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Johnson's Russia List
21 December 1997
[Note from David Johnson:
1. The Age (Melbourne, Australia): Alan Philps, RUSSIA: Minders
intervene as a fading Tsar approaches burn-out.
2. Program on New Approaches to Russian Security.
3. The Sunday Times (UK): Inside Moscow by Mark Franchetti.
4. the eXile editorial: LEGLESS VETS SHOULD GET REAL.
5. Itar-Tass: State Duma To Debate Start-2 Treaty 'Soon.'
6. Interfax: Army Reform Leader Rokhlin Warns Against NATO
7. Itar-Tass: Number of Russians Below Minimum Subsistence Rises.
8. Voice of Russia World Service: Strategic Studies Director on
Russia's Global Role.
9. AP: Russians Seek a Million MIAs.
10. Toronto Sun: Matthew Fisher, Defenders of the (orthodox) faith.
Freedom of religion is still a foreign concept in Russia this
11. St. Petersburg Times editorial: $490,000 Bought Two Yachts
Instead of Christmas in Siberia.
12. MSNBC's Christmas wishlist for Russia.
13. Interfax: Russia To Maintain Economic Growth - Chubais.]
The Age (Melbourne, Australia)
21 December 1997
[for personal use only]
RUSSIA: Minders intervene as a fading Tsar approaches burn-out
By Alan Philps (Telegraph)
PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin was cast yesterday in the role of a confused old
man who does not know how ill he is, as his doctors ordered him to stay
in his sanatorium for a further week to recover from an infection.
On Thursday Yeltsin, 66, told reporters he would be checking out of the
clinic the next day and returning to work at the Kremlin. "I'm leaving
here tomorrow," he said hopefully.
But this turned out to be yet another of the hollow statements the
President makes with increasing regularity.
His spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, a former diplomat who brings great
suavity to the task of correcting his boss's comments, pointed out that
he had not yet spent his allotted 10 to 12 days in hospital care.
The Kremlin was faced with persuading the President that he was still
not fit to leave his clinic. The delicacy of this task was highlighted
when Interfax, the well-connected news agency, quoted a senior Kremlin
aide as saying he would have to stay inside another week.
The news item was instantly withdrawn. No one was ready to take
responsibility for such unpalatable news, even if it was true.
Yastrzhembsky admitted later: "It is hard to resist the President's
drive. He is raring to get back to work."
The Kremlin's chief doctor, Sergei Mironov, insisted that Yeltsin needed
five to seven more days "in order to be absolutely sure that there is no
Yeltsin's wife, Naina, is on the side of those who want to rein in the
President. "He is working intensively already and we are telling him
that he must reduce the workload."
The President's own views were not heard, as no reporters were allowed
The signs of confusion in the Kremlin - and the contradictions between
what Yeltsin wants and what his minders will allow - are bound to bring
more speculation about the President's fitness to rule, with his long
history of heart disease and increasingly scatty public utterances.
Doctors were at pains to show that Yeltsin's heart had not suffered from
the "cold" he contracted last week. But there remains a question about
his state of mind. Is he just being his old obstinate self in wanting to
check out of the sanatorium? Or is he increasingly out of touch with the
world, cocooned by his family?
In Stalin's time the paranoid dictator believed that the Kremlin doctors
were trying to kill him and set in motion a purge of the medical
profession. In the time of Tsar Boris - as Yeltsin likes to call himself
- the opposite is true: all the efforts of the Kremlin and its high-tech
cardiac clinics are directed to saving Yeltsin from himself.
The political elite is right behind the doctors' efforts to save Yeltsin
from himself. There is no clear successor - indeed, he likes to cut down
to size anyone who looks like a crown prince - and the prospect of an
uncertain succession fills the new elite with horror.
Nothing would be more harmful for the new rich than for a populist
candidate such as the fiery retired general Alexander Lebed to be
elected following the demise of Yeltsin. For that reason, they feel they
need at least another week to put the President back together again,
whatever other ideas he may have.
