This Date's Issues: 1113•1114
to CDI's Home Page I Return
to CDI's Library
Johnson's Russia List
11 August 1997
[Note from David Johnson:
1. AP: Report: Russians Drinking to Death.
2. Reuter: Castro says ex-communist countries suffering.
3. St. Petersburg Times: Christian Lowe, Old Editor Returns
With New Pravda.
4. Asia Times: Russian nuclear facilities fall on hard times.
5. Financial Times (UK): John Thornhill, Yeltsin: KGB general
reveals life under a hard-drinking and erratic president.
6. Reuter: Lenin Frowns at decline in Once-Closed City.
7. Stephanie Baker (RFE/RL): Russia: Privatization Really A
State Disguised Fire Sale.
8. St. Petersburg Times: Andrei Piontkovsky, Power Talk a
9. Reuter: Some Stalin Prisoners Still Stuck in Gulag Region.
10. The Electronic Telegraph (UK): Nanette van der Laan,
Warlord attacks Tajikistan capital.
11. The Electronic Telegraph (UK): Hugh Davies, Russians return
to their old role as screen villains.
12. St. Petersburg Times: Pavel Felgenhauer, Promises Now, Reform
Report: Russians Drinking to Death
August 8, 1997
LONDON (AP) - Russians appear to be drinking themselves to death at a rate
unequaled in modern times, researchers say.
A report in The Lancet medical journal said Russians' average life
expectancy fell sharply between 1990 and 1994 - 6.2 years for men and 3.4
years for women.
``The magnitude and steepness of the fluctuations in mortality rates and
life expectancy for Russia are without parallel in the modern era,'' the
report in Saturday's issue said.
While nutrition and health care may be factors, ``the evidence is that
substantial changes in alcohol consumption over the period could plausibly
explain the main features of the mortality fluctuations,'' it said.
A Russian-British research team based its findings on health statistics
between 1984 and 1994. Overall, Russians' health has declined since the
collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the report said.
Average life expectancy at birth for Russian males fell from 63.8 years
in 1990 to 57.6 years in 1994; for females, it fell from 74.4 years to 71
The sharp decrease in life expectancy in the 1990s was preceded by a
steep increase in the mid-1980s, coinciding with an anti-alcohol campaign
launched by Mikhail Gorbachev.
But the report said Gorbachev's restrictions led to an increase in home
brewing at the end of the 1980s.
``This trend continued into the 1990s, when sales of alcohol increased
once more as the political will to restrict consumption evaporated and the
price of alcohol fell relative to the costs of consumer goods,'' the report
The researchers said studies in other countries have shown that alcohol
often contributes to mortality rates, and that excessive drinking may also
be related to circulatory disease, among other ailments.
Castro says ex-communist countries suffering
HAVANA, Aug 9 (Reuter) - Cuban President Fidel Castro said the former
communist countries of the old Soviet bloc were suffering the ``trauma of
In remarks broadcast on Saturday, he said the former east European
communist countries were suffering the ``triumph of reaction'' and a ``world
Castro made his comments to Cuban journalists late on Friday after a
meeting of international trade unions against ``neo-liberalism.''
Castro said he did not want to talk about the problems suffered by the
former East bloc communist countries, but added people should be aware of
what it was like to return to capitalism.
The Cuban leader, in power since the 1959 revolution that toppled former
dictator Fulgencio Batista, has defied predictions Cuba's own one-party
communist system would collapse after the island lost its main political,
economic and military ally the former Soviet Union.
Castro has made some cautious economic reforms but vowed that he was not
taking Cuba along the road to capitalism.
Castro's comments were broadcast by Cuban state television on Saturday.
The Cuban leader, who turns 71 on Tuesday, has been silent in public in
He has appeared, but not made a speech, at several events in the last few
weeks, including the opening and closing of an international leftist youth
festival in Havana July 28-Aug 5, and ceremonies marking the anniversary of
the July 26, 1953 launch of his rebel struggle.
Castro's last public speech was April 4 and the last time Cuban state
media reported him talking with journalists was May 1, which has led to
speculation in some quarters that he may be ill. But the Cuban leader has
been known in the past to lapse into public silence for several months at a
St. Petersburg Times
AUGUST 11-17, 1997
Old Editor Returns With New Pravda
By Christian Lowe
MOSCOW - Pravda, the oldest newspaper in Russia and once the proud
mouthpiece of the Soviet Communist Party, rolled off the printing
presses Thursday after a three-year absence.
But the new weekly - the old Pravda was a daily - will have to jostle
for a place on the newsstands with the two other papers who also claim
they are the rightful successor to the Pravda name.
The latest pretender's editor has no doubt that it is the real thing.
