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5 January 1997
[Note from David Johnson:
Things should now return to normal, more or less. While in
Massachusetts my email connection was very erratic so please
recontact me if I missed something. To clarify: the Washington
DC area is still my home. I will be changing where I live
once suitable digs are discovered. Any tips? The numbering of JRL
messages has shifted to the 2000 series for 1998. The last 1997
message was #1454.
1. Reuters: Yeltsin goes on holiday a day early.
2. Financial Times (UK): Chrystia Freeland, Television: Boris the
3. the eXile: Abram Kalashnikov, Press Review.
4. The Economist: Russia's other governments. The behaviour of regional
bosses, as much as that of today's federal leadership in Moscow, will
determine Russia's prosperity.
5. Forbes: Interview with Alexander Lebed.
6. Reuters: Russian tourists take world in their stride.
7. The Electronic Telegraph (UK): Alan Philps, Yeltsin visit to Chechnya
halted over terror fear.
8. The Sunday Times (UK): Norman Stone reviews: Rebirth of a Nation: An
Anatomy of Russia" by John Lloyd.]
Yeltsin goes on holiday a day early
By Alastair Macdonald
MOSCOW, Jan 4 (Reuters) - President Boris Yeltsin arrived in the Valdai
lakeland in northwestern Russia on Sunday to begin a winter holiday, a Kremlin
The 66-year-old leader appeared to have started his break early, as officials
had previously said he would begin a roughly two-week vacation only on Monday,
Last month, Yeltsin spent nearly two weeks in a sanatorium with a viraon but
returned to work in the Kremlin for several days before spending the New Year
holiday with his family at his Gorky-9 residence close to the capital.
Russia will remain in holiday mood this coming week thanks to a public
on Wednesday, January 7, for the Russian Orthodox Church's Christmas
Yeltsin, maintaining a steady schedule of foreign trips, is expected to visit
India on January 18 and 19.
Interfax news agency quoted unidentified Kremlin sources on Sunday saying he
would probably postpone a planned January visit to the rebel Russian region of
Chechnya following a number of violent incidents in and around the separatist
The Kremlin spokesman declined to comment.
Yeltsin, who signed a peace deal with the separatist leadership last year
after a war started in 1994, had said he would visit Chechnya in January but
did not name a date.
Relations remain tense as Moscow refuses to countenance Chechen demands for
full sovereignty. Chechnya, its economy destroyed by 21 months of fighting,
wants economic help from Moscow. The Chechen government has faced grave
problems with unruly armed factions and widespread kidnapping.
The Kremlin declined to give details of Yeltsin's plans during his visit to
Officials have said that, as in the past, the president may continue to work
part-time and meet aides during his vacation.
Officials in the regional capital, the ancient city of Novgorod, told
on Sunday Yeltsin would be staying at a state residence some 16 km (10 miles)
from the town of Valdai, 350 km (220 miles) northwest of Moscow.
The nearest village is Dolgiye Borodi, or ``Long Beards'' in Russian. Yeltsin
would find rich fishing on the lake, Interfax said, though he would have to
fish in the traditional Russian winter manner, through holes cut in the ice.
Once a retreat of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, the residence sits on Lake
Uzhin within the Valdai National Park, known locally as the ``Russian
Switzerland,'' despite its notable lack of mountains. Nearby tourist
attractions include a 17th-century monastery and a museum of bells.
Yeltsin last visited the area for two days in August 1996. The Kremlin
the time he was sizing it up for a possible longer holiday. Shortly afterwards
the president announced he would undergo a major heart bypass operation.
In a New Year interview, Yeltsin urged ministers to come up with ``new
to stimulate economic growth and warned them of ``serious converations,''
fuelling recent talk that he could reshuffle a cabinet dominated by economic
He is due to hear a detailed report of the government's performance on
Financial Times (UK)
3 January 1998
[for personal use only]
Television: Boris the Great
By Chrystia Freeland
From Peter the Great to Joseph Stalin, Russia has long been a land of
monumental leaders, emperors who have stamped their personalities on a
subjugated nation. Ironically, even Boris Yeltsin, who takes great pride
in having led Russia's democratic revolution, sits quite comfortably
into this absolutist family tree.
President Yeltsin's monarchical inclinations were most graphically
revealed this autumn when, touring a provincial crystal factory, the
Kremlin chief donned a glass crown and dubbed himself "Tsar Boris". The
scene has also caught the fancy of the BBC, which has titled its
two-part series Tsar Boris: The Yeltsin Years (7pm tonight and next
The Kremlin's mercurial master is a worthy subject. More than six years
ago, Yeltsin secured his place in history with his brave defiance of an
attempted communist coup, issued bestride a Soviet tank. That episode
earned the beefy Siberian the respect of the west and - at least
temporarily - the gratitude of his own people, who saw him as the
defender of Russian democracy.
But since then, Yeltsin has often seemed more dictator than democrat.
