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Johnson's Russia List
16 February 1998
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Cold War melts at Russia's nuclear nerve center.
2. Paul Goble (RFE/RL): Coalitions Shift Allegiances.
3. St. Petersburg Times editorial: West's Stereotypes Stifle
Real Democracy Here.
4. The Sunday Times (UK): The years of living less dangerously.
Alexander Solzenitsyn may see himself as the Tolstoy of the 20th
century, but NORMAN STONE is not so sure.
5. AP: Maura Reynolds, Russian Reforms Neglect Siberia.
6. Los Angeles Times: Carol Williams, Russia's Film Czars Revive
Sad Cinemas. Culture: Owners stress comfort as with new and remodeled
7. New York Times: A Puppet Boris Gives Bill Advice He Doesn't
Really Need. ("Kukly").
8. Ludmila Foster: Russian POWs in Nazi camps.]
Cold War melts at Russia's nuclear nerve center
By Jonathan Wright
SERGIEV POSAD, Russia, Feb 14 (Reuters) - The polygraph team from the U.S.
state of Maryland at work in the Russian town of Sergei Posad reflects how
much has changed since the Cold War's end.
At a facility run by the 12th (Nuclear Weapons) Main Directorate of the
Russian Ministry of Defense -- once a place Western spies could only dream of
entering -- the American experts train Russian officers to weed out dubious
characters when recruiting staff to handle their nuclear warheads.
The polygraph operators on their delicate mission to this ancient town near
Moscow are only the tip of the iceberg in a project costing the United States
about $400 million a year.
The object: to make the world a safer place by helping the Russian armed
forces dismantle safely thousands of weapons and protect the rest of them from
accident, theft or sabotage.
The hardware transferred to the Russians includes 150 reinforced
supercontainers for holding warheads in transit, 115 special rail wagons for
carrying them, 4,020 ``armored blankets'' to protect nuclear weapons from
small arms fire and a national computerized inventory system to track nuclear
The Russians have installed American-made sensors at their missile sites and
have received a gift of 30 miles (50 km) of ``Quick Fix'' security fencing for
their sensitive compounds.
``More than 10,000 operations have been performed in dismantling nuclear
weapons and no emergency situations have arisen, thanks to this cooperation,''
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said on Friday, endorsing a program
which pushes post-Cold War detente to the limit.
``Eight years ago I was training to kill these folks and now I'm trying to
work with them. It's good for the world,'' said U.S. Army Sergeant John
Newcomb, a Russian-speaker trained in military intelligence and now a part of
the liaison team.
``I'm doing my tiny little part here getting the nuclear threat down to a
manageable level. It's the most challenging job I've had in 20 years of
service,'' he added.
The program began in 1992 when Russians began to move their nuclear weapons
back to the heartland from breakaway republics of the Soviet Union -- Belarus,
Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
The confusion of those times is a thing of the past and the program
concentrates now on long-term improvements in security at the sites where
Russia stores its nuclear weaponry.
The next big project is to build a Security and Assessment Training Center at
Sergiev Posad. The U.S. company Bechtel has a contract for the work in
partnership with the Russian firm Eleron for the security design.
``They tell us the kind of things that would help, like keeping good control
of the guard forces,'' said Navy Commander Michael Demeo, a Pentagon expert on
arms control assistance.
``But in general they feel they've got good control of their weapons program
... We've asked them point blank (if anything has been stolen) and they've
said no. They think that's an absurd question,'' the commander added.
Demeo and others dismissed reports of stolen ``nuclear suitcases,'' portable
nuclear devices which criminals or saboteurs could use to blow up the world or
demand vast sums in blackmail.
They said the nuclear weapons directorate, known by its Russian acronym the
12th GUMO, was staffed by professionals who follow rules surprisingly like
those of the U.S. military.
``They have good guys out there and they are well protected. We all want to
avoid tampering, we all want to have the highest quality team,'' said one of
the American experts at Sergiev Posad.
But how do the Russians, psychological losers in the Cold War, feel about
Americans snooping around their missile silos?
In fact, these Americans never see the Russian warheads and are wary of
appearing to tell their counterparts what to do.
``We don't walk in and say they have a problem and we're going to fix it.
Because that wouldn't work,'' said the expert.
``If we push too hard or we don't package it right you see them get their
dander up but this is a pretty mature dialogue. I don't run into a lot of
resentment or old think,'' he added.
``It's a hard adjustment for them,'' said Sergeant Newcomb. ``How would you
feel if someone came to your house and told you what color curtains to hang?
We work around it, do all we can to build a sense of trust, and it's working
Russia: Analysis from Washington -- Coalitions Shift Allegiances
By Paul Goble
Washington, 13 February 1998 (RFE/RL) --Moscow's reported efforts to
convene a meeting of countries opposed to the use of force against Iraq
do not represent a return to the patterns of the cold war.
