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23 August 1997
[Note from David Johnson:
1. RIA Novosti: YELTSIN ISSUES GREETINGS ON RUSSIAN FLAG
DAY AND COUP SUPPRESSION ANNIVERSARY.
2. AP: Russians say US wrong on theft.
3. Interfax: Gorbachev Interviewed on August Coup Anniversary.
4. Interfax: Russian Politicians Review August 1991 Events.
5. Interfax: 'Working Russia' Leader Says Yeltsin 'CIA Agent.'
6. Stuart Byczynski: Russian fiction.
7. Journal of Commerce: John Helmer, Yeltsin can't beat him,
so signs him. Ex-banker who stole business from Moscow's agency
for weapons exports is now running the office.
8. Itar-Tass: Russian Official Upbeat on Economic Prognosis.
9. Sydney Morning Herald: Robyn Dixon, Heavenly cathedral opens -
60 years on.
10. The Times (UK): Richard Beeston, MOSCOW FILE.
11. Financial Times (UK): Chrystia Freeland, Aerospace: Mir
inspires Yeltsin's flight of fancy.
12. LA Weekly: Steven Leigh Morris, Russian troupes retake the
classics. (DJ: This interesting piece on theater in Moscow reminds
me that we are not at all averse to "non-political" content for
JRL. Help me with this.)
13. The Straits Times (Singapore): Suicide watch on Russian
14. RIA Novosti: Andrei Kokoshin on military reform.]
YELTSIN ISSUES GREETINGS ON RUSSIAN FLAG DAY
AND COUP SUPPRESSION ANNIVERSARY
MOSCOW, AUGUST 22, RIA NOVOSTI - Federal President Boris
Yeltsin forwarded a greeting to a gala meeting dedicated to
Russian Flag Day and the sixth anniversary of the August 1991
coup suppression. The presidential press service is circulating
the text, of which we offer you an unabridged translation.
"Six years have elapsed since the events of August 1991.
The more time elapses since those tragical days and nights the
clearer we realise their historic importance.
"Everything new is born in agony. This point is all the
truer in the respect of a vast country and the destinies of its
nation. As we look back at the victory of August 1991, we cannot
help thinking that something was better be done in a different
way, and certain essential moves were overlooked altogether. But
the main thing is no less clear: the nation's choice of that
crucial August made it possible to save our freedom, help the
first sprouts of democracy to develop into a full-fledged
political system, and revive Russian statehood. All this is an
indispensable bridgehead for national economic revival in the
present hardships. Once Russia becomes strong and affluent,
nations will gather round it on a new and wholesome basis of
equality. Of this I am sure.
"On this day, I express special gratitude to those active
Russians who not merely made their choice in August 1991 but
were risking their lives to support the lawful regime. These
people-in-the-street were assuming their share of the country's
problems, and we owe them the liberty we again protected in 1993
"Thanks to popular initiative and backing, we also revived
the time-tested symbols of Russian statehood. Pride of place
among them belongs to the tricolor, covered with glory over the
centuries. Now we hold it sacred once again, and a majority of
Russians are taking pride in this banner.
"Dear defenders of free Russia, dear friends and
"I congratulate you on the sixth anniversary of the August
Victory and Russian Flag Day!
"Russia has made the right historical choice. Of this I am
convinced just as I am sure of our country's radiant and
Russians say US wrong on theft
By Associated Press, 08/22/97
MOSCOW - A Russian think tank accused of stealing $500,000 worth of US
government office equipment said yesterday it has been cleared of the
The Institute for Law-Based Economy said the US agency that made the
accusations last week now ''acknowledges there was not an issue of
so-called theft of property of the US government, but more appropriately
The institute said the dispute was caused because the US side did not
understand Russian tax law.
A US Embassy official in Moscow declined to comment yesterday, saying
only that a statement would be released after the equipment had been
The controversy is part of a larger dispute that erupted in May when the
Moscow office of the US Agency for International Development accused two
Harvard University advisers of using their positions in Russia for
USAID accused the two - economics professor Andrei Shleifer and legal
expert Jonathan Hay - of letting the think-tank staff provide services
for investment projects run by Shleifer's wife and Hay's girlfriend.
Both men denied the allegations but were dismissed from their posts at
the Harvard Institute for International Development.
As a result, the Harvard Institute has been closing down its projects in
Russia, including those with the Russian think tank.
The think tank had to move this month from offices it once shared with
Harvard. The relocation brought up the question of how to divide office
equipment bought with US money.
Last week, USAID accused the think tank of making off with $500,000
worth of equipment, which the agency said it had intended to distribute
to other aid recipients.
The Russian group has acknowledged the equipment belongs to USAID but
contended it couldn't be given to other organizations without incurring
Institute director Sergei Shishkin said USAID officials have promised to
sign the necessary tax documents within the next few days, after which
the Russians would return the equipment.