"We are the oldest newspaper in Russia, and we consider it a national
treasure," said Viktor Linnik, editor of the original Pravda and the man
behind the paper's new incarnation.
Founded back in 1912 by Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, Pravda was
almost compulsory reading for Soviet citizens, with 13 million copies
printed daily. The newspaper fell on hard times in the new capitalist
It was rescued in 1992 by Greek publishers Theodoros and Christos
Giannikos, but the new owners later fired Linnik, along with many of the
paper's old guard. Trouble flared again in 1996 when the publishers
fired new editor Alexander Ilyin and closed the paper, complaining that
reporters were throwing drunken parties at work.
The Giannikos brothers subsequently revived the newspaper under the name
Pravda Pyat, or Pravda Five. The new version still carried the three
Order of Lenin medals that traditionally adorned the Pravda front page,
but now had the logo "Pyat" written below the banner in small type.
Meanwhile Ilyin, with the backing of the Russian Communist Party, began
publishing a weekly newspaper, also calling itself Pravda and also
sporting the Pravda emblem.
Linnik insists that his newspaper is the only one entitled to the Pravda
name and emblem. A Moscow court threw out his copyright suit against
Pravda Pyat on Thursday, but he is undeterred.
"That's just the first step, and we will certainly appeal against this
decision," he said in a telephone interview.
"Pravda Pyat is a 2-year-old baby and it has all the regalia," said
Linnik. "That is a situation which we find totally incomprehensible."
In the meantime, the new Pravda will have to fight it out with its two
namesakes for readership in an already crowded marketplace.
Vladimir Ryashin, editor of Pravda Pyat, is not worried.
"They are absolutely no competition for us, the first edition convinced
us of that," he said. "The editorial office has no correspondents in the
regions or in the countries of the former Soviet Union or abroad."
Linnik said the new Pravda will drop its traditional communist editorial
line in the search for a broader audience. "We're not stressing any
political affiliation," he said. "We are putting our emphasis on those
... who want to put Russia back together and get it out of the mess it
is in now."
Linnik would not reveal who his financial backers are, saying only that
they are not foreign and that no one of them has a controlling interest.
8 August 1997
[for personal use only]
Russian nuclear facilities fall on hard times
In spite of recent high-level assurances by Russian politicians
including President Boris Yeltsin that the Russian nuclear arsenal is
"in sound and combat-ready shape", our military sources in Moscow report
that the overall state of protection for Russia's nuclear materials and
munitions is extremely poor.
According to a classified report prepared recently by the Ministry of
Defense, about 70 percent of the technical facilities used for the
protection of nuclear objects are "absolutely obsolete and almost
non-operational". Specifically, up to 20 percent of those facilities
have exceeded their projected service life by two or three times.
The report also said that "it is no longer impossible to rule out the
possibility of unsanctioned access to nuclear weapons by terrorists or
organized crime groups".
According to the sources in the Russian Defense Ministry, the great
majority of nuclear installations are not equipped with anti-ram,
perimeter lighting, internal television control systems or alarm systems
with autonomous power sources.
The storage facilities built 30 to 40 years ago urgently need to be
modernized, the report said. Sources emphasized that last year the
Defense Ministry requested 640 billion rubles (US$111 million) from the
government precisely to finance the protection and safe storage of
nuclear munitions. However, the government allocated just 110 billion
In addition, financing of the Ministry of Nuclear Power Engineering for
protection and control over nuclear operations decreased last year to
one-third of its 1993 level. In 1996, the ministry received only 52
percent of its allocated funds.
Russian military experts insist they chronically lack specially-equipped
trucks that would help protect nuclear munitions from bullets and mine
fragments during transport. During the past three years the Defense
Ministry has received only 46 new specialized trucks; less than
one-quarter of the actual demand for nuclear transports.
Financial Times (UK)
11 August 1997
[for personal use only]
Yeltsin: KGB general reveals life under a hard-drinking and erratic
By John Thornhill in Moscow
Just a decade ago it would have been unimaginable that a former KGB
general would publish his memoirs, let alone a lurid picture of life in
the Kremlin under a hard-drinking, erratic and emotional president.
But with a promised print-run of 150,000, that is what Mr Alexander
Korzhakov, the former presidential bodyguard and confidant, is about to
Mr Korzhakov, who stood by President Boris Yeltsin's side for 11 years
both in the political wilderness and in presidential pomp, was abruptly
sacked in June 1996 for conspiring to scupper the second round of the
presidential elections and becoming enmeshed in corruption allegations.
Elected an MP this year - giving him immunity from prosecution - Mr
Korzhakov clearly has a score to settle with his former boss as the
title of his near-500 page book, Boris Yeltsin: From Dawn to Sunset,
But in a country grown weary of almost daily scandals, it is hard to
imagine what Mr Korzhakov could possibly reveal that would cause a
sensation when the book is published tomorrow.