Rather they reflect a new and potentially destabilizing characteristic
of the post-cold war environment: No country can hope to put together a
coalition of states for any purpose without some other country seeking
to assemble other states to oppose it.
Such a leveling of power across the international system is likely to
make it more difficult for any country to respond to threats to the
international order and thus also make it more likely that such threats
And because these coalitions will have shifting rather than stable
memberships, the tasks of diplomacy in such an international system are
certain to be far more difficult than those diplomats confronted during
the Cold War or in its immediate aftermath.
On Thursday, Iran's official news agency IRNA reported that Russian
Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov had called for a meeting of countries
opposed to any military strike against Baghdad.
Primakov's comments reportedly came in a telephone conversation with his
Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharazi. And the news service said that
Primakov hoped that such a meeting of such countries, including Iran,
would help to promote a "political" solution.
This Russian proposal follows American and British efforts to assemble a
coalition prepared to use force against Iraq unless Saddam Hussein
agrees to provide United Nations inspectors unconditional access to
sites suspected of housing weapons of mass destruction.
Because this pattern superficially recalls the events preceding the
Desert Storm military action against Baghdad in 1991, many observers
have suggested that the international system is moving back toward the
bipolar world of the Cold War.
And such suggestions have gained additional currency because of reports
-- denied by Moscow -- that Russia has supplied some of the technology
to Iraq that have allowed Baghdad to manufacture the weapons of mass
destruction at the core of the current crisis.
But a focus on these parallels obscures the ways in which the situation
in 1991 and the situation now are fundamentally different. Even more it
detracts attention from the ways in which this crisis reflects a change
in the international order since the immediate aftermath of the cold
In 1991, the United States took the lead in organizing the international
community to respond to what was naked Iraqi aggression against Kuwait.
And despite Moscow's efforts at the time to oppose the use of force, the
U.S. was able to assemble a broad coalition, including ultimately the
Soviet Union as well.
With the collapse of the USSR, the United States became what many have
called "the last remaining superpower." And many analysts and statesmen
concluded that the U.S. could not only lead but in most cases even
Indeed, much of the harmony in the United Nations Security Council and
international cooperation more generally reflected the initial
willingness of many other states to defer to the American position, even
when Washington avoided flaunting its special position. But as time
passed, a world with only one dominant power turned out to be in some
ways extremely problematic. Not only does the United States on occasion
find it difficult to justify the maintenance of such a position, but
other countries almost inevitably combine to oppose it.
Over the last few months, the United States and several of its allies,
principally the United Kingdom, have pressed the international community
to take a tough line on Saddam Hussein.
Working together, they have managed to put together a series of UN
Security Council resolutions condemning Iraqi policy and demanding that
Saddam Hussein open up his country.
But when the United States has tried to assemble a coalition of the kind
that it had in 1991, it has run up against the fact that the nature of
the challenge has changed.
In 1991, Baghdad was guilty of direct aggression. Now, it is guilty only
of developing the capability for even greater aggression in the future.
Not surprisingly, many countries willing to stand up to the former are
less willing to do so in the latter. The United States made it very
clear at the time that no diplomatic solution was really possible; now,
the search for such a solution is at the center of American policy.
And finally, the relative power positions of the players have changed.
In 1991, the Soviet Union was in the process of dissolution; its
interventions could be dismissed without much concern about the
consequences. Indeed, Moscow had little choice but to fall in line.
As a result of these changes, many countries have more room for
maneuver. Russia can seek to play up both concerns and dissatisfaction
with American policy. And Iraq can play off the one group against the
This is not to say that the United States is not about to use force
against Iraq. Rather it is to note that such use of force will take
place in a very different environment and with potentially very
St. Petersburg Times
FEBRUARY 16-22, 1998
West's Stereotypes Stifle Real Democracy Here
WHEN President Alexander Lukashenko was contemplating a move to crush
the Belarussian parliament a couple of years ago, his administration
worked up a brilliant plan to bring the nations of the West on board. It
was all laid out in a five-page anonymous document produced by
Lukashenko's staff: Belarus would spend more than $1 million to buy up
space in Western publications describing the Belarussian parliament as
"anti-reform" and President Lukashenko as "pro-reform".
Lukashenko may be a petty thug, but no one has ever accused him of
lacking political smarts. He knew he had one trump over parliament, at
least in the West's eyes: He was not a parliament.
Ever since President Boris Yeltsin blew up the Russian parliament - in a
conflict the Kremlin succeeded spectacularly in spinning, and falsely,
as solely about Western-pushed economic reforms - the West has been
married to a stereotype about the former Soviet Union: parliaments are
filled with irresponsible communists; chief executives, however
blundering, are good guys who know how to do business.