Gorbachev Interviewed on August Coup Anniversary
Moscow, August 19 (Interfax) -- Had it not been for the stand of the
Russian leadership, an integral union state could have been preserved even
after the self-styled State Emergency Situation Committee (SESC) foiled the
signing of the Union Treaty on August 20, 1991, believes ex-President of
the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev. He made a statement to this effect in an
"Interfax" interview on the sixth anniversary of the SESC putsch.
"The effort to draft a new Union Treaty, which was carried on after
the events of August with due regard for the new realities was frustrated
because of the stand of the then Russian leadership", he said.
"There were no objective causes for the break-up of the Union. There
were rather objective causes for its far-reaching reform", Mikhail
Gorbachev believes. According to him, the "process of drafting of a new
Union Treaty in autumn 1991 was a follow-up to the Perestroyka
(reconstruction, translator's note) plans", and if it had proved to be a
success, it would have allowed the country to advance on the path of
gradual evolutionary reforms".
Mikhail Gorbachev is confident that, notwithstanding the outcome of
the referendum on independence held in Ukraine on December 1, 1991,
"Ukraine would have found a way to accede to the Union and the Union
"The new treaty providing for the preservation of the Union state and
Union structures to be elected by the citizens of the country, preservation
of joint armed forces, etc., was prepared and approved in the republics.
The point at issue was at that time to set the date for its signing in
December 1991", Mr.Gorbachev said. "And seeing that this process had
gathered such momentum, the Russian leadership guided by its strategy
launched an attack", as a result of which it was destroyed "under the
attack of people, who decided to sacrifice the Union for the sake of
achieving their selfish aims".
"The putsch (SESC) outgrew into the "Belovezh Puscha". It was the
greatest defeat suffered by Perestroyka, which was interrupted at that
juncture", the former President of the USSR observed.
Mr.Gorbachev does not agree with the claims that the Soviet Union "was
destined to fall to pieces", as a result of which the creation of CIS was
"salvation from disaster". "This is nonsense. Vice versa, these actions
have paved the way to a catastrophe, which we are experiencing today", he
Mr.Gorbachev described the SESC putsch as an "action by the elite,
whose vital interests were in jeopardy, and members of SESC
-- as "criminals, who are trying to white wash themselves". He
recalled that all those arrested on the SESC affair, with the exception of
General Valentin Varennikov, did not refuse to accept the amnesty called by
the State Duma in February 1994.
Mr.Gorbachev believes that the current regime in Russia is
authoritarian, and the freedom "restricted by the Constitution itself and
the position of the representative bodies, including the mass media being
Nowadays, he links prospects for an end to the crisis in Russia, in
particular, with the fact that "a certain degree of democratic gains of the
Perestroika times stays in this country" and that "people do not wish to
give up freedom".
Russian Politicians Review August 1991 Events
MOSCOW, Aug 18 (Interfax) - The events of August 1991 were a logical
continuation of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's "treacherous
policy aimed at the collapse of the USSR," Russian State Duma Chairman
Gennadiy Seleznev told Interfax in comment on the state coup attempted by
the State Emergency Committee, or GKChP, six years ago.
"The people who formed the GKChP were not traitors of the country as
the media hastily labelled them," he said. "These were honest people who
saw no other way to prevent the emerging collapse of the Soviet Union.
"Their goal was not to commit a putsch for a military junta to rise to
power as the press and television claimed at the time," Seleznev said.
"What it true is that this was an awkward attempt to preserve the country's
territorial integrity with the help of tanks as a result of which blood was
spilled and three young people died who are victims rather than heroes."
After August 1991, the USSR collapsed "according to an accelerated
schedule," he said.
Communist Party of Russia parliamentary faction leader Gennadiy
Zyuganov has said the events of August 1991 were "the provocation of the
century inspired by Mikhail Gorbachev, Aleksandr Yakovlev and all the
clique which had been humiliating the country since the middle of the
"Gorbachev castrated and in fact destroyed the (USSR Communist) party
organs, set the masses against the party and prepared the demise of the
USSR politically, economically and psychologically," Zyuganov told
The GKChP members "undertook a daring but unsuccessful attempt to
rescue the country's integrity for which the people voted at the referendum
(on the future of the USSR) in the spring of 1991," he said.
The Viva Russia holiday of August 21 declared by President Boris
Yeltsin after the foiled state coup is "a mere humiliation," he said. "This
holiday is marked by those who hate everything Russian, Soviet," Zyuganov
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia faction leader Vladimir
Zhirinovskiy has said the LDPR was the only political party to support the
GKChP in August 1991.
"The day when tanks entered into Moscow was a holiday, the happiest
day of my life," he told Interfax.
The GKChP actions were "totally right," he said, adding that he had
become certain of that "over the course of the past six years."