Far from going back to the Kremlin as he had announced, he may just be
allowed to go for a stroll outside tomorrow - provided it is not too
Program on New Approaches to Russian Security (email@example.com)
Funder: Program on Preventing Deadly Conflict, Carnegie Corporation of New York
Host: Davis Center for Russian Studies, Harvard University
Director: Celeste A. Wallander, Associate Professor of Government,
The Program on New Approaches to Russian Security (PONARS) is a network
of younger scholars who analyze Russia's security policy and its role in
international affairs. Through conferences at Harvard University, in
Washington DC and Moscow, these experts focus on understanding the
process of state-building, the development of societal interests and
international linkage formation, and their effects on the emergence of
Russia's national security interests and policies. The program sponsors
a working paper series, policy memos targeted at government analysts, an
email network and this website, which currently features detailed
information on the participating scholars with links to their
institutions and publications, and policy memos selected for
publication. Soon this site will feature working papers (or abstracts),
as well as an annotated list of websites on Russia and international
security. The overall direction of the project is guided by a Board of
Advisors, composed of senior scholars and policymakers with substantial
professional expertise and interest in Russian security. The
participants are divided into Core members and project Associates. Core
members are leading researchers in their fields who have finished
dissertations blending conceptual analysis with empirical research in
primary materials, while Associates are either advanced graduate
students doing the same types of work, or scholars with Ph.Ds whose
expertise is on a discrete portion of the project's research agenda.
Project Core Members
•Deborah Yarsike Ball (Lawrence Livermore): military politics; political
beliefs and attitudes of Russian Officers; civil-military relations;
assessing the protection of fissile material in the former Soviet Union
•Douglas Blum (Providence College): environmental politics, conflict,
and interdependence in the former Soviet Union
•Eva Busza (William and Mary): militaries and democratization
•Jeffrey Checkel (University of Pittsburgh): foreign policy belief
systems, ideas, and transnational linkages
•Renee de Nevers (Harvard): democratization and ethnic politics
•Matthew Evangelista (Cornell University): economic sources of conflict
within Russia and the CIS; transnational linkages; conversion and the
role of the military-industrial sector in Russian economic and security
•James Goldgeier (George Washington University): Russia's
relations in CIS, especially relations with Caucasus and Central Asia;
Russia's role in the European security framework
•Stuart J. Kaufman (University of Kentucky): civil-military relations,
military reform, militarization of ethnic conflict in the former Soviet
•Andrew Kuchins (Stanford University): Russian and Asian security
•Michael McFaul (Stanford University): domestic politics and Russian
foreign policy; political parties and coalitions
•Sarah E. Mendelson (SUNY-Albany): domestic politics, democratization,
and Russian foreign policy; learning, ideas, and foreign policy change
•James Richter (Bates College): Russian leadership politics, Russian
nationalism and identity politics
•John Schoeberlein-Engel (Harvard): the politics of nationalism
and identity; ethnic conflict; the role of Islam in regional political
movements in Central Asia
•Astrid Tuminez (Carnegie Corporation of New York): Russian nationalism
•Celeste A. Wallander (Harvard): security institutions; European security
and Russian foreign policy
•David Woodruff (MIT): Russian and comparative political economy,
methodology of comparative politics
•Kimberly Marten Zisk (Barnard College): defense industry; comparative
civil-military relations; Russian strategic trade issues.
1.The economization, rationalization, and normalization of Russian
foreign policy, Celeste A. Wallander
2.The Russian Military Outside Politics: a Historical Perspective,
3.Main Problems for Civilian Control of Military Budgets in Russia,
4.The Pending Crisis in Russian Civil-Military Relations, Deborah
5.The Domestic Politics of NATO Expansion in Russia: Implications for
American Foreign Policy, Michael McFaul
6.Short-Term Compromises and Long-Term Dangers for Russian-American
Security Cooperation, Mathew Evangelista
7.Contact Lenses: Transparency and US-Russian Military Ties,
8.Domestic Politics and Russia's Caspian Policy, Douglas Blum
9.Russia's International Integration and Caspian Sea Oil, Fiona
10.Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia, and Baltic Security, Mark Kramer
11. The Emerging Sino-Russian Strategic Partnership and Eurasian
Security, Andrew Kuchins
12.The Next Step in Democracy Assistance to Russia: Targeting Military
Reform, Sarah Mendelson
13.Promoting a Strong Civil Society: US Foreign Assistance and Russian
NGOs, James Richter
14. Empowerment, Ricochets and End-Runs: Russia's Integration with
Western Human Rights Institutions and Practices, Jeffrey Checkel
15.Russia's Fiscal Veto on CIS Integration, Henry Hale
16.Russian-American Relations in the Post-Cold War Environment,
17.The New Tribalism and America's Russia Policy, Stuart Kaufman
18.The Coming Unemployment Crisis in Russia, Stephen Hanson
19.Russia and the WTO: The Work to be Done, Michael Rosenbaum
20.Russia In Search of Itself: Nationalism and the Future of the
Russian State, Astrid Tuminez
21.In Its Own Image: Toward a Re-conceptualization of Central Asia,
Pauline Jones Luong
22.Strategies For Energy Development In Central Asia: International
Implications, Pauline Jones Luong
23.Domestic Structure, Economic Growth, and Russian Foreign Policy,
24.Could Norway Trigger a Nuclear War? Notes on the Russian Command
and Control System, Nikolai Sokov
The Sunday Times (UK)
21 December 1997
[for personal use only]
By Mark Franchetti
Paranoia comes buzzing back
The discovery of a bug in the editor's office at Komsomolskaya Pravda
has set Moscow buzzing with reports that high-ranking politicians and
officials had been expressing themselves more frankly than they would
like their colleagues to know.