So it is both a surprise and not a surprise to read in the Financial
Times of London this week that "despite its traditional role as a
bastion of market reform, St. Petersburg city council has balked at" a
proposed hike in water rates.
The fact that the story was entirely wrong is of less interest than this
quick shorthand account of life in Russia: If a Russian parliament dares
to question an investment project or a government economic policy,
suddenly its credentials as "a bastion of market reform" fall into
One wonders what the Financial Times and other Western publications will
make of the opposition of local lawmaker Alexander Shchelkanov to a
French company's plan to invest $60 million into platforms on the Neva
River that will house low-lying hotels, restaurants, office centers,
shops and exhibition halls.
The city would rent the quay-side berths to River Espace for about
$900,000 annually, and would bring in even more in taxes. (See page II
This is an intriguing project, and probably a quite profitable one for
everyone involved in it. But is Shchelkanov "anti-market reform" for
raising questions about it? Certainly some of his comments may be seen
that way - and will be portrayed that way.
Or what about the St. Petersburg Auditing Chamber's report questioning
whether the VSM company's Moscow-St. Petersburg high-speed rail project
is feasible? (See page I). Does the auditing chamber deserve some snide
and denigrating label, such as "anti-market" or "communist" or
"old-guard," for worrying aloud that tax-payers might get stuck with the
tab for this project?
A legislature that opposes this economic policy or that large investment
project does not automatically deserve the scorn of "free-market"
journalists in other countries.
Some 500 people were killed when Yeltsin opted to shell the Russian
White House. How many will die if Lukashenko ever locks horns with his
parliament? How many ordinary St. Petersburg citizens will fall victim
to bad policy, if no one feels they have the right to ask questions
without being labeled a retrograde communist?
The Sunday Times (UK)
15 February 1998
[for personal use only]
The years of living less dangerously
Alexander Solzenitsyn may see himself as the Tolstoy of the 20th
century, but NORMAN STONE is not so sure
Norman Stone is professor of international relations at Bilkent
The front cover, and half of the back of D M Thomas's Alexander
Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life (Little, Brown £22.50), show
Solzhenitsyn's face, all beard and Old Testament eyes. When I finish
this review, it will be a relief to slot the book into the shelves,
vertical, and spine out. I am not by a long way the only man to respond
to Solzhenitsyn in this way. Early on, during his incarceration, a
fellow-convict remarked, "That man's self-regard is such that he even
picks his own nose with ceremony."
Why is everything to do with Solzhenitsyn so long? This book has nearly
600 pages. As Thomas admits, Michael Scammell's 1994 biography is a
difficult act to follow, let alone Solzhenitsyn's own autobiographical
writings, but he has tried, and this book is, in the end, a success.
The man's vanity is shown by Thomas to be pharaonic; Solzhenitsyn's
books grow vaster and vaster, and when new Russia let him stage a
television talk-show, he would not allow his guests to utter a word, but
treated them to a monologue. The show was soon discontinued. Nowadays,
Solzhenitsyn seems to be rather a comical figure in Moscow - a sort of
The End is Nigh, sandwich-board old man. Nearly everyone - including
Thomas - seems to find his books of the past two decades unreadable.
They are his attempt at War and Peace, performed on the stage of the
first world war and the revolution, and they are huge, often in small
print. It does not help that Solzhenitsyn set himself to reinvent a
proper Russia, cleansed of the horrible neologisms of communism.
Thomas is quite funny (unwittingly, I am afraid, because humour is not
his strong point) about the circumstances in which Solzhenitsyn wrote
them. In 1974, he had been expelled from the Soviet Union. The Politburo
just did not know what to do with him. He was the country's most famous
writer, and had won a Nobel prize, so he could not be spirited away like
writers in the 1930s. And yet he was a terrible reproach to the Soviet
Union: originally a good enough patriot and wartime officer, he had been
stuck in the Stalin camps for eight years, had survived only with
difficulty, and had written Gulag Archipelago which, as Thomas says,
must stand as the book of the 20th century, if you have to choose one.
The Politburo expelled him to Germany. It was not to his liking, though
he was impressed by one Swiss village, where the few score voters
assemble regularly, vote against income tax and immigration, and then go
home to Hansel-and-Gretel houses. But, bored with life in Switzerland,
Solzhenitsyn decided that he had had enough.
There is quite a funny story about this. Nabokov had been living at
Montreux, on Lake Geneva, and apparently invited Solzhenitsyn to lunch
at the local Hotel du Lac. Solzhenitsyn expected not just the
invitation, but also confirmation of it. He drove to the hotel, waited
outside for a while, and then drove off. Nabokov sat inside with three
guests and an epicure, uneaten lunch. Neither man forgave the other (and
anyway, Solzhenitsyn probably regarded Nabokov as futile and pampered,
whereas Nabokov would have thought Solzhenitsyn a shaggy bore.
