Putin Turns Sixty, Russian Officials Celebrate
President Vladimir Putin turns 60 this weekend. Businesses, agencies and politicians told RBC Daily what gifts and celebrations they were planning.
Russians believe that sending birthday greetings in advance is a bad omen, which means the president will not be unwrapping any gifts until Sunday, although Finance Minister Anton Siluanov admitted mailing a birthday card on Wednesday to ensure it arrives on time.
This weekend, the post office nearest to the Kremlin will have to handle record numbers of cards, which seem to be the most popular gift, one survey says.
Russian Post has also prepared a surprise gift for Putin, “a letter of greetings from the several-thousand-strong team, the largest corporate member of the Russian Popular Front,” the national mail service said.
Gazprom and Russian Railways declined to comment. Rosneft’s press office said Igor Sechin is probably preparing something, but they had no statement to make yet. One large state-controlled corporation said it was planning to give Putin a sculpture dedicated to his family (his parents fought to defend Leningrad during WWII).
Bank sources say that the heads of large banks usually visit the Kremlin to deliver their gifts in person. “If there is no official ceremony, the head of the bank sends gifts like flowers, some larger and some smaller,” the source said.
“We couldn’t give him a motorbike because the Federal Guard service would not let him ride it for security reasons,” said president of the Moscow Night Wolves biker club Alexander Zaldostanov. The club finally decided to give Putin a motorcycle vest with Russia’s national emblem and the words “President of Russia” on the back and a wolf pattern on the chest. “It looks cool,” Zaldostanov said, adding that it will go well with a biker coat they gave Putin earlier.
X5 Retail Group believes the best gift would be to cut prices and improve quality. “Our best gift is the result of our work,” a source in the Skolkovo Foundation said, adding that they will post “warm greetings” on the Skolkovo website.
Anyone can send their videotaped greetings to President Putin through one of the camera crews dispatched by United Russia’s Young Guard division to several Russian cities. Residents in provincial cities and towns will be able to have their pictures taken with a life-size image of Putin.
Opposition leaders aren’t going to miss Putin’s birthday either. Sergei Udaltsov said he will bring a “colorful retirement certificate” to the Kremlin. Vadim Korovin, an activist from the opposition group RosAgit, who is organizing a flashmob, said they have applied for a permit from City Hall but have got no response so far.
Coca-Cola Russia spokesman Vladimir Kravtsov said that, under US anti-corruption laws, the company is not allowed to give gifts to state officials. Another transnational company said its leaders, who know Putin personally, are preparing their own gifts. Sausage magnate Vadim Dymov said he would “drink to Putin’s health.”
Human Rights Council Dissatisfied with Treason Law
The Council for Civil Society and Human Rights is dissatisfied with the bill on treason, its chairman Mikhail Fedotov told Izvestia. He described the document, which he claims extends the definitions of espionage and treason to unacceptable limits, as dangerous.
“For example, under this law, discharging waste into Lake Baikal can be classified as treason because it harms the country’s environmental security,” Fedotov said.
In his opinion, each category of crimes needs to have a precise legal definition.
“I am not against punishing people for discharging waste; I am against classifying such an act as treason,” Fedotov said.
The Human Rights Council will forward its conclusions to the State Duma for consideration ahead of the bill’s second reading.
Members of opposition parties in parliament share the council’s opinion and believe that it is premature to hold a second reading of the document.
Liberal Democrat Alexander Starovoitov told Izvestia: “We already have a law on state secrets, so why reinvent the wheel? As a former intelligence officer, I know how much damage someone can do if secret information in their possession is revealed to foreign services. The new amendments should not exceed the limits of reason. There are many military publications in Russia. If this law is adopted, anyone sending such a magazine abroad could be tried for treason.”
Communist Party member Vadim Solovyov is worried that the law could be used for fighting the opposition.
“Standards of discipline and responsibility have plummeted since perestroika. Quite a few of our scientists, diplomats and journalists have been tried for treason,” he said. “We believe that state interests must be protected. But this bill is unfinished and unsubstantiated. In its present form, it can be applied arbitrarily in any situation to pardon some and punish others (the opposition).”
Deputies from A Just Russia have called on their colleagues to boycott the amendments.
Dmitry Gudkov, the son of Gennady Gudkov, who was recently stripped of his mandate, believes that the law “gives irresponsible people broad powers to charge almost anyone with treason and espionage. Suppose you show someone how to get to Red Square, and that person turns out to be a spy. You automatically become his accomplice.”
The ruling United Russia party supports the bill and does not think that the law-enforcement bodies would use it as a weapon.
Frants Klintsevich told Izvestia that treason should be punished as harshly as possible.
“We discussed introducing capital punishment for pedophiles. I think that treason is a comparable crime. The law must clearly specify every possible case. And decisions should not be taken just by one person,” he said. The United Russia deputy believes that the journalists and politicians who mingle with foreigners are unlikely to know any secrets. But military people should definitely fall under the bill’s jurisdiction, Klintsevich said.
Government Order: Leg-Up for Aircraft Industry
Up to 80 aircraft will be retired from the national air fleet before 2018, President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting in Ulyanovsk. The subject of discussion was a consolidated government order for Russian-made planes. “It is necessary to plan which aircraft, what types and what quantities our country needs now,” he said.
A consolidated government order for the aviation industry is a “passport to the future”: without it companies will be unable to begin the extended production of aircraft.
“This approach will provide a stable work-load for enterprises and enable them to make long-range technological plans and cut costs,” Putin said.
“We are talking about civilian aircraft and special planes for the Defense Industry, the Emergencies Industry, the Interior Industry and the Federal Security Service. These would be transport, fire-fighting and sick and injured evacuation planes, and planes used for relief operations, cargo transportation, humanitarian aid and transporting the sick and wounded,” Putin said.
“Today, many of our aircraft are outdated both physically and technically. Before 2018, we are to write off a total of 80 planes,” the president added. “It is important that the vast resources being put into the rearmament program and defense sector can have a cumulative effect on production and help create a competitive aviation industry.”
Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov said that a targeted increase in corporate capital has been the main approach to support United Aircraft Corporation until now.
“A government order must replace this now. This is a more efficient way to give aviation a strong footing in the international market amid steep competition. The idea of government orders is nothing new: Many countries use them to support their industry.”
The minister suggested using leasing programs and loans, rather than cash, to stimulate a government order. These kinds of programs do not require large lump payments. The first contribution from the budget must be not larger than 20% of the aircraft’s cost. The balance could be paid for over 15 years – federal agencies could take out loans, enact leasing mechanisms and use the saved money.
Today’s civilian fleet is made up of Tu-134, Tu-154, Il-62 and even Il-18s. Their technical and physical wear and low fuel efficiency require high operating, maintenance, and repair costs.
Chief of Presidential Staff Sergei Ivanov spoke of a large government order for the Tu-204Sm, the Tu-214, the An-148 and the Sukhoi Superjet, which are needed not only by security agencies but also by government organizations.
According to Ivanov, the state will also purchase about a hundred Il-76Md-90A aircraft before 2018-2020 (apart from a Defense Ministry order for 39 upgraded Ils).
“This plane is a workhorse,” Ivanov explained. “For Ulyanovsk, even one Defense Ministry contract would guarantee employment at the plant until 2018 at least. If the Tu-204SM is added to the order, it would mean a full workload for the plant for the first time since 1991,” he said.
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