RUSSIA – THE PUTIN MEDVEDEV CHANGEOVER
The changeover in the presidency of the Russian federation between Medvedev and Putin – going back and forth – has occurred again on the past 7th of May with the inaugural ceremony of Vladimir Putin (Putin III, after the two preceding mandates: 2000 – 2004 and 2004 – 2008). On the following day (May 8th 2012) Medvedev filled in the post of Prime Minister, thus reconstructing, although with opposite roles, the previous tandem at the helm of power in Russia.
Regarding the composition of the government, many speak of a “new” government, or rather of “two governments”: the official one with Medvedev and the more authoritative one with Putin. It seems like a subtle invite for stronger ties between the two institutional formations (a relationship of dependence or of separation of competence).
One could, at this point, draw an easy conclusion: “nothing's changed” (with regards to the previous governments); yet these elements are not sufficient for a correct evaluation and the time elapsed from the installation of the two politicians is too little.
Before reaching a final conclusion one must consider other aspects: the terms of the mandate, the legacy of Medvedev in relation to the things that have been done during his mandate (2008 – 2012), the criteria and the initiatives that have been undertaken this far by Putin in terms of foreign policy and economy. Also, most importantly so, the operative room entrusted/delegated by Putin to Medvedev, in the light of the composition of the two hypothetic governments:
The official Medvedev government. The new young faces, most of which are aged somewhere around 40; among these there is the 29-year-old Nikolaj Nikiparov, Minister of Telecommunications, who is pushing for information technology and the access to the internet for all offices of the Russian administration;
The authoritative Putin government. Putin has placed the ministers from his previous government in the special “Council of Presidency” (in practice they walked out through the door and back in through the window). They are responsible for drafting the main governing criteria and path, among which some observers have already hypothesized the reduction and weakening of the decisional power of Medvedev (the appointment of a “presidency of companies for energetic resources”, thus the abolition of the ban on the appointment of heads of enterprises to government posts, etc.)
The presidential term
In 2008 the duration of the presidential term has been increased from 4 to 6 years, with a maximum of two consecutive terms: Putin could be president of the Russian federation from 2012 to 2024, a period of time that would be surpassed by Stalin alone (29 years – from 1924 to 1953) and by Breznev who was secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1964 to 1982 (18 years).
Putin would be able to collect 20 years of presidency (although not continuous) if we consider the eight years comprising his previous terms in office (2000 – 2004; 2004 – 2008).
The presidential elections (March 4th 2012) have followed closely the parliamentary elections (December 4th 2011): these have had a role in the alternation between Medvedev and Putin because at the “United Russia” party conference on September 24th 2011 the President of the Russian Federation Dmitrij Medvedev has proposed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, his predecessor, for the office of President of the Federation; Putin accepted, offering Medvedev a chance to run together at the parliamentary elections, thus offering him the office of Prime Minister at the end of his presidential term.
According to the constitution, the President of the Russian Federation appoints the Prime Minister, is responsible for foreign policy, is the head of the F.A., declares martial law, controls the security services and the agencies that supervise the media. He also has the power to dissolve parliament (which is comprised of the Duma/lower house with 450 members and by the Council of the Federation/upper house with 166 members).
The 2011 – 2012 elections
During the parliamentary elections of December 4th 2011 for the Duma, the governing party “United Russia” lost seats compared to the preceding 2007 elections (from 315 to 238 seats); the other parties – the Communist Party, “Just Russia” party and the Liberal – Democratic party have obtained respectively 92, 64 and 56 seats in the Duma.
The other three parties – the Social – Liberal party “Yabloko”, the pro-government party “Just Cause” and the Liberal – Democratic party (nationalistic one) did not surpass the minimum 7% barrage.
Such results have sparked unrest on December 10, 2011 and have triggered demonstrations against Putin where thousands of Russians marched in the streets to protest against irregularities in the counting of votes, not to mention the suggestion by Michail Gorbaciov that Putin resign.
The presidential elections of March 4th 2012 have also been plagued by electoral results that have been deemed “irregular” by the OECD – Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – because about a third of the votes were counted in an irregular manner.