The collection of tittle-tattle, extracts of which have appeared in the
Russian press, does occasionally appear to reveal some new information -
such as the claim that Mr Yeltsin was unable to leave his aircraft at
Shannon airport to meet the Irish prime minister in an infamous incident
in 1994 because of a suspected heart attack, unreported at the time.
It was widely believed then that he had had too much to drink.
The book has many unintentionally comic touches as in its descriptions
of how Mr Boris Berezovsky, head of the Logovaz car dealing business,
now deputy head of the security council, tried to ingratiate himself
with Mr Yeltsin by giving ever more extravagant presents to the
Drink appears a recurrent theme of the book as is Mr Yeltsin's fondness
for playing the spoons - even on the bald heads of visiting dignitaries.
According to the irreverent Sovershenno Sekretno (Top Secret) journal,
which has published a summary of the book, Mr Korzhakov prefaces his
memoirs with a quotation from Talleyrand, Napoleon's one-time adviser:
"The whole people would be in horror if they knew what petty-minded
people ruled over them."
But the journal's reviewer appears to have been as offended by Mr
Korzhakov's claims to patriotism as he was by any of Mr Yeltsin's
"All this leads to the thought that Alexander Korzhakov is a pseudonym
for some bright post-modernist writer who collected all the bawdy tales
about the powers that be and created a parody in his memoirs," he
"And to make it really funny he writes about his patriotism after his
descriptions of his boozing boss."
Lenin Frowns at decline in Once-Closed City
By Salma Azmeh
KOMSOMOLSK-NA-AMURE, Russia, August 10 (Reuter) - In this once forbidden
city 6,000 km (3,700 miles) east of Moscow, an imposing statue of Lenin
gazes solemnly across the main square.
Letters above a large gate welcome visitors to the Park of the
Shipbuilding Workers, and the Palace of Culture still stands tall at the end
of Peace Avenue.
But the park is overgrown and the palace virtually empty.
Komsomolsk, which once embodied the ideals of the Communist Soviet Union
founded by Vladimir Lenin, is in a sorry state.
This is hardly uncommon in the old USSR, but in Komsomolsk-na-Amure in
Russia's Far East, Lenin's frown could be forgiven for being particularly
The city is faced with more than just the economic hardships that go hand
in hand with the near-closure of its factories.
NEW LEADERS THINK KOMSOMOLSK SHOULD NOT EXIST
Many among Russia's new rulers believe that cities like this -- stamped
out of virgin territory in the idealistic early years of the Soviet Union --
should never have been built.
``(President Boris) Yeltsin and friends regard Komsomolsk as a legacy of
totalitarianism best forgotten as soon as possible,'' says one Russian
Communist Party pamphlet.
Leading reformer and former acting prime minister Yegor Gaidar has been
quoted as saying Komsomolsk should have a population of 30,000, not 200,000.
Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev described the BAM, the
communist ``Shock Project'' railway that passes through Komsomolsk, as ``the
biggest monument to stagnation.''
Komsomolsk is little-known outside Russia. Until recently it was a closed
city, unmarked on maps and off-limits to foreigners. Since the Soviet Union
collapsed in 1991, its industrial heart, built by fervent young communists
in the 1930s, has all but disappeared.
The steel plant, aircraft factory and shipbuilding works were the reason
for the secrecy. The site was ideal for a military complex, isolated yet
linked to the Pacific Ocean by the Amur River that marks part of the long
border with China.
Members of the Young Communists League (the Komsomol -- hence the name
Komsomolsk) flocked in their thousands to the forest-covered Amur valley,
attracted by romantic notions of a virgin land to be conquered.
``We only want bold, determined people, not afraid of difficulties,''
said one comtemporary letter summoning young women to the region.
History has shown that in reality it was not only these young enthusiasts
who laboured to build Komsomolsk, but also around 900,000 prisoners from
Stalin's Gulag camps as well as many Japanese prisoners of World War Two.
ONCE PRIVILEGED, PEOPLE NOW GROW VEGETABLES TO SURVIVE
In June, Komsomolsk celebrated the 65th anniversary of the arrival of the
pioneering ``first builders'' with parades and firework displays. The day,
June 12, coincides with the new Russian Independence Day -- but this was
The factories, once staffed by top quality engineers and producing the
Soviet Union's most modern military planes and submarines, lie almost idle
from a lack of government money.
The collapse of the factories has brought about the demise of many
cultural institutions, children's camps, kindergartens, parks, stadiums and
clubs that they once supported. Education, hospitals and public transport
are left similarly destitute.
As a result, many unemployed have left, reducing the population from more
than 300,000 to around 200,000.