Vladimir Sungorkin, the editor, is known to relish forthright,
off-the-record discussion with his visitors. His guests in the past six
months have included Yuri Luzhkov, the bullish mayor of Moscow,
Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus who admits his admiration for
Hitler, and Sergei Dubinin, chairman of the Russian Central Bank. All
the meetings were highly confidential.
Leaks, said Vladimir Mamontov, the paper's deputy editor, could be
extremely embarrassing. "Some of the guests got really carried away," he
said. "Lukashenko even described where the Belarussian missile defence
systems are located. What was meant for our ears only was listened to by
Luzhkov, who has consistently denied in public that he wants the
presidency, is said to have been less guarded about his future in the
supposedly private surroundings of the newspaper office. He is also
believed to have talked in detail about his arch-rival Anatoly Chubais,
the beleaguered first deputy prime minister, revealing compromising
information about his rise to power.
According to some reports, the editor's conversations with President
Boris Yeltsin and Viktor Chernomyrdin, the prime minister, were among
It was while office staff were replacing a computer system that they
found the listening device in a primitive wooden box hidden behind the
editor's desk. A similar bug was found in the commercial director's
office. Both devices were remote-controlled, with a transmission radius
of 500 metres.
The Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, has denied
planting the bugs, but its reluctance to investigate has angered the
newspaper. Last week the agency refused even to search the area of
As a result, paranoia reminiscent of Soviet times is now setting in. "I
have reverted to the old privacy tactics again," wrote Leonid
Bershidsky, a Russian commentator. "I don't talk money or discuss sex
with my wife on the telephone. I'd rather be paranoid than taped."
Yuri the magical mayor
Even the most ardent supporters of Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow,
may struggle to recognise the supernatural hero portrayed in a new fairy
tale intended to immortalise him. It presents Luzhkov not only as the
creator of numerous schools and roads, but as an angel who flies around
the world, in his trademark leather cap, helping humanity. Written by
Vassily Izboldin, an author from Yoshkar Ola, about 300 miles east of
Moscow, it has been bought by thousands of loyal Muscovites. Evidently
just what every little Vanya and Sveta wanted for this holiday season.
•When the temperature in Moscow fell to a record mid- December low of
-27C last week, the city's newly renovated zoo resorted to desperate
measures to keep its elephants warm: keepers served them several shots
of vodka and gin, mixed in with their food.
The elephants, which are particularly sensitive to therigours of the
Russian winter, were instantly revitalised. They are now said to be
monitoring the thermometer in their enclosure in eager anticipation of
the next big chill.
Lenin's cocktail party
A 4.8-ton sculpture of Lenin that once stood proudly outside Communist
party headquarters in the Latvian town of Preili has been sold for
Ł5,000 to pay for street lighting, schools and children's nurseries.
However, those die-hard communists who are determined that his memory
should somehow be preserved need have no fear. The Lenin bar opened
recently in Yekaterinburg, the industrial centre of the Urals. It offers
drinkers a choice of Lenin and Stalin cocktails.
There is no word, as yet, as to which is the stronger.
•Dimitri Fonareff, an aspiring rock star, draws heavily for inspiration
on his time as a bodyguard to Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet
leader. A recently released album of 24 tracks, recorded in English,
features a song entitled Made in the KGB. The lyrics may explain why
Fonareff turned his back on the security business. "How much is your
life worth, bodyguard? Be honest," he sings. His new career should
ensure that his life is worth a good deal more than it was before.
Sitting on hard cash
The Russians have found a new way to dispose of their old banknotes.
Gone are the days when outdated bills were burnt in furnaces. Instead,
the Russian Central Bank has taken the advice of a team of recycling
experts, and allowed the notes to be used as furniture stuffing.
Under an agreement with a furniture factory outside Moscow, 500 tons of
crinkly notes have been crammed into sofas and mattresses. The proud
owners can justifiably claim to be sitting on a pile of money.
From: "Mark Ames" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: LEGLESS VETS SHOULD GET REAL
Date: Sat, 20 Dec 1997 20:31:51 +0100
LEGLESS VETS SHOULD GET REAL
The Christmas season is upon us, and we here at the eXile join the rest of
you in Moscow's very merry foreign community in welcoming this traditional
time of good cheer, family warmth, and sharply increased consumer spending.
