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Johnson's Russia List


December 12, 1997  
This Date's Issues: 1427  1428 

Johnson's Russia List
12 December 1997

[Note from David Johnson:
If you had thought about helping to keep JRL going when I am
away from Silver Spring by contributing to the JRL Christmas
Portable Computer Fund...time is running out. Let me know of
your hidden sense of civic responsibility. In all honesty,
when I bring myself to reflect upon it I am amazed by how
many people seem to take this enterprise for granted. Don't
disappoint me.
1. Toronto Sun: Matthew Fisher, Yeltsin's health: The cold truth.
3. Frank Brown, Religious Realities in 

4. Matt Taibbi: Thomas Goltz.
5. Patrick Armstrong: RUSSKIY SITES.
6. Steve Blank: state structure.
7. Reuter: Gareth Jones, Yeltsin, laid low by virus, shows up 
on TV.

8. Reuters: Philippa Fletcher, Constitution Day highlights Russian 
law's failings.

9. Sankt-Peterburgskye Vedomosti: Just Where Is the Country Going?]


Toronto Sun
11 December 1997
Yeltsin's health: The cold truth
By MATTHEW FISHER Sun's Columnist at Large (

MOSCOW -- We are once again being asked to believe that Russian President
Boris Yeltsin has caught a cold."
After the Interfax news agency announced Yeltsin was in the hospital
yesterday afternoon, the Kremlin's press apparatus got around to sheepishly
confirming that the man responsible for pressing the buttons on Russia's
nuclear football was once again indisposed.
The official line is that Yeltsin caught a cold during his bizarre visit
to Sweden last week and that that cold had evolved into such a potentially
serious virus that the president would be incommunicado for the next 10 to
12 days at his favorite clinic in a forest just outside the capital.
This may be true, of course. There is a pernicious flu bug going around
Moscow these days. Perhaps the president has it.
The problem with this story is that Yeltsin's press office behaves a lot
like that naughty boy who was always crying wolf. During the final days of
the presidential election campaign in late June, 1996, Yeltsin abruptly
disappeared from public view. His retainers claimed their boss had a sore
throat. The truth was that he'd had a heart attack.
It was one of perhaps a dozen times the Kremlin has lied about Yeltsin's
precarious health. Mind you, Mikhail Gorbachev's captors first claimed they
had been forced to step in because the last Soviet leader was ill.
Come to think of it, maybe that nose stretcher wasn't so farfetched.
Almost every recent Soviet leader seemed to catch a cold before he died of
something else.
There had been one hint that Yeltsin was about to have something called a
cold and disappear from public view, but no one had picked up on it. The
already once postponed meeting set for this week at which the president was
to scream at his cabinet for incompetence was mysteriously put off again on
Monday until next month.
After coming back gangbusters from quintuple bypass surgery last winter,
Yeltsin has looked poorly of late. When I saw the president in the Kremlin
with Prime Minister Jean Chretien in late October his skin was pallid and
his gait seemed a little odd. In Sweden, he looked and sounded like a zombie.
Whatever his appearance, Yeltsin had been a man of action this fall. In
fact, he was a whirlwind, forever hiring, praising, denouncing, shuffling
and firing his top appointees and visiting with western leaders who seemed
to drop by almost every day for a photo-op. The hellish pace suggested
Yeltsin was desperate to disprove those who thought he was finished when he
became gravely ill in 1996.
Russia is such a mess that there would never be a good time for Yeltsin
to get sick, but this is a particularly bad time for him to be under medical
care. The IMF is holding up a US$700 million loan that would keep Russia
from going bankrupt. The stock market is crashing. The government's top
money man is hobbled by a bribery scandal. The ruble is set to implode.
It is not forgotten here that Yeltsin has conferred so much power upon
himself that Russia practically ground to a halt when he was awaiting heart
surgery and recovering from it last year.
Should Yeltsin die or be permanently incapacitated, his prime minister,
Viktor Chernomyrdin, is supposed to take over with a new election to be held
within three months. At least that's what the script says.
When Yeltsin finally exits even greater chaos may ensue. Aside from
members of his own team, several of the country's top kleptocrats, who now
style themselves bankers, may want the presidency or wish to crown
Yeltsin's successor. Others in this potentially incendiary mix include
former generals Alexander Lebed and Lev Rokhlin, Moscow's controversial
mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, Communist Gennadi Zuganov and fascist Vlad Zhirinovsky.
Incidently, the clinic where Yeltsin is reportedly alert and running the
world's largest country by telephone, just happens to have a special heart ward.


Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 
From: George Breslauer <> 

Dear David:
Here (attached) is a copy of my talk in Seattle at the meeting of the
American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (November 22,
1997). I hope that distribution on JRL will elicit feedback and
discussion, either publicly on the list or privately to me
(, as individual respondents prefer. Many thanks!
Best, George

George Breslauer
Department of Political Science
University of California at Berkeley
210 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-1950
Tel: (510) 642-4655 (direct and voice-mail)
Fax: (510) 642-9515

George Breslauer
University of California at Berkeley

In recent years, we have witnessed a relentless concentration and
interpenetration of economic and political power in Moscow. This has taken
several forms: 
(1) a "super-presidentialist" system under the terms of the 1993
Constitution, with a weak parliament and constitutional court, growing
concentration of authority within the presidential administration, and high
dependency of both governmental and presidential branch officials on the
good will of the president;
(2) the concentration in Moscow of both finance capital and of access to
licensing opportunities;
(3) the concentration of capital within financial-industrial groups, and
the concentration of finance capital hugely within the so-called Group of
Seven bankers;
(4) growing penetration (access + influence + appointments) of the
executive branch by members of this financial oligarchy, most dramatically
in the bankrolling of Yeltsin's presidential reelection campaign and the
subsequent appointment of Boris Berezovskiy to a high position in Yeltsin's
These descriptive observations are not especially controversial among
analysts of the Russian scene. Dispute concerns their causes, consequences,
and justifiability. In this short statement, I would like to address causes
and consequences, but not normative evaluation. Specifically, how might we
conceptualize this phenomenon? And is it a fragile, passing phase or a
relatively stable equilibrium that may endure for many years? 
Some analysts refer to the emergence of a "stable financial oligarchy"
comprising key officials of the executive/presidential branches and the
wealthiest financial tycoons. The unity and durability of this oligarchy is
said to be buttressed by its control of enormous reserves of private
violence, making this transition into one that, we might say, has moved from
"socialization of the means of production" to "privatization of the means of
destruction." This is a structuralist perspective. It views the president
as highly constrained, incapable of making a real difference in the
distribution of wealth and power---or of remaining alive were he to try to
change things fundamentally. Super-presidentialism, from this viewpoint, is
nominal; the president is a captive of the concentration of private wealth
and violence. This view of the "ruling elite" depicts a concentration of
power that lacks an arbiter (or a Godfather) with the leverage to disperse
power anew.
Other observers treat this oligarchy as highly fragile, subject to
ongoing material and ideational conflicts both within the
presidential/executive branch and among the financial tycoons and their
associated organized crime networks. In response to the mutual threats
among oligarchs during the recent (1997) auctions of large state monopolies,
these observers declare that the oligarchy is in the process of destroying
itself. This is a political-conflictual, not a structuralist, perspective.
The logic of this viewpoint, with its focus on internal divisions within the
oligarchy, is that the president can have substantial leverage on the fate
of the ruling elite. The divisions allow the president to become the
arbiter, capable of playing interests off against each other, and drawing
his power precisely from his positioning as a pivot mediating multiple
relationships among competing individuals and organizations. The
concentration of economic and political power in and within Moscow is real,
but it is far from consolidated.
It is important to note that neither of these images is necessarily
opportune for the institutionalization of a representative democracy in
Russia. The first is an image of consolidated oligarchy, with limited
challenge from above or below. The second posits a competition between
oligarchic and monocratic tendencies, with little challenge from below.
Prospectively, the autocrat could adopt a populist strategy of mobilizing
the masses, and countervailing force, against elements of the oligarchy,
which is precisely the strategy Aleksandr Lebed has promised to adopt. But,
in the absence of a strong parliament and strong civic associations, this
reaction is more likely to be Peronist than democratizing.
Be that as it may, which of the two images---the oligarchic or the
conflictual---better describes the situation at the national level in Russia
today? My position in the debate is a modified variant of the second
perspective. I suspect that the role of the leader remains consequential,
though I am far from confident just how highly consequential it is.
There seem to be a number of indications that Yeltsin wields substantial
power, either because of his personality and political strategy or because
of the power and authority of the office, or because of the combination of
both. {Hereafter, I will refer to this composite as simply "Yeltsin's
power," without gainsaying from which of these components the specific
leverage might have derived.) First, it is striking how effortlessly Yeltsin
seems to have been able to dismiss cadres of the executive and presidential
branches. It is quite remarkable how many individuals of diverse political
orientations Yeltsin has unceremoniously fired during the past four years,
including such seeming heavyweights at the time as Burbulis, Korzhakov,
Grachev, Lebed, and Berezovskiy, to mention but a few of the dozens who have
fallen. Indeed, memoirs reveal that Yeltsin sometimes fired people without
provocation or charges of malfeasance, but simply in order to "balance" the
firing (for cause) of someone of an opposite political orientation.
A second possible indicator of Yeltsin's power has been his ability to
use material resources available to him to coopt many an obstreperous
politician over whom he does not have the power of appointment. This may
account for the surprising level of cooperation displayed in recent years by
some prominent oppositions members of the Duma. In some cases, Yeltsin may
have been able to use information, rather than bribery, to blackmail
individuals into being cooperative. Either way, though, whether through
material bribery or informational blackmail, Yeltsin's capacity to
domesticate unruly opponents has to give pause to those who view him and/or
his office as a figurehead.
Third, Yeltsin seems to have enough power over policy to prevent general
policy initiatives by the government that he opposes. That is, he retains
the capacity to veto choices regarding the general trajectory of domestic
and foreign policy. Whether he chooses to exercise that capacity at given
moments is another matter.
Fourth, Yeltsin seems to be able to define the general trajectory of
policy in most realms of foreign and domestic policy. My emphasis here is
on the phrase "general trajectory," for Yeltsin has clearly not had the
health or the inclination to inject himself into the elaboration or
