Elections to Russia’s State Duma will be the central political event of 2003; however, we should remember that soon after the parliamentary elections the country will have to participate in presidential elections. It is not ruled out that the problem of presidential elections is not paid special attention to because of the firm confidence of “Putin’s categorical imperative”. However, if we consider the situation from bottom to top, we’ll understand that the vertical of power constructed by the second Russian president doesn’t look completely monumental.
And this problem is not because of some faults of the vertical, such as indistinct positions of presidential plenipotentiaries in the federal districts who within the three years of their activity have failed to reach the level of authority endowed to them by the president. The problem is that the ideology of reforming suggested is obviously lagging behind the intermediate results of activity of the new system of power.
Let’s take Russia’s Far East and Primorye for instance. Last year the president spoke a lot about Russia’s strategic interests on the territories across the Ural Mountains and mentioned that the government planned several economic measures in the region, and the measures (dues on cars, auctions, energy tariffs) in their turn, seriously hit the pockets of Far Eastern citizens. You may say that these are only Russia’s internal problems, and nine millions of Far Eastern population displeased with the reforms carried out in the region won’t play the key role in the presidential elections. But Russia’s advanced western region also has questions to ask the federal center – the Chechen war or the threat of terrorism, for instance. If a PR campaign is launched professionally, these problems can be posed in a rhetorical manner to strain the nerves of the probable candidate to the presidential post (the incumbent president is meant).
As of now, there are actually no real opponents to President Putin. Leaders of the parliamentary factions are the yesterday of Russia’s politics. But the fact that we see no visual image of Putin’s rival doesn’t mean that there is no rival in fact. The very example of Putin demonstrates that quite unknown people can be nominated to the presidential post. So, it is not ruled out that prospective successor to Vladimir Putin may emerge right before elections rather unexpectedly.
It will take several years more before the Russian voters will give up the habit of considering only politicians in a rank of prime minister or party leader as appropriate candidates to the presidential post. But the exclusive status categories of choice are the recurrence of a transition model of society development. And if the Russian society wants to finally complete the transition, we will have to share the same values of success and the universal notion of the American dream that the whole of the civilized world has. This will be the time when governors will become candidates to the presidential posts like in the USA, or these will be businessmen like in Italy. It is quite clear that nothing of the kind will occur during presidential elections in 2004, but presidential elections in 2008 will be the time when quite a new candidate to the Russian presidency comes. It may happen even of the Duma passes a legislation on the possibility of the third presidential term.
What is more, there is such a candidate: a young man who seldom appears on TV screens and his name is not involved in scandals connected with Russian oligarchs. The basis that man is laying for his future suggests an idea that he is being prepared to take Putin’s place. His name is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the president of Russia’s second largest and dynamically developing oil company YUKOS.
In fact, Mikhail Khodorkovsky is a businessman of a transitional type, like any other known businessman in Russia. But at the same time he is particular: he is going beyond the limits of exclusively corporate business construction, on the example of his company he suggests a practical model of the society. And it is done not in an ultimate form in the manner of Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky. The Khodorkovsky label is being promoted horizontally on the same level where the businessman is himself. But one day it may happen so that this level will be the limit against which majority of the electorate will rest.
A club of regional journalists which name can be translated as Firsthand Facts was created for promotion of the Khodorkovsky label. It was not his own idea to create the club, but he sponsors activity of the club. About 50 journalists from Russian province come to sessions of the club twice a month. They listen to reports delivered by lectors from institutes and ministries who share the same views Khodorkovsky does. At that, Mikhail Khodorkovsky is the highlight of the program: he is democratic, easily understood and thinks sensibly. The journalist cohort who regularly contact with the oligarch can be called Khodorkovsky’s fifth column in the Russian regions.
Provincial mass media is just a part of progressive promotion of Khodorkovsky. For five years already he has been financing the interregional public organization of youth and children New Civilization.
From time to time rumors and newspaper sensations say that Khodorkovsky’s company YUKOS finances the communist party, or that Khodorkovsky tries to reconcile the one-leader party Yabloko with the four-leader party Union of Right-wing Forces. The YUKOS president has already declared that he would quit the business in 2007, one year before presidential elections. No doubt that one day Mikhail Khodorkovsky will launch a struggle for the electorate. Otherwise, we are observing the first in the Russian history instance of political altruism.
Igor Nikitin Zolotoy Rog newspaper
Photo: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, YUKOS president
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://politics.pravda.ru/politics/2003/1/1/1/8419_hodorkovsky.html
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