Solzhenitsyn went to the United States, where, in snowy, mountainous
Vermont, he re-created a miniature Tolstoyan Yasnaya Polyana and where
he wrote, standing up every day for 15 hours, his tomes about the
Russian revolution. He used American archives, particularly those at
Stanford in California (Herbert Hoover had saved Russia from famine in
the early 1920s, and bought up many tsarist Russian documents).
A domestic household of much discipline was established, Solzhenitsyn's
three sons growing up under fairly strict control (they nevertheless
became all-American boys), and Mrs S fending off callers. Her only
company was her mother. This was not really very Tolstoyan at all; in
fact you often wish, as you read your way through the later Solzhenitsyn
works, that he had just run off and chased a maid somewhere in a railway
station. In Vermont, he would probably have been arrested at the first
halting place for lighting that dreaded Russian thing, a cigarette.
At any rate, Solzhenitsyn's tomes appeared, were translated, where at
all, only with great difficulty and to much cantankerousness, until the
Soviet Union collapsed and he went home. A characteristic pharaonic
touch led him to organise his return journey in 1994 on the
Trans-Siberian, and get the BBC to organise and pay for it. I cannot
have been the only spectator bewildered and irritated by this business:
it was very communist, the progress of the great ideologist back,
through huzzaing multitudes, to his own self-made memorial. It echoed
Lenin's famous arrival at Finland Station, but was more Brezhnev in
In the end, I am not sure that there is room yet for another
Solzhenitsyn biography. Thomas rightly praises Scammell, who had
first-hand experience of the man. He had translated him, and like so
many of Solzhenitsyn's acquaintances, had been cast into outer darkness
for some peccadillo or other. (Solzhenitsyn gave up co-operating with
Scammell's biography, and did not even answer two requests from Thomas
for collaboration: perhaps someone told him that Thomas was an English
Thomas has, in fact, had access to one source which, while not entirely
new, never the less unquenchably bubbles forth. A rule in writing the
lives of writers must be: cherchez l'ex-femme. In this case, Natalya
Reshetovskaya, although having experienced decades of ill-health and
general put-upon-ness, still, at a considerable age, talks on and on
about the One Who Got Away; a sad, sad soul, who sounds a great deal
nicer than the much younger and rather bossy little person who succeeded
her as Mrs Solzhenitsyn. That bossy little person devoted herself, in
Vermont, into getting the great man to write his later, rather marmoreal
tomes. Maybe she just devised his tomb, instead.
Russian Reforms Neglect Siberia
15 February 1998
By MAURA REYNOLDS
IRKUTSK, Russia (AP) - The winter dawn comes swiftly in Siberia. By the time a
vague yellow glow appears behind the clouds, Leonid Ivanov is already knee-
deep in the river.
He stands near shore in a black sheepskin coat and green waders, casting
slowly for arctic trout. He is the only point of color against the vast
whiteness of the shore, the sky and the steam that rises in sheets from the
Gently, he dips his 30-foot fishing rod toward where the current runs faster,
his lure seeking the prey that provides his margin of survival.
``I come here every day,'' he says. ``There's no work, so I come here.''
His day passes quietly at the bend in the Angara River, just north of the
center of Irkutsk, one of Siberia's largest cities.
The fishing spot bears little resemblance to the electrical equipment factory
where Ivanov worked for more than 20 years. It closed, as did nearly every one
of the defense plants that once were Irkutsk's main source of pride as well as
Irkutsk's defense workers were once privileged, earning hefty bonuses and
hardship pay for living and working in Siberia's harsh climate. Now they must
make their own way in Russia's harsh new economy.
On a good day, Ivanov, 56, will catch six or seven fish, about four
and his family will eat them for supper, unless he sells a few to get money
Although the temperature is 13 below zero on this morning, Ivanov says
of-factly that it's warm. At the water's edge, he keeps a small fire burning
to heat his hands, and a small bottle of vodka to warm the rest of him.
Ivanov says he'd rather get a real job, but no one will hire a worker
``We have to take care of ourselves now,'' he says. ``I understand that,''
Despite having more than 600,000 residents, Irkutsk has little of the bustle
of a big city, and has not caught the feverish capitalism that has swept
Moscow and a few other large Russian cities.
Here, people walk deliberately, with few billboards or flashy ads to draw
their attention from the icy sidewalks. They are 2,500 miles from Moscow and
its upscale supermarkets, nightclubs and banks.
In Soviet times, Irkutsk was a major link in Russia's military-industrial
complex. Surrounded by deep forests and vast resources, it was a safe place to
build tanks, fighters and other war equipment.
