Regional intrigue in Land Code saga
The political saga over the Land Code just keeps growing. First, the government withdrew it from the Duma's pro-Communist agricultural committee and sent it to the pro-Kremlin property committee, thus enabling the draft law to pass in its first reading.
Then, the Communists used a procedural regulation requiring a conciliatory commission to be set up if a third of the regions making up the country reject a proposed federal law. Finally, this week, the Communists said they had collected 35 reports disapproving the draft Land Code from the regions.
But the Kremlin was quick to react and made it clear to its supporters in the Duma that they had to do more to earn their keep. The hint was taken and energetic measures followed, with several leaders of regional branches of the pro-Kremlin Unity (Yedinstvo) party losing their posts. The tactic worked, and by Monday, Unity deputy and property committee chairman Viktor Pleskachevsky said he had received 80 reports from regions approving the draft Land Code.
But there are only 89 regions that make up the Russian Federation, so someone, either the Communists or their opponents, is making things up. In some cases, rather than being official reports approved by regional legislative assemblies, some of the reports are no more than letters signed by the heads of legislative assemblies in this or that region, which is not in accordance with the procedural rules.
Most likely, the Land Code's supporters deliberately named an absurdly high figure so as to cast doubt over all the reports in general. As a result, a source in the Duma said, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov asked the Justice Ministry to decide which of the reports are legitimate and which are not.
The property committee, meanwhile, has got the Land Code onto the agenda for the Duma's July 14 final meeting before it breaks for the summer. The Communists, seeing their plans crumble around them, are now trying to add the issue of a conciliatory committee on the Land Code to the same agenda. But there is clearly an increasing air of defeat about them as they lament that the government can muster 250 votes in the Duma and push through any decision.
Freedom for the dollar
This seems to be the new slogan for the financial authorities. The recent reduction of mandatory currency earnings sales from 75 percent to 50 percent is just the beginning of a lifting of all mandatory currency sales to be completed by 2004.
This is being discussed publicly by specialists and officials, but there's another draft law being discussed in the Duma budget committee that hasn't received publicity. This law, supported by major banking and industrial circles, proposes increasing the amount of currency people can freely take out of Russia to $3 million. Central Bank authorization would be required for higher amounts.
This all looks like an attempt by the authorities to let Russian investors support the economies of other countries. This is very noble, but, given the state of Russia's own economy, it looks strange and smacks suspiciously of corruption. Perhaps shady businesses decided they'd better prepare themselves in time for the new law on money laundering and keep another door to foreign "laundries" open.
Laws for all except Moscow
The Moscow authorities seem intent on proving that the Constitutional Court is more bark than bite. The court has ruled that Moscow's laws on registration are unconstitutional, but the capital's authorities just keep on finding new ways to keep people under control and, more importantly, help them part with their money.
The authorities plan to install a new control system at Rizhsky railway station from mid-July. Passengers arriving in the capital will receive special migration cards to fill out. For 20 rubles, they will get a stamp allowing them to spend 3 days in the city. People wanting to stay longer will have to go to the visas and registrations department.
Moscow officials, who plan to introduce the new system to all Moscow railway stations, pretend not to notice that these measures violate the Constitution and say they are acting out of security concerns. But anyone who takes the time to tally up the sums received through the various phases of the registration process, especially the "street" phase, which sees money go straight into policemen's pockets, will realize that security is not the only incentive.
Ekaterina Larina is assistant editor of The Russia Journal
(E-mail Katya at email@example.com)