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BBC Monitoring
Russian think-tank says big business is plotting to change state system
Source: Centre TV, Moscow, in Russian 1700 gmt 31 May 03

Powerful Russian oligarchs are thinking of transforming Russia from a presidential into a parliamentary republic, Russian Centre TV's weekly analytical programme "Postscript" has said quoting a report prepared by a think-tank called National Strategy Council. The programme agrees that oligarchs have a reason to wish to reduce the president's power in order to assume total control over the country's energy sector. At the same time it argues that given the current political setup and the lack of civil society, a parliamentary republic would be a less democratic option for Russia. The following is an excerpt from the programme broadcast on 31 May; subheadings inserted editorially:

[Presenter Aleksey Pushkov] And now - to some intrigues on the domestic political scene. Fortunately, there are some to talk about.

[Passage omitted: announcement of an interview with State Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznev to come later in the programme]

The main one of these intrigues is linked to last week's publication of a report by the National Strategy Council, an organization that unites a number of prominent Russian political analysts and experts. The main point of the report is the following: there is a group of oligarchs in Russia who want to limit the president's powers and transform Russia from a presidential into a parliamentary-presidential republic. The authors of the report believe that the group in question is comprised of [Yukos CEO] Mikhail Khodorkovskiy, [Chukotka Region governor] Roman Abramovich, [Alfa Group head] Mikhail Fridman and [aluminium tycoon] Oleg Deripaska. Other reports suggest that the group has allies in the executive authorities in the persons of [Prime Minister] Mikhail Kasyanov and [head of presidential administration] Aleksandr Voloshin.

The group's ultimate goal is to change the mechanism of power in Russia by way of changing the state system. The proposed transformation has allegedly been masterminded by Mikhail Khodorkovskiy. Artem Shirokov has further details of this new version of the old theory of oligarchs' conspiracy.

Why do oligarchs want parliamentary republic?

[Correspondent] There are political analysts who believe that some Russian oligarchs are dreaming of finally turning Russia into a parliamentary republic. In that dream, the president is a mere figurehead - like the British Queen who does not decide anything - while the country is ruled by a government formed by parliament. Their view of what follows next is distinctly rosy.

However, does Russia need this model and what its repercussions will be? It is of course clear that such a state of affairs would be in oligarchs' interests: big business is doing its utmost to assume total control over the energy sector. The only obstacle on their way is the president. Indeed, oligarchs can influence the government and the presidential administration but they cannot influence Putin. The president does not submit to anyone and his power is too strong.

Three years ago the Kremlin spin doctor, Gleb Pavlovskiy, already spoke of oligarch's conspiracy aimed at assuming full control over the president. Pavlovskiy warned Putin against a threat posed by the shadow authorities which had private armies and private special services, private [regional] governors and dummy shareholders at their disposal. Pavlovskiy believed that the shadow state stood a good chance of coming to power in Russia.

The reality turned out to be not so grim. Putin made a point of getting rid of two oligarchs, [Vladimir] Gusinskiy and [Boris] Berezovskiy, and managed to establish an agreement with the others. They do not interfere in politics and he does not touch their businesses.

Today the confrontation between oligarchs and Putin has once again intensified. Big business is thinking of changing the state system and assuming total control over political parties, particularly through funding. This model would be more manageable than presidential power and would provide oligarchs with still more political leverage.

[Vladimir Rubanov, member of the National Strategy Council] We see that large companies have recently become more active in trying to play a bigger part in the political process and we see that they are constantly taking steps to undermine other political players. Therefore, under the present circumstances, it would not be a step towards democracy but a more or less legitimate assumption and preservation of power by those economic forces that are in control of up to 70 per cent of the country's economy. They are a very small group of people.

[Correspondent] From oligarchs' point of view, the institute of presidency has exhausted its potential. From the point of view of the state - it is not quite so. All throughout the 1990s the president acted as a cover for the distribution of property for peanuts and the division of natural resources. This process is now over and presidential power with its huge authorities is objectively becoming a threat to oligarchs. Suppose Putin decides to bring natural monopolies back under state control, oligarchs will have to forget what superprofits are. That is why oligarchs need a mechanism that would 100 per cent insure them against surprises and would allow them to assume real power.

[Sergey Markov, director of the Political Studies Institute] Of course, such huge companies find that the president is somewhat in their way. He is too powerful. He can spoil the game for them, can strip them of their power and property. Therefore it is natural that major oligarchs would like to transfer to a system by which they would form a small circle and take their decisions inside that circle. A parliamentary republic is best suited for such a system.

Other interests at stake

[Correspondent] Who else - apart from big business - would be interested in such developments? One cannot point one's finger at anybody specific but it is worth remembering that the USA has designs on Russia's major raw material producers. There have been reports that the US company Halliburton - with US Vice-President Dick Cheney behind it - is going to buy Khodorkovskiy and Abramovich's oil empire Yukos-Sibneft. There are also persistent rumours that Khodorkovskiy is eager to become Russian prime minister, which may result in a clash between him and Putin.

[Markov] Control over the world's fourth largest oil company is a power comparable to that of the president. That is the essence of the conflict between Putin and Khodorkovskiy signs of which have appeared. It is not about Khodorkovskiy seeking to assume this power within the state. It is about Khodorkovskiy building a huge business, and therefore political, empire nearby, an empire that is so huge that our weak - because they are utterly corrupt - authorities cannot control it. That is the essence of the problem.

[Iosif Diskin, co-chairman of the National Strategy Council] The issue is not about Khodorkovskiy, not about personalities and names. The issue is about the place and the part that oligarchs will have in Russia. If they restrict themselves to reviving the country's economy, one can only applaud them. If however they step over the permissible boundary, one will have to [changes tack] there is an old principle - watch your ally as if he were your enemy, if you remember this famous quote from Vladimir Iliych [Lenin]. These days the oligarchs have accumulated so much political and economic might that this threat is becoming increasingly more real.

[Correspondent] And what about the president? Most likely, Putin understands where the situation is heading. Of course, presidential powers are excessive and lack public control and many checks that would prevent the president from doing whatever he likes. Given the above, a parliamentary republic looks more democratic. However, in a country where most political parties are financed by oligarchs and civil society has not yet developed, the so-called democratization runs the risk of turning into farce. Its main goal is to force out the presidential power as the only factor preventing oligarchs from assuming total power. Under these circumstances, a parliamentary republic looks like a Trojan Horse and we are running the risk of ending up with even less democracy than now.

[Video shows archive footage of oligarchs mentioned in the report; their meetings with Putin and the former Russian president, Boris Yeltsin.]

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