His most gruesome blunder was the war in Chechnya. With this two-year
battle, in which tens of thousands of people were slaughtered, Yeltsin
bettered even Stalin's efforts to convince the Chechens that Russia was
brutal, ignorant and dishonourable.
Yeltsin has also done his bit to convince outsiders of the truth of
another Russian stereotype: a fondness for the bottle. He has an
impressive record of enlivening protocol-bound foreign visits with his
At home, the Russian president has displayed an eccentricity of a
different sort, encouraging an atmosphere of intrigue in his entourage
and sometimes lapsing into black depressions, during which the country
hangs in an uneasy limbo of scheming courtiers and paralysed ministers.
Perhaps most damaging of all, while he is a committed fighter of
communism, Yeltsin seems to lack a clear notion of what his catch-word
of "democracy" and "market economics" really mean. Although he has laid
the foundations of both, in itself no mean feat, Russia's democratic and
capitalist institutions still risk being built at a dangerous slant.
Under Yeltsin's rule, Russia has created a capitalism dominated by a
small group of corporate titans with close links to the government and a
democracy without the rule of law, or effective political opposition
Yet for all his shortcomings, in the really decisive moments Yeltsin has
been more often right than wrong. From the moment he stood up to the
1991 hardline coup he has been a indefatigable opponent of the Soviet
Communism which has done more damage to Russia - and maybe even to the
world - than any other political machine. He has created Russia's
capitalism, however distorted. He has institutionalised competitive
The BBC series is a jaunty narrative of the highs and lows of Tsar
Boris's contradictory reign. It is most successful in conjuring up the
bizarre episodes, like something out of a screwball comedy, which
constitute rational government, Russian-style.
Particularly amusing is the dissection of how, in December 1991, the
leaders of the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus chose to inform the world of
their historic decision to dissolve the Soviet Union. Belarusan leader
Stanislav Shushkevich was elected to pick up the telephone and deliver
the coup de grâce to Mikhail Gorbachev, then still president of the
USSR, who was furious - all the more so when informed that Yeltsin had
already spoken to US president George Bush, who had apparently
congratulated the troika on bringing down the evil empire.
The programme is equally good at reconstructing some of the most
decisive moments of the Yeltsin presidency, drawing fresh details from
Kremlin insiders. Especially riveting is the account of the night,
between the first and second rounds of the 1996 presidential ballot,
when General Alexander Korzhakov, the president's bodyguard, and his
hardline cronies were defeated by the reform wing of the Kremlin team.
The hero of this shady battle, which began when two reformers were
caught carrying a cardboard box packed with $500,000 in cash out of a
government office, was Anatoly Chubais, the mastermind of Yeltsin's
campaign. Chubais explains how, in the long hours after the arrest of
his protégés, he played a high-stakes game of brinkmanship. He rang the
head of the revamped KGB and ordered him to back down, and then dared to
use the same tactics with Yeltsin, implicitly threatening to sabotage
his re-election bid if he did not sack Korzhakov.
But while the BBC has cleverly strung together a collection of
attention-grabbing vignettes, it is less successful at explaining what
they mean. There is little effort to assess how Yeltsin's reforms have
succeeded or failed. And there is no need to dress up the drama with
fake action scenes; the story of Tsar Boris, and the interviews and
documentary footage the BBC has collected, are exciting enough without
these ham-handed efforts.
These lapses aside, the series spins a fascinating tale of Russia's most
powerful man. His roller-coaster reign leaves the viewer wondering what
could possibly be driving a leader given to such contradictory impulses.
But, in his recent memoirs, one former Kremlin press secretary has
offered, what so far seems the best answer: "Power is his master, power
is his goal, power is his mistress."
From: "Matt Taibbi" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: eXile press review
Date: Sun, 4 Jan 1998
By Abram Kalashnikov
Little kids love Christmas morning. They still believe in Santa Claus and
want a new toy every week. But Mom and Pop can seldom wait for the whole
thing to be over with. Nothing will bring a middle-aged couple closer to
divorce more quickly than another year of dragging themselves over to the
tree, tearing open their packages with feigned enthuiasm, and flashing
brittle smiles at one another before exclaiming: "Another tie! Thanks, honey!"
There is no better evidence of the intellectual malaise within the foreign
press community in Moscow than the year-after-year repetition of the same
old "holiday season" stories. The kids back home may still love them, but
the hacks who have been here growing spare tires for years have long ago
reached the brittle-smile stage of their romance with Russia. How much
longer can it last? How many more years can we spend the winter exchanging
the same old ties and blenders?
Think I’m being a scrooge? Let’s check out the old tie rack and see. Take
this simple test: which of the following "Christmas in Russia is rapidly
becoming Westernized" stories was written in December 1995, which in
December 1996, and which in December 1997?
a) "Festive lights line store windows, and crowds have been gathering in
shops and markets during the past few weekends frantically buying gifts.