The passing of a happy holiday season is as important to us as it is to the
next good citizen. And it is for this reason that we encourage everybody to
keep that holiday spirit alive by supporting market reform in Russia this
As we all know, the only way to ensure true economic growth in any country,
be it developed or still developing, is to create a society in which all
economic players are equally susceptible to market forces.
Miners, launderers, waiters, hoteliers, clowns, character actors, blimp
operators--all of these vital contributors to a healthy society must be
susceptible to the market, in order to preserve the principle of
Why? Because without competition, there is no efficiency. And without
efficiency, there is waste, overemployment, sloth--all the things that lead
to stagnation and ruin. In Russia, an outsized military-industrial complex
caused huge hulking factories to bleed the federal budget dry for decades,
grinding the Soviet economy to a halt.
Today those factories are privatized and Russians are happy again. Though
not everybody has enough money to buy the things he wants, or even the food
he needs to survive, everybody does at least have the freedom to fight for
his own success. This is what we at the eXile call progress.
Everybody should be exposed to the market, including old people, children
(including homeless or orphaned children), invalids, war veterans,
refugees, and stray animals. Although the expected productivity level of
these people is probably relatively low in comparison with normal, healthy
adults, the eXile believes that they, too, have something to contribute.
The only exceptions to this market rule are managers of hedge-funds and
major international investment banks. These organizations and people are so
critical to the cause of economic growth that they must be protected at all
costs. When accidents befall them, as one did a month and a half ago (and
threatens to occur again), they should be bailed out immediately by
taxpayer-funded organizations not only so that they can maintain their
comfortable lifestyles, but so that they can continue to playfully and
freely experiment with currency and stock markets. The nations of the world
should spare no expense in supporting these people.
But this safety net should not be for everyone, nor should it be
interpreted as such. That is why we were so repulsed when we heard news
that a legless veteran of the Chechen war in the Stavropol oblast has been
loudly demanding money for medical care and has even threatened to go on
television with his demands if they are not satisfied.
We feel that society can only stand so much of this behavior. If veterans,
pensioners, orphans, and state workers believe that they should be
subsidized ahead of those foreigners who purchased GKOs and expected them
to mature on time, then they are sadly mistaken. For this reason, we feel
that an example should be made out of this war veteran. Let him work for
his bread, even if it means working in a circus. We hear they take the
legless from time to time. Let him work as a doorstop, or let him answer
the ad for a cushioned headrest that Burson-Marsteller placed in our last
Wouldn't we all like to get free medical care? But that's not the kind of
world we live in.
Elbow grease. Hard work. It's not for everyone. But it should be.
State Duma To Debate Start-2 Treaty 'Soon'
Moscow, Dec 17 (Itar-Tass) -- The State Duma will soon start dealing
with all issues concerning the limitation of strategic offensive weapons
"in earnest," Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Vladimir Lukin said.
"I do not think that the START-2 treaty will be ratified today or
tomorrow. But the Duma's position will not be much politicised as it was,"
Lukin said at a press conference on Wednesday [17 December].
He expressed the hope that this document will not become a "ball in
the game played by various forces", adding that both Foreign Minister
Yevgeniy Primakov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev share this opinion.
Lukin and the two ministers believe that the treaty does not infringe
upon Russia's interests and hope to persuade lawmakers of this.
However, legislators will have to pay more attention to the financial
aspects of Russia's obligations under the treaty. If sufficient funding is
secured, the Duma will be ready to ratify it, he said.
At the same time, Lukin noted that its ratification will become
possible only if this process is coordinated with the U.S. Senate.
"We are ready for such coordination. Unfortunately, I do not see any
strong desire on the part of the American Congress to conduct a dialogue
and establish contact with us," he said.
"We must take steps to open up the way for drafting START-3," Lukin
said. He believes such steps require the ratification of not only START-2,
but also several other agreements reached by the presidents of Russia and
the United States in Helsinki in February 1997, including an agreement on
He said that all these documents will be considered by the Duma
"It is important that we enter the 21st century with a more or less
equal nuclear potential commensurable with the American one," Lukin said.
He stressed that there is "growing understanding" on both sides of the
ocean that Russia and the U.S. should each have 1,000-1,500 warheads.
Lukin believes that the delay in the ratification of START-2 should
not [deter] either country from "mowing forward" towards START-3.
Army Reform Leader Rokhlin Warns Against NATO Expansion
Moscow, Dec 17 (Interfax) -- Duma Defense Committee chief and head of
the public movement in support of the army Lev Rokhlin put forward a draft
program on defense, including the concept for army reform and military
security, in Moscow Wednesday [17 December].
