Posts Tagged ‘Russia


In 2012, an election and a good shower for Putin

The 2012 presidential will be dirty… literally dirty, warned Prime Minister Vladimir Putin whose plans for 2012 are “an election and a shower”. A new hint that the Russian strongman will be seeking for presidency next March.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned on Thursday that the March 2012 presidential election campaign would be dirty, but stopped short of saying whether he would seek another stint as Kremlin chief.

Putin, Russia’s most popular politician, made clear he would play a significant role in the election but told supporters he would need to cleanse politics after the campaign.

“I shall go to wash, in the hygienic sense of the word but also in the political sense,” Putin said, when asked at a regional conference of his ruling United Russia party what he would do the day after the March presidential election.

“After all the campaigns which we shall have to endure, you have to be properly hygienic. Unfortunately, this is an inevitable process,” he said.

“As Churchill said: Democracy is the worst form of government but there is no better one,” Putin said in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

Putin and his protege, President Dmitry Medvedev, have both repeatedly refused to say which of them will run in the March 2012 presidential election, which follows a parliamentary election in December.


Polls: Medvedev goes down, Putin remains stable

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s trust and approval ratings have somewhat gone down and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s remained at the previous level in the past month, according to a poll of 1,600 respondents the Levada Center sociological service conducted in 130 populated areas of 45 regions of Russia on June 23-27.Medvedev’s trust rating has declined by five percentage points and the approval rating by three percentage points, with 33% of those polled trusting the president and 66% approving of his work.

Putin’s trust and approval ratings remained at 41% and 69% respectively.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu’s trust rating has declined to 11%, putting him in this respect behind Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov (12% each).

The top ten most-trusted policymakers in Russia also include Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia (7%), Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, and A Just Russia party leader Sergei Mironov (5% each).

The poll also showed that only 46% of Russians approve of the government’s work. The number of respondents believing that the things are going in the right direction on the whole has declined to 41% from 44% in the past month.

Just as a month ago, 27% of Russians believe in the government’s ability to improve the state of affairs in the country, 37% do not believe in this, and 33% are undecided.


Mikhail Prokhorov enters politics… and gets a tax investigation

Was it a safe choice for russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov to enter politics? The giant womanizer is being sued by a Siberian region for tens of millions of dollars in allegedly unpaid taxes, just after he announced he was entering politics, reports said on Saturday.

The Lenosibirsk district of the Krasnoyarsk region of central Siberia is seeking two billion rubles (70 million dollars) from billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the RIA Novosti news agency and Kommersant daily reported.

The move comes just a month after Prokhorov, head of the Onexim investment holding with a reported fortune of $18 billion, unexpectedly announced he was going into politics and planned to lead the Right Cause Party.

Prokhorov is registered in the tiny Siberian village of Eruda and pays his taxes there.

The local branch of the tax service believes Prokhorov failed to pay taxes due to the Russian state on a transaction in Britain — in south Wales — in 2008, the deputy head of the regional anti-monopoly service Oleg Kharchenko was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying.

“As the Lenosibirsk tax inspectorate lacks an experienced specialist in the problems of south Welsh tax law, they asked the anti-monopoly service for help,” he was quoted as saying.

A source in the regional tax inspectorate told RIA Novosti that the issue had already gone to court.

Prokhorov was quoted on the sidelines of the Saint Petersburg Economic Forum as acknowledging the dispute but expressing confidence that he would win in court.

The entry of Prokhorov into politics sent a ripple of excitement through Russia’s political scene, though cynics pointed out that neither the billionaire nor his party have so far sharply criticised the Kremlin.

Kommersant underlined the coincidence of the timing of the case with the headline: “Prokhorov has now got into real politics.”

Russia’s former richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 on suspicion of tax evasion, at a time when he was financing opposition parties. He was convicted twice and is not due for release until 2016.


Are Putin/Medvedev political tensions made up?

If most analysts have witnessed growing tensions between Prime minister Vladimir Putin and president Dmitry Medvedev throughout the last past months, more clever observers suggest it all is a made up and that the “tandem” still perfectly works.

Slowly but surely, the 2011-12 election season in Russia is getting under way. In recent weeks, both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have made appearances that pundits regard as the beginnings of an election campaign, and analysts are watching closely to determine whether the Tandem will remain in place after March 2012.

