With temperatures reaching 35 degrees Celsius, Moscow is well into the summer doldrums, which usually means a drop-off in tensions, scandals, rumors–in other words, the stuff of Russian politics. As the city sweltered, the State Duma finally went on recess, but not before giving the Kremlin a symbolic rebuff by rejecting a gas station tax which would have meant a sharp hike in gas prices. Its opposition image secured, the Duma then went on to pass the other revenue-raising measures sent to it by Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin’s cabinet and demanded by the International Monetary Fund as a condition for further loans. Then, just before recessing for the summer, the lower parliamentary chamber passed a compromise law worked out with the Kremlin which increases the parliamentarians’ salaries and privileges.
The law on privileges is essentially the same one Yeltsin had vetoed in March. It gives deputies–as well as the regional leaders who make up the Federation Council, the upper house–salaries equal to those of government ministers, expenses to cover hotel bills and free travel on all modes of transport except taxis. The law also continues to grant the legislators immunity from criminal prosecution. While a deputy from the Yabloko faction, which voted against the law, denounced it as “the same law which was met with such indignation by society,” Yeltsin is expected to approve it this time. For the president, it is a “useful tool for manipulating hotshot oppositionists through the stick and carrot of ‘material stimuli’,” as one newspaper put it.
But if the people’s representatives were able to go on vacation secure in the thought that their beloved perks were intact, some of them were soon back on the job. Indeed, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) decided to keep thirty members of its Duma faction inside the Duma’s headquarters in downtown Moscow around the clock. The move followed a rumor that Yeltsin was planning to remove the body of one Vladimir Ilych Lenin from his mausoleum on Red Square. Kremlin strategists apparently hope that the removal of the Soviet founder’s embalmed corpse will trigger unrest by KPRF followers, providing a pretext for banning the party and a postponing or canceling of parliamentary and presidential elections.
While this appeared to be simply more of the paranoia regularly drummed up by the “national patriotic” opposition, it was given a certain amount of credence by Yeltsin himself, who publicly upbraided his justice minister, Pavel Krasheninnikov, for not having provided him with information concerning alleged “constitutional violations” by the KPRF. In fact, Krasheninnikov earlier this year reported that his ministry had found no major violations by the KPRF, but this, apparently, was not the finding Yeltsin wanted. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and Federal Security Service (FSB) Chief Vladimir Putin addressed a gathering of FSB officers, pledging not to allow “extremists, criminals and swindlers” to enter the next Duma and warning that centrifugal forces were threatening Russia’s territorial integrity. All of this helped explain why the KPRF was holding a vigil in the Duma building. Even paranoids, after all, have enemies.
MOSCOW AND MINSK MANEUVER