|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Putin's Party Wins Overwhelming Vote in Russian Election
Dec. 3 (EIRNS)The United Russia party, running with President Vladimir Putin at the head of its slate, and "Vote for Putin's Plan" on its posters, swept yesterday's elections for the State Duma of the Russian Federation. Its 64% result was close to United Russia's aim of matching Putin's own popularity rating of 70%. The voter turnout was 60%. Contrary to predictions that only one other party would cross the recently raised 7% threshold for entering the Duma as a parliamentary bloc, a total of four parties did so. With 98% of the vote counted, the showings were:
Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) - 11.6%
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR; Vladimir Zhirinovsky)8.2%
A Just Russia (Sergei Mironov)7.8%
Federation Council Speaker Mironov, who has styled his new party as a loyal opposition, and has even called for Putin to seek a third term as President, talked on election night about joining with the CPRF as a "left bloc" in the Duma. No other party got more than 2.5% of the vote. The liberal parties Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces were in the 1-2% range. These groups did not get enough votes to pass even the previous 5% threshold for entering the Duma. Some even smaller entities, such as the United Civil Front of Wall Street Journal columnist Garry Kasparov, did not qualify for the ballot.
No doubt, there was heavy pressure from local governments in many provinces to deliver a big vote for United Russia. Communist Party leader Gennadi Zyuganov charged that CPRF votes were twice as high as reported, but were diverted to the LDPR and A Just Russia. But the overall high support for the party that Putin allowed to raise his banner was indisputable, making the vicious attacks on Putin as an anti-democrat, which came today from the European Union and other quarters, appear to many people in Russia as simply an attack on their country.
Another change in the election procedures has pushed the Duma in the direction of more homogeneity. This time the entire Duma was elected by party slates, rather than half the deputies having to win as individual candidates in their districts. Yet, despite the appearance of the election result as an overwhelming referendum in favor of Putin and United Russia, tension remains high on the Russian political sceneand is a palpable distraction, in leading Russian circles, from dealing with the world strategic situation presented by the monetary system breakdown.
The main announcements lie ahead: Who will run for President? United Russia promises to reveal its candidate by Dec. 17. What will Putin do? Individual members of United Russia have floated schemes such as the institution of a new "National Leader" position. So far, however, United Russia chairman and Speaker of the Duma Boris Gryzlov said in his Dec. 2 press conference that United Russia does not intend to seek changes in the Constitution that would allow such innovations, or to directly permit Putin to run for a third term.
Putin Promises Long-Range Space Plan
Dec. 4 (EIRNS)Following a visit to the famed Lavochkin Research and Production Space Center, President Putin said that a draft cosmonautics investment plan will be put together to for the period till 2040. It will be presented for consideration in February, said Russian Space Agency head Gen. Anatoly Perminov.
Putin said that "prospects are good" for space science and military space projects, astrophysics, and planetary exploration." Acknowledging the frustration on the part of space scientists, engineers, and industry with the lack of support and the slow pace of Russia's space projects, Putin said the Lavochkin leadership "would like the programs we set up together to be implemented more quickly, and, perhaps, even more broadly. All of this will be reviewed in the Security Council and the government cabinet."
On Nov. 30, Russian space pioneer Boris Chertok (95), who was former deputy chief designer in the bureau that created Sputnik, added his voice to pressure the government to rebuild the space program, stating: "We need to restore what we have lost over 15 years of destructive reforms." Free-market changes under Boris Yeltsin were disastrous for Russia science. "The market economy is incapable of fulfilling such large national programs as flight to the Moon." His remarks were reported by Russian wire services.
Russia 'Disappointed' at ABM Cooperation 'Rollback'
Dec. 5 (EIRNS)Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the press today that the written proposal Russia recently received from the United States on ballistic missile defense (BMD) cooperation is a "rollback" of what had been discussed with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in October. "We are, frankly, disappointed," Lavrov said, because the proposals "added nothing new to the situation that existed before" the more promising talks with Rice and Gates.
Specifically, Lavrov noted that the formal proposal eliminated one of the innovations that had emerged during those October 2+2 talks (between the foreign and defense ministers of each country): It "no longer stipulates the deployment of Russian officers at the Third [BMD] Sites in the Czech Republic and Poland." In the new version, visits by Russian officers would be subject to approval by the authorities in those two countries. "This is quite a different story, you see," said Lavrov. In addition, he said that the written proposal reserved to the U.S.A. the right to decide unilaterally to activate the BMD systems, as opposed to October's discussion that this would be a joint decision based on a mutually agreed evaluation of a threat from a third country.
Lavrov called the changes a "radical contradiction to our approach." He also charged that Washington was pressuring other countries to reject the Russian proposal to make adherence to the Intermediate-Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty universal. Despite today's sharply worded public critique of the U.S. written proposal, the negotiation process continues. Lavrov will meet Rice on Dec. 7, at a foreign ministers session of the NATO-Russia Council.
Russia, U.S. Agree to Bilateral Military Cooperation
Dec. 5 (EIRNS)The United States and Russia signed a memorandum on bilateral military cooperation yesterday, after Russian Chief of Staff Gen. Yuri Baluyevksy met in Washington with Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Novosti reports. Baluyevsky was received at the Pentagon "with full military honor," and the talks were described by spokesman for Mullen as a "fruitful, productive discussion that both parties benefited from," according to other wire services.
The visit of Russia's highest-ranking military officer, and the significant agreement reached, comes otherwise at a time of great bilateral tension in military affairs, over several issues: the Bush Administration's hope to place components of its ballistic missile defense system at Russia's borders, in Poland and the Czech Republic; Russia's at-least-temporary withdrawal from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE); and the disagreement about renewing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
During his five-day U.S. visit, Baluyevsky is also scheduled to meet deputy National Security Advisor James Jeffrey, and Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation John Rood. Baluyevsky, Novosti reports, will visit Kings Bay naval submarine base in Georgia, home to at least eight ballistic missile submarines, and, according to the Russian Embassy, he will visit a naval base in Seattle.
Wall Street Journal Hypes Gorby as Putin's Pal
Dec. 1 (EIRNS)The Wall Street Journal today published a nearly two-page profile of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachov, promoting him as a great champion of Russian democracy who, at the same time, serves as a key advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom the Journal targets as a defiler of "democracy" and the Gorbachov "perestroika" ("reconstruction") legacy. The Journal story came in the midst of a U.S. and British media assault on Putin, as leading a campaign to re-Stalinize Russia, suppress democracy, and install himself as a new type of czar-for-life. The profile of Gorbachov casts the last Soviet President as a captive of the new Russian dictator, who has been coopted by Putin's personal outreach, since coming in as Boris Yeltsin's last prime minister in 1999. According to the Journal account, largely based on interviews with Gorbachov during his recent tour of the United States, Putin invited Gorbachov to form the social democratic political movement, and installed him as a top figure in the Russian-German Dialogue, which Putin launched with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder several years ago.
Putin: Russian Government Will Back Up BanksCautiously
Dec. 5 (EIRNS)President Putin said that the government and Central Bank will help Russia's banking sector deal with the liquidity problems which have hit hard since the world financial markets seized up in August, but the government will be cautious in its interventions, Novosti reported today. "The government and the Central Bank are ready to support Russian banks, but it must be done carefully, not at the expense of macroeconomic stability," Putin was quoted.
Russian banks have had to turn to domestic sources for liquidity, since international funds they had relied on before are now far too expensive. On Nov. 28, "repo" refinancing operations through the Central Bank hit a record of 300 billion rubles ($12 billion).