This is the second installment of the article that appeared in RBC media, in which the 14 parties competing in the September 19, 2021 Duma Elections presented their views on a range of issues, thus affording the voter an easy comparison of the parties' positions. In this installment, the parties face off on the issues of the law labeling foreign agents, the parties' respective legislative wish list, tax reform, and priorities for compensating those hurt economically by the Covid pandemic.
Russian voting booth (Source: Improtivno.ru)
According to the law on foreign agents, which came into force in December of 2019, Russian media that receive funding from abroad must label their materials accordingly, while foreign media was obligated to register as legal entities in Russia. There is a fine for not labeling [such media materials]. Recently, the list of foreign media outlets and foreign journalists has been filled rapidly. For instance, it includes journalists of the "Project" media, news agencies affiliated with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and the "Dozhd" TV channel. The parties told how they evaluate the legality of the foreign agents' law, and whether it poses a threat to freedom of speech.
Question, "In your opinion, should the law on foreign agents be reformed? Do you support the authorities' actions regarding journalists and the media (including those on the foreign agent list)?"
United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "This is a rather well-balanced law. We used international experience, when working on this law. This is a normal and well-established practice in foreign countries over the course of decades. Meanwhile no one condemns the US for analogous legal practices. The law simply clarifies whose interests a media is representing. It has nothing to do with the freedom of speech. It's high time to stop speculating about it. The law doesn't prescribe restrictive measures; it simply helps people to navigate in the ever growing information sphere."
The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov. The party didn't answer the question.
The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, "The foreign agent status doesn't prevent the media from operating. It's just readers or viewers must know that a media receives foreign funding and [consequently] could be tilted towards a foreign foundation or even a government. This bill could be corrected by adding a way to exit the foreign agent status and make provisions on funding clearer. But in the essence this bill is a necessary mechanism, which is implemented in many world countries."
A Just Russia — For Truth, Sergey Mironov, "I believe that the means deployed by Russian authorities against any forces or certain figures, who instigate commotion in the country, hardly differ fundamentally from those deployed by the West. But I'm tired of restrictive measures, because they award the liberal opposition (both in politics and in the media) with mythical powers. This happens because the ruling party is not ready for direct competition (not even in political field, but at the level of debates) with these figures. But I'm ready. I'm not afraid of these journalists, or Navalny, or anyone else. I'm ready to publicly compete with them and win. Alas the authorities are not ready, because its public figures and deputies are not ready for it. They are either shy or have nothing to say."
Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "The law on foreign agents is totally repressive [instrument]. All the State Duma fractions participated in its passing. Instead of striving to improve the standard of living, develop a modern economy, and solve people's problems, the authorities label those, who dares to speak the truth about the country's state of affairs and situation and help people understand that they are citizens, with "foreign agent" and "undesirable organization" tags. We disagree with such legislation and will demand nullifications of such laws."
New People, Alexey Nechayev, "Yes, the bill should be reformed. It provides too many opportunities for labeling any unwanted media."
Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "The foreign agent legislation is even too soft. I would like it to be more restrictive. The US (the country Russian liberals often refer to) such laws are much tougher. And this is the correct thing! The state has a right to protect national interests from foreign influence. So, if anyone acts in the interests of foreign powers of organizations, the citizens have a right to know and draw conclusions. Freedom of speech is not violated here, on the contrary, [it is supported]."
Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "I believe that a person or media should be allowed to publish or broadcast materials, provided they don't call for something detrimental towards personal or public interests. We all have the right to an opinion. I don't agree with many decisions [made by the authorities]. I believe the previous legislation was sufficient for dealing with slander and offences [in the media]. This law is bad for our legal practice. The current situation is also detrimental to a free media culture."
Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "[First] our party believes that social legislation is a more important topic for the Russians. Second, usually it's possible to assess a bill only by the results of two or three years of its implementation. We believe that the problem of labeling journalists could disappear, if such people will understand and bear the responsibility they have towards the state."
Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "We believe that there is a problem of foreign agents. We've always demanded that Western influence on processes within Russia be curbed. I think that procedures prescribed by the law on foreign agents are necessary, however sometimes officials abuse this bill by trying to label not only foreign agents-enemies [of people], but also oppositionists. Provisions should be introduced to prevent this practice. We support any media that critically informs about the country's state of affairs, provided that such media doesn't receive funding from the West."
RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, "In my opinion this bill shouldn't be reformed but nullified altogether. I'm well aware that certain humanitarian organization are used as a means of influence, but I don't consider the media to be one of them. If media receives funding from abroad, then it should be financed as foreign media, not as a foreign agent. I'm against the law on foreign agents and against this law being extended to media organizations. A different procedure and methods should be introduced in this regard."
Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov, "The legislation on nonprofit organization must be reformed. It should be made tougher. I absolutely support the authorities' actions in relation to journalists and media, i.e. the creation of a foreign agent lists These measures protect the freedom of speech. All the statements must be made directly by their author. One shouldn't take advantage of the freedom of speech to undermine the constitutional order."
The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "Joint efforts of the entire world are needed to deal with the environmental pollution. Respect for different opinions, including at the international level, will facilitate positive image of our country. I want to note that for 17 years that I served as a head of "Green patrol" we've never used foreign grants. Nevertheless, we were able to grow and implement large-scale projects. Thus, one can survive without foreign funding."
Green Alternative, Party's Press service. The party didn't answer the question.
One of the most high-profile litigations of recent years was the Michael Calvey case, the founder of "Baring Vostok" company. In August, he received a suspended sentence on charges of embezzlement of "Vostochny" bank assets. The parties involved in the case condemned the guilty verdict. The experts' assessment varied, some argued that the outcome of the Calvey case will alienate foreign investors from Russia. RBC asked the parties how they assess the Calvey's verdict.
Question, "How do you assess the verdict on Michael Calvey and his colleagues?"
United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "As far as I know the case hasn't been resolved. Mr. Calvey and other parties appealed the verdict. Thus, it's too early to make comments and assessments of the issue. Let's wait until all the stages of litigation are finished. Generally, I believe that such cases should be resolved in civil courts [not the criminal ones]."
The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov. The party didn't answer the question.
The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The party didn't answer the question.
A Just Russia — For Truth, Sergey Mironov, "I'm a lawyer by education. And every lawyer has a strict rule: not to comment on a case, in which you didn't participate."
Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "All the case, in which entrepreneurs in our country are arrested, aimed at dealing with competition and intimidation of businessmen. It's done in order to make entrepreneurs dependent on the authorities. This is extremely detrimental to the investment climate in Russia, it causes capital flight and prompts active and talented people to flee the country. We believe that such a policy is disastrous for theRussian economy and business activity. There is no future for our country without economic freedom and competition."
New People, Alexey Nechayev, "[Calvey's verdict was a] disgusting, unreasonably harsh decision. It strikes at the portray of fairness and Russia's global image. This situation will lead to shrinking investments in Russia and decreased employment. The standard of living will decrease too. People shouldn't be put behind the bars for economic offenses, they must receive a fine, which should exceed the damage done. A free entrepreneur will benefit the economy, more than one in jail."
Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "I believe that the verdict in Calvey's case is quite reasonable. From the outset there were too many rumors, speculations, and political wrangling surrounding this case. Now the issue has been closed and the dust had settled."
Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "From the authorities' and certain interested parties' perspective it was a compromise and edifying verdict. However, it was a sad case for the entrepreneurs. From the point of view of business and attracting investment the verdict is bad. This situation will have extremely alarming consequences."
Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "A lawyer familiar with the materials of the case could give you an answer."
Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "Honestly we don't care about some foreigner's verdict. Generally, we trust Russian courts. Court decisions cab be appealed. If the higher court upheld the verdict it means follows that it was legal."
RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, " I don't know much about these things. I don't believe in an open investment climate between Russia and the West. I'm sure that those in power in Russia have turned the country in "raw materials colony" of the West. There is no free market in our country. I believe that our leaders perceive the country as their commodity, and Calvey simply violated some agreements on the sale of this commodity to the West."
Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov, "Who the heck is Calvey, that we should be concerned for his fate? Our economy doesn't depend on him. The courts' verdicts are not evaluated but implemented. The legal order rests on this principle."
The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "It's a hard question for me to answer. I don't know much about it. Usually I'm concerned when famous entrepreneurs are persecuted, because of their successful business activities. Environmental protection requires private investments. The development of the so-called green economy and transfer to renewable sources of energy are good examples of private initiative. All this requires tremendous investments. Neither ecologists, nor the state can implement such projects without responsible investors-businessmen, concerned with environmental issues."
Green Alternative, Party's Press service. The party didn't answer the question.
On Reforms And Vaccinations
The party leaders told RBC what are the first bills that they will introduce in the Duma, should they win the majority of mandates; who should receive [state] support first: people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic or the business community; and what changes should be introduced to the current tax law.
Question, "What would be the first reforms you would pass, provided you have a majority in the State Duma? Name three necessary bills."