Christmas decorations imported from the West line the shelves of many
stores. Christmas jingles can be heard on the radio. And Christmas trees, or
yolki, and Russian Santas can be found at department stores around the city."
b) "Over the last few years, Russia has been flooded with Western-style
marketing ideas, from simple mass-media advertising to shopping via
television. Now comes the mother of them all, the West's crowning
achievement in marketing events: the Christmas blitz…the idea of a
full-blown, American-style commercialized Christmas is quickly coming of
age. A walk down Moscow's central Tverskaya Ulitsa reveals shop window after
shop window strung with garlands, special seasonal advertisements from
multinationals Coca-Cola and Nestle, and even a few window signs promising
seasonal price mark-downs."
c) "Many shops have Santa decorations, largely because they were provided
free by suppliers of Western goods. And shops selling imported Santa Claus
tree ornaments, candles and chocolates have been doing a brisk trade."
The correct answers are a) Lynn Berry, AP, December 1997, b) Marc Champion,
Moscow Times, December 1995, and c) Astrid Wendlandt, Moscow Times, December
You can’t tell the difference between holiday stories in Russia that were
done this year and last year; they are the same every year. Let’s take
another test, comparing a few of the annual "Drunken Russians left to die of
exposure by socially insensitive Moscow municipal government" stories. Which
of the following was written by the lowest-paid American reporter in Moscow
in December 1996—and which was written by the city’s highest-paid British
reporter in December 1997?
a) After one of the balmiest autumns on record, winter has blown into Moscow
with a vengeance, putting lives at risk and the goodwill of Muscovites to
By late Thursday afternoon, the temperature had dropped to minus 24 degrees
Celsius, a numbing cold that immediately began taking its toll on the city's
less fortunate residents.
On Thursday alone, 40 frostbite sufferers were taken to hospitals, where two
of them died…38 people were hospitalized for hypothermia, or severe
exposure, and five deaths since the cold snap began last weekend.
Many of the victims are bomzhi, or homeless drifters, among them a nameless
man whose lonely death on a Moscow street Tuesday was recorded by the
newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. "Eighteen degrees of frost turned out to be
too strong for the sick old man with neither a passport nor a hope in life,"
the paper said.
b) Muscovites yesterday were locked in a bitter battle with the elements, as
extreme cold gripped the capital, causing deaths and injuries and forcing
most people to stay indoors.
As temperatures fell to -30C, the coldest recorded December for nearly a
century in the capital, hospitals reported a flood of victims, including
50 people suffering from frostbite and hundreds more admitted with
hypothermia or fractures caused by slipping on the icy pavements.
At least nine people have died since the cold weather set in at the
weekend, one when he was struck on the head by a giant icicle which fell
from the top of a high-rise building.
Most of the victims, however, were from the ranks of the thousands of
homeless and alcoholics in Moscow, who have little chance of survival
unless they can find warmth and shelter for the night.
The correct answers are a) entry-level Moscow Times reporter Greg Miller,
December, 1996, and b) Times of London bureau chief Richard Beeston,
While the Russian newspapers and a few lone responsible Western outlets—most
notably a thing called the Jamestown Foundation Monitor—were doing their
jobs, investigating real breaking stories like the apparent leak of
privileged Russian tax information to IMF managing director Michel Camdessus
and World Bank president James Wolfensohn, the heavyweights of the Western
press were lazing around, searching for a new angle on the same tired old
stories they’ve been doing every year.
Apparently imbued by the Christmas spirit, Alessandra Stanley of the New
York Times decided to give her own holiday turkey to the Tiny Tims and Bobb
Cratchits of Russia in her own death-by-exposure story, published just after
"When the flaps are down, it is too cold for Russian-made cars,
Zhigulis and Ladas, to start. Which means that the streets of Moscow,
normally as jammed and brutish as downtown Lagos, Nigeria, are
miraculously free and clear: Only Volvo and Mercedes engines can rev
themselves awake in this kind of weather. When it is really freezing,
foreigners and rich Russians rule the highways--winter joy rides for the
Happy Few. The outer lanes are littered with stalled cars, looking a
little like carrion abandoned in the desert."
"The City Ambulance Service announced today that last week three
people died of exposure and another 138 were rushed to the hospital.
Russians read between the lines and find some solace in the sobering
news: At least the ambulances are working."
Ho, ho, ho! Beeston, meanwhile, evaded the IMF story by doing yet another
"cold-death-exposure" story, this one blaming "illogical" Russians for their
deaths by accusing them of drinking too much:
"Freezing Russians put their trust in vodka
FROM RICHARD BEESTON IN MOSCOW
FLYING in the face of scientific research and basic common sense,
millions of Russians, including some of their pets, are getting through
the cold snap with the help of the country's favourite drink."
Never mind that both Beeston’s Britain and Stanley’s America are countries
populated by hundreds of thousands of homeless who also die of exposure in
the dozes every year, despite much higher median temperatures. And never
mind that homeless people in the West, just as in in Russia, tend to be
heavy drinkers—that’s how they got there in the first place.