micro-management of policy once its general direction has been defined.
Moreover, while Yeltsin's advisors have often convinced him to change policy
directions, and while they may be said to be the source of inspiration for
the initiative, it was ultimately Yeltsin whom they had to convince, and it
was ultimately Yeltsin who made the decision to heed them. It was, then,
Yeltsin's power that turned the idea into policy. Memoir evidence supports
the view that politics in the Kremlin has been defined---even by
oppositional forces---as the politics of gaining the ear of the president.
On the other hand, there are also indications of meaningful limits on
Yeltsin's power. Promulgation of general policy (such as the decision to
launch a new stage of privatization, or to crack down on tax-dodging, or to
push for higher levels of integration within the CIS) is one thing;
realization of policy goals is another. Any realms in which the
implementation of policy requires its elaboration and specification through
many layers of bureaucracy, or that requires the renegotiation of exchange
relationships among socially powerful actors, are going to be subject to
relatively easy deflection of policy intent. Yeltsin can issue decrees, but
they will have little effect on the ground. Follow-up, based on complex
political strategies and substantial administrative muscle, will be
required. Yeltsin does not appear to have the time, interest, attention
span, or capacity to sustain such follow-up through his own intervention.
He has delegated follow-up to such associates as Anatoly Chubais, Boris
Nemtsov, Yevgeny Primakov (in CIS relations, for example), and others. But,
more often than not, Yeltsin has not backed these individuals consistently
enough to overcome the gap between policy and outcomes.
Moreover, Yeltsin may be able to discipline or fire members of his
government, including coopted tycoons. It is far from clear, however, that
anything he has the power to do can affect the distribution of wealth in the
country, the concentration of wealth in Moscow-based banks, or the private
organization of violence. He announced recently (September 1997) his
intention to put government funds in a National Treasury, rather than in the
favored, tycoon-run banks. It will be interesting to see whether he
actually does this, and, if he does, whether the practice would increase by
much the political autonomy of the state from the influence of financial
Similarly, Yeltsin may be able to change the people who benefit from the
current structure of power, but can he change the structure itself? Does he
have the power to redistribute the wealth and access that has become so
concentrated and interpenetrated during his administration? We do not know,
in part because he has shown little inclination to try.
Because of these limitations on Yeltsin's power, many observers assume
that a ruling elite has congealed and become virtually impervious to
anything short of a Pinochet-like autocracy. These are some of the
empirical bases for the "stable oligarchy" image. My disinclination to
endorse that perspective stems both from my observation of the scope, not
just limits, of Yeltsin's power and from additional, more theoretical,
considerations. I suspect that the structure has not congealed, and that
its shape may be vulnerable to intervention by a strong arbiter (not just
For one thing, this structure is of very recent origin, by any
comparative indicators. Ruling elites take time to consolidate their
mechanisms of self-reproduction. In Mexico, for example, it took decades to
develop the two attributes that allowed the entrenchment of a wealthy
oligarchy that would endure for half-a-century. Those attributes were: (1)
a consciousness of themselves as part of a system; and (2) mechanisms for
ensuring themselves impunity from accountability for their actions. The
Mexican presidency eventually became a protector of that oligarchy's
impunity against police, judicial, or societal punishment. Once such
consciousness and mechanisms were in place, members of the oligarchy had
vastly less to fear from each other. Neither for reasons of fear nor out of
temptation to sucker other members of the oligarchy were they tempted to
"defect." In Russia, however, neither the consciousness nor the mechanisms
are well developed, and members of the oligarchy have not enjoyed a regular
institutional venue within which to interact and to develop a shared
conception of their interests.
Another reason to doubt the extent of consolidation of the oligarchy in
Moscow is both the recency and the manner of its formation. The current
level of concentration of wealth was at least consciously tolerated, if not
assisted, by the largesse of Yeltsin and the philosophy of Chubais in
1993-94. Perhaps these men have allowed or assisted the creation of a
Frankenstein they can no longer control. But it is also possible that the
political factors which facilitated the acts of creation now could also
facilitate---albeit with more obstacles---the regulation, intimidation,
manipulation, cooptation, or splitting of that elite; indeed, perhaps even
the confiscation and dispersal of some of its assets. 
Still another reason to doubt the notion that the president has become a
figurehead is political culture. Whatever the reality of Russian mass
mentalities and conceptions of authority, it remains the case that many
officials, professionals, and intelligentsia in Moscow believe that the
masses believe that the country needs a "strong leader." Moreover, they
believe that the masses believe that such leadership is required to overcome
organized crime, corruption, concentrated wealth, and other forms of social
injustice. Whether accurate or not, this perception of mass political
culture can be a powerful lever in the hands of a leader inclined to defy
the oligarchs. Does the perception intimidate those oligarchs who might be
inclined to defy the arbiter, by holding out the prospect of anti-oligarchic
populism? I suspect so, and would note that Yeltsin has nourished the
belief, both in his public pronouncements and in his private relationships
with members of the presidential and governmental branches. 
Yeltsin's former press secretary, Vyacheslav Kostikov, for example, in
his memoir (ROMAN S PREZIDENTOM, Moscow, 1997) reports that Yeltsin held and
enforced a conception of his leadership within the Kremlin as "something
like the father of a large family [semeistvo]." Yeltsin even liked it when
he was asked to forgive somebody, usually for a minor bureaucratic
inadvertence: "ask daddy (u papy) for forgiveness." Other evidence supports
Kostikov's characterization. Yeltsin referred to Gaidar and Chubais as "like
sons to me." Korzhakov, after he was fired, told Yeltsin's daughter, "I no
longer love Boris Nikolaevich." And, of course, Yeltsin ultimately drew his
daughter into a leading role in his personal staff. All of which supports
the image of a man who viewed himself as a patriarch of a clan, not the
governor of an administration.
In short, there may be in Russia a widespread assumption that the people
expect or demand---or can be induced to demand---a strong, anti-oligarchic
leader. Under these conditions, and given a leader with a complementary
self-image, might this allow the arbiter to play off interests against each
other and thereby prevent them from developing a consciousness of unity and
common interest, a means of institutionalizing their impunity, and a
capacity for collective action?


