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RIA Novosti presents 2009’s ten most important domestic political events, as chosen by its correspondents.
Several recent events that caused public outrage eventually led to resignations of high-ranking officials who had been in their positions for years: something not at all that common in Russia.
The massacre in a supermarket in southern Moscow in late April, where police Major Denis Yevsyukov killed three and wounded six late-night shoppers, led to resignation of several top-ranking officers in the Moscow police.
As a result of Yevsyukov’s killing spree, Moscow’s top police officer lost his post: Colonel-General Vladimir Pronin had been Moscow’s police chief since 2001. President Dmitry Medvedev also signed a decree firing Viktor Ageyev, head of Moscow’s Southern Administrative District Police Department and Yevsyukov’s immediate superior. Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev fired three of the police chief’s deputies.
The most deadly fire in modern Russian history, the Lame-Horse tragedy in Perm, also prompted the removal of several officials from office. The blaze began in the early hours of December 5, on the club’s 8th anniversary, killing 150 and injuring many more: 80 people who were in the Lame Horse that night are still in hospital.
On the fifth day after the tragedy, the Perm Territory government resigned; Arkady Kats who headed Perm city hall stepped down as well, while the regional governor, Oleg Chirkunov, asked the Russian president to decide whether or not he had confidence in his administration. Most of the region’s ministers are still working as acting ministers, while three were removed from office to ensure an objective investigation into the fire accident. The governor said a new government will be formed after the investigation and in-house inquiries are completed and the reasons for the fire exposed.
There were reshuffles in the territorial agencies, and committees. The chiefs of the local departments of the federal consumer rights, state property management and technical inventory regulators had to step down, while several officials in the Perm government were suspended pending the conclusion of the investigation.
A few days after high-profile resignations in Perm, the president fired about 20 officials in the federal office and regional departments of the Federal Penitentiary Service, including its departmental heads for Moscow, Moscow Region, St Petersburg, Leningrad Region and the Baikal Territory.
As usual, the presidential decree did not spell out the reasons for such major personnel decisions, but the service’s press office said the changes were part of a major reform plan.
However, these resignations followed in the wake of several scandals in the penitentiary service. In November, the lawyer for the investment fund Hermitage Capital, Sergei Magnitsky, 37, managing partner with Firestone Duncan auditing firm, died in a Moscow jail after waiting 11 months for his tax evasion trial. Preliminary reports said the lawyer died of a vascular disorder. Magnitsky’s death caused public outrage and sparked discussion of the need to improve prison healthcare and to reduce the number of inmates awaiting trial in detention prisons.
One of the service’s chiefs who were sacked after Magnitsky’s death was the head of the medical department Vladimir Troitsky. The service admitted there had been “serious violations” with regard to healthcare in prisons. The press office said that this was the reason the Moscow department chief, Vladimir Davydov, was removed from office, but not appointed to a different post.
Another scandal broke out in Baikal Territory, where former Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his associate Platon Lebedev were serving their sentences at a prison in Chita. Both disgraced businessmen repeatedly complained of multiple violations of law and unsatisfactory conditions in prison.
The Russian government also said that it would punish the officials who are to blame for the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power plant accident, the biggest technological disaster in modern Russian history. The necessary personnel decisions will be taken after a thorough investigation is completed.
Uprising in parliament
The three parliamentary parties which regard themselves as the opposition to the ruling party, United Russia, which has a constitutional majority in the State Duma, walked out of parliament protesting results of regional elections held on October 11 after they learned they lost to the party in power in them.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) and the Communist Party (KPRF) said they were leaving because the voting was unfair and falsified, while Just Russia members left because they were not given the floor to argue.
The opposition leaders demanded a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev who is the guarantor of the constitution, to discuss violations of the electoral process. But two days after their walkout, members of LDPR and Just Russia reappeared in the lower house conference room as usual, although they exchanged some barbed remarks with United Russia representatives during a morning session.
Modernization of Russia
President Dmitry Medvedev has introduced a new popular term: modernization. In his second state-of-the-nation address in parliament he said that the modernization of the country was crucial for its survival and that it should not be delayed.
He explained that the economy should be modernized as a whole, including industrial production, the armed forces, healthcare, technology, space exploration, education, and society more broadly.
A few hours after Medvedev’s speech, in which he asked that the term not be overused, certain regions hastily announced they already had modernization plans of their own, while political analysts dubbed modernization “a new national idea.”
Yet, neither the president, nor any other officials cited any specific plans with quantity or quality measurements or timeframes.
Bad roads or poor traffic management
A series of major traffic accidents in summer which killed 30 and injured 60 Russians in less than a week in July, has exposed serious problems in traffic regulation, road condition and insufficient driver responsibility.
After the accidents, the president convened an extraordinary meeting where he slammed traffic management on municipal and inter-municipal roads, which accounted for nearly two-thirds of the accidents. He also cited the unsatisfactory quality of road repairs, including minor maintenance and overhaul, which is not properly financed in half of the regions.
In a few days’ time, the prime minister signed an order to draw up technical requirements for road safety with regard to road design, construction and use, as well as repairs.
Government officials required to disclose incomes
State officials’ income declarations made the most popular online reading last summer.
In May, presidential anticorruption decrees came into force, stipulating the procedure for government officials and their family members to declare their incomes and property. The policy was aimed at reducing corruption which President Dmitry Medvedev declared one of his presidential missions.
The documents state which officials are required to submit income declarations, as well as stipulate the format and procedure for this disclosure. In addition to government officials, heads of state corporations and funds are also required to disclose their incomes.
Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Presidential Executive Office, said that the income and property declarations submitted by officials, their family members, and nominees for important posts, will be verified. Anyone who fails to declare their income or who presents false information, will face punishment that could include being sacked or forced to resign, and any nominees found guilty will not be appointed.
The president and government members have until April 1 to present their declarations, and other officials until April 30. The information should be posted on the relevant agency’s website a few days after its official declaration.
However, a survey conducted by the VTsIOM Public Opinion Research Center has revealed that only 13% of Russians were interested in reading high-ranking officials’ income declarations, while 70% of those who did read them said they did not believe the information was true.
Famous dissident, Nashi movement clash over Soviet past
Alexander Podrabinek, journalist, human rights activist and famous Soviet dissident, in September 2009 published an editorial on www.ej.ru about a Moscow restaurant, Anti-Soviet, changing its name under pressure from “Soviet veterans” who said it was "offensive."
His article, in which he accused the veterans for their attitude, provoked a harsh response from a number of public associations. Nashi, a nationalist youth movement that began under former President Vladimir Putin, started picketing the journalist’s house. There were also rumors of the impending resignation of Ella Pamfilova, head of the presidential human rights council, following her support for Podrabinek.
When the two-week standoff between Podrabinek and Nashi reached its peak, Pamfilova said she would ask the Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate the legitimacy of the actions by Nashi activists who had “launched a campaign of persecution” and who were intimidating the journalist. Pamfilova’s stand caused outrage among public activists, veterans, the party in power and a number of lawmakers.
However, the Kremlin backed Pamfilova. Presidential spokesperson Natalia Timakova said Pamfilova was acting within her jurisdiction.
Timakova said the human rights council included people with various views, some of them critical of the government and its policies.
“The president’s position of principle was to have different points of view represented on the council, so that the head of state would keep in touch with civil society trends,” she said.
Medvedev, Putin do not plan to get in each other’s way in 2012
With over two years still to go before the next presidential elections, incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev and former President Vladimir Putin, who previously held the post for eight years, announced their presidential ambitions: one of them will possibly run in the 2012 elections, but not both.
When asked during his eighth televised Q&A session whether or not he would run, Putin said he was still undecided.
“I will think about it. I have enough time for this. In my view, everyone should do what he or she must, and work effectively. We will make decisions on the 2012 election based on the situation in the economy and in the social sphere. But this is 2009,” he said.
A Krasnodar resident asked the prime minister if he ever wanted to quit politics and live for himself and relax, and offered to be his “back-up man” if he did.
“Don't hold your breath. But if you want to work, then we will examine your request separately and will offer applicants, you included, a worthy job for realizing your potential,” Putin said.
The president was in Rome at that time; he said at a news conference, answering the question from an Italian journalist: “Prime Minister Putin said that he does not rule out this possibility. For my part, I can say too that I do not rule out this possibility. We have said in the past that we are close, understand each other well and work together. I am sure that we will be able to agree on how to not get in each other’s way but make the best decisions for our country.”
Ten years earlier, Putin wrote in his book First Person that Medvedev, along with Sergei Ivanov and Nikolai Patrushev, is one of those people who inspire in him a sense of fellowship and team spirit.
Russia’s biggest party, United Russia, which has a constitutional majority in the State Duma, the Russian parliament’s lower house, and controls all the regional legislatures, announced its long-term strategy and ideology at its 11th congress.
The party, which has a record breaking number of government officials as its members, and is led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, declared Russian Conservatism its governing ideology in a policy document adopted along with plans for economic development, at a recent St. Petersburg congress.
“This ideology implies stability and development, an ongoing creative renewal of society, without stagnation or revolutions,” chairman of the party’s Supreme Council, Boris Gryzlov, said at the congress, adding that the policy document was based on the priorities stated in Strategy-2020, the Putin Plan, and Medvedev’s article Forward, Russia.
Conservatism is viewed by the party as a reliance on Russia’s spiritual traditions, its glorious history, rich culture combined with support for family values, and strengthening the guarantees of Russia’s sovereignty and support of small businesses, Gryzlov explained. He added that conservatism was not at all in conflict with modernization, while emphasizing non-radical, non-revolutionary development.”
The sole commander
Over a year after the August 2008 Russian-Georgian conflict, the Federation Council approved a presidential proposal to allow the use of Russian armed forces outside Russia in emergencies.
The support of the upper house of parliament gave the president the authority to make prompt decisions to send Russian armed forces to act outside the country in order to protect the national interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens or to support international peace and security.
Any such action taken should be in line with universally accepted principles and international law as well as the country’s international agreements.
Russia’s armed forces can now be used to fight piracy and ensure maritime safety.
In accordance with these amendments, the Russian president can make decisions on the use of Russian forces outside Russia following a Federation Council resolution.
Earlier, the Russian law on defense only stipulated using armed forces outside the country to curb international terrorist activity and to perform missions arising from Russia’s international agreements. The law stated no other valid reasons for using armed forces abroad.
Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union the highest level of post-Soviet integration
Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have signed a Customs Union Agreement, which so far is the deepest reach of integration among the post-Soviet republics. The European Union also started with a common customs zone project in the mid twentieth century.
Under these recent agreements, the three countries will begin to apply uniform customs tariffs from January 1, 2010. The Customs Union itself will become effective when its Customs Code takes force: on July 1, 2010. Customs checkpoints on the Russian-Belarusian border will be removed on the same day, and they will be removed from the Russian-Kazakh border a year later.
The three presidents also decided to establish a common customs space by January 1, 2012.
The common customs space will be the highest level of integration between the three countries and will include a common energy market, and a common transport space. The arrangement will help resolve a host of important issues.
MOSCOW, January 2 (RIA Novosti)
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