Most of the factories are now idle. And some, to the dismay of many of their
former workers, have been turned into gaudy flea markets for everything from
fruit to fur coats.
Alexander Oskin operates two of them. A lanky 28-year-old with a penchant for
computer games, he sits in his untidy office in a former machine-tool factory
just off the city's main square. A poster of a lipstick-red Ferrari hangs
above his desk.
As Oskin describes it, the new markets are a marriage of convenience: The
factories that weren't already bankrupt had lost so many government orders
that they couldn't pay their workers. And at least for now, small-scale
trading is about the only growth area in the city's economy.
He acknowledges that much of the trade is in cheap consumer goods, many
imported from nearby China. Little new industry has grown up in Irkutsk to
replace the jobs that were lost.
Still, Oskin has little sympathy for those still out of work. He watches an
old woman pass his doorway, bent double as she sweeps the floor of the former
``I'm absolutely convinced that those without work are those who don't
work,'' he says.
In Irkutsk's main unemployment office, a single radiator spits dirty steam
futilely up a blue stairway. The halls are packed with men and women who don't
remove their coats and stare warily at each newcomer.
A small group clusters on a stair landing, reading small slips of paper with
the week's job offerings. A retail collective looking for a driver offers the
best salary: 2,500 rubles a month, about $400. The lowest-paid offer is from a
military trading company: 360 rubles ($60) a month for a salesperson.
Most read for a few minutes, then turn away silently.
Officially, only 1.1 percent of Irkutsk's working-age population is out of a
job, says the unemployment office's director, Vera Tatarnikova. She concedes
that statistic is contradicted by the mood of despair in her corridors and out
on the streets.
``People aren't used to these difficulties of life, and so it seems to them
that the world is coming to an end,'' she says. Fear of crime and distrust of
the government in Moscow compound the sense of helplessness, she says.
Tatarnikova has 3,650 people on her rolls this month. They can collect the
equivalent of $70 a month in government support for a year as long as they
demonstrate they are actively looking for a job.
Yes, she admits, those who have stopped looking don't come to her office and
don't get counted as unemployed. Neither do those still nominally employed by
their factories, but idled because of low orders.
But things were worse a year ago, she says, when she had 30 percent more
people on her books. New jobs are appearing, although still mostly in trade,
not manufacturing. A few of the unemployed are taking advantage of government
subsidies and starting small businesses.
She divides the people who come to her office into two groups: those who can
work in the new system, and those who can't. She says the division is about
``When we started all this six years ago, people didn't believe it,'' she
says. ``Now, more and more understand that they can't wait around for the
government to find them a job.''
Are things getting better?
Tatarnikova sighs. ``We've survived the crash,'' she says.
Irkutsk retires early in the winter, retreating indoors soon after the sun
sets and the temperature begins to slide toward 20 below. Only a handful of
people are out - a few dog walkers, the occasional police patrol. Street cars
rattle by, brightly lit but empty.
Boris Sminilsov paces in front of a nearly empty restaurant. His main job is
as an immigration officer at the airport, but he moonlights here as a security
Inside, a couple slow dances to a raspy cassette player, wearing their fur
hats against the chill that seeps through the windows.
``I think we've hit bottom,'' Sminilsov says, and smiles. ``It's not going to
get any worse.''
In Siberia, in winter, that passes for optimism.
Down along the riverbank, the Angara laps quietly against its stone
embankment. Three teens frolic at the water's edge, tossing chunks of ice out
toward where the dark current flows faster.
An eerie blue light appears upstream in the darkness, drifting slowly
center of the river. When it passes into a beam of lamplight, a figure is
silhouetted in a boat, bending toward the river's dark surface.
It's nearly midnight. Out on the rushing water, someone is fishing.
Los Angeles Times
February 15, 1998
[for personal use only]
Russia's Film Czars Revive Sad Cinemas
Culture: Owners stress comfort as with new and remodeled theaters.
By CAROL J. WILLIAMS, Times Staff Writer
MOSCOW--In the cavernous lobby of the 89-year-old Khudozhestvenny cinema
at the head of historic Arbat Street, plush crimson theater chairs nest
in rows across the marble floor like dominoes as they await
Brass-edged glass ticket booths and a state-of-the-art sound system
are the next investments planned at the 600-seat cinema--one of only a
handful in Moscow drawing enough moviegoers to bankroll its own
But the movers and shakers of Russia's revitalized film world have
suddenly hit on the connection between the box office and creature
comforts in this age of more discriminating post-Communist consumers.
With top-notch new cinemas like Kodak Kinomir and modernized old movie
houses like Khudozhestvenny drawing capacity audiences while the dowdy
majority of theaters sit empty, filmmakers and financiers are joining
forces to ensure that moviegoing explodes like popcorn.