The point is that the crème de la crème of the Moscow journalism community
simply doesn’t do a whole lot of work: its members mostly go back to the
same old store and pick out the same old tie once again. It’s just their way
of showing how much they care.
January 3rd, 1998
Russia's other governments
The behaviour of regional bosses, as much as that of today's federal
leadership in Moscow, will determine Russia's prosperity
LEFF-WINGERS in the Russian parliament fumed last week when Boris Nemtsov, a
leading reformist, observed that foreign investors were shying away from
Communist-run regions of the country. The Duma, the lower house, called for
Mr Nemtsov to be sacked as first-deputy prime minister, saying he was trying
to scare investors away. But Mr Nemtsov was merely stating the obvious-that
across the vast sprawl of Russia some regions are better run than others,
and that foreign investors will seek out the smarter and friendlier regions
as and when the economy recovers.
One consequence is that economic growth is more likely to widen than close
the already huge disparities in regional wealth. The all-important question
is whether the duff regions will try to learn from the perky ones, or sink
deeper into squalor and despair. The federal government will be able to do
little or nothing to help things along. it has no spare cash to reward
favoured regions and precious few sanctions to punish off-ending ones. SO
thinly is its authority spread that, save in defence and foreign policy,
what happens today owes much more to the sum of regional-govemment action
than to govenment at the federal centre in Moscow. The regional governments
have the power to lure or deter investors, to uphold or flout the rule of
law, and to deliver or ruin public services. Thus, to a large degree, can
regional governments determine whether Russia prospers or decays.
Two recent events have helped spark this surge of regional power-both of
them, for better or worse, products of democracy at work. The first was the
1996 presidential campaign, and its revelation of the political clout of
local bosses. Without their help, Boris Yeltsin would never have found the
votes he needed to win re-election. But an implicit pact ensued: local
bosses who backed Mr Yeltsin at election time could count on the freedom to
do pretty much as they pleased afterwards.
Asecond factor was the end, a year ago, of the president's right to name
governors to Russia's 58 oblasts and krais (see box). Instead, all governors
had to be elected. This brought the regions into line with Russia's 21
republics, which began electing their presidents in 1991. The elected
governors quickly found they were as unsackable as the republics'presidents.
Witness, last summer, Mr Yeltsin's futile attempt to boot out Yevgeny
Nazdratenko, the manifestly incompetent but popularly elected governor of
Russia's far-eastern Primorsky ("maritime") territory. other provincial
bosses rallied round to persuade Mr Yeltsin that it would be unwise and
probably unconstitutional to try to sack one of their own, even rotten Mr
Nazdratenko. In any event, a fresh election would merely have brought Mr
Nazdratenko back again. Mr Yeltsin beat a humbling retreat.
Mr Nazdratenko's survival has been enough to suggest that periodic rumblings
from the Kremlin about restoring more centralised control of the country are
unlikely to come to much. The balance of power may even be tilting further
towards the regions-partly because local leaders are still gaining in
experience, partly because many local governments are fast bolstering
political with financial autonomy.
Most republics, and more recently several regions, have done deals with
Moscow to let them hang on to a bigger share of their tax revenues, and so
make them less dependent on federal transfers. Some have won concessions on
other revenues: the govemment of Sakha, a Siberian republic that produces
almost all Russia's diamonds, may buy 20% of the stones mined in the
territory at "cost" and use profits for off-budget spending. Local
governments have also been learning to borrow, and so run explicit budget
deficits. Most were dabbling in the issuing of unregulated promissory notes
until this was banned by law in February 1997. Since then, more respectable
borrowing has become the rule.
Some regions have even managed to borrow abroad. Three issued Eurobonds in
1997. Another eight or ten had plans to follow suit, but shelved them when
the financial markets turned choppy. The federal government has said it
will allow only the richer regions-meaning those that make a net
contribution to the federal budget-to borrow overseas. But in practice
little prevents any region from raising foreign cash if it can do so without
a sovereign guarantee. Only by going abroad can regions hope to find the
cheap, long-term funds to invest in infrastructure. That prospect should in
turn prod more regions into raising fiscal and accounting standards.
Competition between regions may be having the desired effect. In north-west
Russia, Leningrad region has set about copying the tax breaks and the
red-tape-cutting methods that its neighbour, Novgorod, has been using so
successfully to draw foreign investors. And when, last month, the regional
government of Saratov, on the Volga, brought in local laws to let farmland
be freely bought and sold, 12 more regions promptly said they would follow
suit-a show of regional impatience that prompted Mr Yeltsin and
parliamentary leaders to promise last week a federal law for privatising land.
Plenty of regions still seem doomed to lose any contests for wealth, among
them parts of the north Caucasus, where ethnic feuding and poverty threaten
civil order even after the de facto secession of Chechnya; and southern
Russia's "red belt", the target of Mr Nemtsov's warning, where Communist
diehards still wax nostalgic for ration-books and collective farms. But at
least the red belt can unwittingly play a useful economic role-by letting
other regions gaze at it, and see what not to copy.