There follows information about the responsibilities on the electoral procedure, on candidates, voters, electoral colleges, voting controls, results of the presidential elections and the diffusion of such results.
According to the constitution, the federation's council calls for presidential elections; the justice minister and his territorial agencies are responsible for the registration of political parties.
The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) is responsible for the electoral process, beginning with informing the citizens and all the way to the drafting and diffusion of the electoral results; it is composed of 83 Electoral Commissions of Administrative Subjects (SEC), one for each federal entity (21 republics, 47 provinces/oblast, 9 territories/krai, 4 administrative districts and 2 cities: Moscow and Saint Petersburg), 2746 Territorial Electoral Commissions (TEC) and 94300 Electoral Commissions of constituency (PEC).
The CEC, SEC and TEC are permanent commissions and are designated every 5 years while the new PEC's are designated during each election. The PEC's meet no later than 50 days before the date of each election.
Every citizen that has reach the 18 th year of age can participate in the controls on the exercise of vote and on the conduct of the Commissions for presidential elections. These citizens will be designated by each candidate, political party or by the mass media: every citizen who participate in the controls will be monitoring the electoral campaign and in the organization of the telephone numbers and websites where every citizen can report on any irregularity.
Each electoral seat has two “web cams” and a computer for checking and recording voting operations.
The GOLOS association has trained about 6000 observers that will monitor elections in all of Russia; other associations have also become involved after the irregularities that followed the Duma elections in 2011.
The OECD, as mentioned above, will be responsible for monitoring the development of the electoral process; The OECD in Moscow has 15 expert observers and 40 more that have completed training; it is also able to designate 160 more observers if need be; the presidential elections kept them busy from January 26 to March 15 2012.
The electoral system in Russia is based on a majority vote with a second round if no candidate reaches an absolute majority during the first round, which is quite rare (it happened to Yeltsin in 1996).
The context of irregularities during voting is guaranteed by specific laws regarding democracy, constitutional liberties of the country and the information system of the federation, also known as GAS Vybory.
Every citizen that has reached the 18th year of age can vote in presidential elections. In order to be eligible one has to have reached the 35th year of age without having served two consecutive presidential mandates and without having been condemned for “serious or extreme crimes”.
The political parties that support each candidate cannot have professional, racial, national or religious bases; they must be located within the above-mentioned 83 administrative districts and must have a total of at least 10.000 members.
Voluntary contributions of more than 10 times the monthly minimum established on March 1st, 2011 (the day before elections) are not allowed.
Voting in the 817 electoral seats that are located in far away districts begin two weeks ahead of time.
Voting instruments (such as scanners and touch-screen equipment) have been deployed in 5566 stations, 411 more than those deployed for the 2011 Duma elections.
There follows a chart with the five candidates, their supporting party, the number of votes obtained and the relative percentage.
ITS POLITICAL ORIENTATION
|NUMBER OF VOTES||PERCENTAGE
|ZIRINOVSKIJ VLADIMIR||LIBERAL -
|MIRONOV SERGEIJ||"JUST RUSSIA"
(Democratic Socialist Party)
|NON VALID VOTES||833.191
over a total of 109.610.812 citizens that have a right to vote, the actual voters were 65,25%;
Putin has obtained: less than 50% of the votes in the central FD (Federal District – Moscow); between 50 and 56% in the North-Western FD (S. Petersburg) and about 70% in the other FD's.
The elections and the opposition
Just like on December 10, 2011, after the parliamentary elections of the Duma, when thousands of protesters marched in the streets demanding regular elections, on March 5th 2012, the day after presidential elections, the protest began anew against irregularities in a third of the electoral seats as denounced by the OECD.
The demonstrations were authorized by Putin himself as an expression of “democratic government”. Putin renounced the use of force in Pushkin plaza, Moscow, by the agents of the interior ministry – the “Omon” - who were dressed in anti-riot clothing (kneepads, bullet-proof vests, helmet and earphones for communications).
The protesters chanted their anti-regime slogans (such as “real elections” and “thieves and crooks be gone”, etc.). In the afternoon a Television conductor asked the protesters to go home peacefully and the crowd agreed.