Religious Realities in Russia
By Frank Brown
Frank Brown is a freelance writer in Moscow specializing in religion.
December 11, 1997

To label the spiritual changes in Russia a religious revival is simple --
just do the numbers.
The country's majority faith, the 1,000-year-old Russian Orthodox Church,
had 6,893 parishes in 1987. Today, it has about 18,000 congregations. The
Roman Catholic Church had two closely-watched churches operating in Soviet
Russia. Now, following a massive expansion with foreign priests, there are
more than 160 Roman Catholic parishes from the Baltic to the Pacific.

Signs of a Russian religious revival

Despite an exodus of tens of thousands of Jews from Russia to Israel in
recent years, Moscow now boasts two new synagogues in addition to the one
that remained open in Soviet times. And aside from the introduction of
Muslim law in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, Islam, often tied to
ethnic nationalism, is enjoying a spirited renaissance in places like
Dagestan and Tartarstan with the construction of scores of mosques.
The Orthodox spiritual leader, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksey
II, is a political player wooed by President Boris Yeltsin, by the
nationalists and by the opposition communists, whose leader, Gennady
Zyuganov, last year proclaimed Jesus Christ as "the first communist." When
Madeleine K. Albright made an introductory trip to Moscow as U.S. Secretary
of State earlier this year, her first visit was to the patriarch.
Finally, a recent poll shows the Russian Orthodox Church to be the most
trusted institution in Russia, outstripping the second-place armed forces by
17 percentage points. 
From the roadside priest blessing cars for a fee to the Jews for Jesus
missionaries trolling for converts at metro exits to the droning chants
coming from Moscow's Hare Krishna radio station, Russia has undergone a
genuine spiritual revival in the broadest sense of the term. 
There was a time when the government had all the answers. Then it had
none. A religious revival was almost a foregone conclusion. Into the vacuum
stepped Orthodox hierarchs willing to speak out against NATO expansion, as
well as thousands of American Protestant missionaries, eager young Moonies
and people pushing cults like Aum Shinrikyo.
Yet despite the spectacular boom in interest in all things religious, one
Moscow sociologist says that once the dust had settled several years ago,
poll results showed that the citizens of the Russian Federation are not all
that devout a people. While about 50% of Americans and 15% to 30% of
Europeans attend church regularly, said Sergei Filatov, a sociologist
specializing in religion at Moscow's prestigious USA/Canada Institute, that
figure stands at a mere 5% in Russia -- slightly more than the 2% in the
Brezhnev era, a time when believers faced discrimination and harassment.
Results from a 1996 Russian Academy of Sciences survey published this
fall in <i>Nezavisamaya Gazeta</i> (Independent Newspaper) found that while
20% of those who believe in God also believe in the resurrection of the
dead, 41% believe in astrology, too.
The numbers, Filatov warned, can be extremely tricky when pollsters start
asking more general questions about identity. The problem is that Orthodoxy
-- or Islam or Buddhism, for that matter -- often are seen as ethnic
identifications, not religious ones.
Not suprisingly, Russian Orthodox officials have their own set of
numbers. Father Igor Filianovsky of the Moscow Patriarchate's secretariat
for relations between church and society, said 45% of Russia's 147 million
citizens call themselves Orthodox. A little more than 20% of the population
attends church regularly, he said.
Whatever the figures, both secular and religious observers agree that the
people's appetite for all things spiritual is not what it was just before
and after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. As the chief rabbi of
Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt, put it: "It is not as exotic as it was five
years ago when it was still seen as the forbidden fruit that it had been for
many years. The interest now is muted."
Goldschmidt estimated that of Russia's one million Jews, "hundreds of
thousands" observe Passover each year. More specific figures are difficult
to come by, he said, adding that the more religious Jews are likely to
emigrate to Israel. 
There are some tentative indications that Russia's growth in religiosity
has not only slowed but is now reversing itself. This past Easter, the most
holy day in the Orthodox calendar, the Russian Interior Ministry estimated
that 120,000 people attended services, compared with 165,000 worshippers in
1996. Moscow has a population of 10 million people.
Filianovsky does not think a reversal is underway but acknowledged a
leveling-off in interest. "For now, it is a stable situation. It is a
quieter period."