For those remaining, unemployment benefits are meagre, and many have been
forced to become self-sufficient, surviving by growing their own vegetables
and eating the plentiful fish of the Amur River despite seven months of snow
Those with jobs are paid so little that they too indulge in these
pursuits as well as berry and mushroom picking in the forests, now a
necessity rather than a traditional pastime.
Valery Mutin, senior scientist at the Komsomolsk Pedagogical Institute,
tops up his salary by digging at his dacha country home in the evenings. A
personal telephone in his flat is a luxury, a car an impossible dream.
SOME SAY CHANGE IS POSITIVE, OTHERS ANGRY
His entomological work is of an international standard, but he cannot
count on funding. In June he was told the already underfunded institute
would be provided with money only for salaries. It has to fund all other
costs, from telephones to textbooks, by recruiting private students.
But Marina Serednyakova, another employee of the institute, who augments
her income by teaching English to eager private students, is optimistic
She points to the new availability of goods and existence of satirical
political television programmes as two examples of positive change.
``We in Russia have suffered terrible hardships before now. Anyone can
get a job if they really want to'' she said. ``People forget the rationing
we had and the dreadful accommodation.''
Food supplies have often been erratic in Komsomolsk because of its
isolation and climate, and basic infrastructure was frequently lacking, with
utilities such as water and heating regularly out of action. Many, however,
are more nostalgic.
``For those with money, life is better now'' said Vladimir, a student at
the institute. ``But my father is a good engineer who may soon lose his job
from the steel mill, and he has no chance of getting another.''
Many people faced with this situation have taken up the new opportunities
of self-employment, travelling more than 400 km (250 miles) to China to buy
cheap goods to sell in the markets.
Many traders have other jobs, including some with other small businesses
of their own. Punitive tax laws mean there is little chance of creating
enough profit to provide a living from just one enterprise.
In the old day inhabitants of Komsomolsk enjoyed the benefits of living
in a ``hardship zone,'' including free air travel anywhere in the Soviet
Union once every three years, and occasional state-funded trips to a
Inflation has hit people hard. The old traditionally took out insurance
to pay for their funerals. Now the 1,000 roubles ($0.20) payout could not
buy a loaf of bread. But some young people are equally disenchanted.
``We hate Gorbachev and Yeltsin'' said Katya, a student of English.
``They destroyed everything and have created nothing in its place.''
Russia: Privatization Really A State Disguised Fire Sale
By Stephanie Baker
Moscow, 8 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The Russian government is in the midst
of selling away its economic assets to pay off a massive backlog of wage
arrears by the end of the year.
But analysts say privatization revenues are only a stopgap measure in
the drive to resolve the crippling non-payments crisis. Moreover, they
say the government could be sacrificing crucial investments in the
economy in order to quickly raise cash.
The government's war chest has been given a boost from several
controversial sales over the last few weeks, helping the government
exceed its privatization revenue target of 10 trillion rubles ($1.7
billion) this year. Past attempts to raise revenue from privatization
have failed miserably. Last year, receipts from privatization were a
mere one-tenth of targets.
Russia's Uneximbank, headed by former First Deputy Prime Minister
Vladimir Potanin, has alone pledged to pour more than $1 billion into
the budget in auctions for telecommunications holding company
Svyazinvest and metals giant Norilsk Nickel.
While the Svyazinvest auction was seen as one of Russia's fairest, and
largest sales ever, the tender for Norilsk was widely considered rigged
by Uneximbank. Many observers viewed it as a final chapter of the
loans-for-shares program, which allowed insider banks to win stakes in
prized enterprises at bargain prices in exchange for loans to the
Uneximbank first won control of 38 percent of Norilsk in 1995 in
exchange for a $170 million loan to the government. Earlier this week it
paid $250 million to retain the stake. After repaying the loan, the
government netted a mere $80 million for a major stake in the world's
largest nickel producer.
The government is desperate to raise cash to pay off more than 30
trillion rubles in public sector wage arrears by January 1 1998. While
the flood of funds from privatization will help the government keep its
promise, analysts said longer-term structural reforms will be needed to
stamp out arrears once and for all.
One Western economist noted that the government is essentially using
privatization revenues for short term budget purposes, a practice that
is generally frowned upon even in other transitional economies.
"What happens when you run out of things to sell?" she asked.
Stakes in a handful of Russian oil companies are to be auctioned off
later this year, including a potentially lucrative sale of the state oil
company Rosneft. Likewise, a plan to issue 5 trillion rubles of
convertible bonds in national power utility Unified Energy Systems could
inject much needed cash into the budget.
The push to privatize because of the budget crunch could undermine
desperately-needed investments, some analysts said.
"There is an excessive emphasis on using privatization to get funds into
the budget, rather than having a long-term strategy and using
privatization to attract investments," said one economist.
