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#14 - JRL 7006
Novoye Vremya
December 29, 2002
Putin has delayed his modernizing dream in 2002
Author: Sergey Shelin
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]


Recently, Genady Zyuganov said, "When there are so many reforms being carried to simultaneously, it is difficult to avoid chaos." However, the reforms are not being carried out - they are rather being announced, one by one, in large quantities.

The list of promised reforms is so large that it will be enough until 2008, while Vladimir Putin is the president.

In December, the government promised to make the tax reduction plan in January, which will start working from 2004 or 2005. At the same time, the government denied the reasonability of the tax reduction in fall.

The prime minister required that the defense minister should transfer the army on a contract basis in 2007. However, it is not clear whether the army recruitment system will be canceled - at the same time, the defense ministry promised to think of the plan for reducing the army service to six months. It is also promised that by 2007 juries will appear in all Russian courts.

The president has signed a decree on reforming the state service by 2005. the ranking system for civil, military, and law enforcement officials will be put in order, the money allowances will be increased, and, according to a Kremlin official, they will turn into "valued members of the civilized society who will render official services to citizens".

Another Kremlin official said meaningfully that the federal center has never meant to forcedly merge the regions; however, he immediately added that this question "may be included on the agenda" after a "clear base for local self-administering" is formed.

The bills on transformation of the regional and municipal authorities will form this base - they have been postponed by the Duma several times, now they are scheduled for consideration in January. One of the bills stipulates dividing the police into the federal police and municipal police. The security structure is really "distributed" between Moscow and municipal authorities, the regional governors will have not strength to oppose to the Kremlin's innovations. Naturally, the gubernatorial corps opposes to this and the long arguments have led to no consensus. Nonetheless, the beginning of the regional-municipal reform is still scheduled for 2005. Other great reforms - housing and utilities, energy, railroad - are slowly moving through the Duma in the form of bills.

It seems the only area the innovations have not touched upon of late has been politics. Nothing has been added to the earlier projects on ruled democracy and two- or three-party system in the country.

Vladimir Putin has been repeatedly reproached for the absence of a distinct program: evidently, the Russian president is already seeing in his mind the Russia of 2008 - a modernized, almost modern country.

However, it will not catch up with Portugal; at the same time, the GDP will grow by almost a third - according to governmental forecasts - and will eventually leave the greatest achievements of the USSR behind!

NATO and Russia will become so friendly that they will almost merge. The European Union will move to the right and new generation politicians will lead it - they will resemble Putin's good friend Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi. Bypassing cunning neighbors, the Russian gas will come to Europe by a direct North-European gas pipeline - Europe will cancel all restrictions for importing gas from Russia. The Russia-Europe borderline will become more and more transparent and the no-visa regime will be discussed seriously.

Supertankers with Russian oil will leave or America from new oil terminals in the north. The US will take no important decisions without consulting with Russia as a strategic partner that will still be behind Great Britain but overrun Turkey.

Russia's internal life will eventually be filled with lawfulness, order, and reasonable freedom. The two- or three-party system will be working without failures and probably will become popular.

Regional governors will become more modest, the regions will be extended, the army will become professional, juries will sentence the bad and will justify the good; Belarus and Chechnya will calm down and will take their places in Russia's influence area....

Daydreamers often change the reality. However, very often the reality changes daydreamers. Putin seems to be at this fork now: either his popularity rating will be converted into real serious decision, or, more likely, it will start falling.

People's love is the most surprising phenomenon that is accompanying Putin. no expert could foresee it would be so stable. It is still said that Putin's rating is the "rating of hope", but it is only partially true. Putin is not only the incarnation of expectations, he is also trying to realize many of his promises: he is putting officials on their places, carries out large-scale popular and populist expensive measures, he is demonstratively tough to all initial opponents - from Chechen separatists to politicized magnates and anti-state intellectuals.

Besides, Putin is a good contrast to all Soviet and post-Soviet leaders of the past four decades: unhealthy, with incoherent speech and even more incoherent acts. The second Russian president is definitely healthy and understandable.

Apparently, a great politician is the one who is able to use his popularity for solving great problems. In 2002, Putin has solved only foreign political problems: he managed to successfully dispel a whole set of old and new myths.

The myth of the terrible NATO expansion to the East was the easiest to dispel. A noticeable, though not overwhelming, part of Russians has approved of the idea of Russia's entrance to the North- Atlantic alliance.

Simultaneously, the union between Russia and Belarus has been excluded from the list of "sacred cows". All competent people have always been aware that the Russia-Belarus Union has been a rough setting to disguise the system of transferring Russia's resources to the Minsk regime. Only in 2002, the Russian president said it loudly; the head of the friendly state was indignant but calmed down soon; the people have not reacted in either country.