At a news conference he said that the threat to Russian security has
not been removed. "In particular, it amounts to the further escalation of
NATO enlargement in the direction of Russia. There is a potential
challenge to Russian security from the south and in the Far East. The
threat increases with the continued decline of the economic and military
potential of the country," Rokhlin said.
"On the one hand, NATO openly shows its force: Large-scale NATO
exercises are held in the Black Sea, the Baltic and central Kazakhstan; on
the other hand, the Russian Armed Forces continue to disintegrate," he
"As a result of insufficient financing for timely and high- quality
maintenance of military hardware and weaponry, the endless chain of
emergencies continues: Accidents in the air force, explosions and fires in
the navy, the death of servicemen in the ground forces. Unfortunately,
this is a natural result of the critical state of the armed forces," he
Rokhlin is convinced that "the crisis experienced by the Russian armed
forces is a composite part of the general systematic crisis in society and
cannot be fully settled as long as the general social crisis is not
"The Russian Armed Forces no longer exist as a single military
institution. The defence capability of Russia has been scattered between
different agencies. General-purpose forces have been driven to almost
total combat incapability. The strategic force still keeps part of its
ability to carry out orders, but mainly through artificially increasing the
service life of all systems," Rokhlin said.
"The army reform declared many times from 1992 to 1997 has not just
failed or remained unimplemented, its concept has not been even developed,"
"Russia has not developed or approved legislation forming a foundation
for the solution of all accumulated defense problems, and there is no
doctrine or concept of national security or a military doctrine or concept
of military security developed on their foundation," Rokhlin said.
In this context he invited "all public associations and patriotic
political parties, all patriotic forces, appropriate government and
military bodies, and the entire officers' and veterans' corps to a
constructive discussion of the draft concepts of military security and army
reform for a following discussion at a government level."
Rokhlin said the Duma would soon hold two-day hearings of drafts
worked out by his movement.
Number of Russians Below Minimum Subsistence Rises
MOSCOW, December 17 (Itar-Tass) -- The minimum subsistence level in
Russia went up by 4,000 roubles in November, totalling 407,000 roubles,
which was equal to the September level, while in October, it went down to
403,000 roubles, Prime-Tass reported with reference to the Russian State
The number of the population whose incomes are lower than the minimum
subsistence level went up from 32.5 to 34.7 million in November or from 22
to 23.5 percent of the total population. The rich making up 10 percent of
the population account for 31.4 percent of all incomes against 33 percent
reported last year. The number of the poor went down from 2.6 to 2.5
The average wages in January-November was 945.000 roubles, which is
1.2 times more than in the same period last year. The overall incomes of
the population went up by 0.8 percent over 11 months in 1997.
According to preliminary estimates, the total number of the unemployed
by the end of November was 6.4 million people.
Strategic Studies Director on Russia's Global Role
Voice of Russia World Service
16 December 1997
>From the "News and Views" program
Welcome to the program and up ahead we have an interview with the
director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies on Russia's role in
the contemporary world. [passage omitted--other features]
The Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy has held a two- day
meeting in the Moscow suburban resort of Bor. The Council, under the
Russian President, counts eminent political scientists, diplomats, military
experts, chiefs of private and state-owned mass media, and directors of
leading strategic study centers as members.
Our commentator, Vyacheslav Alekseyev, got the following interview
with one of them, Yevgeniy Kozokhin, Director of the Institute for
Strategic Studies on Russia's role in the contemporary world. Mr.
Alekseyev began by asking Mr. Kozokhin to briefly tell our listeners of the
major issues discussed by the Council at its latest meeting.
[Begin recording] [Kozokhin in Russian fading into Alekseyev report]
There were several key issues currently being widely discussed, and among
them are the scourge of international crimes, the illegal trafficking and
use of drugs, said Mr. Kozokhin. Drug trafficking has become a headache of
Russia and we believe that only concerted efforts by all the countries in
the world can lead to a successful combating of illegal drug-trafficking.
We then turned our attention to a number of serious global issues,
including economic cooperation. A plan on joint action in the energy
field, as well as the possibility of a joint program on energy in the next
several years, was most interesting and thought- provoking.
The Council on Foreign and Defense Policy also considered in some
detail the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and underlined
the growing threat of the spread of Islamic extremism.
China's role in the evolving new world order was also discussed, said
Mr. Kozokhin. I am glad to say that for the first time ever, eminent
scientists from the United States and Germany took part as equals in the
[Alekseyev] How do your colleagues from the United States and Germany
perceive Russia's current role, and how would you yourself describe
Russia's future global role, was the next question.