While most of the cash from last month's sale of Svyazinvest go directly
into government coffers, another 24 percent of the company is due to be
auctioned off to Russian investors this fall, with most of the proceeds
likely to go towards investment.
However, Russia is expected to attract far less direct investment into
its telecoms sector than Hungary or the Czech Republic partly because of
the attempt to keep foreign investors from obtaining a controlling
Investment and restructuring are seen as key because enterprises are
responsible for the bulk of the wage arrears crisis. The government's
attempt to get its own financial house in order could help eliminate one
source of the non-payments crisis. But economists say enterprise
investment and restructuring is the only way to cut out the roots of
Russia's economic problems.
St. Petersburg Times
AUGUST 11-17. 1997
Power Talk a Shameless Business
By Andrei Piontkovsky
THE INVESTIGATION is over. Forget about it, our statesmen and
television's talking heads assure us.
Forget about how the honorable gentleman with the respectable thick
beard, Sergei Dubinin, chairman of the Central Bank of Russia, exclaimed
with almost Tolstoyan pathos: "I can't be silent!"
It turned out he could. And not only could he keep silence but even
allowed an obscure lady from Unikombank to publicly explain his
"excessively emotional" words and deeds.
Forget about how two young men in expensive suits with the same roguish
physiognomy, Andrei Vavilov of MFK bank and Alexander Lebedev of
National Reserve Bank, convincingly accused each other of the theft of
hundreds of millions of dollars of state money, with details about
operations with money surrogates. Their public press conferences
recalled scholarly seminars on financial engineering.
Why did such an obviously out-of-control scandal suddenly cease? It is
as if some kind of referee gave the team a "time out," and the rivals
who had covered each other in filth politely bowed to the public and
went off into their corners, or rather their financial groups.
If the invisible hand of Adam Smith does not work in this country, then
at least there is the invisible Politburo of the Russian Oligarchical
Party (PROP), where you can convene a meeting of Boris Berezovsky and
Vladimir Potanin and stop the threatening "settling of accounts" through
cooperative interests. Take for example PROP's secret instructions on
open auctions: Tyumen Oil would go to Pyotr Aven's Alfa Bank;
Svyazinvest to Potanin's Uneximbank and Rosneft, of course, to
Berezovsky. It's another matter whether this solution will hold or
whether the mutual hatred of the members of PROP won't eventually force
them to appeal to the services of hired thugs or hired television
When Dubinin got up his nerve to speak for himself instead of someone
with the face of a madam of a public house, he ended on a triumphant
note: "I am convinced that the authorities can effectively defend
society from the arbitrary rule of corrupt officials." And I am
convinced that the authorities cannot defend taxpayers from the greed of
banking clans. This is because it is they who are the political
If you happen to have $3 billion, then creating a fictitious publishing
house in Switzerland and paying $100,000 for an unwritten book by a
privatization minister or giving an interest-free loan of $500,000 to a
private businessman called Anatoly Chubais are very modest and very
effective investments of capital in your own business.
I often ask myself why they are all so alarmingly open about their
shamelessness. Why did Berezovsky tell the Financial Times, "We hired
Chubais. We invested big money and provided for the victory of Boris
Yeltsin. Now we must assume government posts and benefit from our
victory"? Why did Rosprom president Mikhail Khodorkovsky tell
Nezavisimaya Gazeta that "The most profitable business in Russia is
politics. In our circle, we drew lots to see who would enter the
government. The first was Potanin, but he was too occupied by the
interests of his Uneximbank. Now it is other people's turn"?
Part of it can be explained by a penchant for bacchanalia among New
Russians. Red blazers, gold chains and mobile phones can be found on the
lower steps of this clannish ladder. There is a desire to frighten and
convince society of their power and lawlessness. But there is something
else. The Roman matrons were unashamed of going about naked in the
presence of their slaves. They simply didn't consider them to be people.
Apologists for the oligarchy like to repeat the famous saying of Deng
Xiaoping, "In order to make the country rich, it is first necessary to
allow some people to become very rich." I recently spoke with a Chinese
diplomat on this theme recently in Moscow. He was at a loss to explain
why Potanins, Berezovskys and Avens first became very rich. Behind every
newly made Chinese millionaire stood some kind of revival of a branch of
the economy. Just as behind the American entrepreneur Henry Ford stood
the creation of mass automobile production and behind Bill Gates a new
ideology of using personal computers.
What do Berezovsky and Potanin have behind them except a ruined AvtoVAZ
and Norilsk Nickel and endless quotas and subsidies, permissions and
privileges, signed in the corridors of power by Korzhakovs, Vavilovs and
Some Stalin Prisoners Still Stuck in Gulag Region
By Adam Tanner
MAGADAN, Russia, Aug 8 (Reuter) - Yadviga Savina will always rue the day she
overslept and arrived an hour late for work.