Poor image, few choices

As for the future of any religious revival in Russia, a number of factors
argue against it. First, as noted above, religion has shown itself not to be
a quickie cure-all for the turbulence of post-Soviet Russia. Second, the
current generation of leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church is unlikely
to introduce reforms that would make their faith more accessible. The use of
Old Church Slavonic, for example, rather than modern Russian in the Divine
Liturgy means that most parishioners cannot understand the words of the service.
Then there is the question of the Russian Orthodox Church's moral
authority and independence from the government. From the reign of Peter the
Great through the Gorbachev era, the church was on a tight leash. Like other
top hierarchs, the current 68-year-old patriarch, Aleksey II, worked with
the KGB under the codename "Drozdov" (Blackbird), something for which he
publicly apologized in 1991.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the church remained close to the
government with, for example, Aleksey's birthday the occasion for a visit
from President Yeltsin, and Aleksey's attendance at the signing of this
year's Russia-Belarus union treaty. The brutal, botched war in Chechnya went
uncriticized by Orthodox officialdom. And this time last year, the lively
Moscow press detailed the church's import of millions of dollars in
duty-free tobacco and alcohol designated as humanitarian aid that then was
resold to finance church operations. 
Dvorkin, citing the poll showing the church as Russia's most respected
institution, said the church's image problem lies in part with news outlets.
"The mass media, both liberal and conservative, doesn't allow the church to
present its point of view. To have a sermon in church is not enough today,"
he said. 
As for alternatives to the Orthodox Church, they are likely to be fewer
and fewer following the enactment of a new law on freedom of conscience in
September 1997. The law, ostensibly designed to protect the populace from
cults, had the strong, insistent backing of an Orthodox church keen on
defending its turf. Decried by the U.S. Congress, the Vatican and Protestant
evangelicals as too restrictive, the legislation grants privileges and the
status of "traditional" religions to Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism. 
The implications of the law are not completely clear, but whatever
happens, minority faiths and foreign religious workers most likely will not
enjoy the same ease of operation they once did. Just in the weeks since the
law's passage, Lutherans, Baptists and dissident Orthodox groups in the
provinces have had run-ins with local officials.
All this adds up to a double whammy for a religious revival because,
Filatov said, it not only restricts potential believers' choice but sullies
the image of the Orthodox Church. "Their ties to the state, to corruption,
their authoritarian methods -- these are all obstacles to a real religious
revival," he said.


Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997
From: "Matt Taibbi" <> 
Subject: Thomas Goltz