[Kozokin] Our guests from the United States and Germany focused mostly
on Russia's economic performance. However, they also spoke about Russia's
future global role, but highlighted the country's economic crisis. Unless
you overcome the economic crisis, Russia would remain a difficult and
unpredictable partner, concluded our Western guests. Russia is actually
aware of the problem and is doing everything to break free from current
economic (?bind) as quickly as possible in order to take up its allotted
place among civilized members of the international community, concluded Mr.
Kozokhin. [end recording]
Russians Seek a Million MIAs
20 December 1997
The Associated Press
Russia, too, has its missing servicemen and women - more than 1 million from
World War II alone.
``We really don't have to explain why we're looking for Americans,'' said
Sergei Osipov, the Russian head of the joint U.S.-Russian project that hunts
for prisoners of war and those missing in action.
``There's not another country in the world that has as many missing as
Every family understands the problem,'' he said.
In addition to World War II missing, there are still 300 people missing from
the Soviet war in Afghanistan and 1,300 from the Russian war in Chechnya.
Plus, Osipov said, there were 14 aircraft and ``many'' submarines lost during
the Cold War.
A. Denis Clift, an American member of the Joint U.S.-Russian Commission,
recalled a conversation with a Russian colleague. ``He said, `Why do you care
so much? We lost millions of people. We have bodies all over the place.' I
said, `Well, we do care.'''
But Osipov insists Russians care just as deeply. ``You know, in view of the
fact that just in the last week or so I've gotten about 250 letters from
Russian citizens trying to find lost ones, I don't consider the American
efforts to be excessive.''
``Of course,'' he added, ``I'd be very, very glad if we were able to devote
the resources and attention to this. For the individual person who's lost a
loved one, this issue is more important than all the governmental issues
December 21, 1997
[for personal use only]
Defenders of the (orthodox) faith
Freedom of religion is still a foreign concept in Russia this Christmas
By MATTHEW FISHER (74511.357@CompuServe.com)
Sun's Columnist at Large
MOSCOW - Klavdia Ivanovna knows exactly where she will be at midnight
on Jan. 6.
The frail, 68-year-old retired street sweeper and snow shoveller will
be celebrating Christ's birth according to the Orthodox calendar with
Father Vladimir at the onion-domed church just down the street from her
one room apartment near the centre of Moscow.
Klavdia Ivanovna never married because of the severe shortage of men
after World War II. The pious spinster is one of an army of elderly
women across Russia who observe Lent for 40 days every winter at
It's 23 days since Klavdia Ivanovna has eaten meat. She won't do so
again until the Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7. In fact, she's so strict
with herself that she wouldn't dare eat fish during Lent, although this
is allowed on most days.
Klavdia Ivanovna confides that she believes the souls of one who
observes Lent can fly freely like a bird to Christ. If she did not
respect Lent she is convinced that she would be like a bird with a
broken wing which wants to fly but can't.
It's a miracle that after three quarters of a century of often brutal
religious persecution by Lenin and his loutish heirs, about 75 million
Russians now identify themselves as Russian Orthodox believers, although
it must be noted that only a tiny fraction of those who say they are
believers actually bother to go to church.
Klavdia Ivanovna's religious transformation is a typical post-Soviet
story. Although she says she was interested, she was too afraid to go to
the few churches in Moscow which Stalin allowed to reopen during the
war, lest she lose her job and end up in prison. The neighborhood church
where she now attends mass at least twice each week was converted into a
chemical and machinery-making factory after the Bolshevik Revolution. It
only became a church again when Mikhail Gorbachev loosened the
communists' grip on religion during the late 1980s.
Those icons that weren't stolen from Father Vladimir's church during
the time it was a factory were painted over or covered in mud. Even now,
after several years of renovation, the church remains dank and dowdy and
doesn't have many icons. But when the heavily bearded priest preaches or
the choir sings, the atmosphere is electric, mystical and haunting.
The Russian Orthodox Church has much to celebrate this Christmas.
Thanks to government connections it has established very lucrative
business connections in the tobacco and oil industries.
Best of all, after months of controversy and an empty threat that aid
would be cut by the United States, President Boris Yeltsin finally
signed into law a bill this fall from the Russian parliament which
establishes the primacy of the Russian Orthodox Church and designates,
Buddhism, Islam and Judaism and Christianity as traditional religions of
President Yeltsin defends the new measures, saying they were required
"to defend the moral and spiritual health of Russia" from sects such as
Japan's notorious Aum Supreme Truth.
