MOSCOW, March 18 (RIA Novosti)
Russian Opposition Parties to Get Important Government Positions
Vyacheslav Volodin, first deputy head of the presidential executive office, and members of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and A Just Russia parliamentary parties have agreed to establish a new human resources pool, whose members could soon be appointed to leadership positions in the regions.
A source in the presidential executive office said the Kremlin was behaving completely openly with the participants of the political process, and that dialog would make it possible to understand the decision-making logic and ensure truly competitive elections. It was agreed that the opposition parties and top officials in charge of the Kremlin’s domestic policy would meet regularly.
Participants in the meetings said the Kremlin had promised to appoint popular politicians recommended by the opposition to top regional posts. In 2012, LDPR member Alexei Ostrovsky was appointed governor of the Smolensk Region and in 2013 Konstantin Ilkovsky from A Just Russia became acting governor of the Trans-Baikal Territory.
Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Igor Lebedev (LDPR) promised that his party would submit a list of 100 prospective regional governors and ministers, federal inspectors and district heads to the Kremlin. Sources from A Just Russia also promised to create their own list of candidates.
Members of the Russian Communist Party, which has not yet been asked to submit its candidates, called the promises of the presidential executive office a “camouflage, intended to show that different opinions are being taken into account.”
Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin said the Kremlin might appoint opposition members to some regional posts, but that these people would not be completely independent.
“This window dressing is designed to show the Kremlin’s tolerance, but nothing serious will come of it,” Mitrokhin noted.
Political analyst Yevgeny Minchenko said the opposition parties were already getting positions in the regions, including A Just Russia member Andrei Filatov, who became Deputy Head of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area in early March.
Minchenko said that a Communist governor of the Vladimir Region might be appointed soon. This is the policy of Volodin, who believes that agreements, rather than conflicts, are what's needed, Minchenko stressed.
A federal human resources reserve, including pro-Kremlin candidates, was established under President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009. At that time, Andrei Turchak became governor of the Pskov Region, Nikolai Nikiforov was appointed minister of communications and mass media, and Dmitry Livanov became minister of education and Science.
Eligibility to Official Posts Will Depend on Mental Health
A St. Petersburg lawmaker has sponsored a bill calling for mandatory mental health testing of potential members of parliament, presidents, governors and mayors. A similar restriction is already in force with regard to appointed officials.
Maxim Reznik, a member of billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civic Platform party, has proposed amending the election law by expanding the list of reasons that make people ineligible to stand, such as prior convictions for serious crimes (a restriction now being contested in the Constitutional Court) or extremism.
In support of his initiative, Reznik cited the existing restrictions with regard to federal and municipal officials, who cannot be appointed unless they have a valid medical certificate proving they do not have any of the conditions on a list approved by the Healthcare Ministry. The list includes certain “behavioral problems” such as moderate or serious, or frequently recurring, episodes of conditions such as schizophrenia, affective disorders or epilepsy.
Similar requirements should apply to all elected authorities who make “universally binding decisions,” Reznik believes. In his explanatory note to the initiative, he cites a 2007 Constitutional Court ruling that allows “proportionate restrictions” on eligibility.
In addition to appointed officials, the existing medical restrictions also apply to judges, jury members and commercial court assessors. Health requirements for those appointed to Russia’s missions in other countries are even more stringent.
Reznik’s initiative is to be included in the agenda of the St. Petersburg legislature by the end of March. “Voters pay too high a price for mistakes made by their deputies, mayors, governors or president. The consequences are often catastrophic. In fact some of the most recent moves require not a political, but a medical assessment,” he explained to Kommersant, citing the so-called anti-Magnitsky Act. Vitaly Milonov from United Russia, head of the legislative committee of the St. Petersburg city parliament, was quite critical of the opposition’s initiative: “Russian dissidents were also considered ‘mentally ill.’ But voters have the right to elect who they wish, and not someone who is considered ‘normal’ by the ministry.” He was equally critical of the existing restrictions for appointed officials.
State Duma deputy Alexander Khinshtein, also from the ruling party, said he supported full disclosure of information about candidates, but without restricting their rights. Once informed of their candidate’s condition, voters should have their own say on the matter. “Elections are a different process from appointments to posts – they are about personal preferences and electoral attractiveness. Someone with epilepsy may actually prove more effective as a deputy than a hundred others who are perfectly fit for paratrooper service,” he said.
Government to Lift Monopoly on LNG Sales
Minister of Energy Alexander Novak has expressed the view that the independent gas producers Rosneft and Novatek could sell liquefied natural gas (LNG) directly in all regions except Europe. His ministry is planning to submit a proposal on this to the government in the next month. Gazprom, Novatek and Rosneft spokespeople were unavailable for comment.
Under the existing gas export law, only Gazprom is allowed to sell gas to customers outside Russia. The co-owners of Novatek, Leonid Mikhelson and Gennady Timchenko, who supply Yamal LNG under an agent contract with Gazprom, have been lobbying for the abolition of the LNG export monopoly, a view recently echoed by Rosneft President Igor Sechin, even though his company currently has no LNG projects.
There is just one Gazprom-owned LNG plant in Russia, Sakhalin-2. Novatek plans to launch a plant of its own, Yamal SPG, in 2016. Gazprom has been contemplating a similar project in Vladivostok, with its launch scheduled for 2018.
The Ministry of Energy intends to increase Russia’s global market share of LNG supplies from 7% to 15% by 2020, mostly by building up exports to the Asia Pacific Region. The main idea is that Russian producers should compete with the projects of other countries rather than among themselves. But it is anyone’s guess how this can be achieved. “The important thing is that we legislatively prescribe the economic criteria for accessing export markets,” a Novatek source said. Novak regards LNG deliveries to Europe as inexpedient and potentially capable of competing with Gazprom’s pipeline gas exports. But Sberbank CIB analyst Valery Nesterov believes that the LNG-Gazprom rivalry in Europe does not pose a significant threat to the gas monopolist. Novatek’s local sales may amount to between 5 and 7 billion cubic meters, not huge volumes by Gazprom standards.
The key market is China, where Gazprom has been unable to finalize a contract with the CNPC, while China has been building up its LNG consumption. Ministerial half-measures can only provoke the emergence of schemes (like the growth of gas swap deals), which the Government will be in no position to control, the analyst said.
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