Where to punt
Russia's regions: ranked by creditworthiness
The best: overall place
1. Moscow (city), 2. Samara, 3. Tymen, 4. Moscow (region), 5. Sverdlovsk, 6.
Tatarstan, 7. Perm, 8. Nizhny Novgorod, 9. Irkutsk, 10 Krasnoyarsk
The worst: overall place
70 Kabardino-Balkaria, 71. Jewish, 72. Kostroma, 73. North Ossetia, 74.
Karachai-Cherkess, 75. Kalmykia, 76. Tuva, 77. Altai, 78. Dangestan, 79.
Ingushetia, 80. Chechnya
Local shares of joint and foreign investment
Jan 1st, 19997 (%)
Moscow (city) 50.2
St Petersburg 10.6
Source: Credit Suisse First Boston; Expert, Moscow
The 89 steppes
The Russian Federatoion's 89 'subjects' divided into four classes:
52 oblasts (regions), including the Jewish Cutonomous Region;
6 krais (territories);
21 republics (including Chechnya);
10 autonomous okrugs (districts).
The main distinction is between the republics and the rest. The republics
are the titular "homelands" of non-Russian minorities, such as Tatars and
bashkirs. Since 1991 they have enjoyed a high degree of autonomy, each
republic with a right to its own constitution and to elect its own
president. Oblasts and krais, however, are run by governors, most of whom
were presidential appointees until elections became mandatory a year ago.
Autonomous okrugs are ethnic subdivisions of oblasts or krais which have
claimed special status either because they are very rich (such as
Yamal-Nenets, in Tyumen, which has 53% of Russia's oil reserves); or because
they are so poor that they live on handouts from the federal government.
12 January 1998
[for personal use only]
Russia is ripe for a military coup. So says a soldier who is one of the
most popular men in the country.
"The politicians treat ordinary people as garbage"
By Paul Klebnikov
An interview with General Alexander Lebed by Paul Klebnikov ALEXANDER
LEBED, 47, led troops in Afghanistan and in several ethnic conflicts.
Immensely popular with ordinary Russians, Lebed allied himself with
Boris Yeltsin in the second round of the 1996 presidential elections; he
was rewarded with the powerful post of Secretary of the Security
Council. There he did what no one else was able to do: stop the war in
Later fired by Yeltsin in a power struggle, Lebed stands in the wings, a
would-be Napoleon waiting for a call. Even allowing for his resentment
and his well-known political ambitions, Lebed's criticism of the Yeltsin
government is pretty scary stuff. Could there actually be a military
coup, as he suggests? That's questionable, given the demoralized state
of the Russian military. Still, though Lebed may be exaggerating, you
can't ignore his dire prognosis.
FORBES: Who's running Russia today?
Lebed: There are two clans in Russian politics today. One consists of
the president and the so-called young reformers. The other consists of
the prime minister and the [communist] opposition in parliament. But
remember, the president was a member of the Communist Party's Central
Committee; so was the prime minister and so was the leader of the
parliamentary opposition. They're all from the same nest.
What holds these politicians together is they have always regarded
ordinary people as garbage, as the stones at the foot of the pyramids.
Russia is a fantastically rich country, but all this wealth ends up in
Foreigners coming to Russia see well-stocked stores, expensive cars and
a booming stock market.
They should look beyond Moscow. They should talk to ex-soldiers. Since
1945 the Soviet Union participated in 52 wars, from Korea to Angola. The
Afghan and the Chechen wars involved 1.5 million soldiers each. The
globe is seeded with our corpses. But not once has the government made
an effort to rehabilitate the men coming back from the fighting.
Take the specially trained men in the armed forces. Hundreds of
thousands, with unique skills-simply thrown out on the street. In the
best cases they became security guards; otherwise they hired themselves
out to the criminal world. Against such men the current crop of
policemen are just a bunch of helpless lambs.
Russia has a huge number of people full of anger and pain, intent on
destruction, violence and revenge.
Easy to criticize when you are out of office. What would you do?
Privatize the land and reform the tax code. Then people will follow the
law, as in any civilized country. But under the current political
system, there can be no reforms.
The political system has always been based on one principle: the
distribution of favors. But there are very few favors left to give. The
different regions of Russia are spinning off from the center.
What could change things?
The masses are armed. The army does not receive its salary for six
months at a time. Yes, the army is corrupt, but only the top generals.
When you get a visit from a captain, you'd better fear him-he wants to
become a general.
Are you saying the military would take over-not the generals but the
captains and colonels? What could touch off a coup?