This is in response to Thomas Goltz's note on 1424. 
I wish I had Goltz's problems. If the worst thing he has to "fear" is the
eventual disposition of my career, then things must be going pretty well
for him.
Goltz's reasoning reminds me of that scene in "Spinal Tap" where
Christopher Guest, as the guitarist Nigel, insists that his amp is better
than other amps because the volume "goes to 11." When the interviewer
suggests that it might be easier just to make 10 louder, Nigel just looks
at him and says, "But this one goes to 11."
After I submit a piece from our paper which argues against the whole idea
of formulaic reporting, Goltz responds: "Matt Taibbi approaches the
formulaic style of writing for Reuters as intrinsically wrong. It is not; 
it is intrinsically formulaic." 
In other words, it goes to 11. 
He argues that Timothy Heritage and all the rest have no choice but to do
what they do because that is the nature of the beast. Our whole point is
that the beast is brainless and insidious. And Timothy Heritage certainly
has plenty of choices about whether or not he signs his name to his pieces or
whether he undergoes the "difficult to unlearn" apprenticeship. He can quit 
to become an abalone diver, or a cross-dressing hairdresser, or even a giver 
of seminars in Georgia, if he wants to. There's no law compelling any of us 
to work at wire services. 
And incidentally, wire services didn't always exist, and there's
no natural law which says they have to. If they exist as a means of
projecting to a mass audience a predictable and formulaically skewed
interpretation of
world events, an interpretation that is bound to favor a specific point of
view, maybe they shouldn't exist. Or, at least, there should be people out
there who are telling their readers exactly where the wire services are
coming from. Because the truth is that the average guy accepts the news as
the truth when he reads it, and he begins, after a while, to accept the
judgements of news organizations (like Reuters) as to what is newsworthy
and what isn't. If you don't call their bluff, those readers will continue
to believe those judgements, and eventually we get a situation like the
United States, where Iowa septuplets head the news eight days in a row in
the midst of a world financial crisis-- and the majority of people think
that makes sense. 
The formula is what drives all of this-- and if you don't get a lock on it,
the way we're trying to, it will continue to shape the way we all think. 
And what's this whole business about "solidarity"? Is Goltz kidding? I'm
not riding the bus now-- why would I worry about getting bumped off later?
Fuck the bus!
Journalism isn't some safari where a team of j-school tourists shoots lions
from an armored Land-rover. Everybody is supposed to be fair game, even
other journalists.
The staff of the eXile burned all its professional bridges because it gives
us the freedom to be interesting-- and straightforward. From a creative
standpoint, I think Goltz has to see the logic in that. 
I wish I had more time to respond to Goltz's note.


Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 
From: Patrick Armstrong <>

Thanks for the news about Novosti's reappearance -
- I'd started to give up hope.
Here are some more sites National
News Service in Russian, pretty current.
And the government page is up to speed with lots
of stuff in Russian including Presidential Press
and Security Council press releases
I can't find anything useful from GosKomStat and
would appreciate any JRLnik's information.

Patrick Armstrong
Dept of National Defence Canada, diplomat in
Russia 1993-6


Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 17:13:38 -0500
From: (Steve Blank)
Subject: state structure

I would like to comment on two issues that are very important, if not 
vital for the future and which seem sadly, to have been lost in 
commentary on Russia. My intention is to stimulate discussion with a 
view to better understanding.
First, as I've written before the situation in the North Caucasus 
is approaching a limit from which it cannot retreat backward to order. 
In short the region is in imminent danger of going out of control and 
this is Russian authorities' position as well. I already suggested 
that the struggle between Nemtsov and Berezovsky went badly for 
Chechnya and the armed factions there are therefore exploiting the 
poverty, crime, disorder, and ethnic tension in Dagestan to 
destabilize it and make it impossible for Russia to rule there or ship 
oil through there bypassing Chechnya. In this they are abetted, of 
course, by local elements, who have their own agenda. Since Moscow is 
utterly incapable of protecting the local residents, Dagestan, with 
its blessing is forming its own militia which will be composed of 
young men who are either unemployed, tied to criminal elements, 
ethnically or religiously aroused, and most important unemployed with 
no future and nothing to lose., Thus Moscow is yielding up the 
monopoly on legitimate use of public violence which Weber defined as 
the hallmark of the modern state. If this plan goes through, 
Ingushetia has threatened to follow suit, which will only aggravate 
matters still more. And these considerations do not include the local 
Cossacks who are militarized, anti-minority, chafe under a sense of 
abandonment and loss of their lands by encroaching Muslim populations 
and are easily manipulable by forces like the MVD who would not 
hesitate to return to war there to"save Russia". Were this the 
situation, let us say in Texas, i.e.. a border state with oil, The 
media coverage would be enormous. Inasmuch as in any future war, 
Moscow will be the future center of gravity, not Makhachkala, and 
Moscow has no usable conventional forces for some time to come. This 
issue can explode at any time and may do so if Yeltsin is out of 
commission for some time as I expect. I think he has more than the 
flu frankly and the reports that Akchurin was with him in Sweden 
suggest that.
2. The second issue worth noting is the Justice Ministry under 
Stepashin a veteran intriguer who was the FSB's man in the government 
and the government's man in the FSB and one of the authors of Chechnya 
in 1994. He is now Minister of Justice and has successfully claimed 
the power to bet all laws and decrees emanating form the government and 
Yeltsin's office. He also has secured for himself direct control by 
the president placing his ministry under Yeltsin's personal control. 
Thus it is now one of the power ministries with the MVD,MOD, etc. 
Stepashin is therefore in a position, not unlike Vyshinsky, and I use 
this analogy with all seriousness, to launch criminal investigations 
of people all the way up to the top for malfeasance and crimes. Since 
Kulikov at the MVD is now lobbying hard to give the MVD power to 
investigate privatization deals for criminality, just as more big 
tickets are coming on the market, and Kulikov was the target of 
Chubais, Nemtsov, etc. he is well placed to collaborate once again 
with his buddy, and they are that, Stepashin in what would be a purge, 
using show trials, against high-placed members of the elite. Since 
nobody is accountable to the law and the purge, using kompromat, is 
now the standard formula for eliminating factional rivals, this 
development has ominous implications for government, the media, 
business, and the various military and paramilitary forces tied to one 
or another member of the elite. At a time when too many of our 
colleagues are prattling about democracy one should remember that in 
Russia, it always pays to see who controls what institution and what 
its powers are. For all the talk of democracy politics here remains, 
bureaucratic, factional, court politics animated all too often by 
personal grudges and an abiding sense of kto kogo.