On May 6, during a congress of the ruling United Russia party, Mr Putin announced the creation of the All-Russia Popular Front. This organisation will be made up of trade unions, business associations, youth groups and Kremlin-friendly NGOs and is intended to improve United Russia’s popularity by giving it more of a connection to ordinary people.

The new organisation will include “everyone who is united in their common desire to strengthen our country, united by the idea of finding optimal solutions to the challenges before us,” Mr Putin said.

President Medvedev immediately gave the pundits reason to speculate that there was discord between the Kremlin and the White House when he declined to endorse the concept of the Popular Front, saying in an interview only that he understood the reasons behind the move.

Competition is vital

“I understand the motives of a party that wants to keep its influence over the country. Such an alliance is in accordance with the law and justified from an electioneering point of view,” he said in televised comments.

Mr Medvedev also speculated that United Russia could not count on a landslide in December’s State Duma elections, saying that competition was vital in a democracy. “No one political force can regard itself as a dominant one, but any force should strive for maximum success,” he said.

The president promoted his own agenda during a lengthy press conference at the Skolkovo Innovation Centre on May 18. Answering questions from an audience of more than 800 journalists, Mr Medvedev commented on topics ranging from modernisation to gubernatorial elections to missile defence. His responses were mostly predictable, but the conference showed him to be comfortable, confident and in command of the issues – a man who could head a successful presidential campaign.

The press conference followed a meeting on May 10 with judicial officials in which the president again pressed for judicial reforms and a strengthening of the court system, and a spring marked by a controversial plan to remove government bureaucrats from the boards of state-owned companies.

Some analysts see Mr Medvedev’s actions as more proof that he is further distancing himself from Vladimir Putin. A process that began with his criticism of the prime minister’s comments on the prison sentences of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, continued with the leadership’s difference of opinion over Nato intervention in Libya, and expanded with the shake-up in corporate boardrooms.

“This is a major development, marking an independent move by Medvedev, touching the interests of influential members of Putin’s team,” said analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, discussing the new policies with Bloomberg.

The theme of the president’s autonomy was noted in his reaction to the formation of Mr Putin’s Popular Front. “Medvedev is trying to demonstrate his independence with those remarks,” Alexei Makarkin, a political analyst with the Centre for Political Technologies, said in an interview with The Moscow Times . “And it looks like the number of similar remarks will be growing soon.”

Analysts who believe that the Tandem is indeed splitting 
believe that the prime minister’s creation of the Popular Front is his way of returning to the presidency.

Testing the Tandem

The political scientist Grigory Golosov said: “If they [establish this new grouping], and there is no reason to think they won’t, then we can say that Vladimir Putin will be nominated precisely by this ‘popular front’ – that is, by all Russians who are for a better life.”

Alexander Venediktov of the radio station Ekho Moskvy agreed. “This story shows us again that Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] certainly has not said ‘No’ to a third presidential term,” he told the BBC.

Those who believe the Tandem will continue past 2012 say that the recent appearances have given both politicians the opportunity to define their different but complementary personas – Mr Medvedev the “modernist” and Mr Putin the “traditionalist” – in the hope that one or the other will appeal to Russia’s increasingly divided voting population.

“Like before, Putin and Medvedev tend to occupy different political niches,” the independent political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky told 
Interfax. “But both men continue to serve their common cause.”

The opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov even suggested that the Popular Front initiative was in fact intended to shore up the Tandem. “He [Putin] is attempting to halt rapidly eroding support for the ruling Tandem and the ‘party of power’,” Mr Ryzhkov wrote in an editorial in The Moscow Times .

The television analyst Nikolay Svanidze echoed these comments. “All this doesn’t necessarily mean it is Putin who will stand for president next year. I believe the Tandem has not yet made a final decision regarding who is going to run. If such a front is formed, the current president, Dmitry Medvedev, may use it just as easily. The new platform will make it possible for either of the two candidates to declare that he is backed by a considerable part of the people, not just one party and its voters,” he told Russia Today TV.

Any candidate for the Russian presidency in 2012 may have to pay more attention to the people than previously planned. According to an Levada Centre poll in April, 75pc of Russians are interested in politics. But 83pc of respondents believe that politicians work only to promote their own interests and ignore the needs of voters.


Politics: what is Prokhorov’s game plan?