Maybe it will be a woman whose child dies from hunger or cold, who will
carry him out on the street and the crowd will explode. It's an
It will originate in the provinces. The government in Moscow will be
told, That's it, lads, you have 24 hours to gather your things and get
So why did you support Yeltsin and join his government if they are such
I promised my supporters that I would stop the bloodbath in Chechnya,
and I did. Chechnya was a hole created in Russia. You could do anything
there-trade narcotics, armaments, you name it. Chechnya produced 2
million tons of oil a year, but it refined 12 million tons; no one could
say where that extra 10 million came from, and where the refined
production or money went.
Then [Chechen president] Jokhar Dudaev decided he had become big and
strong and stopped sharing the booty with his Moscow sponsors. So [the
government] sent in the army.
The so-called generals needed a big war somewhere so that a large amount
of armor could be destroyed and conveniently written off. When the
Western Army Group was demobilized, Pavel Grachev [former defense
minister] and Matvei P. Burlakov [commander of the Western Army Group]
stole 1,600 tanks and sold them on the black market-to Croatia, Serbia
and elsewhere. The correspondent Dmitri Kholodov came close to
uncovering this, but he was killed.
That's why the generals attacked the city of Grozny with columns of
tanks without infantry cover. A tank in a city is like an elephant in a
pit. A kid can throw gasoline down on it, throw down a cigarette and the
If Yeltsin offers you a post in the government, would you accept?
No. I am interested only in one post: the presidency of Russia.
Russian tourists take world in their stride
By Christina Ling
MOSCOW, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Russia's notoriously harsh winter drove Napoleon
back to France in 1812 and these days, as the snow piles higher, even the
Russians themselves are seeking respite in more temperate climes abroad.
Nor is it just the cold that is prompting the hardy populace to dust off the
suitcases and head for balmy beaches. After decades behind the drab Iron
Curtain, Russians are free for the first time to travel to any country that
will give them a visa.
For now, though, Russia's love affair with the world remains largely one-
sided, as independent foreign travellers still find Russian visas hard to get
and successful applicants often face high ``foreigner'' rates in spartan
The change has also left many once bustling domestic resorts mere ghosts of
their former selves and pondering how best to tempt back local and foreign
A crop of new domestic travel agencies is finding innovative ways to compete
with former monopolies Intourist and Sputnik, who once packed off batches of
well-scrubbed and carefully vetted Soviet citizens to ideologically friendly
``Leon Travel Agency invites you to visit the United Arab Emirates -- amazing
tidiness, warm water...call for details,'' coos one advertisement, piped over
the Moscow metro's public address system to grim-faced commuters bundled in
And as the number of travel agencies has mushroomed with demand, Russians are
globetrotting with a vengeance.
RUSSIAN TRAVELLERS COME OUT FROM BEHIND CURTAIN
Russians have made a highly visible return to the European watering holes
favoured by their 19th century forebears and need little prodding to enjoy
their new-found freedom.
Cyrillic signs posted around smart Paris shops and currency exchanges promise
special rates for Russians who buy, while Russian conversation is becoming
nearly as common as cheap souvenirs on London's main shopping parade, Oxford
Boasting a motherland straddling two continents, Russians are just as likely
to head for more easterly spots where the locals are picking up essential
Russian as quickly as in Europe.
``When we got to Istanbul I tried to speak English, but all the traders spoke
Russian,'' said Natasha, a 23-year-old a television company employee who
counts Paris, Greece, Prague and both coasts of the United States among her
While the price tag -- a charter flight to Turkey and week's board costs
around $350 -- still represents more than two months' pay for the average
Russian, package deals are affordable for the urban professionals doing well
from the market economy.
Alexander Bogatyryov, director of Orient-Travel in Moscow, says Turkey is the
number one summer holiday destination for Russians seeking a respite from the
hurly burly of daily life, with Bulgaria and Cyprus close behind.
``During the school holidays from November 1-10, the flow increases,
hot countries like Egypt, the Canaries and the United Arab Emirates,''
Bogatyryov said, adding that travellers were mostly young families and the
``Thailand is also very popular -- prices are relatively low and it is
practically the only place now where the sea is warm and you can still swim,''
TRAVEL BOOM GIVES SOME A BUMPY RIDE
Yet while many are discovering the delights of warmer climes and palm-fringed
beaches, the pitfalls for the unwary are innumerable.
``It is no secret that it does happen that a traveller buys a package holiday
and then when they arrive at the airport there's no plane and they can't go
anywhere,'' said Bogatyryov, comparing the chaotic modern market to
Intourist's more regimented heyday.
``Those going abroad for the first time think everything overseas will be
great -- then they wind up in a dormitory or maybe the sea turns out to be a
long way from the hotel.''
Time-share real estate deals, too, are gaining a reputation for deceiving
One couple, lured to a sales session by the chance of winning a television in
a lottery, found themselves paying out $2,500 for three one-week annual
holidays in a Spanish resort.
``We think it was some kind of hypnotism,'' said Lena, 55, of the four-hour
presentation in an overheated room with loud music blaring. She said she and
her husband, dazed, had let employees drive them home, where they handed over
their life's savings.