Yeltsin, laid low by virus, shows up on TV
By Gareth Jones 

MOSCOW, Dec 11 (Reuters) - President Boris Yeltsin appeared on Russian
television on Thursday a day after going down with an acute viral infection
and being ordered by his doctors to rest. 
The Kremlin said the 66-year old president's illness was not serious but
Yeltsin had to cancel plans to record a radio broadcast to mark Friday's
Constitution Day public holiday. 
The official television footage, released without sound, showed Yeltsin
greeting his chief-of-staff Valentin Yumashev at the Barvikha sanatorium
outside Moscow, where the president is expected to stay for up to 12 days. 
Yeltsin, wearing an open-necked white shirt and a cardigan, moved about
relatively freely but looked grave and did not smile. 
``The president is in some discomfort and has a temperature of 37.3 Celsius
(99.14 Fahrenheit),'' said a Kremlin statement. 
It said a council of doctors met on Wednesday and confirmed he had an acute
viral respiratory infection -- complications from a bad cold. Doctors
prescribed anti-inflammatory and antiviral drugs, and medicine to bolster his
general health. 
Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov, who had been due to visit Moscow on
December 18 to 20, told reporters in Sofia he had spoken for 20 minutes by
telephone with Yeltsin on Thursday and that his trip had been postponed until
February or March. 
The Kremlin dismissed a Western media report saying Yeltsin had suffered a
renewed bout of heart trouble. 
Renat Akchurin, who led the team of surgeons which carried out Yeltsin's
quintuple bypass 13 months ago, also denied any link between the president's
illness and his heart operation. 
``I am not alarmed in the least by the head of state's general health,''
Akchurin told Interfax news agency. 
Yeltsin underwent his surgery in November 1996 but pneumonia delayed his
time return to the Kremlin until last February. 
He has made a strong recovery since then and kept up a busy schedule that has
included several trips abroad. It was on a hectic trip to Sweden last week
that spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said he had begun to show symptoms of a
The Kremlin was keen on Thursday to give an impression of business as usual.
Yastrzhembsky, who is also a Kremlin foreign policy adviser, went ahead with a
planned trip to Kiev for talks with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. 
He said afterwards that Yeltsin planned more meetings during his stay at
Barvikha and would vote in Sunday's Moscow city elections -- though how he
would cast his ballot was not yet clear, he added. Yastrzhembsky repeated that
Yeltsin would stay in the sanatorium 10-12 days. 
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's office said he had no plans to cancel a
visit to Turkey, due to start on Sunday. 
Yeltsin himself signed a decree ordering his government to cut back on staff,
heating and electricity. 
He had intended to take to the airwaves on Friday to mark the fourth
anniversary of Russia's post-Soviet constitution. 
``Due to signs of catarrh, doctors have asked B.N. Yeltsin to refrain from
recording his radio address,'' said Thursday's Kremlin statement. A
presidential spokesman told Reuters the president was expected to follow his
doctors' orders. 
Radio addresses have become a regular event in recent months, underlining
Yeltsin's more fatherly approach. 
Yeltsin's illness has unsettled Russia's already jittery financial markets.
Shares and dollar-denominated MinFin bonds, widely traded abroad, remained
under pressure on Thursday, though dealers attributed the new losses to fears
of fresh turmoil on Asian markets rather than to Yeltsin's illness. 
Political analysts said decision-making would slow down in Yeltsin's absence
owing to his domination of the political scene and his extensive powers under
Russia's constitution. 
Policy drifted during Yeltsin's eight-month absence from the Kremlin due to
the heart problems that followed his re-election in the summer of 1996 to a
second presidential term. 