But in so doing, the president and parliament ignored a
freedom-of-conscience law passed in 1990 and a 1993 law that decreed
that all religious faiths were equal. It killed a promise Yeltsin made
in the early 1990s that Russia would become a secular state like Canada.
The law requires that those religious groups that were not officially
recognized in a region of the Soviet Union for at least 15 years ago
must now register with the government. What this is really about is
making the Russian Church the only legally acceptable Christian faith.
It not only marks an end to the Russian government's official
commitment to secularism, it once again puts the Russian Orthodox
Church, which collaborated with the Communists in order to keep a few
churches open, back in bed with the Kremlin.
The future operations in Russia of Mennonite, Mormon, Seventh Day
Adventist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist and Jehovah Witness
missionaries - mostly from Canada and the U.S. - have been put in
jeopardy. The law also presents huge problems for the Hare Krishna sect
and several other burgeoning Asian religions.
But it is the much more numerous and long established Roman Catholics,
who have been busily re-establishing long closed parishes, which may be
the most effected by the new law. This is especially true in western
Russia, where there are Polish and Ukrainian Catholics.
The new law will also have a serious impact on long established eastern
rite groups such as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Old Believers,
mostly from Siberia, who split from the Russian Church in the 17th
In a likely signal about the future treatment of unauthorized
religions, less than 24 hours after Yeltsin gave his assent to the law
on religion, armed police came in the middle of the night to roust a
Ukrainian Orthodox congregation from a church in a distant suburb of
It was probably no coincidence that the Ukrainian Church was in a court
fight with the official Russian church over who actually owned the
Getting registered won't be easy for these "foreign churches." They
must provide the government with lists of their members and detail their
religious doctrine. They are then prohibited from distributing religious
literature, using government-owned buildings or holding any public
activities for 15 years. Obtaining visas will also be much more
To get around such draconian requirements some churches have
established free medical and dental clinics or welfare agencies. Others
have tried to provide agricultural experts to assist farmers. But these
fronts are transparent. The real objective of these clinics and advisers
is to provide a way to meet Russians and convert them.
"We must completely ban prostelytising," says Alexy II, the hard-line
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. It is "an attempt by unworthy means
to lure people to another faith from the religion of their ancestors."
Patriarch Alexy, who like virtually all of his bishops rose to power at
a time when such promotions required the sanction of the Communist
government and the secret police, says the activities of his church's
"enemies are growing ... They include those who push believers to take
another split in the road and those who arrive from abroad with their
different and alien teachings."
For all the noise overseas about the clampdown on Christian churches,
few Russians seem to be troubled. This is partly because the masses
still deeply distrust foreigners and are fiercely proud of their
heritage. But another significant contributing factor is that aside from
elderly women such as Klavdia Ivanovna, most Russians, whether
Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist, don't practise any religion.
"Russians say they believe in God because it is now fashionable to do
so, but this is superficial behavior," says Vladimira Koroleva, who
teaches at the law faculty of Moscow State University.
Koroleva, who studied in Britain, says most Russians blindly accept
that there should only be one Christian religion "because people here
aren't used to having more than one choice for anything. We are used to
this because we had communism which is the most dogmatic thing in the
world. Orthodox believers are dogmatic, too. They are very hard on those
who don't agree with them."
Klavdia Ivanovna spits contempt at the very mention of other Christian
churches. She and her compatriots can now openly worship in the Russian
Orthodox Church. For her, that's freedom enough.
St. Petersburg Times
DECEMBER 22-28, 1997
$490,000 Bought Two Yachts Instead of Christmas in Siberia
THIS will be a less than Merry Christmas for many families in Russia.
But as we shop for Christmas trees and Christmas presents (or celebrate
other holidays of the season), thoughts inevitably turn to those dozens
of families who lost loved ones in the recent disasters in Siberia - in
Irkutsk, where on Dec. 6 a military cargo plane slammed into an
apartment building, killing 67, and in Novokuznets where on Dec. 2 a
methane gas explosion killed 68 coal miners.
Smaller, similar accidents happen all the time, occurring beneath the
radar of Western and Russian newspaper headlines. Miners, for example,
die every week in Russia, at a rate ten times that of miners in the
After more than a decade of economic decline, Russia has invested far
too little in safety and maintenance in every sector of the economy.
President Boris Yeltsin's decision to establish an airline safety
oversight body is unlikely to change that stark, basic fact.
This is worth keeping in mind when mapping out the nation's budget.
It also adds a new, sinister tone to Russia's massive corruption - the
billions sucked out of the national purse by corruption contribute
indirectly to the sort of horrors people are now coping with in
Novokuznets and Irkutsk.