If the situation had developed under the GKChP scenario
"reforms would have been under way all the same but gradually, like in
China," Zhirinovskiy said. "There would have been no Chechen war, refugees,
poverty and fraudulent multi-millionaires.
"Relations with the West would have been normal, the USSR Communist
Party would have passed away step by step and federative relations would
have been reformed," Zhirinovskiy said.
Chairman of the Duma's Committee on International Affairs Vladimir
Lukin of the Yabloko faction has said the three days he spent in the
Russian parliament's White House, opposing the attempted coup, in August
1991 were "the best days" of his life.
"This was saturated history," Lukin told Interfax Monday. "I will
never forget the shining eyes of people who were ready to go far and risk
their lives for the victory of justice."
It is not important how historians interpret justice, Lukin said.
"Justice was then with those who stood for freedom and democracy, against
being just obedient servants, against tanks crushing their ideas and
"That is when Russian democracy of the 20th century was born," he
The West then "showed itself to be a wise, mature and slightly old
observer," Lukin said. "For me, Western reaction is the reaction of
ordinary foreigners, who came to the (Russian Supreme Soviet's) White House
and brought food and all they could for those defending the White House,
those who were for the future."
Independent deputy Sergey Yushenkov, deputy chairman of the Russia's
Democratic Choice party led by Yegor Gaydar, has said "the August putsch
was inspired by the reactionary part of the (USSR Communist)party
nomenclature and top generals" in order to prevent the planned signing of a
new union treaty in Novo-Ogaryovo.
"Reactionary forces were not satisfied with the planned creation of a
rejuvenated union in which republics were due to receive large powers and
freedoms, and they decided to stake their all," he said.
He said he regretted that "the instigators of the putsch drew no
conclusions from what had happened, and some of them have now joined the
movement in support of the army led by (Chairman of the Duma's Defense
Committee) Lev Rokhlin which is actually forming Red Guard assault
'Working Russia' Leader Says Yeltsin 'CIA Agent'
MOSCOW, Aug 19 (Interfax) - Leader of the Working Russia movement
Viktor Anpilov said during a rally near the monument to Bolshevik leader
Vladimir Lenin on Kaluzhskaya Square in Moscow Tuesday that President Boris
Yeltsin was "a CIA agent."
The rally, dedicated to the sixth anniversary of the attempted state
coup which began on August 19, 1991, involved about a hundred of the
leftist movement's supporters.
The demonstrators held red banners, portraits of Lenin and Josef
Stalin and slogans reading "Death to those who betrayed the USSR" and "The
USSR must be."
"The destruction of the first country of workers and peasants, founded
by Lenin, began on August 19, 1991, and the restoration of the system of
colonialism has begun," Anpilov said. "The day of August 19 is a day of
shame in the history of our Motherland.
"The most powerful forces of foreign countries were behind the events
of August 1991," he said.
Anpilov said Yeltsin was "the ram of counter-revolution" and "a CIA
agent." One of the ideologists of perestroika, Aleksandr N. Yakovlev, was
also labelled "a CIA agent."
"People who obediently fulfilled the traitors' will contributed the
most to the Soviet Union's destruction," Anpilov said. The chief role was
played by former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev, he added.
"Death to those who betrayed the USSR! They will suffer a severe
punishment sooner or later. Our struggle will guarantee that," Anpilov
Date: Fri, 22 Aug 1997
From: "Stuart Byczynski" <Stuart.Byczynski@MCI.Com>
Subject: Russian fiction
I have added a page to my own Website which offers "the greatest short
story in the world (Russian)" which may interest readers on the List as
it is relatively contemporary.
Also, I have written an essay on Russian culture in the larger world,
which is sort of an intro to the story, on a separate page"
Please let the List people know of these pages if you think appropriate.
And I personally recommend reading the short story!
Thanks, and I appreciate the List,
Journal of Commerce
August 25, 1997
[for personal use only]
Yeltsin can't beat him, so signs him
Ex-banker who stole business from Moscow's agency for weapons exports is
now running the office.
BY JOHN HELMER
JOURNAL OF COMMERCE SPECIAL
In a surprise move late last week, President Boris Yeltsin sacked the
man whose direction of Russia's arms export trade he had praised only a
day earlier and named a 49-year-old banker as a replacement.
Mr. Yeltsin named Yevgeny Ananiev to replace Alexander Kotelkin, the
general director of Rosvooruzheniye -- an acronym meaning Russian
The shakeup, together with changes the president has ordered in the
organization of Russia's burgeoning arms exports industry, comes as
Rosvooruzheniye reports it will sign $10 billion worth of contracts this
Actual sales by Russia's arms industries abroad through Dec. 31 are
projected to double the 1996 level of $3.5 billion.