She was sentenced to 10 years in dictator Josef Stalin's notorious Gulag
camps. She ended up serving a total of six years, cutting logs in a prison
brigade in one of the Soviet Union's bleakest, most remote corners.
Now aged 71, she is one of several hundred former prisoners still living
in the Kolyma region 8,000 km (5,000 miles) east of Moscow. And like many of
the millions sent here during the Stalinist terror half a century ago,
Savina is still dreaming about leaving for good.
``After my sentence, I had no one to go back to in Leningrad,'' she said
in her modest one-room apartment in Magadan, the port which served as the
gateway to Kolyma's camps.
``All my relatives had either died of hunger in the war or at the
front,'' said Savina, who survived the 900-day Nazi siege of Leningrad in
World War Two before being exiled to Kolyma. ``Today, of course, I'd leave
if it was possible.''
Historians estimate that at least two million died during Stalin's rule
in Kolyma's camps, which were notorious for their bitter cold, isolation and
The overwhelming bulk of those who survived working in the region's gold
mines and other slave labour brigades left in the 1950s and 1960s after
But some remained, often because they simply had nowhere else to go, and
over the years they found it ever harder to escape a region cut off from
rail and other transport links to the rest of Russia.
Nina Vaishvilene, 77, earned her ticket to the Gulag in 1946 by refusing
to dance with a drunk officer from SMERSH, the Soviet wartime anti-spy service.
During her decade in camps near Magadan, she bore a daughter with a
Belgian prisoner. As happened with many other camp veterans who remained,
the child would root her in the region.
She stayed for six years in Magadan after her release and then moved to
Riga, Latvia. But in 1993, she returned to be with her daughter,
granddaughter and soon-to-be great granddaughter.
``My husband died and I was completely alone,'' she said. ``I was
worried. I thought 'what if my money runs out?'''
Eva Onofrichuk, 70, today lives just a few kilometres (miles) away from
her former barracks, now a battered green structure surrounded by tall weeds
in a police compound, which she frequently passes on one of Magadan's main
``About 200 women lived in these barracks,'' she said on a visit as she
looked into the abandoned interior filled with rubbish and old furniture.
``I was sent 46 years ago and spent six years here.''
GHOSTS FROM THE PAST
Onofrichuk's old barracks are still surrounded by barbed wire since they
now belong to the OMON special police, but such prison details are long gone
from other Magadan buildings.
Yet even today the city is short on comforts. A gloomy array of badly
made prefab housing and abandoned construction sites, it rarely sees sunshine.
Conditions here are so austere that the mass settlement of the region
only began in the 1930s when the Soviet Union decided to develop its rich
gold mines using prisoners as the overwhelming bulk of the workforce.
For veterans of the Gulag, there are constant reminders of the past.
``Here there is not a single house, structure or enterprise that was not
formed from the camp system,'' said Miron Atlis, head of the local Memorial
group, representing those repressed during Soviet times.
Perhaps most eerily, camp survivors sometimes see the handful of
remaining ageing ex-guards of the Kolyma police state administered by the
NKVD, the KGB's forerunner.
Like their former inmates, they stayed for family or other reasons, and
today some suffer the same woes as their ex-prisoners.
``A few days ago I saw the guard who once gave me an extra piece of bread
and she was begging on the street,'' said 67-year-old Anna Zhuk, who served
part of her sentence in Butugychag, one of the most notorious of Stalin's
camps, and home to a radioactive uranium mine.
``I gave her 100 roubles (two cents) and said 'you once gave me the last
piece of bread'.''
Zhuk, who was 17 when sentenced, said the stigma of imprisonment made it
impossible to start a new life elsewhere after her 1956 release. She said
she was in effect still serving an extension of her original sentence
because she cannot leave.
``I was rehabilitated in 1956, but to many we were still 'enemies of the
people' and suspect,'' she said.
Some of Stalin's victims, however, say they were happy living in the
region after their release.
Ivan Yakovlev, an 83-year-old Leningrad native who spent 12 years in the
Gulag system after his 1934 arrest, lost an arm during a gold mine accident
but seems unusually cheery in recalling the past.
After his release he rose to become deputy director of a factory, earning
eight times more than he would have at home, with six months holiday for
every 30 months or so of work.
``I don't feel great sadness about what I couldn't change,'' he said.
``Why go somewhere else? When you need money, Magadan's bad weather does not
affect you...The main thing is that I am alive today.''
But even an enthusiast like Yakovlev has had enough. He plans to return
to his birthplace, now renamed St Petersburg, next year. Unlike most
ex-prisoners in Magadan, Yakovlev was given an apartment for the one he lost
long ago, so he has somewhere to go.
