The finances of politics
Perhaps it stems from too much Leninist propaganda fed to us Russians in childhood, followed by the wrenching experience of the introduction of freewheeling capitalism. But few Russian politicians seem to base their principles on the Marxist slogan: "Existence defines conscience."
Financial relations have become the norm for the country's political representatives and even if there is no direct evidence of bribery, the country is choking on the smoke of a fire that no one seems to notice.
Hence, it's significant that the most likely candidate for the post of prime minister under a Vladimir Putin presidency is Mikhail Kasyanov a long-time Finance Ministry official also known to rumormongers as "Misha-2 percent."
Then there's the observation of Alexander Shokhin, chairman of the Duma budget committee on credit organizations and financial markets, that it is almost impossible to get deputies to join his committee. Perhaps because there is little opportunity for lobbying or moonshine. In other words, some committees pay!
There are also a significant number of Kremlin employees, at least those involved in work with the Duma, who openly admit the importance of financial dealings in their relations with parliament. Apparently, many Duma deputies are not averse to receiving cash on the quiet in Kremlin rooms and those dispersing it don't disregard the effect it has on deputies' voting patterns.
But then, its all rumors and hearsay.
Chubais back in favor
Those attempting to persuade both themselves and the wider world that acting President Vladimir Putin is really a liberal in wolf's garb or a reformer with teeth of steel were cheered last week by the news that Anatoly Chubais has returned to presidential favor.
Chubais, CEO of RAO UES, Russia's electricity grid operator, is a controversial politician but he's famous for his strong liberal views. From the outset of Putin's meteoric rise, Chubais was seen as one of his closest allies.
But recently, RAO UES has been the subject of attacks by Putin, who pointed to it as an example of a badly organized enterprise paying too little to the national budget. This, against the backdrop of facts that point to a completely different situation. In reality, RAO UES has managed to significantly increase its contributions to Finance Ministry coffers under Chubais' stewardship. As it turned out, the figures quoted by Putin were plain wrong.
Rumor has it that Chubais felt slighted by Putin's assault and saw it as a direct hit concocted by the anti-Chubais elements of Putin's circle.
But as usual, truth has prevailed, and Chubais is again back in favor. From his looks and his inability to burn fat, Anatoly Chubais looks like a deeply satisfied man without any serious worries. Perhaps he has a better view than most of us mortal beings of things to come.
Fighting for the upper hand at RTR
The recent appointment of Oleg Dobrodeyev former president of NTV Television and an acknowledged broadcast guru to state channel RTR was seen by most observers as a very promising move for the channel. RTR is languishing far below its potential, particularly given the resources it can potentially draw upon.
But until now, there had been no major changes at RTR. Then Dobrodeyev set about personally contacting select people from NTV, seen as an anti-Kremlin station, to try to persuade them to jump ship.
But now there are serious questions about who will really define the new image of RTR.
Raf Shakirov, former Kommersant editor in chief, was appointed head of RTR's information program, "Vesti," almost simultaneously with Dobrodeyev's appointment. Rumor has it, Shakirov's recruitment was by no means at Dobrodeyev's behest and is more of an exercise to curb his powers. Shakirov, for his part, brought two former Kommersant colleagues, Mikhail Mikhaylin and Elena Ruzakova, with him. Wagging tongues suggest the two Shakirov recruits are more professional in the so-called "commercial side" of journalism, rather than the "news side."
Advertisements in the Russian media disguised as sensational news are known to Moscow journalists as "jeanse" and the practice is considered the professional kiss of death to the reputation of organizations indulging in it. But RTR probably cares more for revenues than reputation in these difficult economic times.
Jeansanization' of Western media
When the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal launched their Russian daily Vedomosti with the slogan " any oligarch can buy our paper in a kiosk," most in media cheered the possibility of the first independent Russian daily. But the newspaper has taken on the reputation of a pamphlet that will promote anyone who can pay the asking price. The talk is that interviews and articles are for sale and the prices being suggested are at "post-crisis levels." Or maybe, these rumors are just being thrown around by jealous managers of already-in-the-red media outlets.
But most experts agree that Vedomosti made some significant omissions in its advertisement campaign. Here is the full version: "Any oligarch can pay for his interview and photo and buy it at any kiosk." The newspaper's sales are reported to be painfully low, and the publishers are now resorting to free distribution in pizzerias and up-market restaurants. These foreigners sure learn fast!
Ekaterina Larina is the assistant editor of The Russia Journal
(E-mail Katya at email@example.com)