Spurred by the promise of soaring ticket sales as Russians regain
enough disposable income to resurrect their Soviet-era habit of taking
in an occasional movie, investors are drafting plans for new multiplex
cinemas across the country and gearing up for what Russia's most
renowned director predicts will be the film industry's "Klondike."
"What's the sense of creating great films if people have to watch
them on tattered screens, in the cold, seated on rock-hard chairs and
catching a whiff of the theater's ancient toilet?" asks Oscar-winning
director Nikita Mikhalkov, newly named head of the Russian
Cinematographers Union and chief crusader for resurrecting his
countrymen's moviegoing passion.
"The experience of watching a film begins with the cinema
environment, and most of our theaters are horrid," says the mustachioed
director, whose Stalinist-era memoir, "Burnt by the Sun," won the
Academy Award for best foreign-language film in 1995. "Bringing them up
to world standard is not a matter of choice."
Oscar Winner's Latest Mission
Now the most sought-after filmmaker in Eastern Europe, Mikhalkov
has embarked on a mission to attract local and foreign investors to
bring Russia's 2,000 urban movie theaters up to Western comfort levels.
Most of the cinemas built during the Soviet era, when film was
strongly supported by the Communist government as a means of mass
propaganda, have fallen into disrepair as state subsidies have
disappeared. Some rent out space in their lobbies to vendors of
clothing, cosmetics and even furniture, clogging the premises with noisy
distractions that further discourage filmgoers.
The handful of modern new movie theaters, on the other hand, are
packed with young Russians. Kinomir, just off bustling Tverskaya Street
in the heart of Moscow, was developed by Eastman Kodak and L.A.-based
Golden Ring Entertainment and opened in October 1996.
The glittering complex, which shows first-run films and is
outfitted with contoured plum armchairs, sold 630,000 tickets through
the end of last year, selling out most evening showings of
Russian-subtitled American movies and averaging 70% occupancy even for
less successful films, says Anna Yegorova, deputy marketing director at
the theater. On Thursday, Kinomir will host the Moscow premiere of
Kinomir's success, despite tickets priced as high as 70 rubles
($11.67), has persuaded some Russian entrepreneurs to cobble together
financing for other first-class theaters.
The media arm of financial baron Vladimir Gusinsky has announced a
$120-million project to build or retrofit dozens of cinemas in Moscow,
St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan and Yekaterinburg.
Sergei D. Livnev, the brash young president of Gorky Film Studios,
has embarked on a veritable storming of the Russian countryside with
design concepts and financing packages for a network of new movie houses
stretching from Moscow to the Far East.
Even the remote northwestern city of Kaliningrad got a windfall of
improvements this month when director James Cameron donated three tons
of new sound equipment to the shabby Darya cinema for the Russian debut
of his "Titanic."
Underwater scenes for the blockbuster were filmed with equipment
developed by scientists in the Baltic enclave, and Cameron wanted to
show his gratitude by ensuring that locals could enjoy the film in its
"There are good prospects for upgrades and new construction through
cooperative ventures like that one," observes Livnev.
Touring Festival Planned for Spring
Livnev plans to travel with a touring film festival across Russia
in the spring to inform potential investors of the opportunities for
building modern, moneymaking cinemas for as little as $1.5 million.
"Because most of the existing facilities are so huge and in such
bad condition, it is often less expensive to build a multiplex cinema
from scratch," Livnev says.
Golden Ring is also "aggressively pursuing multiplex development in
Russia," says the company's Moscow director, Paul Heth, although he
declines to discuss specifics of the expansion plans.
Filmmakers and developers are bullish on the prospects for a boom
in ticket sales once theaters are up to Western standards, because of
Russia's long history as a producer and patron of quality films.
They also point to the United States' experience of cinema
popularity even in the depths of the Great Depression.
"The price of a movie ticket is still significant in most household
budgets, but it's one form of entertainment that is affordable for most,
at least on occasion," says Mikhalkov, who just finished filming the
biggest-budget film ever made in Russia--the $35-million epic "The
Barber of Siberia," due in theaters this summer.
People will resume regular moviegoing, the director insists, as
soon as conditions in their local theaters are comfortable enough to
allow them to escape life's difficulties for a few hours.
Ticket Buyers Need Not Be Wealthy
Both Mikhalkov and Livnev point out that the Russian cinema market
during the Soviet era was the second most important economic sector
after alcohol and tobacco, and that even filmgoers of modest means are
prepared to spend $4 or $5 for a quality movie.
Russia's protracted transition to a market economy and the shabby
state of cinemas have hit ticket sales hard, as figures from the Russian
State Committee on Cinema attest. The average Russian bought 14 movie
tickets in 1990, when the heavily subsidized theaters offered them for
the equivalent of a few pennies. By 1996, that rate plummeted to 0.4
But when final figures for 1997 are in, analysts expect a
noticeable upturn in sales across the country, with most of the growth
in the high-end theaters, where ticket prices can run more than twice
the nationwide average of 30 rubles, or $5.