Yet the use of non-violent means were the premise for an easier control and round-up of the organizers of the protests, who were identified ahead of time. This new strategy allowed Putin's men to arrest hundreds, who were charged with disobeying the orders of authorities and were sent to peripheral police stations: such an offense is punishable with two weeks jail time.
The blogger Aleksej Navalny
Among the arrested:
- Aleksej Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger;
- Sergej Udaltsov, leader of the “Left Front” and militant for “civil rights”;
- Ilya Yashin, leader of the “Solidarnosh Movement”, one of the biggest critics of the new Putin-Medvedev fellowship;
- Edvard Limonov, writer, who was arrested some hours earlier in Lubianka Plaze, where the Information Services of the Federation are located.
Faced with this new strategy by the police, the opposition too tried to devise a new way to deal with the conduct of the regime, based on the appeal by Mikhail Gorbachev (“here nobody should die for the country; we should all live to achieve democracy”) by the world chess champion Garry Kasparov (“the regime cannot defend itself; in the end it will lose its head”) and by journalist Oleg Kashin, already a victim of the regime (he was beaten by two individuals after publishing an article against the oligarchs) who stated that during a fight, if one is knocked on the ground, one should wait until he has regained enough strength before getting up and fighting again.
In short, the opposition is finding it hard to organize itself against a very strong “enemy” and to surpass a time of reduced operative enthusiasm:
- the leaders follow the demonstrators but stay away from the spotlight, with great use of the web;
- the slogans, even those against the government (“Putin thief”, etc.) are less effective because they have been heard too many times;
- there is the need to give more room and power to information about the crimes of the regime, by limiting the meetings and swarming the streets on significant dates: during the procession on the 1st of May, like in the times of the Soviet Union (Putin and Medvedev were present), on the inaugural ceremony of Putin at the Kremlin (May 7), on the national celebration of the 12th of June and during the demonstration against the “anti-protest law” that came into effect on June 9th.
The opinions of bloggers that oppose the regime such as Navalny are supported by more moderate observers such as Mikhail Gorbachev, who are trying to avoid that the country become a tyranny where the citizens are not allowed to express their dissent. (article 31 of the constitution plus heavy fines – up to 12.000 euro – for “non authorized demonstration” which, in relation to the low wages and the jail time for those who do not pay up, makes it very hard to express thoughts that are critical with regards to government policies).
Even “spontaneous” parties or aggregations in parks by the opposition members (even without a political agenda) are subject to fines. Any form of mass gathering is prohibited, although the law does not specify the number of individuals that make up a “mass” gathering.
70.000 individuals took part in the demonstration against the “anti-protest” law, under the prying eyes of young police officers that were strangely “gentle” with the protesters, while the Omon were checking for developments in the side alleys.
It could, once again, be a new strategy of the regime against demonstrations; the police would be “discreet” while agents would penetrate demonstrations in order to provoke the violent reaction of the Omon. This would allow the regime to arrest hundreds and then to release those deemed less dangerous while making it look like an act of clemency.
During the ceremony for the June 12th national celebration Putin himself – for the first time – commented a demonstration against his person, underlining the importance of listening to others on important issues. He also emphasized, though, that “that which divides or damages the state cannot be tolerated”.
All of this happened while the blogger Aleksej Navalny, the anti-corruption blogger, was being questioned for his responsibility in the clashes of May 6th and while his office was being searched to find any traces of evidence on the corruption involving the circle of power that revolves around Putin.
Ilya Ponomarov, deputy of “Just Russia” also expressed a significant invite for a change in the protests: the proposal asked for the election of a “governing group” for the protest that would be elected through primaries if need be.
The legacy of Medvedev
The legacy of Medvedev regards essentially foreign policy. Medvedev's mandate as president of the Russian federation (2008-2012) was exercised in a time of economic restraint. The fight against corruption was also very important because corruption is a considerable obstacle in the modernization of the Russian political system. Also, on the regional level (the Black Sea area), the “five day” war against Georgia in August 2008 highlighted contrasts between Russia and the West.
In brief, this leads to a situation of possible isolation of Russia on the international level following the worsening of relations with the US and with the EU.