United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "For UR There is no such thing as bills of secondary importance. Every initiative that concerns citizens' protection and well-being is of prime importance and ranks highly. We've been following this principle for many years, be it on issues associated with healthcare, education, social allowances, strengthening of the army or on support for people. We understand that the fate of specific people, their wishes and problems lie behind every bill. We are obliged to solve them."
The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov, "The three laws that should become cornerstones of new policy are: the law on nationalization of strategically important industries (primary raw materials sector of economy); the law on the development budget, which will provide parameters that can't be revised downward; the law on the subsistence minimum, which will be used to calculate the minimum wage. The subsistence minimum should correlate with real inflation, as well as with price rises on basic necessities and food products. Today the subsistence minimum should be no less than 25,000 rubles."
The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, "The law on ecology. Provisions on the protection of the environment, forests, bodies of water and air [quality] should be instituted. First, we will prohibit the creation dumping grounds in the vicinity of settlements and bodies of water. We will totally prohibit waste disposal in rivers and in territories where groundwater runs close to the surface. There are 3 million abortions in Russia. We will [pass a law,] which will provide a woman with an opportunity to receive funds for foregoing abortion and later entrust the baby to the state's care, if she doesn't want it. Such women could receive, for instance maternal capital. Administrative reform in Russia has been a long time coming. The regions should be divided according to geographic borders. Regions should host a roughly equal population, about 3-5 million people in each province."
A Just Russia — For Truth, Sergey Mironov, "The Unified State Exam should be abolished. The pension reform should be nullified too. The unrecognized territories, including the LPR and DPR [Luhansk People's Republic and Donetsk People's Republic respectively], should be recognized as soon as possible. The minimum scholarship should be equal to a minimum wage; the minimum pension should amount to two minimum wages. Public censorship should be instituted on TV. The social networks should be brought under control, their management should be placed in Russia. After all there is a war against children in the social networks. There are tens of thousands of internet groups that propagate suicidal, sadistic and literally satanic content. In the economy the country should return to state planning."
Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "We will file a bill nullifying all the repressive acts that the State Duma passed in recent years. According to our estimate, there are 52 such laws, they include the law on foreign agents and the Dima Yakovlev Law.[iii] We strongly condemn the destruction of the Russian Constitution, thus initiatives abolishing setting [presidential terms back to] zero will be introduced. Also, we believe that the introduction of a compensation tax on excess profits from privatization contracts concluded during the loans for shares scheme of 1990s[iv] is a key issue.
New People, Alexey Nechayev, "First and foremost we will provide more assets to the regions and municipalities, then guarantee mayoralty elections. Our third initiative is a new economic policy, we'll deal with the tax burden and pressure from law enforcement agencies."
Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "First we'll pass a bill on nationalization of elites. Any official and his relatives should understand: they will always live in Russia, not only during their term in the office. Second, we'll eliminate the Pension fund, this rip-off institution. People will get their pensions directly through the bank, no intermediaries will be needed. Third we will nationalize the Central Bank. The Central Bank will be directly under state management. This initative will change the financial policy of the state by turning it from a liberal direction into a patriotic one."
Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "We'll pass court, law enforcement and tax reforms. In addition, the Central Bank operations will be seriously corrected. Additionally, controversial restrictive bills will be nullified too."
Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "The first thing that requires reforming in accordance with the Constitution is the social and pension sphere. The second important issue is reform of the healthcare system. Human well-being and preventive healthcare should be priorities. And the third reform is a new industrialization initiative, i.e. the creation of effective industrial plants. In addition, a Social Code must be adopted, which will provide for forms of social support to the country's citizens from birth to death."
Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "Our first bill will be on nationalization of [property illegally acquired by oligarchs during 1991 – 1996. Our second law will prohibit sale and purchase of land. The third initiative is the abolition of Pension reform. Obviously just three laws are not enough. We would also like to restore the death penalty for serious crimes, develop the transfer to the system of Soviets, and obligate the state to provide housing in stages for every citizen."
RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, "If we were to achieve a majority in the State Duma, we would pass an amnesty law. People, who were imprisoned due to their political activity should be released. Our prisons are overcrowded with young men, convicted under Article 228of the Criminal Code. Our second proposal would nullify pension reform and monetization of [social] benefits. The third bill would concern labor migration. A package of a labor migrant laws should be instituted, it will cover work visa and labor contract, medical insurance, a round trip ticket and a comprehensible place of registration [residence]."
Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov, "You'll know when the time comes, because it depends on political circumstances. The possible and necessary initiative will pass even without a majority."
The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "We need to provide citizens with the opportunity to resettle from the lands affected by natural disasters to safe places at government expense. One cannot live in places where forests burn, rivers overflow, and landslides are common obliterating all property. Second commercial premises should be provided for the trade in clean, organic goods. The control of food production should be toughened. Our third proposal is affordable healthcare. Climate change, poor-quality food and drinking water lead to a rise in chronic diseases."
