Nikolai Petrov’s weekly bulletin
February 13-17, 2023
  • Nikolai Petrov

    Independent scholar
A short summary of the most important political developments by Nikolai Petrov.
Ahead of the presidential address and in the absence of any visible military victories, Putin has been personally involved in creating a favorable backdrop, demonstrating achievements and stressing that everything in Russia is fine while other countries have it worse.

For example, he opened – online from his Novo-Ogaryovo residence - several new district hospitals and polyclinics in Saratov, Belgorod, Lipetsk, Kabardino-Balkaria and Krasnoyarsk regions, as well as in the annexed Zaporizhzhia Region; he held a meeting with members of the government where social benefits were elaborately advertised, including supporting “new territories,” making public services electronic and improving the tax system. Prior to that, at the end of the previous week, Putin had held a meeting in Arkhangelsk Region on growing the timber industry.

Putin’s increased public activity last week also included meetings with all the leaders of the political parties in the Duma besides United Russia (here, here, here and here). Meetings with Duma party leaders are part of the usual procedure ahead of a presidential address. It is both an opportunity for political bargaining between the parties and the Presidential Administration and a way for the party leaders to reach the widest possible range of potential voters and demonstrate their involvement in making important decisions.

Besides the veterans Gennady Zyuganov (head of the Communist Party [KPRF] since 1993) and Sergei Mironov (head of A Just Russia since 2003), there were newcomers: Leonid Slutsky now heads the LDPR after the death of Vladimir Zhirinovsky last year, though he has a long Duma career behind him – in particular, since 2016 he has headed the Duma Committee on International Affairs; Alexei Nechaev, the leader of New People (a party launched in 2020), has a background in business and social activism and much less political experience, becoming a Duma deputy for the first time a year and a half ago.

At the meeting with Putin, Zyuganov advertised himself and two KPRF projects – humanitarian convoys to the Donbas and the Children of Russia for the Children of Donbas movement – which is where the public part of the meeting ended. Based on previous, more public sessions between Zyuganov and Putin, the private part probably included a discussion of the prospects for two KPRF governors up for reelection this year, Andrei Klychkov in Oryol Region and Valentin Konovalov in Khakassia, as well as the KPRF-nominated mayor of Novosibirsk Anatoly Lokot – though his term expires next year, recently the regional United Russia Party has put forward a proposal to eliminate direct elections for mayor. Surely the issue of who will succeed Zyuganov, who will soon turn 79, was also discussed.

Mironov usually comes to Putin with a number of prepared, specific proposals for social support, apparently intended to titillate the A Just Russia electorate. This time, he proposed boosting support for big families and subsidizing the mailing of one parcel per month to each serviceman fighting in Ukraine from relatives and friends, as well as, seemingly, extending benefits to Wagner Group soldiers, who he called “ volunteers without the status of servicemen.” Mironov also likely lobbied the interests of his party in the upcoming elections. The so-called SRs have a governor up for reelection in September too – Alexander Burkov in Omsk Region.

Slutsky, having gone through how the LDPR has supported the special military operation, mentioned a number of LDPR proposals related to “saving the nation,” including some voiced by Zhirinovsky. He elaborated only a “single minimum package:” nationwide norms for supporting volunteers and mobilized men from different regions, as well as nursery groups for children from two months to a year and a half “to encourage women to feel confident and fulfill their tasks in the field of demography.”

If there had been some special expectations with regard to Nechaev, as a political newcomer and the leader of a party that is supposed to play the role of a guardian of the interests of business and municipalities, then they were dashed. To begin with, he clumsily, but very “patriotically” told Putin that, for our children and grandchildren to live in a rich, prosperous, peaceful country, “superiority over our opponent [must be achieved], and our opponent is highly professional and has some problems with conscience: they can tell you one thing to your face but on the sly feed subversive forces that take aim at historical Russia.” After that, in the public part, Nechaev limited himself to advertising the New People youth entrepreneurship program I’m In and claimed that in Donetsk and Luhansk, where the program will be launched this year, there is a “big entrepreneurial boom.”

Looking at the performances of the four party leaders last week, one can say that the new generation – Nechaev and Slutsky – is no less cynical than the generation of their political “fathers,” as they do not even try to pretend that they represent the interests of their voters. In the increasingly authoritarian personalist system, populism is done, by and large, only for the autocrat himself.

In addition, Putin spoke at the annual meeting of judges. Besides the grand statements made and figures presented, Putin made especially cynical sounding calls to promote the development of a favorable business and investment climate amid the “sanction aggression” against Russia, to humanize the approach toward business and to focus on the electoral rights of citizens.

The government also worked with an eye toward the presidential address, in particular holding a meeting with a small number of participants on the outlook for the country’s socio-economic development in 2023-25. It also took up ongoing projects. Among the most important is the shrinking of time frames and streamlining of the procedure for enacting regulations, as well as the government’s strategy to achieve scientific and technological sovereignty, presented in the Federation Council by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Chernyshenko. The discussion of how to speed up decision-making, on the one hand, indicates a transition to extraordinary measures with decisions being made slapdash, and, on the other hand, the strengthening of the government apparatus and Prime Minister Mishustin.

At a plenary session on February 15, the Federation Council considered, among other things, legal issues related to providing social support and pensions to residents of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, as well as transferring authority to the president to approve the Outlook for Scientific and Technological Development (the government has previously handled this). Meanwhile, “at the request of the government,” the next meeting of the Federation Council has been moved up from March 1 to February 22, right after the presidential address. Several initiatives concerning the tax and budget code are expected to be adopted.
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