``When they had left we couldn't believe what we had done,'' she said, adding
the firm was refusing to return their money.
DOMESTIC TOURISM STRUGGLES AFTER COMMUNISM
Russia's domestic tourist industry has been hard hit by the rush abroad since
the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Bogatyryov, who left his position as vice-president of Intourist a year
take the helm at Orient-Travel, said the tide had begun to turn in 1997.
``The characteristic of this year compared to the previous one has been an
increase in internal tourism -- to the Black Sea,'' he said.
But Mikhail, a salesman at the Akademtur travel agency, said he
planning a jaunt to Thailand when his holiday came round.
While draconian restrictions on foreign tourism within Russia have been
quietly dropped in recent years, allowing individual travellers to wander at
will, most of the foreigners who do make it here come on organised tours.
Cash-strapped local authorities across Russia, from the little-known
autonomous Buryat republic to the Kamchatka peninsula at Russia's easternmost
Pacific tip are their pinning hopes for economic revival on drawing tourists
to the stunning natural scenery of their regions.
But tourist facilities are still poor and the language barrier and distances
involved put many people off. Siberia's vast and beautiful Lake Baikal, for
example, is a daunting seven-hour flight from Moscow.
The Electronic Telegraph (UK)
5 January 1998
[for personal use only]
Yeltsin visit to Chechnya halted over terror fear
By Alan Philps in Moscow
RUSSIA'S hopes for reconciliation with the breakaway region of Chechnya
have been dashed by the rise to power of Shamil Basayev, a notorious
terrorist who masterminded one of the most daring kidnappings of the
The Kremlin is understood to have cancelled a visit to Chechnya
scheduled for this month by President Yeltsin, which was to have
symbolised the start of a new working relationship. Mr Yeltsin had been
encouraged to go to Chechnya by Aslan Maskhadov, its president, a
moderate figure who sees no future for the republic without close
economic ties with Russia.
But Mr Maskhadov's conciliatory approach has angered radicals, and he
appears to be less and less in control of the republic, which is in the
grip of wave of kidnappings for ransom. Mr Maskhadov has now dismissed
his government and asked Mr Basayev, a deputy prime minister, to form a
In a statement on Chechen television on Saturday night, Mr Basayev
promised "crucial changes" within the next three months and said he
would solve Chechnya's desperate poverty by "mobilising internal
resources". Mr Basayev said the president would be responsible for
foreign policy, suggesting that he would be reduced to a mere
Mr Basayev has been a hate figure for Russians since he raided the town
of Budyonnovsk, holding more than 1,000 people hostage in its hospital.
After the death of about 100 people, Mr Basayev and his raiders were
allowed to go free, earning them hero status in Chechnya.
Mr Basayev's rise to power takes place against a background of
increasing tension in Chechnya's neighbours in the North Caucasus, and
fears of an upsurge in Islamic militancy in the republic.
At the end of last month a group of raiders attacked a Russian tank base
in the republic of Dagestan, neighbouring Chechnya.
The Sunday Times (UK)
4 January 1998
[for personal use only]
Book review by Norman Stone
Norman Stone is professor of International Relations at Bilkent
Rebirth of a Nation An Anatomy of Russia
by John Lloyd
M Joseph £20 pp478
The last days of an ancien régime are the best time to be alive and, if
you were a foreign journalist in Moscow in the Gorbachev era, it was a
thrill a day. Your editor would publish almost anything, and events
responded by coming thick and fast. John Lloyd, of the Financial Times,
had already established a considerable reputation in British politics,
because he had an uncanny feeling for the ins and outs of the great
miners' strike of 1983-5; he seemed to know the mind of Arthur Scargill.
It was an inspired suggestion for him to report from Moscow where there
was another collapsing Marxist outfit on a far, far bigger scale, but
with much the same features as Scargill's. Lloyd duly responded,
producing outstanding comment on the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Many commentators on the post-Soviet scene treat it as a contest between
liberty and the bandits. On the one side were the youngish heroes of the
free market and democracy - Chubais, Gaidar, Yavlinsky - who had read
the free-market gospel of Friedrich von Hayek in semi-clandestinity, and
wished to apply these lessons just as straightforwardly as their own
fathers had once applied Marxist solutions. On the other side were the
baddies - the "mafia", Zhirinovsky, General Lebed, the former
communists. Lloyd knows that the picture is more complicated; he seems
to look back with favour on the world of Gorbachev, when there was
licence, but there was also order. He even writes favourably of
Gorbachev's pathetic efforts to relaunch his political career, gaining
an infinitesimal proportion of the vote, and he contrives to write
favourably about Eduard Shevardnadze as well, even though Georgia, under
his rule, is not a pretty place.