Green Alternative, Party's Press service, "Our country needs not three, but five bills. We need to save our forests, by establishing a system of effective fire control and by fighting illegal logging. [Another proposal] is an efficient system of recycling, which will include a ban on the functioning of waste-incineration plant and mandatory recycling. The punishments for environmental crimes should be toughened. The super-profits of big industrial companies should be equally allocated among the Russians as resource rent. The green economy in Russia must be developed."
Question, "People and businesses suffered from the pandemics and anti-COVID-19 measures. If it was up to you, whom would you support first – people or businesses?"
United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "This is a not entirely correct question. People and business require an equal level of support. Such decisions were passed during the pandemics. This is precisely what we did and are doing."
The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov, "If the support of certain enterprises undermines public interests and redistributes entitlements in favor of a "select few", then such businesses should not only be denied support, they should not exist altogether. If profits from the raw material sector of the economy would be accumulated in the budget, minimal wage could be increased by 10-15 thousand rubles. This would be an effective measure of people's support during the pandemic. If we talk about small or medium-sized businesses, then their support means support of the citizens, i.e. of millions of those, who work in these sectors and are in a critical situation today."
The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, "Generally support for citizens would be a priority, as it's also indirect support of businesses. If people have money, they spend it, while business makes profits. Wherein, easing of the tax and administrative burden would provide better support measures for business. Companies make less profits because of the pandemic. Well, let's help them to save money on taxes and rent. Let's at least partially offset expenses on medical masks, gloves and salaries."
A Just Russia — For Truth, Sergey Mironov, "Of course, I would support people first. However responsible business also helps people via providing work and paying salaries. I cannot separate the two, these are two sides of the same coin."
Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "This is a false dilemma, because business are the same people. The authorities should help people, not rob them. Today we witness cynical and criminal idleness [on the authorities' part]. We believe that during the lockdown or upon introduction of other restrictions the entrepreneurs damages and expenses on employees' salaries should be offset via the Russian National Wealth Fund [hereinafter - NWF], which during the pandemics has grown by up to 13,7 trillion rubles. NWF was created for a rainy day. Well this day has arrived."
New People, Alexey Nechayev, "We would choose to support people. If they had more money, they could spend it on goods and services, it will restart the economy. Everyone will benefit."
Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "Business are the people too. But if you put the question this way, then the people should be unconditionally a priority. After all business has bigger opportunities to protect its interests. The government shouldn't interfere in business activities, they shouldn't "cause entrepreneurs nightmares." [Zhuravlyov was quoting Putin.] In addition, a protectionist policy should be established in relation to domestic producers."
Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "Only a compromise is possible here. There are no permanent decisions. We need to tune the restrictions in real time mode. When it's possible to ease the restrictions and help the business, such a decision should be immediately implemented. They shouldn't be postponed."
Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "We believe that in this regard people and business are two absolutely intertwined categories. The economic prosperity of each family is the cornerstone of business development, of internal market growth. Business is done by people; we cannot choose one over the other. It should be a complex decision."
Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "The government's non-support of the citizens was totally wrong. However, now it's required to allocate allowances in the amount of 30,000 rubles, and 50,000 rubles - for people with dependents. We also protect the interests of the self-employed and small businesses. They need interest-free loans as well as a tax moratorium. A program on reviving business activity is required. Only large business profited from the pandemic."
RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, "I object to such counterposing [to support either people or business]. People too are engaged in business activities. By people, We usually mean only those, who are employed. Aren't investors people too? The state must support both. Every citizen has a right to social support from the state during a crisis. People, who've lost their jobs [due to crisis], should have a right to continue to receive salary from the employer. At the same time the employer should receive state support too."
Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov, "This alternative makes no sense, because it's impossible to make a choice. It's should clarified what business and what people you are talking of exactly. Those, who decide based on such abstract alternatives, shouldn't be allowed to make decisions, due to incompetence."
The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "Everyone could fall a victim to the virus, it doesn’t matter whether you rich or poor. COVID-19 harmed both people and businesses (big and small). Our state is self-sufficient and ready for such cataclysms, therefore there could be no priorities in this regard. Everyone equally needs help and support."
Green Alternative, Party's Press service, "[We would] choose people. We understand that business needs support too, but people come first."
Question, "Is there a need to introduce new taxes or change existing ones? If so, which ones?"