The Indonesian government's recent approval in principle to purchase
Sukhoi-30 military jets is a fresh coup for the Russian arms export
campaign, as it competes in markets U.S. manufacturers have dominated
Formerly of KGB
One reason for Mr. Ananiev's promotion from heading the mid-sized
MAPO-Bank -- which specializes in oil and other mining finance in
northwestern Russia and the diamond trade -- is that he helped pull off
the first Russian breakthrough in the Asian arms market. That was the
1995 sale of MiG-29 jets to Malaysia.
Mr. Ananiev was a KGB officer between 1987 and 1991 and was reportedly
in charge of arms and special technologies trade.
He is also credited with allowing the MiG manufacturing consortium to
market its warplanes directly, instead of going through the virtual
monopoly of Rosvooruzheniye.
Simon Saradzyan, a military expert in Moscow, said that even after
several arms builders were authorized to make direct trades, only 3% of
last year's arms sales were negotiated outside the control of
Most Russian military industry directors are dissatisfied with
Rosvooruzheniye, accusing it of misappropriating the proceeds gained
from arms exports and diverting from 30% to 60% of export revenues from
the producers' accounts.
Mr. Kotelkin was a Soviet military intelligence officer who worked in
the United States under diplomatic cover for several years.
For that reason, he has been barred from entering the United States and
other Western countries. He was named to head Rosvooruzheniye by Mr.
Yeltsin's security chief, Alexander Korzhakov, when the latter was a
powerful figure in the presidential circle.
Since his dismissal in June 1996 and his subsequent public break with
Mr. Yeltsin, Russia's military industries have been lobbying hard to get
rid of Mr. Kotelkin.
Some Russian officials interpret Mr. Ananiev's appointment as an attempt
by reformers in the Kremlin to reform a corrupt and unmanageable
Predicts bad things
Others say it is an attempt to open the arms treasury to a larger number
of beneficiaries -- without diminishing state control.
"Everyone wants a piece of the action. If you diversify the arms
business, you create more opportunities to make quick money," Mr.
"This appointment will make the arms trade more accessible for more
banks than Mr. Kotelkin allowed."
According to the presidential decree of Aug. 21, two state arms agencies
-- PromExport and Russian Technologies -- are now on the list of
enterprises that have the right, independently of Rosvooruzheniye, to
trade military goods and technologies.
The others are: MiG, RostVertol, HydroMash, MetroVagonMash, Antei, Ufa
Motor construction enterprise, IzhMash and another construction bureau.
The Russian parliament has been critical of both Mr. Kotelkin and the
Kremlin for conducting Russia's arms trade to fund personal business or
Draft legislation that would preserve the state monopoly on arms trading
but put it under parliamentary supervision instead of the Kremlin's will
be voted on after the summer recess.
Mr. Kotelkin was adamant the new law "can only bring harm."
Russian Official Upbeat on Economic Prognosis
MOSCOW, August 21 (Itar-Tass) -- The Russian government forecasts 1998
inflation to go down below a monthly 0.5 per cent, First Deputy Economics
Minister Andrey Shapovalyants said presenting the economic prognosis to
today's government meeting over the 1998 draft budget.
He said 1998 gross domestic product is expected to grow by two per
cent, as against this year, and growth in industrial production is
predicted to make two-three per cent.
The government's forecast of agriculture growth in 1998 is three per
cent. A two per cent increase is expected in capital investment.
Shapovalyants said Economics Ministry writers of the prognosis
proceeded from the assumption that the Duma lower house of parliament would
pass the new Russian tax code before the end of 1997 or would at least make
major changes in the current tax system.
The wanted changes are abolition of concessions on the value added tax
(VAT), with nationwide upward revision of the VAT to 22 per cent, leaving
in place only two individual income taxes - a basic 12 per cent tax and a
higher-rate 30 per cent tax - and a leave to local self-rule to decree a
tax on sales.
However, the Economics Ministry has an alternative economic prognosis
which controls for exigency factors able to slow down the budget's
Shapovalyants cited among feasible difficulties tax undercollection,
with the budget's revenue and spending going awry.
He said resistance of influential economic lobbies and social groups
whose interests might be affected by planned social and economic reforms
could be adverse to the budget implementation too.
Sydney Morning Herald
23 August 1997
[for personal use only]
Heavenly cathedral opens - 60 years on
By ROBYN DIXON, Herald Correspondent in Moscow
SITTING like a fanciful gingerbread confection on the Griboydeova Canal,
St Petersburg's most gorgeous church has finally opened its doors after
six long and traumatic decades.
The Cathedral of the Savior of the Spilled Blood, built on the site
where the reformist Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, has been closed
for 60 years.
Like the beautiful St Basil's Cathedral on Red Square which it
resembles, the church was narrowly saved by Soviet authorities from
Despite its magnificent facades and brilliant mosaics, the church was a
particular target for resolute civic neglect during the Soviet era
because it was dedicated to the memory of a Romanov Tsar.
The altar of the church was placed on the spot where the Tsar lay
bleeding after his carriage was ripped open by a bomb thrown by an
anarchist from a group called the People's Will in 1881.
