The Communist Party and the People's Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR) have become engulfed in another spiral of party infighting. Having taken Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov down a peg or two during the December plenum of the central committee and congress of the KPRF, NPSR executive chairman Gennady Semigin and member of the KPRF central committee presidium Sergei Potapov drove the KPRF leader into a corner, notes NG.
In the course of the plenum, Zyuganov, even by resorting to an ultimatum, failed to remove Potapov from his post as central committee secretary for organisational work, who came to be backed by an absolute majority of the central committee members. Following this, at the congress, Semigin, too, made his mark and killed two birds with one stone: first, compelling Zyuganov to agree to a June KPRF congress to re-elect the entire central committee and the central committee's presidium, and then elegantly giving the green light for Nikolai Kharitonov to run in the presidential election, forcing Zyuganov to assume full responsibility for the future devastating failure of the Agrarian Party leader.
Accoridngly, Zyuganov resolved to mount an open attack on them, and also on heads of regional party branches who openly indicated to Zyuganov that the abortive parliamentary elections were on his conscience.
In addition, NG notes, Zyuganov's associates have too many questions to ask him which remain unanswered. For example, what became of the massive financial resources given by the oligarchs to put a number of their representatives on the KPRF election list, and why those around Zyuganov have had their prosperity visibly improved following the recent parliamentary elections. By reproaching that same Semigin of possessing considerable financial resources, Zyuganov clean forgets that he himself, to put it mildly, is far from a poor man.
One way or the other, Nezavisimaya Gazeta stresses, nothing is secret that shall not be made clear, and things done will have to be accounted for. It looks as if this is what Zyuganov fears most.
A fresh scandal has hit the Russian armed forces. It emerged that the Federal Border Service (FPS) has for a week been withholding information on a tragedy, Izvestia says. Early in January, one conscript soldier died from pneumonia in Magadan (north-eastern Russia), with another 80 or so recruits hospitalised with severe cases of lung inflammation. The soldiers fell sick on the way to their unit through the fault of their commanders. During a flight from Moscow to Magadan, they were made to wait several hours on airfields first in Novosibirsk and then in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. The conscripts were in light civilian clothing, while the temperature was 25 degrees below freezing.
"Preliminary data indicate that the disease was caused by certain breaches of rules during the transportation," Izvestia was told by Vadim Shibayev, deputy head of the public relations centre of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which includes the border service. "There is information that the conscripts spent more than twenty-four hours in unheated premises at Chkalovsky airport outside Moscow, and even slept on the floor. Groups of draftees spent a long time outside their planes as they were re-fuelled." Izvestia points out that Vladimir Putin, speaking at an FSB board meeting, described what happened as a "criminal attitude to people". "This incident," the President emphasised, "must certainly be investigated thoroughly and the guilty parties punished. This will be done by all means."
Two new figures have appeared in the Yukos case: co-owners of the oil company, Leonid Nevzlin and Vladimir Dubov, were charged in absentia with non-payment of taxes and embezzlement, and both have been put on a wanted list. The public relations centre of the Prosecutor-General's Office would not comment to Kommersant on this report beyond saying: "The information has been released by sources in the Interior Ministry and not the Prosecutor-General's Office. We are currently checking it." The public relations centre, the paper goes on to say, did not confirm the information, but neither did it deny it. The Main Department of Criminal Investigation of the Interior Ministry refused to speak about Nevzlin with Kommersant, but confirmed that Dubov was indeed being looked for. But it would not say whether he was on a federal or an international wanted list. It is common knowledge that a person may be put on an international wanted list only in line with a court ruling, while a federal list suffices an investigator's ruling.
"Generally speaking, this is the first time I have heard of the search," Dubov's lawyer Andrei Tarasov told the paper. "I have the impression this is yet another canard. Dubov is currently outside Russia, he is undergoing treatment for an oncological illness, including in Israel." Nevzlin, too, has been residing in Israel for the past few months.
In an interview with a Kommersant correspondent, Nevzlin said, among other things: "I was repeatedly checked by all law enforcement bodies before joining the Federation Council (the upper house of Russian parliament) in 2001-2003. I well remember what was checked and which things I reported. All the authorities that did the checking told me I was clean before the law. I think their present whirl of activity is explained by the latest remarks of Irina Khakamada, a candidate for the Russian presidency. We discussed my support for her, and I will be backing her by all legal means available. As for the accusations, I am within my rights, and have been checked and rechecked many times over. If they have complaints to make against the tax inspectorate, which checked me, let them address these to it".
In the middle of December, President Vladimir Putin advised ordinary people to keep their savings in ruble deposits in banks. Experts, says Vedomosti, agree that ruble deposits are now the most profitable. But their yielding capacity will soon diminish. The point is, the paper explains, that the profitability of the ruble assets in which the banks invest money they get from depositors has been declining. So the banks are finding it increasingly difficult to "generate" high interest, and they are forced to lower their rates. Early this year, many banks were expected to reduce rates on deposits, says Pavel Suprunov, head of the Rossiisky Bank think tank.
The first to do this was Sberbank. This week it lowered ruble deposit rates by an average of 0.5 to 2 percentage points. Now it is offering no more than 10 per cent per annum on its time deposits. The moves by the retail market leader have acted as a trigger. Other banks, setting rates on deposits, are taking their cue largely from Sberbank's interest policy, says Alfa-Bank chief economist Natalia Orlova. Rossiisky Bank, Alfa-Bank and Baltiisky Bank have already followed the lead of Sberbank.
A net outflow of direct investment from Russia in the second half of 2003, according to the balance of payments, was 3.2 billion dollars, Gazeta informs its readers, saying that the first half of the year saw an inflow of 3 billion dollars. According to the information circulated by the foreign and public relations department of the Central Bank of Russia, the net outflow of direct foreign investment in the sector of non-financial enterprises, as shown by 2003 figures, is estimated at 0.3 billion dollars. The results for 2001 and 2002, however, show a net inflow of 2.7 billion dollars and 3.2 billion dollars, respectively.