Two events have helped reduce the tension: one is the peace plan drafted by the EU, under the French presidency, signed by Medvedev and by the Georgian president Saakashvili. The other is the global financial crisis that has helped forget about the Georgian issue, as witnessed during the “Conference for international politics” in Evian in the following month of October and the Summit Russia- EU in Nice in November.
The bettering of relations between Russia and the West has been ulteriorly evidenced during the Nato summit in Lisbon in 2010, when president Medvedev asked the USA to organize a “joint anti-missile defense system”: Moscow does not believe in the proposed purpose of the “anti-missile space shield” (exclusively against Iran) partly in light of the fact that the US senate has approved a “proposal to prohibit” all transfer of information on the shield to any foreign country.
On the other hand, there is the so-called “off-air” conversation between Obama and Medvedev during the Nuclear summit in Seoul in March 2012:
- Obama asked Medvedev to help him out with the missiles (“this is my last election, afterwards I can be more flexible”);
- Medvedev answered: “I understand; I'll forward your message to Vladimir” (Putin);
The relationship between the two “superpowers” also include the reduction of strategic weapons, the START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty); in particular the problem of exchanges of information data on the missiles:
- the USA were favorable to the exchange of data;
- Russia thought that such exchange should not be part of the deal.
It was agreed, as a sign of “reached accord” that each country would decide on its own which data to exchange (rocket launches; information data; tests on new missiles, etc.).
The deal opened the door to a more flexible stance by Russia both on the signing of the Treaty of Prague in 2010 – as opposed to the “tension” between the two nations during the Bush administration – and on the support by Russia to the UN resolution n.1929 (sanctions against Iran), including the prohibition to transfer to Teheran the missile system S-300.
Finally there is the decision by Moscow to “abstain” itself on occasion of the military intervention in against Libya: Russia thought that it was a bad idea to worsen relations with the US for Tripoli's sake.
On the economic front, the most important event was the adhesion of Russia to the WTO (World Trade Organization): the US thought it a good time for Russia to enter the WTO during Medvedev's mandate, seen his engagement in favor of lessening tensions between the two countries.
The inaugural ceremony (May 7th 2012)
After the preceding two terms (2000-2004; 2004-2008), the inaugural ceremony of Putin for his third term has underlined the austerity of the “time of the Tzars” even without huge gatherings, as evidenced by the mass media.
Among the applause of the guests (3000 participants, among whom 1000 were invited to attend the dinner party), the “contained” expression of Gorbachev is to be noted. Gorbachev had invited Putin to “step aside”. Also, the reassured face of Medvedev, whom on May 8th 2012 had constituted together with Putin an alternation of power in the guise of Prime Minister.
After taking the oath on the constitution and taking possession of the “atomic briefcase”, the ceremonial continued with the signing by Putin of some measures in favor of the Russian people:
- a one-time subsidy for war veterans and invalids of 130 euro;
- a decree for the creation, within 2020, of 25 million new jobs.
A message was also sent to the US regarding the “missile shield” that, in brief, underlines the willingness of Russia to negotiate on the subject while demanding respect and no interference with the internal affairs of the Russian federation.
Putin also made promises – albeit ones that are hard to keep – such as the fight against corruption, the modernization of economy and a free and determined society: this last promise in stark contrast with the law on “democratic elections” of governors and mayors of large cities, whom are presently designated directly by the president of the russian federation.
Putin III's greeting card
A few months after the inauguration of the new government, several strategies already appear clearly outlined:
- the attention to the huge Russian territory in relation to its population (145 millions only);
- the strengthening of the economy (essentially the energetic resources);
- restrictions on the West and China with regards to the strategic sector;
- nationalism, the press and the intellighentia in general.
For those who have followed closely the two preceding terms (2000-2004; 2004-2008) it all seems like a deja-vu, especially if the depths of the lands under the north pole are substituted with the inhospitality of the Tundra and of the Siberian glaciers: all of them serve the purpose of further exploration and exploitation of ulterior natural resources.
There is a “Company for the development of Eastern Siberia and the Russian Extreme Orient”, based in Vladivostok, capital of the territory of Primorje and the end of the Transiberian railway (9300 km from Moscow).