The cathedral cupolas, gilded or painted in shades of pale blue, white
and green, are all different. The walls are covered in exquisite mosaics
created by 30 artists. From one side, the church is supposed to resemble
a great ship on the water. In 1970, when the cathedral had fallen into
such disrepair that it seemed in danger of collapse, city authorities
were set to demolish this architectural treasure. But the church was
saved and Soviet authorities embarked on a long and slow repair job. So
far the repairs have cost $A52 million, and another $A18 million is
required to complete the work.
Mrs Valentina Zelenchenko, director of the cathedral, speaking shortly
before the opening ceremony on Thursday, said there had been an earlier
attempt to destroy the church. She said she had found a pre-World War II
document in city archives ordering that the cathedral be blown up.
The Times (UK)
August 23 1997
[for personal use only]
by RICHARD BEESTON
Marina's literary killing
LIKE the heroine in her best-selling books, Lieutenant-Colonel Marina
Alekseyeva seems at first glance out of place in the male-dominated
world of Russian law enforcement.
She does not carry a gun, hates violence and leaves her grey police
uniform hanging in the office wardrobe, to be brought out on ceremonial
occasions. However, any thought that she does not know her way around
the complex workings of crime and punishment in modern Russia will be
quickly dispelled by dipping into any of 18 detective novels or by
watching her walk to work at the Interior Ministry Academy, where young
police cadets snap briskly to attention before her.
This summer Colonel Alekseyeva's thrillers, written under the pseudonym
Aleksandra Marinina, have dominated the best-seller list, at one point
in July hogging six places among the Top Ten hardback fiction titles and
five places in the paperback list, with a total of six million copies
"To be honest, after working for 15 years in the police force, crime
reports leave me bored stiff," said the writer, who co-authored her
first book to help a friend and has never looked back. "What interests
me, what brings my novels alive, are the emotions and passions of the
criminal mind." Certainly her heroine Nastya Kamenskaya is no supercop,
just a middle-ranking criminal analyst in the homicide department of
Moscow's main Petrovka police station a character, the author admits,
is based loosely on herself. Part of her success is her ability to
accurately reflect the blurred dividing line between good and bad in
In her books the police are often depicted as incompetent or corrupt,
and in Accidental Killer Kamenskaya relies on the help of a mafia boss
to solve the crime. Critics charge that her novels depart from reality
only when murderers are caught and sent to prison a rarity in modern
Although the stories might be regarded as a bit too close to the truth
for her superiors, she insists that everything she writes is completely
fictional. So far the authorities have not made any complaints about the
celebrity in their ranks, and General Anatoli Kulikov, the Minister of
the Interior, personally presented Colonel Alekseyeva with the little
known literary award for the "best book by a police officer in 1995".
Fungi lovers' terrible pickle
AT THIS time of year no meal in Russia is complete without a plate of
freshly picked mushrooms, considered by many to be the best
accompaniment to vodka. But the country's favourite dish comes at an
unacceptable price for some, particularly in the late summer when
thousands of Russians invade their local forests on mushroom-picking
expeditions. No Russian would dare admit that he could not tell the
difference between a toadstool and an edible mushroom, a fact confirmed
by the 344 cases of poisoning this year, which have so far claimed 35
Chaste designs on power by Virgin Party
RUSSIAN women have good grounds to lament their poor representation in
parliament and government, and a new political movement launched
exclusively for them is unlikely to redress the imbalance. To the
sniggers of male spectators and curiosity, verging on disbelief, of
women guests, the All-Russian Virgin Party held its first public meeting
at a Moscow nightclub this month.
In a country where women boast of having one of the most active sex
lives in the world, the chances of the party becoming a mass movement
are slim. In two years of recruiting, it has managed to attract a meagre
12 members, who must be chaste and over 18.
"I realised that at the age of 25 it was getting late to lose my
virginity, so I resolved never to lose it," said Elizaveta Lavinskaya,
the president, who despite her well-publicised position still has to
fend off the advances of her countrymen. As for new applicants, Ms
Lavinskaya said that they did not need to prove that they were virgins
to join, because feminine intuition would root out any false applicants:
"I can tell by their faces whether they are bona fide."
Financial Times (UK)
23 August 1997
[for personal use only]
Aerospace: Mir inspires Yeltsin's flight of fancy
By Chrystia Freeland in Moscow
Promising everything from more state funding to the love of Russia's
prettiest girls, Boris Yeltsin, Russian president, yesterday broadcast a
message of support for his country's ailing space programme, just hours
before two cosmonauts embarked on a perilous spacewalk.
The cosmonauts later carried out risky repairs on the troubled Mir space
station, raising hopes of smoother sailing ahead for Russia's jinxed
Mir's recent woes appear to have jolted the Kremlin into devoting more
resources to the aerospace industry. "The 1998 budget will increase
allocations for aerospace and aviation, fundamental sciences and high
technologies," Mr Yeltsin said in one of his radio addresses. "Russia
must not yield its leading position."