"People had been spending their money over the past few years to
buy color televisions and VCRs, but now they've gotten bored with videos
and want to see new movies on the big screen," says Valery V. Markov,
head of the state cinema committee known as GosKino.
Occurring hand in hand with the theater upgrades is a reinvigorated
drive to combat piracy--an epidemic that Russian filmmakers now
recognize as a danger to their industry's prospects.
Even before major Hollywood films premiere in Russia--and on
occasion, before they are released in the United States--rough-cut
versions invariably are clandestinely copied, reproduced and
professionally packaged for black-market sale here at far below the cost
of purchase or rental from an authorized distributor.
"We try not to show films that are of suspect origin," says Nina A.
Prokopova, director of the Khudozhestvenny cinema, which still gets
government subsidies by virtue of its historic role in Russia's
cinematic arts. "It's obvious to everyone that if a film is available on
video at the same time as it's in the theaters, this is going to cut
into our attendance."
The stately, wintergreen-colored Khudozhestvenny, built in 1909,
was the scene of most premieres during the Soviet era and is featured in
many pages of literature from Russia's pre-World War II cultural heyday.
The Khudozhestvenny's gradual face lift, which began with an
interior repainting and the purchase of a new wide screen, has
stimulated attendance, with almost a 10% increase in ticket sales last
year, Prokopova says.
"Our people consider cinema a higher level of culture than
television and will never sate their desire for moviegoing with videos
or made-for-TV films," says Vyacheslav V. Kostikov, deputy director of
Gusinsky's Media-Most. Its NTV-Profit subsidiary is investing in the
film industry at both the production and exhibition levels in
anticipation of growth in movie patronage.
"Everything being done today in Russia is with the expectation of
economic expansion," says Kostikov, a former Kremlin spokesman. "Today's
incomes are not yet able to sustain the pace of film-going of the former
era, but we nevertheless expect dramatic improvement."
Search the archives of the Los Angeles Times for similar stories. You
will not be charged to look for stories, only to retrieve one.
New York Times
15 February 1998
[for personal use only]
A Puppet Boris Gives Bill Advice He Doesn't Really Need
MOSCOW -- Here in Russia, a nation stranded between a communist past and a
capitalist future, the American obsession with President Clinton's personal
life seems like a ridiculous extravagance. But that doesn't mean Russians
haven't been able to poke fun at those crazy Americans, and at themselves.
A recent episode of "Kukly," a TV political satire using puppets ("kukly"
means puppets), treated the allegations against Clinton as more farce than
scandal. But it also mocked Russia's undeveloped democracy, betraying more
than a hint of Russian envy of the American system. Here are excerpts. -- By
MICHAEL R. GORDON
The episode opens with a puppet Boris Yeltsin rushing to Washington to help
out his pal Bill Clinton. The Russian president pops out from under a manhole
cover, which reads "United States of America/White House," wearing a hard hat
that says "Sewer Service." As the two talk, Mr. Clinton plays his saxophone
periodically. The tune is from a popular 1950s Soviet film about a married
tractor driver at a collective farm who falls in love with a young teacher. No
words are sung, but Russians know the refrain: "Without love, life may be
simpler, but how can one live without love?":
Yeltsin: Don't worry, Bill. We'll make it.
Clinton (sniffling): No, we won't. My rating is down 10 percent. (Evidently
the script writers felt they could ignore certain facts.)
Yeltsin: Down! So what? I had my rating below zero. Bill, you can't mope
around like this in this capital of yours. When your rating goes down, you
should go to the provinces. Take your SEXophone and we'll go. Where are the
provinces in this country?
The two go off in a helicopter, which soars across the New York skyline. Now
it is night, and the two leaders are sitting on a park bench near the river.
President Clinton is playing the blues on his sax:
Yeltsin: Bill, tell me in simple Russian how this all happened.
Clinton: I don't know. This crazy woman is sticking it to me. ("Katit na
menya telegu," a Russian idiom meaning, "She is rolling a cart over me.")
Yeltsin: And where is your security service?
Clinton: But she's sticking it to me through the press and the TV. Every
Yeltsin (outraged): What? What TV are you talking about? Are you a little
boy? There shouldn't be any TV at a critical moment like this! You should have
cut off the oxygen supply before and that's it.
Clinton: Cut off the oxygen for TV? It's impossible.
Yeltsin (patting Clinton's head paternally): Nothing is impossible. You just
lean on the television company owner. Turn off whatever you can and then put
your own people in place. Do it and you'll have silk embroidery for TV.
