Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 135

The Land Code was just one among a staggering 130 Kremlin-sponsored bills the State Duma passed during its last session. Among the other measures were:

–A labor code opposed by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) but made possible thanks to a compromise between the government and the government-friendly Federation of Independent Trade Unions. The legislation, which was also supported by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (the big business or “oligarchical” lobbying group), gives businesses, among other things, more leeway to use fixed contracts in hiring workers, thereby reducing labor costs, and excludes labor unions not representing a majority of workers in a given enterprise from collective bargaining. The code also mandates that minimum monthly wages should be no lower than subsistence level, currently 1,400 rubles a month (some US$48), that employers must pay workers two-thirds of their wages if they are idled as a result of actions by the employer and that employers pay penalties for wage payment delays (Vedomosti, July 16; Moscow Times, July 6).

–Judicial reform measures that will, among other things, reduce over several years the basically unreformed Soviet-era powers of Russia’s prosecutors, including the right to issue search and arrest warrants, and introduce jury trials throughout the country (see the Monitor, June 18, 21). A new Arbitration-Procedural Code will strengthen the jurisdiction of arbitration courts over cases involving business disputes. A new Criminal-Procedural Code will require court orders for arrests, searches and investigations. According to some critics, the changes are directed not so much at reducing the arbitrary power of prosecutors and making judges stronger and more independent as making judges more dependent on the executive branch, which will be able to decide their fate through the institution of the qualifications commission (Russia Journal, July 13).

–Debureaucratization measures. After much debate and lobbying, the government managed to convince the Duma to pass the bill it had introduced reducing the number of activities subject to licensing in something close to its original form. The bill passed by Duma on July 13 reduces the number of activities subject to licensing to 102, down from as many as 500 or even more (Russian agencies, July 13; see also the Monitor, April 23, June 8, July 5).

–An anti-moneylaundering law that, to the relief of many in Russia’s business community, does not include in its definition of money laundering those funds received through the violation of tax or currency laws. Russia has been named as a violator of international efforts against money laundering and was facing possible international sanctions, which it may now be able to avoid, thanks to the passage of this law (Russian agencies, July 13).

In addition, the Duma passed, among many others, Kremlin-sponsored bills reducing from 75 to 50 percent the number of hard-currency receipts that exporters must convert into rubles, reducing the tax on profits from 35 to 24 percent, and, most controversially, allowing the import of spent nuclear fuel (Vedomosti, July 16, see also the Monitor, July 3, 12).

While many of the pro-Kremlin measures were not greeted with unreserved praise by those traditionally viewed as being on the pro-Western “reformist” side of Russia’s political spectrum, most agreed that the overall direction of the government’s reforms is positive. At the same time, some of these same politicians were troubled by the degree to which the Duma has become little more than a rubber stamp for Kremlin-sponsored initiatives. For example, Sergei Ivanenko, first deputy head of the Yabloko faction in the Duma, called the work of the lower parliamentary chamber during the last session “successful” but at the same time warned that the Duma had “completely lost its independence” and become a “transmission belt” for and “department” of the presidential administration. Ivanenko said this showed that the Kremlin had successfully realized its plans to set up a “guided democracy” in which the country’s top leadership “relatively liberally and relatively democratically guides the processes going on in the country.” Ivanenko also said that while work on the Kremlin-sponsored plan for judicial reform had been “fully successful,” there were signs that the country’s judicial system had returned to the period of “telephone law” (when officials delivered all key decisions by telephone), including the regional court decision earlier this year that removed former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov from the Primorsky Krai governor’s race (Russian agencies, July 13; see also the Monitor, May 30, June 6, 25-26).