Russia's space programme has fallen on hard times in recent years, as
the country has thrown all its resources into the painful transition to
a market economy.
"Of late, we have become somewhat indifferent to outer space," said Mr
Yeltsin. "Either we have become weary of fanfare, solemn speeches and
applause, or we have decided that earthly problems are more important."
The president urged the country's youths to refocus their ambitions on
the glamorous exploration of earth's last frontier, warning that Russian
know-how risked being lost as Soviet-trained specialists retired.
As an incentive, he promised that Russian pilots would have more fun.
Today it is Russia's entrepreneurs who partner Moscow's most beautiful
women. But Mr Yeltsin promised that the day would come when Russian
women "will dream of marrying an airman or a cosmonaut".
Tests over the weekend will determine whether the cosmonauts' efforts
have succeeded in restoring power to Mir, which was crippled after a
June 25 crash with a cargo module.
Wearing bulky spacesuits, Anatoly Solovyov, the flight commander, and
Pavel Vinogradov, flight engineer, spent almost five hours reconnecting
cables in the abandoned Spektr module of the Russian space station.
The space station's problems - which have included a fire, the
accidental unplugging of a vital computer cable, and the crash with a
cargo module - have also dismayed the US.
Once Moscow's fierce rival in outer space, Washington has been eager to
co-operate with post-communist Russia's space efforts. But Mir's recent
setbacks have threatened to derail this effort.
August 21, 1997
[for personal use only]
Russian troupes retake the classics
by STEVEN LEIGH MORRIS
After the Fall
Frankly, after a two-week visit to Moscow, it's been painful to return
to Los Angeles playgoing. True, our actors are among the world's finest,
and there's a vibrant energy to much of the work here. But of the 10
plays I viewed in Russia - in the waning weeks of the theater season, no
less - at least six combined assertively abstract directorial styles
with a meticulous precision of movement and language, and to an extent
seldom realized on our local stages. I had, of course, been pointed to
the best Moscow has to offer. Still, if I were asked to direct an
out-of-town guest to half a dozen L.A. productions of a similar caliber,
I simply couldn't do it.
Several reasons come to mind. First, there's our method of training
actors, which (to quote John Simon in his recent thrashing of the New
York Shakespeare Festival) "if it exists at all, exalts Neil Simon and
Arthur Miller over Moliere and Shakespeare." Moscow's theater academies,
such as the Moscow Art Theater and the Gittis institutes, continue to
graduate actors and directors rigorously - some say brutally - trained
in the techniques of style and speech.
Also, Russian theater has lately flourished in the absence of an
influential indigenous movie industry. The Soviet film biz collapsed
with everything else Soviet, including its centralized subsidy. Compared
to theater, films are expensive to make, and private funding for Russian
projects has been scattershot at best. (Neither the film industry nor
the theaters pay Russian actors a living wage anymore; even the stars
take nontheatrical jobs to pay their bills.) Russia's native celluloid
biz has little sway, financial or aesthetic, over the legitimate stage.
The subtle yearning to please film-industry execs, the "poor cousin"
status that's become a way of life for L.A. theater, simply doesn't
exist in Russia. Moscow has almost no concept of plays being a launching
pad for something "better" (i.e., more lucrative) - unless, perhaps,
it's a U.S. tour.
Finally, Americans historically have been specialists in escapist
commercial entertainments, exotic distractions from everyday life that
play in every corner of the world. Russia, for its part, has been turned
upside down, economically and culturally, over the course of the past
decade. The resulting search for a new identity has resulted in a
resurgent interest - at least on the part of stage directors - in
confronting and probing the country's brooding classical texts.
According to one of Moscow's leading theater critics, Vadeem Mikhailov,
the 1996-97 theater season saw the largest round in recent memory of
hard-hitting Russian classics in major venues, headed by adaptations of
Dostoyevsky (The Gambler at the Mark Zacharov Theater, Ivan Fyodorovich
at Mali Theater, The Karamazovs and the Devil at Theater Sovremenik).
Add to the list Astrovsky's The Storm at Youth Theater Gynette
Andronovskaya, Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita at Theater of Satire,
and Turgenev's A Little Comedy at the Theater on Mali Bronni, and then
note that this doesn't include the abundance of 19th-century French
classics that play such a large part in Russia's cultural history.
Furthermore, according to Mikhailov and stage director Roman Viktuk, the
post-Soviet theater is just now recovering from a devastating drop in
audience attendance. Audiences fled, they say, in part because ticket
prices soared, and in part because the recent trend of staging Western
musicals and existential/absurdist classics (by Samuel Beckett,
Jean-Paul Sartre, Eugene Ionesco and their like) failed to capture
Now, however, ticket prices have stabilized at about the equivalent of
$15 to $60 U.S., and the predominantly young audiences are literally
cramming the aisles to see abstract interpretations of Russian classics.