The aforementioned company, with unlimited powers, would be controlled directly by the President of the Federation; its goal is to bring Siberia back to life (“the land that sleeps”), to populate 10.000 square km of glaciers and taiga (the coniferous forest with a swampy ground), to exploit the mineral resources (gold, iron, coal and petrol) that are so enticing for the russian oligarchs and to stop the proliferation of Chinese colonies, which take ownership of the territories and their production through contracts that last decades (as has already happened in Africa) and through the exploitation of local manual labor to exploit the resources thereof.
It is a plan that Stalin failed to enact through his deportations; this time they are trying with incentives that include:
- russian workers that are offered advantageous conditions (refund of accommodation expenses; an extra-monthly wage);
- foreign workers, in particular those that come from the countries that make up the “Community of Independent States” (CIS) and that inhabit the big Russian cities; to these the government offers work visas and facilitations for attaining the Russian citizenship;
- the companies that will build plants for the exploitation of raw materials; these companies will receive tax incentives.
In short, the invitation to “all go to Siberia” in order to give an answer to the discontent and to the economic crisis.
Another attempt by Putin to better the economy is the “Russian-Chinese treaty on energy and development”.
This time the circumstance was the summit of the SCO- Organization for the Cooperation of Shanghai – an inter-government organization founded on June 15, 2001 in Shanghai with the aim of countering terrorism in border zones to which economic cooperation was later added, especially with regards to the energy sector.
The SCO includes China, Russia and four former Soviet countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tadzhikistan and Uzbekistan); the observers of the SCO are India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan.
The SCO is located in Tashkent and has a secretariat in Beijing.
On the past 5th of June, China and Russia have signed an “Accord on energy and development” (between president Putin and President Hu Jintao) during a meeting of the SCO (with Iran, Afghanistan, Belarus and Turkey) which saw the participation of energetic giants alternative to the Middle East.
The Moscow-Beijing accord shifted the balance of the global flux of gas and oil to the east.
The accord has yet to become official but China and Russia have already approved it.
The summit was also attended by the Energy ministers of the countries, by the directors of the national Atomic agencies and by the heads of the public energy companies of Russia and China.
As far as gas is concerned, an agreement on the price has yet to be reached while the siberian ducts are ready to join those of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
China and Russia generally have coinciding visions on international crisis situations (in particular the crisis in Syria); the accord on energy will further enhance the exchanges between China and Russia from 100 million dollars in 2015 up to 200 million dollars in 2020.
The agreement, apart from gas and oil, regards a “common investment fund” of four billion dollars open to private chinese investors.
Putin has also announced a Russian-Chinese plan for a trans-asian power line going through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Also, there will be the inauguration of a motor-way connecting Saint Petersburg with Shanzhen and a technological alliance that will bring further integration between hi-tech companies in Russia and China. All of it is reminiscent of the “fortunate” epoch of Breznev and Deng Xiaoping.
Behind Putin's and Zi Jinping's (the next Chinese leader) dream there is a change to a “green economy” that is based on clean energy, as Beijing is nearing the doubling of energy consumption.
On the strategic front, the confrontation between Russia and Nato on the “missile defense system” continues. Both the USA and Nato refuse to give the Russian federation “legal guarantees” that the system will not take aim on Russia's “Nuclear forces”.
During the summit of the past 24th of May in Brussels between Russia and Nato, the Kremlin has proposed measures to slow down the weapons race, as was anticipated in the “legacy of Medvedev” above.
As a first step, according to Moscow, Nato should agree to respect international laws and renounce the independent use of force without an explicit authorization by the UN security council.
On the website of the Russian defense department, the vice-prime minister Dmitri Ragozin, in charge of modernizing the department, drafted a list of the funds allocated to the department for the decades to come, underlining the fact that although the money would not go to other social programs, the population is proud because there has been no criticism or irritation.
The Russian public opinion doesn't trust the USA, whose conventional forces in Europe amply surpass those of the Russian federation, without speaking of new technological advancements and new kinds of weapons that could further shift the balance in favor of the US in the region.