United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "Stable and predictable tax system is a prerequisite for the economy's development, as president Putin repeatedly noted. If there are changes made to this system, they are precise and miniscule. For instance, for many years we kept the flat tax on personal income, and only last year personal income tax was changed for those, who earn more than 5 million rubles a year. This money will be spent on the treatment of children with rare diseases."
The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov, "Our program precisely prescribes the main change in tax legislation reform. [For example,] it provides for an increased tax burden on the rich, tax reduction for people with medium income, and exemption from taxes for the impoverished."
The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, "VAT should be replaced by a sales tax. In addition, we advocate the introduction of a progressive tax scale. The minimum wage is 20,000 rubles. If the person earns less than that he should be completely exempt from paying the personal income tax. Whereas a salary in excess of 500,000 rubles should be taxed at a higher rate."
A Just Russia — For Truth, Sergey Mironov, "Extra taxes for extra-rich. This decision is long overdue. It's not a populist issue. In the so-called civilized world millionaires and billionaires pay high taxes. Only in Russia things are different. If people elect a huge number of dollar millionaires, who gathered in one party, they will protect their own interests – their interests and not the interests of you the voters."
Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "A 5 year-long moratorium on tax increases is needed. We also advocate the principle "the more, the less." If the [state's] tax income surpasses inflation by 5%, then next year the tax rate should be reduced by 0,5%. Thus, in 5 to 6 years the rates of three taxes could decrease by 3%. Also the distribution of tax [proceeds] and divided between the state, regions and municipalities on a proportion of 34/33/33%.
New People, Alexey Nechayev, "No new taxes should be introduced in any event. According to World Bank data the total tax burden for the Russian economy is about 46,2%. Our party proposes to replace three taxes (VAT, income tax, social contributions) with one turnover tax. This will increase the transparency of the entire tax system, and will allow paring down the tax service workers, from 150,000 employees to 50,000."
Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "Rodina advocates a progressive tax scale. We need to tax super high income. We need to make the oligarchs pay, take away their high incomes and allocate them for the development of social infrastructure. The issue of providing the municipalities with income from taxes, must be dealt with too. Today they have nothing except assets, received from personal income tax. People always ask, "where are the roads, housing renovation, schools and hospitals?" But where are municipalities to get assets for all of this?"
Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "Our party's program elaborates this issue in detail. We propose a flexible [tax system], and a possibility of tax relief. We also want to make it difficult to initiate criminal cases in relation to taxes. A criminal case should be opened, only when it's 100% clear that the crime was committed, without the shadow of a doubt."
Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "We believe that the current tax system should be changed. People shouldn't be regarded as living fossil fuels. Instead of increasing the tax burden, the efficiency of the economy should be increased. When people's incomes are higher, they pay more taxes. We advocate the introduction of progressive tax scale. In addition, we propose to exempt from taxes impoverished families (that earn less than 15,000 rubles per person)."
Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "No new taxes should be established, we need to lower the existing ones. The country also needs a progressive tax scale. After all, people with higher income should pay more. Many state officials and oligarchs enjoy enormous incomes, bit no one says a thing about it."
RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, "There are deliberations in our party on abolition of VAT on food products. As for a progressive tax scale, it will be detrimental for the middle class. I'm against the progressive tax scale at this moment, because in the absence of socially minded state, it will be used by Russia's high criminal-capitalist elites to evade taxes."
Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov, "The tax system should be stable and predictable. It should be simplified even further, in order to make the process of paying taxes by citizens and legal entities more convenient, economical and legal."
The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "We would introduce a law on mandatory insurance of ecological risks, which will provide coverage for eliminating [the effects of] ecological disasters. In addition, we propose to establish joint liability of shareholders and company founders for ecological violations. When the owner of yachts and palaces will understand that he has to compensate 10-20% of damages inflicted, he would be more careful towards the nature. We also believe it's necessary to decrease VAT from 13 to 5%."
Green Alternative, Party's Press service, "The tax on the super income of large natural resources companies should be introduced in Russia; the tax revenues should be distributed among citizens. These allowances will serve as basic income, based on resource rent. We also advocate tax stimuluses for eco-friendly industries. Thus, we propose to lift taxes for ecological startups and for the production of goods from recycled materials. Repair services (of gadgets, clothing etc.) should also get tax exemptions."
 For the first installment, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9550, Russian Outlet RBC Arranges Quasi-Debate Between The 14 Parties Competing In The September 19 Duma Elections: Part I, September 15, 2021.
 Rbc.ru, September 8, 2021.
 The law prevents Americans from adopting Russian children, and generally prohibits foreign funding of individuals.
 Under Boris Yeltsin, the Russian government, in order to pay salaries arrears, sold off highly lucrative state assets to the oligarchs for a pittance.