Lloyd begins his book with a description of the politics of the new
Russia, and for its pen-portraits of the Gaidars and Yavlinskys, whom he
himself knows, this is valuable enough. They were hopelessly inept, and
never seem to have gone beyond the Moscow ring road, inside which is a
hot-house, where fantasies flourish. A future examination question on
this period will be: why did Chubais and Yavlinsky not gain power under
Gorbachev? - the solution which, deep down, I think Lloyd would probably
However, politics is not his strength: he does not seem quite to
understand what Yeltsin has that Gorby did not. One answer is drink:
under communism, if you wanted to be trusted, you drank; which accounted
for that phenomenon so noted in Poland, the "morphology of communism",
ie the blotchy, piggy-eyed, jowly face. Gorby, high on orange juice,
lost his throne; Yeltsin did not. Lloyd is also a little naive about the
putsch of August 1991, which much evidence now shows to have been a
put-up job (Lloyd's bibliography is distinctly selective, omitting
classics such as Vladimir Bukovsky, Françoise Thorn, as well as -
inexplicably - Carlotta Gall and Thomas de Waal's recent book on the
However, Lloyd, with his understanding of the Marxist mind, is a great
deal better when it comes to the power factors beneath the political
comings and goings. The best chapters in this book are the economic
ones. This is an enormously useful volume, although it is also a
thoroughly depressing one, because it takes you through the post-Soviet
economy with great clarity and knowledge: I know of no better account of
what is happening as regards oil and gas, the two items that, currently,
keep Russia afloat - or, rather, keep some Russians afloat.
When the Soviet Union fell apart, oil and gas (aside from weaponry,
which Lloyd hardly discusses) were the two main foreign currency
earners, and the trick has been to divert the money made thereby into
private hands. These private hands are dirty. Privatisation was
launched, but what it meant was that the existing bosses could lay their
hands on the production, diverting enormous sums into bank accounts
abroad. Thus it came about that the West lent to Russia, under one or
other charitable scheme, $40,000m, which promptly found their way back
to numbered bank accounts in Luxemburg, the Caribbean or Switzerland - a
scandal, frankly, that far outdoes anything that the Swiss banks may
have committed in the way of larceny some 50 years ago, but about which,
for some strange reason, there is no international stink or
In a few cases, there was an honest privatisation, but there the
protection rackets would muscle in, taking a quarter or more of the
proceeds. Meanwhile, foreigners - the British in the lead - move in with
foreign investment, and we can only hope that they know what they are
doing. Some British firms have burnt their fingers; others have a good
understanding as to how, in Russia, you can arrive at a dignified bribe,
ie a bribe that leaves mutual respect intact. In Russia today, that is
an important art, and one not mastered by the Germans, who have simply
lost $20,000m. Lloyd, in this story, misses quite an important point,
that all of this began in the last two years or so of Gorbachev's time:
powerful bankers were being cultivated by powerful people in the old
order of the USSR, to the profit of both sides. Still, if you want an
unadorned and bleak account of what "capitalism" has meant in Russia
today, here it is. It teaches me far more than the solemn works of
political science which appear in droves in Lloyd's bibliography. It
helps, too, that Lloyd is good at sarcastic phrases, in the manner of
his native east-coast Scotland.
There is much to be sarcastic about: whereas the average Russian male
now dies at 54 (the latest figure; in Turkey it is 68), the West, Lloyd
says, wishes the country to have a nice day. There is an enormous gap
between the ordinary Russian, grimly hanging on to a meaningless job,
and the newly rich whose activities are not even, properly speaking,
"capitalist". Protection rackets sew things up to such an extent that
Moscow, capital of a very poor country, is now among the most expensive
cities in the world. Russians sometimes console themselves with the
thought that "capitalism" in America was once a matter of robber-barons.
Not so: in the Wild West there was a preacher, there was a sheriff,
there was a judge, and elsewhere in the United States the rule of law
prevailed. Russia is developing in a way all her own, which has a great
deal to do with the surfacing of the hitherto hidden habits of
bandit-communism, and nothing much to do with the rules of early
capitalism. Lloyd knows this, and is not optimistic any more, whereas,
in the old days, his newspaper tended to talk Russia "up".
It is a pity that Lloyd did not confine himself to the economic side: we
have not really had a proper account of the Russian 1980s and 1990s in
that respect. What he says about the politics is, of course, competent,
and he has added other perfectly competent chapters on the media,
particularly television, and the changes in Russian culture, but you
slightly resent the space given to these things. Otherwise, there are
some sharp remarks about the role, in the Russian Federation, of the
ethnic minorities, for which Lloyd does not seem to have much time. He
does not discuss the Chechen war at any length, but it was surely the
worst sign of what was really going on in the Kremlin.
The curious thing is that Lloyd appears in a heroic role in another book
about the Caucasus wars, Thomas Goltz's Requiem for a Republic. Under
Armenian fire, he managed to get the only, crackly telephone line to
Moscow and dictated the perfect column - length, prose and all - into
the static. This shows what he can do and what he can understand once he
gets out of Moscow. Inside that ring road, you are still in thrall to
the might-have-beens of Gorby.