Nato, according to the common opinion, is reinforcing its presence on the borders with Russia: new bases in Poland, Bulgaria and Romania; as in Afghanistan, where the US bases will remain even after the withdrawal of international troops.
Speaking of Syria, despite the declaration of intents by the Russian and US presidents during the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, on June 19 (for a non-military solution to the problem), there is a clash between foreign ministers Hillary Clinton and Sergej Lavrov, which could easily worsen relations between the two countries:
- H. Clinton accuses Russia of supplying combat helicopters and missiles to Syria that the regime could then use against the civilian population;
- S. Lavrov says that it is a “legal” sale (conventional defense weapons), as opposed to the weapons sold by the US to the opposition in order to topple the legitimate Damascus government.
According to indiscretions, the weapons for the “rebels” would have been paid for by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two gulf countries that are favorable to an international military intervention against Damascus.
And speaking of such intervention, it remains highly improbable because of dissent within the security council; in the next security council meeting members will examine the possibility of determining a no-fly zone over Syria: this would also explain the emphasis put by H. Clinton on the weapons sold by Russia to Syria.
It must also be noted that the Syrian cargo “Mv Alad” with Russian helicopters and missiles that sailed from Kaliningrad and bound for Syria was blocked during navigation because the British insurance company suspended its coverage. The ship has probably sailed back to its origin in Kaliningrad.
Conclusive considerations, or rather, first impressions
“Nothing has changed”, one would intuitively think at first: the few facts observed since Putin took over seem to confirm that the administration of power by Putin will be “in line” with the two preceding presidential terms (2000-2008). We are speaking of the following:
- The economy is still centered on energetic resources (oil, gas) and on the exploitation of mineral deposits; in particular the agreement with China would have been signed in order to counterbalance possible “blackouts” by European countries, which are the main clients of Russia.
- The “dream” of populating the Siberian territories through the “Company for the development of the Russian Eastern Siberia”, for the same purpose (exploitation of resources) and to stop the proliferation of Chinese colonies and their exploitation contracts.
- To impose prohibitions on the US and Nato in the strategic sector (missile defense system; presence of Nato-USA contingents and bases bordering the Russian federation; to reset the balance of power that has shifted in favor of the US with the new technological advancements in weaponry);
- Adequate relationships with the countries of the “Black sea region”: these include the first visit by Putin in Belarus and the offer of medical treatment to the former Ukrainian PM Yulia Timoshenko despite the opposition of pro-Russian president Janukovich);
- A new strategy with regards to mass demonstrations by the opposition: to control such demonstrations by using “humane faced” policemen close-by while the Omon are ready to jump in. In terms of prevention, the anti-protest law was passed on june 9: in practice it cancels article 31 of the constitution (right of citizens to express their opinion), with heavy fines (up to the equivalent of 12.000 euro) for those who take part in unauthorized demonstrations and for demonstrations that stray from the time and place indicated in such authorizations.
And what about the “new government”, or rather, “the two new governments” that we spoke of in the beginning of the article?
To answer this question we must go through more data that can confirm that the two governments are either interconnected or independent from each other.
At the moment the only proof of an interconnection lies in the famous “off-air” discussion between Obama and Medvedev in Seoul: When Obama asks for a hand on the missile problem, Medvedev reassures him that he will forward the request to Putin.
This implies a connection between the two governments with limitations in the decision-making process. Yet for this aspect we should gather yet more evidence and perhaps we shouldn't give in to the views of French writer-director Emmanuel Carrere, knowledgeable on all things Russian. When interviewed on his expectations for the March 4th 2012 elections he answered (as reported by the daily newspaper La Repubblica of March 18th 2012):
politics mean nothing in Russia;
the real power is in the hands of the “mafias”; these organizations act like shareholders and when the CEO loses popularity, they substitute him with another that's more likable or that appears more democratic. In short, the problem with Russia is not Vladimir Putin; is there will be discontent Putin will be kicked out of office and replaced by another candidate: all will continue as it did before;
the governing of the country does not involve the citizens, whom at the most will be allowed to accumulate wealth, just like the “mafias”;
all of this will continue until there will be an “authentic revolution” that is unthinkable at the time being, because nobody wants it nor does anyone dream of enacting it.