Others said they lost their chance to leave years ago when they were
still working but were weighed down by family.
``Now that I'm old, I'm sad I didn't leave the north. Life here is a
pain,'' said Onofrichuk. ``You'd have to ask Stalin why we are still here.''
The Electronic Telegraph (UK)
11 August 1997
[for personal use only]
Warlord attacks Tajikistan capital
By Nanette van der Laan in Moscow
FIGHTING intensified around Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan,
yesterday, prompting fears that the Russians might be drawn into an
Afghanistan-style civil war.
The Tajik presidential guard used heavy artillery to keep a southern
warlord out of the city. In the second day of clashes, presidential
guard positions about 12 miles south of Dushanbe fired Grad rockets
against forces of Col Makhmud Khudoberdiyev, the government commander.
The colonel, who has mutinied twice and is seen as a potential
coup-maker, said he wanted another warlord to leave the capital.
Civil war and instability in Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic, has
seen the country carved up into independent fiefdoms controlled by a
bewildering array of armed groups, much like those in neighbouring
Meanwhile, President Emomali Rakhmonov held a meeting of his security
officials, who are expected to discuss asking for help from Russian-led
peacekeeping forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States to guard
Mr Rakhmonov is likely to look to predominantly Russian forces to shore
up his fragile grip on power, although its mandate ran out last month.
According to news agencies, Gen Gafar Mirozoyev, the presidential guard
commander, said that Col Khudoberdiyev's forces were trying to get into
"Khudoberdiyev wants to carry out a coup in Dushanbe," he was quoted as
saying. "I am not going to let them into the capital. Talks are
possible, but first they should give up their weapons. This a rebellion
against the people and the state."
Gen Mirozoyev said there were four clashes yesterday involving armoured
personnel carriers. He said Col Khudoberdiyev began his attack on
Saturday to try to link up with an ally, Gen Yakub Salimov, the customs
chief, who was involved in separate fighting in the capital.
The fighting in Dushanbe died down yesterday, after Gen Salimov's men
were defeated by the warlord Sukhrob Kasimov, an interior ministry
commander. Col Khudoberdiyev claimed that four presidential guards had
been killed since the fighting began, and another 24 injured. He said 13
guards, including two officers, were taken prisoner.
All restaurants, cafes and shops in the capital were closed. Police set
up roadblocks throughout the city to carry out identity checks. News
agencies said fighters wearing green bandanas waved assault rifles as
they careered around a northern district of Dushanbe in cars and army
The men involved in the fighting are not connected to the former Soviet
republic's armed Islamic opposition, which signed a peace accord with
the government in June aimed at ending four years of civil war.
Tens of thousands of people were killed during the conflict. More than
100,000 refugees escaped to northern Afghanistan, where Islamic rebels
set up camp with their Afghan allies.
The Electronic Telegraph (UK)
7 August 1997
[for personal use only]
Russians return to their old role as screen villains
By Hugh Davies in Washington
THE "heavies" in Hollywood films are returning to their roots - the old
foe, the Red Menace, is back, in an era being dubbed "Cold War II".
Producers have found that aliens and Arabs are no longer the villains
audiences love to hate. They much prefer Chinese or Russians. Movie
makers are dropping characters such as the extra-terrestrials of
Independence Day and the Crimson Jihad of the 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger
blockbuster True Lies. The trend is being set by Air Force One. Within
two weeks of its release in America, it has taken $80 million (£50
million) at the box office.
Americans have flocked to see Harrison Ford as a US president dealing
firmly with Gary Oldman, the British actor, brilliantly portraying a
truly awful communist terrorist, anxious to restore "Mother Russia" to
her revolutionary glory.
The former Soviet empire is also an integral part of The Peacemaker, due
for release on Sept 26, with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman
unravelling a plot by mercenaries of the Russian military and a Balkan
fanatic bent on the nuclear bombing of the United Nations.
A long-awaited re-make of the 1973 Fred Zimmerman hit, The Day of the
Jackal, based on Frederick Forsyth's first novel, is being released in
November. The plot is altered from French generals planning to kill
Charles de Gaulle. Instead, a Russian mafia leader hires a terrorist,
Bruce Willis, to assassinate a prominent American. The Russians are also
the bad guys in Blues Brothers 2000, starring Dan Ackroyd and John
Goodman, to be released next year.
In Beijing, the authorities have voiced anxiety about two films dealing
with the plight of the Dalai Lama, who fled from Tibet in 1959 in the
face of the Chinese invasion. They have warned Disney, which releases
Kundun on Christmas Day, that its ventures in China may suffer.