Is Mikhail Prokhorov defying Vladim Putin’s authority by entering politics? Since Khodorkovsky’s indictment something was clear in Russia: oligarchs make business and Putin makes politics… A new deal in Russian balance of powers?

Mr Prokhorov wants to lead the Pravoye Dyelo party, or Right Cause.

He owns much of Russia’s gold and nickel production, with other interests as diverse as nanotechnology, a hybrid car and the New Jersey Nets basketball club.

The last oligarch to turn politician, Mikhail Khodorkovksy, ended up in prison.

Mr Prokhorov made his money in the chaotic years of Russian privatisation during the 1990s.

His fortune is reportedly worth $22.7bn (£14bn), which puts him among the top three Russian billionaires.

Now he is diversifying beyond business.

Prostitutes allegation

The Right Cause party he has offered to lead strongly supports President Dmitry Medvedev, at a time when there’s mounting speculation that Vladimir Putin wants a return to the presidency.

It was founded just two years ago as a pro-business party promoting free-market reforms, the rule of law and an end to what it calls the “arbitrary rule of corrupt officialdom”.

Mr Prokhorov’s declared aims would be to lead Right Cause to second place in parliamentary elections coming up in December, behind the United Russia party, whose chairman is Vladimir Putin.

United Russia is expected to win the parliamentary elections comfortably, but they are widely seen as a dress rehearsal for the presidential election in March.

Both Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev are potential contenders for the presidency next time around.

If Mr Prokhorov succeeds in taking over as leader of Right Cause, it will be the first time a Russian business tycoon has taken a prominent role in politics since the imprisonment in 2003 of Mr Khodorkovsky, then head of the Yukos oil giant.

Mr Khodorkovsky’s supporters have always insisted this was punishment for daring to oppose Mr Putin.

Based on his statement today, Mikhail Prokhorov appears to be taking care to avoid posturing as a defiant opponent of the Kremlin.

Right Cause has so far struggled to attract heavyweight leaders in its ranks. Liberals have kept their distance from it, seeing it as too close to the government.

Mr Prokhorov’s business empire is based on the Onexim Group, which has wide variety of interests, with gold and nickel at their core.

In January 2007, he was arrested on suspicion of arranging prostitutes for guests at a party he hosted in the French Alpine resort of Courchevel.

The case was later dismissed, and Mr Prokhorov was cleared


Will Dmitry Medvedev run for 2012?

Even as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared Tuesday that he will soon decide whether to run for a second term in 2012, the resignation of a powerful deputy prime minister from the board of state oil company OAO Rosneft the day before may provide a clue as to whether Mr. Medvedev has any future in politics.

Mr. Medvedev told Chinese media Tuesday ahead of a BRIC summit that he’ll soon decide whether to run in 2012.

Less than two weeks ago, Mr. Medvedev, perceived by many as the weaker partner of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, told key members of Mr. Putin’s government that they would have to leave the boards of the state companies they oversee. He also issued several other orders meant to improve Russia’s bad investment climate.

“It’s extremely important for Medvedev that these objectives are fulfilled. These are things that actually matter,” says Sergei Guriev, rector at Moscow’s New Economic School and a member of the Russian president’s commission on national projects.

Then late Monday, Rosneft said Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who oversees the country’s oil and gas industry, would leave its board.

As Mr. Medvedev searched for ways to reduce the state’s overbearing role in large, non-transparent companies and in the overall economy, the spotlight must have quickly focused on Mr. Sechin, the oil czar. Long perceived as one of the country’s most powerful men, the staunch Putin ally wasn’t shy about using his post in the government to get things done at Rosneft.

Kremlin watchers said any disobedience or foot-dragging from Mr. Sechin would have been a huge loss of face for the president and cast serious doubt on his political future.

Thus Mr. Medvedev appears to have received a fresh infusion of political clout. Still, he may have moved against the ministers only with the blessing of Mr. Putin. Also, it’s unclear who will replace Mr. Sechin — perhaps another ally of Mr. Putin or a so-called “independent” director.

Several of Mr. Medvedev’s plans last month to improve the investment climate strike at the very heart of what may be driving capital out of the country, such as a deeply unpopular payroll tax increase and the often-flouted rights of minority shareholders. In the words of Mr. Guriev, the Russian president’s adviser, these are things that “matter very much to the average businessman on the street.”