Understand? They will lick up to your very -- what do you call it? --
charisma. You still have a lot to learn.
Clinton: But that is criminal.
Yeltsin: There is nothing criminal about it. It's just cadre (personnel)
The leaders take a cab to a Japanese restaurant. Yeltsin tries to pick up
sushi with his chop sticks but can't manage it. Clinton gobbles one piece
after another. The melody of a once-popular Russian song is played as a
Japanese tune. Its refrain: "People call me unattractive, but why do you keep
coming to see me?":
Yeltsin: So tell me everything. What's next?
Clinton: Next, I swear on the Bible that I was never unfaithful to my wife.
(Clinton speaks in broken Russian. The Russian for "to be unfaithful" is
"izmenyat," the same as "to change.")
Yeltsin: That's right. It is well known that you cannot change your wife.
Clinton: No, I swear to God that I do not sleep with any other women at all.
Yeltsin: No other woman at all? You mean it?
Yeltsin: Come on, Bill! Of course one can tell lies, but they should at
least sound plausible.
The waiter delivers the bill:
Yeltsin: I'll pay. ("Ya plachu," which sounds like "I'm crying" in Russian
to foreigners who do not know Russian well.)
Clinton: Don't cry, Boris. Please don't.
Yeltsin: I mean I'll pay the bill.
They take a cab to the "Hotel Harlem" and go to the bar. Yeltsin drops a
coin in an old jukebox and again the theme from the 1950s Soviet film plays.
Clinton blows his sax sporadically.
Yeltsin: Don't be upset, Bill. Women are women. To hell with them.
Clinton: Women are only part of the problem. They caught me lying.
Yeltsin: So what?
Clinton: It's horrible. The president violated his oath.
Yeltsin: Nothing horrible. I do it all the time and am still alive, as you
can see. I swore. I promised. I promised to lay on the railroad tracks at last
five times, maybe six. I have bet my right arm so many times that you don't
have so many arms in the entire White House.
Clinton: But if I am caught once, I am finished. It's impeachment.
Yeltsin: Listen, what about an amendment to the Constitution?
Clinton: It's impossible.
Clinton: We have had only 10 amendments (sic) to our Constitution in the
last 200 years.
Yeltsin: OK, do you have tanks? Are you the commander in chief or just a guy
Clinton: Yes, I am the commander in chief. (Clinton says "ya Govno-
Komanduyushchy" in his broken Russian instead of "Glavnokomanduyushchy." The
way he says it makes it sound like, "I am the commander of excrement.")
The camera shows a black bartender with the face of Prime Minister Victor
Chernomyrdin, who covers his mouth, as if to say, "Whoops!" "Chernomyrdin"
sounds like "black face" in Russian:
Yeltsin: So what's the problem? You send the tanks and then change the
Clinton: It's impossible.
Yeltsin: Come on. Impossible. Impossible. Act like a big boy. I introduced a
great Constitution. I can do it to the entire Federation, let alone do it to a
secretary. (Yeltsin makes an indecent gesture.) You just tell them that they
better close this investigation.
Clinton: But it's the independent prosecutor who runs the investigation.
Yeltsin (incredulous): What kind of prosecutor?
Yeltsin: That's really crazy. Look, if it doesn't work and you are still in
trouble, come over to Russia. I'm looking for a successor, you know.
A helicopter flies the leaders back to the White House. Yeltsin starts to go
down the manhole to return to Moscow:
Yeltsin: So you got it? If you are in trouble we are waiting for you, OK?
Clinton: OK, but there's a problem. I'm not Russian. I am not Russian at
Yeltsin: Nonsense. . . . Name it and we have had them: Poles, Germans and
even one Georgian (a reference to Stalin). We are used to it. But one has to
be a good guy. That is what really counts.
Postscript: The newspaper Komomolskaya Pravda last week published results of
a poll asking readers what should happen to "Buddy Bill." Only 12 readers said
that Mr. Clinton should be impeached; 442 readers said, "Leave him alone."
Date: Sat, 14 Feb 1998
From: "Ludmila A. Foster" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Russian POWs in Nazi camps
David: Many thanks for publishing Maureen Argon's letter (DJL #2058)
about her father who was a World War II Russian POW and later joined the
Vlasov Army. (I am writing to her separately.) Your readers may want to
know that the Congress of Russian Americans is now working with the
Holocaust Museum in Washington to try to assemble an exhibit of Russian
POWs in Nazi camps - rejection of them by the Soviet government,
starvation in the camps, medical experiments done on them, etc. We are
looking for precisely the kind of people like him to find documents,
items, letters, photos, anything for the exhibit. Actually, if anyone
else has any of this information, please contact me at: ludmila@erols.
com. Thanks again.
Ludmila Foster, Congress of Russian Americans, Washington Office.