Another myth was created by the present administration: a chimera that it is possible to dictate to Europe the rules for the Kaliningrad transit. Naturally, the real compromise that was reached in autumn looked like a defeat at the background of that myth. Apparently, the "simplified transit document" to travel from Kaliningrad and back is a visa; but it had been obvious from the very beginning that it will be possible to travel through Lithuania only with a visa. The objective was to soften the visa regime, which was reached. In all the aforementioned questions, Putin took the risk and put his popularity rating on the bet. He has lost nothing - it has been again proved that ordinary people are little interested in the abstract foreign political issues.

Putin was convinced about the "pro-western" turn in Russia. First, he acted as a pro-westerner. Second, he acted as a fighter against fundamentalism, who understands and shares the logic of Bush's America. Third, most important, he acted as a pragmatic modernizer. The global military-political crisis of the early 21st century opened the "opportunity window" for Russia which made it possible to get involved in the world labor distribution - first, as a strategic partner of northern countries on the fuel and energy market. Later, it will be possible to try its forces on other markets.

In order to retain the "window" open, it is necessary to distinctly pose oneself as a friend of the North, and it is obvious that Putin's policy in 2002 was aimed at resolving these issues.

Putin's successive foreign political and foreign economic choices after September 11, 2001, have been aimed at creating proper conditions for modernizing Russia in accordance with his viewpoints. Undoubtedly, Putin has formulated his major targets quite distinctly. As for interior politics, the experience of 2002 lead to conclusion: Putin is hesitating about the methods which will lead to his aims. Another great issue is with whom he should reach his aims.

Prime Minister Kasyanov said about Russians, "It is necessary to take all measures to make winter a pleasant season for them and to make it possible for them to enjoy the wonderful Russian winter." Metaphors often cover dirty tricks. The communal services are warn out and it has not been repaired for a long time. However, the absence of serious measures is a sort of a political platform. Kasyanov spoke about "pleasant time" - Russia's administrative class would like 2003 to be the pleasant and free of excessive toil period for themselves.

Is it possible to combine Putin's modernizing schemes with the "pleasant time" of bureaucrats who are yearning for stagnation? The compromise at present is: first a little stagnation, than - many reforms. It is noticeable that all decisive stages of reforms have been delayed until 2004-05, until after the parliamentary and presidential elections.

From today's standpoint, this time seems to be the best for innovations. However, it is doubtful what they will look like from a short distance. Besides, both "tomorrow's" and the "day after tomorrow's" innovations mean not to offend anyone -hence they are going to be rather expensive.

For instance, the military reform is not transferring the means from the outdated item of expenditure but adding new ones to the old spending. The intended municipal reform is not transferring the money from the regional level to the municipal one, but searching for some additional income sources for both regional and municipal levels.

Meanwhile, the resources for popular measures are about to exhaust. So far, the growing state spending has been funded at the expense of the economic growth. However, it has slowed down with every year and the government firmly rejected the president's call to stir it up. Extensive layers of officials and by-state entrepreneurs are not prepared to really reduce the state spending or to separate bureaucracy from business.

Three years ago, the necessity of a rule democracy was explained by the necessity to carry out unpopular but urgent reforms. Now, it turns out that slow but sure this system is getting out of control having added nothing to democracy in Russia. It is gravitating towards stagnation and is spending exports revenues as fast and the 1990s political system ate the western loans.

The administrative elite has taken the additional oil export revenues not as a modernization resource, but rather as a heavenly gift in order to survive another year without teasing the people with sharp innovations.

The 2001 presidential address severely reproached the bureaucratic class and hinted at the possibility of its quick renovation. In 2002, Putin has not rejected this dream, but has postponed it.

In summer, the Constitutional Court prolonged the terms of the majority of regional leaders for a long time. In the next five years, the president will work with the same gubernatorial corps as today.

The rumor about a radical changes in the cabinet of ministers have also failed many times. Putin obviously dislikes Yeltsin's passion for changes in the government, and it is difficult to carry out a politically reasonable replacement. The prior rarefied political element has been replaced with an almost complete political vacuum. While a modernization carried out only administratively cannot be fast, decisive, or irreversible.

The gap between the obvious renovation in the foreign politics and the interior politics has become the major collision of Putin's first presidency. However, the "window of opportunities" has not yet shut. Apparently, Putin hopes that in December 2003 or spring 2004 it will wide open. It is hardly likely, but he has been lucky so far.

(Translated by Arina Yevtikhova )

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