Although it’s not clear how far the president can go in implementing his plans, the prospect of a reform-minded president backed by Mr. Putin’s political influence would no doubt please investors.


Census 2010: Russia facing a demographic challenge

The Russian government this week released the first preliminary results from last year’s census, so far confirming a long-running demographic crisis and sparking debate about the latest headcount’s accuracy and the government’s response.

The initial, bare-bones results contained few surprises, and appear to bear out a UN report that projects a significant depopulation of Russia in the next four decades.

Russia’s population dropped by 2.2 million — or 1.6 percent, to 142.9 million — since the last census in 2002. A disproportion in favor of women continues to grow as well, with 53.7 percent of the population female.

Aleksandr Surinov, the head of the Rosstat state statistics agency, told “Rossiiskaya gazeta” that the growing gender imbalance is due primarily to “the high incidence of premature death among men.”

The census also shows that 73.7 percent of Russians live in urban areas.

Just 20 of the country’s 83 regions saw population increases, many of them the so-called ethnic republics.

Raising Questions

Complete final results of the census — including crucial information on mortality and birthrates — is expected in early 2013.

In 2009, a UN report forecast that Russia’s population would fall to 116 million by 2050.

“The demographic process today — and I mean the decline in population — is fantastically powerful, and it is connected not only with the allocation or nonallocation of budget resources, but also with the problem of culture,” Mark Urnov, head of the politics department of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, says. “We have become a hedonistic consumer culture and, as is always the case in these situations, the birthrate is in decline. This is also happening in Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States.”

Only a few regions of Russia are bucking the overall downward trend. The prosperous major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg recorded increases, as did many of the “ethnic republics,” particularly in the violence-riddled North Caucasus. The primarily Muslim regions of Chechnya and Daghestan recorded the largest increases.

But Usama Baisayev, an activist in the North Caucasus with the Memorial human rights group, disputes the latest figures. For one thing, he notes that the 2002 census was carried out under difficult conditions in the region and so makes a poor baseline for comparison.

“I remember well how the 2002 census was conducted [in Chechnya] — in some places, the census takers simply didn’t go, particularly in the mountain villages,” Baisayev says. “At that time, representatives of the authorities were afraid to show up there because these villages were controlled — particularly at night — by Chechen fighters.”

In addition, Baisayev says both local authorities in these regions — which are almost entirely dependent on the budget subsidies from the central government — and the government in Moscow have strong incentives to inflate their numbers.

“I don’t think you can trust the results of this census, because the authorities in Chechnya today believe that the more people there are, the better,” Baisayev says. “There are reasons for this connected with the budget, with money. The Russian authorities also don’t object to this because human rights organizations are asserting that in Chechnya they are still killing people and producing evidence of this; but if the population figures show more residents of Chechnya, then that would mean the statistics contradict the reports of the activists.”

Drains And Holes

The census has once again stirred up discussion of Russia’s demographic challenges, with supporters of the ruling tandem of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arguing that the birthrate has stabilized following the demographic catastrophe of the 1990s and has even begun rising over the last couple of years. They attribute the uptick to the government’s family-promotion policies.

Other specialists, however, argue that the recent small increases in birthrates are due to the fact that the generation born in the late 1980s is now at its child-bearing peak. As that generation is replaced by the smaller and more traumatized cohort that was born in the 1990s, these specialists expect the birthrate to take another sharp downturn in the coming years.

“The population has increased [in the last few years], but there will be a decrease because those who were born in the 1990s will be having children soon,” says Flura Ildarkhanova, the head of a demographic research center of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences in Kazan. “[Then] the population will decrease again and there will be a ‘demographic hole.'”

Political scientist Urnov notes that the demographic problem is further exacerbated by out-migration, particularly of educated young people, in what he describes as “the monstrous brain drain, the drain of energetic and enterprising people.”

“There was a recent study of the middle class in the regions of [Russia], and it found that those who are oriented toward small or medium-sized business in production prefer to save up some money, pack their bags and go somewhere else. And who remains?”

All of these issues — low birthrates, rural depopulation, out-migration — can be coped with, Urnov argues, but doing so will take dedicated effort.

“If we fundamentally — sharply and deeply — change our long-term budget policies and bring consistent spending to education, to childcare, to kindergartens, to schools, to culture and if we form a system of values that is oriented toward the long term, maybe something will come of it,” Urnov says.