Along with the renewal of interest in theater has emerged a rivalry
between two of Moscow's most popular directors, Andrei Zhitinkin and
Roman Viktuk - perhaps because they're so often compared to each other,
due to their bold, abstract styles. Both men were in Moscow during my
visit, and both granted me an interview, Zhitinkin in a Mossoviet
Theater dressing room, Viktuk in his cavernous apartment facing the
Kremlin (once occupied by Stalin's son, Vasily).
Zhitinkin's Theater of Cruelty
Still in his 30s, Andrei Zhitinkin is the most popular of Moscow's "new
wave" theater directors, having staged more than a dozen productions of
little-known world classics during the last three seasons alone. His
prolific output and flashy, often shocking directorial style - employing
the "Western" method of rehearsing a play for no more than six weeks,
rather than following the Russian tradition of rehearsing for months -
have earned him a fair degree of contempt from local critics, who feel
that his motives for doing so have been mainly mercenary.
Zhitinkin answers those charges by citing an intimidating precedent:
Even Stanislavsky, he says, at the end of his career cut out the
long-winded, sit-down critical discussions with the actors that had
traditionally led into the actual physical rehearsal. Even Stanislavsky,
he continues - that master of discourse - found such talk not only an
academic indulgence, but an imposition upon the practical rigors of
putting on a play. (Like Stanislavsky, Zhitinkin works through
improvisations that ultimately lead back to the text.) Finally,
Zhitinkin explains how his ideas have been bubbling up for decades, and
how he would have been censored by the Soviet Ministry of Culture had he
staged them in earlier years.
"Politics is a dirty business, and its mechanisms are very important to
me," he says by way of explaining why he chooses to stage such
"decadent" works as Camus' Caligula or Maupassant's My Little Friend, in
which Zhitinkin adapts Russian political allusions to a thoroughly
French tale about a gigolo who becomes a senator (see cover story). With
hoop skirts made of vinyl, and romance that plays more like rape,
Zhitinkin pushes out such works' inherent brutality. He regards himself
as essentially a moralist: "I want audiences to feel the horror of human
behavior, and how it exists in themselves, so that after seeing the
play, that horror will perhaps gurgle to the surface and serve as a
"The Russian theater is in transition, Zhitinkin feels, between the old
system and the new: "We have so many rep companies, a stable of older
actors now living on meager pensions, who feel the competition when the
Young Turks are contracted in from the institutes, ready to rehearse a
play for a few weeks rather than over months. My method is completely
Western, but I'm working in theaters that still use the old methodology.
In the Soviet time, the actors arrived by connections, by lovers, by
Party bosses, and they were not necessarily talented people - though, of
course, many were. But the theater was financed by the government, so
the Ministry of Culture would call and say whose works should be done
and which actors should appear in them. It was horrible!
"Still," Zhitinkin continues, "even with all her hardness, Russia will
never abandon her talented actors, no matter how they got here."
Viktuk's Theater of Magic and Mystery
Director Roman Viktuk - openly gay, openly charming, but with a
reputation for being something of a prima donna - is one of Russia's
genuine maestros, justly famous for his skill in creating beautiful,
operatic and metaphoric stage pictures (which, Zhitinkin suggested, are
more concerned with form than substance - I can't say that I agree).
Every text, Viktuk says, has a mystical energy between the lines,
emanating from the passion that inspired it. Even long after a
playwright has died, that energy remains.
Viktuk believes he must find that energy before rehearsing a play.
Research helps, he says. Writers' diaries, letters and biographies offer
clues. But if he can't find the energy, he has no right, he feels, to
stage the play. His job is to bring that mysterious equation - "the
writer's soul and tenderness" - to the audience through the actors.
Viktuk was among the first Russian stage directors to cast off "the
shackles of Stanislavskian realism," so revered by the Soviets. Realism
- embraced by the Nazis as well - is a doctrinaire rather than a
liberating style, Viktuk believes.
"You have a building," he explains, "and it throws a reflection in the
water. In that peaceful reflection resides the essence of realistic art.
I love to come from the other side, come to the water with a pebble,
drop it in and destroy the peacefulness, so that the reflection becomes
less 'realistic,' yet more real. This is high art. There is depth to the
water, and the life is in this depth - the movement and the shaking in
the water - the river, the sky and the building, all combined. This is a
world of imagination, of magic and mystery. On this, I feel, the theater
should be built.
