Some of Russia’s leading politicians noted the dichotomy in Putin’s State of the Nation speech between his stated economic aims and his views on democracy and civil liberties. Boris Nemtsov, head of the Union of Right-Wing Forces, spoke enthusiastically about Putin’s comments on the economy, but expressed reservations about the president’s comments on the press. “On the one hand, the president says the mass media should be free,” Nemtsov said. “On the other hand, he is indignant over the fact that they belong to someone. But they always belong to someone. The main thing is [to ensure] that they don’t belong to just one person” (NTV, July 9). Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who was re-elected over the weekend to another two-year term as his party’s head, criticized Putin obliquely, saying that there was no need for a Russian Pinochet or a “guided democracy.” Yavlinsky, however, said he generally approved of the content of Putin’s speech and urged that the president be given a six-month grace period (NTV, July 9; Russian agencies, July 10).
Yevgeny Kiselev, host of NTV television’s Sunday night news analysis program “Itogi,” was more critical, saying that Putin’s critical comments about the press–particularly concerning alleged anti-state activity by some media–were aimed largely at NTV, which is part of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most group and has been critical of Putin, the Chechen war and alleged Kremlin corruption. Gusinsky was arrested last month and remains under investigation for alleged embezzlement of state funds. Last week, Gusinsky’s assistant Mikhail Aleksandrov was arrested on a weapons charge (see the Monitor, July 7). Kiselev said that NTV would continue to criticize the government when it saw fit to do so (NTV, July 9). Media-Most’s lawyers and spokesmen have charged that the arrests were politically motivated. A newspaper, meanwhile, noted today that Putin did not use the words “Europe,” “democracy” or “human rights” in his speech. In his 1995 State of the Nation speech, Boris Yeltsin referred to “Europe” thirteen times, “democracy” eleven times, and “human rights” three times, the paper noted (Moskovsky komsomolets, July 10).
In his speech, Putin also took aim at what he characterized as the country’s excessive “de-centralization,” saying that federalism had to be “streamlined” and “consolidated.” Some of Russia’s regional leaders, who have vetoed Kremlin draft laws that would remove governors from the Federation Council and allow the president to fire governors, were clearly not happy with Putin’s comments on regional policy. Nikolai Federov, the president of the republic of Chuvashia, said that when Putin called for a strong state, he appeared to have only the presidency and the Kremlin in mind, not the country’s parliament or judicial branch of government (NTV, July 9).
RUSSIAN GENERALS CROW OVER U.S. MISSILE DEFENSE TEST FAILURE.