Following the Novokuznets disaster, the Russian government declared a
day of national mourning, and promised it would provide financial help
to the families left behind. Following the Irkutsk disaster, the
government declared a day of mourning for the Irkutsk region - no doubt
out of a desire to avoid having back-to-back days of national mourning.
It also again promised to aid the families left behind.
It would be nice if a transparent, trustworthy charity could have been
speedily set up to help those families.
No doubt many in Russia and abroad would have been eager to contribute.
Sadly, The St. Petersburg Times knows of no such charity; we do know,
however, that Russia's tax laws make the creation of such a charity
(indeed, any charity - except for those set up to accept dubious book
royalties and defend private property) extremely problematical.
Instead of a charity, we are left with the dispiriting news that the
Kremlin has purchased two luxury yachts, at a cost of $490,000, for
Yeltsin and others to play with.
For $490,000, Russia could easily have put methane detectors in every
one of its coal mines; it could have also bought a lot of Christmas
cheer for families in Irkutsk and Novokuznets.
Yeltsin should order the yachts sold and make better use of that money.
Just because it will never happen doesn't mean it shouldn't.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Windows open, but not for long
Between eras, errors can be costly — and deadly
By MSNBC International Editor Michael Moran
The surprising, sudden and mostly favorable
way the Cold War ended eight years ago has had at least one unfortunate
side effect in that it left the world’s leaders and diplomats with a
wonderful excuse for doing very little in the years since 1989. ‘After
all,’ they ask, ‘how can we take advantage of the opportunities offered
in this new era when we’re so rooted in the past?’ It’s a good question.
Here are a few suggested Christmas wishes that could ensure a safer,
more prosperous 1998: ...
THE NEW RUSSIA
Russia is still the key and the news is not all bad.
For Russia and the rest of the states of the former Soviet Union,
1998 may be a pivotal year. As 1997 ended, there were signs of life at
last in the economies of several of these states. Azerbaijan and
Kazakhstan seem poised on the edge of an oil boom. The Baltic states —
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania — are integrating with Scandinavia.
But Russia is still the key and the news is not all bad. As 1997
drew to a close, Russia experienced growth in industrial production.
That’s the first positive sign since the collapse of the Soviet Union
six years ago, and together with its relatively low inflation, economic
growth may come at last in 1998.
This is particularly important for Russia’s nearest neighbors —
Ukraine and Belarus. Neither of these large, slavic countries has
prospered in the new “market” oriented world. In part, this is because
neither has really entered that world: both cling to centrally planned,
state-subsidized economic practices. Their supply lines for many good
continue to run through Moscow.
No one expected Belarus or Ukraine to blaze any trails, however,
and that’s why Russia’s next 12 months are key. In 1998, after long
delays, the question of private property ownership is due to be settled.
Russia is also finally getting around to reforming its ludicrous tax
code, something which has scared off as many foreign investors as all
the country’s mafiosi combined.
Finally, Russia looks as though it is finally putting old
enmities behind it in the far east, where technically, the country has
been at war with Japan since 1945. Talks in January may finally settle
territorial claims which have kept Japanese money out of Russia’s
economy. A boost like that is badly needed about now.
Of course, so much of Russia’s reform process appears to be
riding on the health of its President Boris Yeltsin. At this writing,
Yeltsin is ill once again and the Kremlin’s insistence that he’s not
very sick does not inspire confidence.
So, under Russia’s Siberian fir tree, pray for a healthy Boris
Yeltsin and plenty of Japanese yen.
Russia To Maintain Economic Growth - Chubais
MOSCOW, Dec 20 (Interfax-FIA) - First Deputy Prime Minister *Anatoly
Chubais* said the Russian economy grew by 0.3%, including the industrial
output increasing 1.7%, over the eleven months of this year.
Gross Domestic Product is to grow despite the negative influence of the
crisis in the international financial markets, Chubais told journalists.
Chubais said he saw no reasons for revising the forecast 2% increase of
GDP next year.
Chubais said he "had considered the forecast as minimum and expected it
to be exceeded." "Outperforming the forecast is less likely now.
However, it is a conservative and absolutely real estimate," he said.
Direct foreign investments will become "engines of growth" next year, he
said. "The crisis at the stock markets hurt portfolio investors. The
direct investments of large Western companies rose, rather than
shrinking. The policy of serious investors, who are interested in doing
business in Russia, has not changed," he said.
The statements on the currency policy for 1998 through 2000 made by the
government and the Central Bank of Russia do not need be changed, he
said. "We are past the lowest point of the financial crisis. A steady
increase of the currency reserves of the CBR and the increasing
quotations of Russian companies' share prices prove this," he said.