best present – at least six years as Russian president. Much like the French “Sun King” Louis XIV, he too can now boast, “L’etat c’est moi.” As a Russian national, I have a number of wishes for our “Sun President.”

    First, please ensure that your personal relations with Dmitry Medvedev do not affect the quality of governance in Russia.

    We may never know exactly what Putin said to convince Medvedev to vacate the president’s chair. But being a realist, Medvedev surely conceded only after squeezing a few concessions out of Putin.

    The most important being his appointment as prime minister. Putin could clearly not deny him this small gesture. However, Medvedev may be a brilliant lawyer but unfortunately he is something of an amateur when it comes to economics, as even his supporters admit. So I wish Putin would do something, without offending Medvedev, to give people back the sense that they are on a stable economic footing.

    Second, bring back Kudrin. There is no one of an equal economic stature in the Russian elite, yet he was attacked from all sides even before the president fired him.

    When Kudrin’s deputy, Tatyana Golikova, was appointed Healthcare and Social Development Minister in 2007, she was replaced by Oksana Sergiyenko. Strangely, Golikova became a bitter enemy of her former boss.

    Why should regular people care about all this top-level scheming? Because planning budget policy is impossible without knowing how much the country will spend on pensions. But Golikova refused to tell the Finance Ministry about the pension system’s budget and sent her deputy, Voronin, to Finance Ministry meetings. Witnesses say that Voronin openly mocked Kudrin.

    Kudrin, who harbored prime ministerial ambitions, has been fired. It is impossible to imagine him working side by side with Medvedev, but there is no one to replace him. So we wish Putin would find a way out of this deadlock of his own making.

    Third, don’t cut public service funding. According to the draft budget for 2011–2014 presented to the government on September 21, spending on the army and other law-enforcement agencies will grow from 5.7 percent of GDP in 2011 to 7.2 percent in 2014, while spending on education will be cut from 4.2 percent to 3.6 percent and to healthcare, from 4.2 percent to 3.9 percent.

    They say now that spending on education and healthcare is planned at 3.6 percent-4.3 percent and 3.8 percent-4.4 percent, but being a pessimist, I think the first figures are what we will most likely get. Can Mr. Putin prove me wrong?

    There are several other birthday wishes. Russian politics must stop being the playground for puppets and androids, and the economy must lose its dependence on oil. It would also be good if law enforcement stopped terrorizing – as Medvedev said – business and the rest of society. Some wishes can be fulfilled and others cannot, and everyone in Russia knows which is which.

    Nezavisimaya Gazeta

    United Russia – racing to the 2012 elections

    The United Russia party has announced it will nominate Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for president – in late November, on the third day of party's conference. Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov has not ruled out this scenario. Experts say that the rush is not only a sign of United Russia's desire to make the most of Putin's ratings, but also of Putin's own desire to quickly establish himself in the role.

    But Putin does not seem to have been appreciably more active, instead refraining from his characteristically sharp rhetoric. At yesterday's Russia Calling investment forum, Putin even seemed to acknowledge criticism of the Russian political system.

    “We have an open society,” he said. “People openly express their opinions about our country's political system. There has been a lot of fair criticism.”
    But he urged caution.

    “Changes are needed,” he said. “But it will be an evolutionary path. We do not need great upheavals, we need a great Russia.” “We're not going to stand still,” he added. “But we will proceed based on the notion that both our citizens and our economic and political partners have sensed this continuity in trajectory, and understood that they are dealing with a stable, solid country in which to invest, a country that can and will cooperate.”
    Putin's refusal to participate in high-profile United Russia campaign events seems to be a manifestation of his caution on the eve of nomination. He seems to be avoiding any possibility of conflict with President Dmitry Medvedev, because so long as he is in office, the president has sweeping powers. He could theoretically dismiss the current government and could still announce his own candidacy for president.

    Putin's lack of support for former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin in his recent spat with Medvedev seems to confirm Putin's cautious tack.
    “Putin and Medvedev are both under considerable foreign pressure,” said Alexei Mukhin, head of the Center for Political Information. “There are forces in the West that believe that Medvedev could still have a reshuffle. Therefore, to eliminate some of the problems, Putin is courting United Russia's support in such a way as not to tempt Medvedev.”

    Igor Yurgens, the head of the Institute of Contemporary Development, is confident that Medvedev will not break with the United Russia party line. “I think his decision is final,” Yurgens said.

    Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Politics Foundation, said that Putin's nomination will boost United Russia’s performance in the parliamentary elections: “The party's situation is dire. Decisions adopted at the last conference failed to expand the party's support base.”

    Pavlovsky is referring to a Public Opinion Foundation survey in which five percent of respondents noted the United Russia party's increased activity, but the party's rating remained unchanged.

    “This means that citizens are ignoring this increase in activity,” Pavlovsky said. “A quarter of voters do not know that Putin is going to stand for president. This suggests we are dealing with an entirely new landscape.”


    No foreigners: Store-owners banned from hiring migrants

    Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS) has altered the interpretation of its ban on hiring foreign nationals to work in retail, so this requirement covers a broader range of staff hiring and leasing practices.

    Grocery chains have petitioned First Deputy Prime Ministers Igor Shuvalov and Viktor Zubkov, asking them to revise these zero quotas on hiring foreign personnel in force since 2007. In fact retailers use about 3 million workers under outsourcing and staff leasing contracts.

    A 2010 government resolution set the quota of foreign staff that can be employed by alcohol retailers at zero, as is done every year. Yet, until last summer, they never applied to outsourced personnel, said Ilya Belonovsky, head of the AKORT retailers’ association. “We do not know why they decided to interpret this requirement differently now,” he said.

    Outsourcing involves using an employee formally engaged by a provider company.

    AKORT also sent copies of its request to the Healthcare and Social Development Ministry, which authored this requirement, and to the FMS, asking for amendments allowing retailers to use outsourced foreign personnel.

    None of the press offices confirmed that they received AKORT’s letters.

    According to FMS statistics, 9.8 million foreigners crossed into Russia in the eight months of 2011, and only 1.3 million of them had legal work permits.
    The Health Ministry believes that people employed by a third party staff provider are actually working in retail, which in turn precludes chains from using foreign workers, a source explained. The FMS declined to comment on the change.

    The regulator has already fined a grocery chain. Billa (the Russian arm of Rewe Group), faced a 7 million ruble ($215,000) claim in connection with “non-compliance with administrative limitations on activity.” The Moscow commercial court database contains 12 counter-claims from Billa insisting that the retailer has not signed any commercial services agreements with foreign nationals and has no foreigners on its payroll.

    Lawyer Sergei Kazakov from Sameta said the FMS was wrong to extend the requirement to outsourced workers. But Yegor Noskov, managing partner of Duvernoix Legal, believes the government resolution explicitly forbids hiring foreigners in any format.

    If this is so, the industry will face outrageous fines, an executive said. He believes chains hire 30 percent of their operating personnel through outsourcing. Unskilled staff account for 80 percent of Russia’s 12 million retail personnel, food retail accounting for half of that. Ivan Fyedyakov from Infoline analytical agency estimated the number of outsourced personnel in food retail at 1.3 million.

    The AKORT said in its letter that “consultations with several government agencies suggest the need to make adjustments is understood.” The group declined to cite the government agencies mentioned.

    RIA Novosti is not responsible for the content of outside sources.

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