Hollywood's most renowned supporter of the Dalai Lama, Richard Gere,
stars in The Red Corner as an American businessman falsely accused of
killing a Chinese woman. The director, Jon Avnet, told the New York
Times that it had become increasingly difficult to find a "good guy to
hate", and "certain Chinese and Russians now seem to fit that bill".
Critics say that with political correctness making it hard to use Middle
East groups as "bad guys", a harking back to the old days is inevitable.
Peter Rainer, chairman of the National Society of Film Critics, said:
"Hollywood has sort of boxed itself into a corner because no one wants
to offend anybody. Except for a couple of groups like white racists, who
don't seem to have a lobby and who are in the John Grisham movies,
there's no one out there to use as villains.
"Besides, we miss the commies; we miss those accents; we miss those
suits; we miss the Cold War. Since movies are a fantasy medium anyway,
why not bring back a real situation we can fantasise about?"
St. Petersburg Times
AUGUST 11-17, 1997
Promises Now, Reform Later
By Pavel Felgenhauer
Defense Dossier is a regular column written by Pavel Felgenhauer,
Segodnya's defense and national security affairs analyst.
RECENTLY President Boris Yeltsin has stepped up the frequency of his
public appeals to Russian servicemen to support military reform. Each
time Yeltsin has promised the soldiers' lot will improve and with it the
army's combat might. There will be cuts in personnel, but "not at the
expense of fighting units," and all in all "the reform will radically
improve the social status and well-being of the man in uniform."
Other government officials have supported Yeltsin with soothing
statements of their own to reassure servicemen that cuts will be
moderate - and improvements great. In an interview in the daily Segodnya
the commander of the Russian navy, Admiral Felix Gromov, said, "The navy
will keep its present structure, and there will be no global changes."
He believes the navy will be reformed, its personnel cut "a bit," but
its role and capabilities will expand, since "Russia has a problem
guarding sea communications and its maritime economic zones." Admiral
Gromov says the Russian navy will procure new oceangoing destroyers and
new patrol gunboats to meet these challenges.
It is hard to understand what sea lanes Gromov is talking about. Most
likely, his idle Moscow-based staff got too involved with strategic PC
games and imagined that one day enemy U-boats would threaten essential
trans-Atlantic chicken imports from the United States and Russia would
starve if the navy didn't get new oceangoing destroyers.
Obviously, Russian admirals still aren't ready to face this unpleasant
fact: Today there are no threats whatever to any vital Russian "sea
communications" if Russia remains at peace with the West and Japan and
all the seas are open to legitimate traffic. On the other hand, if
Russia gets involved in military conflict with the West, several new
destroyers will not change the balance and open the seas.
Outlaws in the Caucasus have no battleships, and the communications they
threaten are not maritime. Today Russia is squandering money to prop up
the semblance of a blue-water navy. But the only beneficiary here is the
U.S. Navy, since it can lure Congress into spending billions more
dollars to maintain and build up a "counterbalance" against a mostly
nonexistent naval Russian threat.
Admiral Gromov may not know it yet, but the Russian navy - unlike its
American counterpart - will get no new warships, and the ones it already
has will continue to rot without proper maintenance. Yeltsin may
sincerely want to create a "modern, compact, mobile, well-equipped,
all-volunteer armed force," but there is no money to do it in the
government's coffers and no real need or intention to do so. Despite all
of Yeltsin's recent rhetoric - "I assure you that reform is directed
toward the strong enhancement of the country's defense capacity" - the
Russian government is not seriously planing to fight anyone to defend
"sea communications" or to do anything else of the sort.
Yeltsin and his government of "young reformers" want the army out of the
way until the Russian economy starts to grow. The Kremlin sees sustained
economic growth as the Promised Land - when it is reached, all other
problems will soon disappear. So, before prosperity comes 'round the
corner, Yeltsin plans to pacify his disgruntled troops by settling some
pay arrears and offering lots of assurances of military grandeur in the
Recent successful privatization auctions may have provided enough money
to fulfill Yeltsin's main promise - to pay out wage arrears on the
military's basic pay "until September 1." The pledge to "settle welfare
benefits arrears by the end of the year" will be much harder to meet,
but perhaps by then economic growth will already be at hand.
All other announced reforms have meant in effect a re-allocation of
resources to maintain the strategic missile nuclear forces at the
expense of other services. Obviously, this initiative was put forward by
the new defense minister, Igor Sergeyev, who comes from the rocket
forces. But Yeltsin and his "young reformers" also believe that without
a credible nuclear deterrence the West will lose all interest in Russia,
kick it out of the G-8 and cut financial assistance.
In a peculiar Freudian way, a weak and basically nonaggressive Russia
still acts from time to time like a nuclear superpower bully, because it
wants the West to take it seriously and return some respect and love so
that the engagement - call it a partnership, or what have you - can