Constitution Day highlights Russian law's failings
By Philippa Fletcher 

MOSCOW, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Russia marks four years under a new constitution on
Friday amid renewed pressure for changes to the system it brought in, which
critics say is badly lopsided and has yet to secure civil rights. 
Approved by national referendum in 1993 with memories of pitched battles on
the streets of Moscow still fresh, the constitution has played a big role in
calming the political passions that accompanied the fall of communism. 
Yeltsin's appeal to parliament last week to pass his government's 1998 budget
and recent conciliatory moves to the chamber show how far he has come since he
set tanks on his parliamentary foes in October 1993 in the name of democracy. 
But his opponents say that Friday's Constitution Day holiday is not a cause
for celebration. 
They argue that political peace has been bought at the cost of putting
far too
much power in Yeltsin's hands, an argument reinforced by setbacks in financial
markets this week on news that the 66-year-old president had caught a viral
``We have adopted a constitution which says that the president is a God, a
Tsar and a mayor. Now we are suffering from this,'' opposition Communist
leader Gennady Zyuganov said last month, before Yeltsin's latest bout of ill
health on Wednesday. 
On Tuesday, Zyuganov and fellow communist parliamentary speaker Gennady
Seleznyov urged Yeltsin to shore up the government by making it take more
account of the views of the legislature. 
The government is now chosen by the president regardless of the make-up of
parliament. This means that despite the Communist domination of the lower
house, the State Duma, Yeltsin is under no obligation to have Communists in
the cabinet. 
The Kremlin has stopped short of agreeing to any constitutional amendment but
indicated a compromise might be possible. 
Liberal opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky also called for constitutional
change on Wednesday, saying the constitution introduced partly to end violence
of the sort seen in 1993 had allowed Yeltsin to launch a military campaign in
Yeltsin sent troops to the breakaway region exactly three years ago ``to
restore constitutional order,'' only to withdraw them almost two years later
after tens of thousands of people had died and his troops had suffered a
humiliating defeat. 
``The powers of the President of the Russian Federation should be balanced in
the Constitution in such a way that the post does not carry any threat to the
freedoms and rights of Russian citizens,'' said Yavlinsky, head of the Yabloko
Parts of the constitution covering individual rights arouse far less
controversy, but people on all sides of the political spectrum agree there is
a big gap between theory and practice. 
``Not a single law is in force beyond the Kremlin wall and the Moscow ring
road,'' Zyuganov said. 
Lyudmilla Alekseyeva, president of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a human
rights activist for more than three decades, said human rights were still
under threat from totalitarian tendencies at all levels of society. 
However, Constitutional Court judge Ernest Ametistov said the current
constitution was the first one to have started to function, citing dozens of
cases where the court has thrown out laws or presidential decrees. 
But he said there was a long way to go, estimating that more than 40 clauses
still lacked legislation needed to enact them. 
Alekseyeva said there was a way to fight lingering totalitarian methods. 
``(Late Soviet dictator) Stalin's constitution had the same kinds of rights,
the thing is there were no mechanisms to realise them. But now there are --
they're bad, crude, but they exist,'' she said. 
``America's constitution was written more than 200 years ago and black
American citizens fought for their rights in the 1960s. Rights come to life
only when people fight for them.'' 
Alekseyeva and other activists persuaded Yeltsin this year to rescind decrees
on holding suspects without charge and turning the unemployed away from towns.
They plan to step up their battle in 1998, which Yeltsin has declared Human
Rights Year. 
Yavlinsky said existing strains in Russia, which is fending off the fallout
from investor flight from emerging markets worldwide, meant constitutional
change may not be possible in the short term but should be a strategic aim. 
Zyuganov and Seleznyov said they would keep up the pressure for a coalition
``I am sure they will come around to the idea of a government of national
trust in the coming months,'' Zyuganov said. 


>From Russia Today press summaries
Sankt-Peterburgskye Vedomosti
11 December 1997
Lead story
Just Where Is the Country Going?
For the second week in a row, Russia is in mourning, the daily said.
Last week it was for the coal miners who had died in a methane gas
explosion. This week it was for the victims of the plane crash in Irkutsk.
When the investigation commission presents the results of its work, the
daily said, they will tell Russia what it already knows -- that the
accidents were caused by a technical malfunction.
But the daily said that while this may be true, a deeper reason exists --
the impoverishment of the nation. Millions of Russians and thousands of
enterprises exist in a poverty that is hopeless. These people are
indifferent to their own lives, and unfortunately, to the lives of others.
And the number of severe accidents across the country is increasing, the
daily said. 
The daily recalled the accident in the Rostov region, where a school bus
was hit by a train because there was no money to build a proper train
crossing with barriers. In the Leningrad region a year ago, a gas pipeline
exploded after residents illegally tapped into it, because their gas had
been turned off after they failed to pay their bills. And in the Volga
region Russians heard about a psychiatric hospital that burned down because
of a technical malfunction.
New reports of such disasters appear each day, all across the country,
the daily said. No terrorist or natural disaster is responsible. Rather, it
is due the nation's poverty. There is no money to maintain equipment and
properly implement safety rules. 


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