"Viktuk's production of Alexander Galin's metatheatrical farce The Wall,
a full frontal attack on Stanislavskian realism, just celebrated its
10th anniversary. Upon entering the grand Sovremenik Theater, the
audience sees, in place of a curtain, a wall of plywood, the final
square of which is being hammered into place by technicians. A befuddled
assistant director wanders down the aisle, barking orders for a
rehearsal, somewhere in the provinces, of a play so realistic that the
company has seen fit to erect an actual "fourth wall." (That the wall
completely blocks the action from the audience's view is a notion
somehow lost on its creators.) As the actors arrive, so do the mostly
drunken townsfolk, who mistake the hotel set behind the wall for a real
hotel and start demanding rooms. And so it goes, in a crescendo of
mayhem and social mockery executed with gymnastic precision by the
actors, who eventually play scenes through cracks in the wall and upon
the exposed wooden crossbeams designed to support the plywood.
Because the nation still suffers from a slave mentality, says Viktuk,
and doesn't know what to do with its newfound freedoms, the Russian
theater has been stuck "like a train without wheels." After the USSR's
collapse, he continues, everybody tried absurdist plays, religious
plays, musicals - all of it "nonsense" for Russians. "Plays by Samuel
Beckett and Eugene Ionesco are not 'tragicomical' for us," he says.
"They're normal." The endeavor to stage religious plays in a country
weaned on atheism was equally misguided, he feels. And musicals "can
only play among a free people. This is also not for us. We have to find
our own way."
The Straits Times (Singapore)
22 August 1997
[for personal use only]
Suicide watch on Russian sailors
PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY (Russia) -- The nightmare scenario is a mutiny
on an atomic submarine. Military experts in Moscow rule out such a
possibility but these are testing times for the Russian navy.
Three centuries after it was founded by Czar Peter the Great, the navy
is starved of state funds for maintenance, fuel and spare parts.
Only 10 years ago, a total of 480,000 navy personnel manned a force
equipped with 370 submarines -- 50 of them nuclear -- 290 main warships
and 700 minor attack boats.
Personnel is now down to 270,000, submarine numbers have been slashed
and the main fleet of warships numbers about 150.
The ships' graveyard, as it is called by locals, tucked away in a corner
of a huge bay at the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky military outpost on
Russia's Far Eastern frontier, is a symbol of the decay in the armed
In Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, capital of the remote Kamchatka peninsula
and home to Russia's nuclear submarine fleet and a base for the Pacific
Fleet, servicemen are waiting to see how planned cutbacks will affect
They complain of delays of up to several months in receiving their pay,
poor housing and disillusionment of the sort that drove Lieutenant
Yevgeny Golubyov to shoot himself last year.
He wrote in a suicide note to his wife, referring to their daughter:
"Anichka, excuse me if you can but I am tired. Finally all my problems
have ended. Take care of Nastya."
Many servicemen and their families live in ugly, squat apartment blocks
in a military village high on a hill overlooking the capital, a grim
city about 7,000 km east of Moscow.
The village offers a school and other facilities but a lack of money
makes life far from ideal.
Local residents recall how young officers used to parade proudly through
the city in their naval uniforms. Now, they say, there is sadness and
resignation in their eyes.
An officer said things were so bad that one of his jobs now was to try
to identify anyone under his command with suicidal tendencies.
"I have one I am worried about and have taken under my wing," he said.
"I don't want him committing suicide and it wouldn't do me any good
having big bosses coming round asking why I didn't manage to stop him
It was no surprise that Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev made Kamchatka
one of his first destinations when he decided to visit troops to explain
reforms that will slash their numbers from 1.7 million to 1.2 million by
the end of next year.
About 30,000 sailors would have to go under cuts intended to make the
armed forces more efficient. -- Reuter.
THE GENERAL STAFF OF THE RUSSIAN ARMED FORCES
STARTS REFORMING EFFICIENT UNITS OF THE LAND FORCE,
AIR FORCE AND OTHER ARMS AND SERVICES OF THE ARMED
FORCES, REPORTS ANDREI KOKOSHIN
MOSCOW, August 22 (from RIA Novosti correspondent Yuri
Alexeyev) -- The General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces has
got own to reforming the efficient units of the Land Force, Air
Force and other arms and services, Deputy Defence Minister
Andrei Kokoshin told an interregional economic conference in
As the RIA Novosti correspondent was told in the staff of
the Russian Defence Ministry, Andrei Kokoshin noted in his
speech that the main task of the reform of the Armed Forces is
the creation of the basis of a future army, a new system of the
nation's defence economy and a modern defence industry.
Reductions in the strength of the Armed Forces is "a forced and
painful measure, which is not an aim in itself but just one of
the ways to preserve the army".
According to him, one of the most important elements of the
reform is the creation of a modern economic and budget-financial
system of the Armed Forces, which is practically absent today.
The Russian Defence Ministry also intends to pay particular
attention to the provision of servicemen with housing.
Partially, Kokoshin said, this task will be accomplished by
using funds allocated to the military reform and those provided
for in the draft of the federal budget for 1998. Housing should
also be provided by using the budgetary allocations of the
Federation members, noted the deputy minister.