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Johnson's Russia List


March 12, 1998  
This Date's Issues: 21052106   

Johnson's Russia List
12 March 1998

[Note from David Johnson:
1. Financial Times (UK): Nancy Dunne, Russia: US see hopes 
for science links.

2. Journal of Commerce: James Meek, Russia: Who's guarding 

3. Moscow Times: Pavel Felgenhauer, DEFENSE DOSSIER: Army 
Morale at a New Low.

4. AP: Russia Vows To Curb Missile Deals.
5. Sonia Winter (RFE/RL): NATO: Member Countries Proceed With 
Enlargement Ratification.

6. Washington Post editorial: The NATO Dispute.
7. AP: Russia: Oppenheimer Was Not a Spy.
8. AP: Yeltsin: Civilians Can Junk Weapons.
9. the eXile: Press Review by Matt Taibbi. (DJ: I have received
comments positive and negative about the eXile's Press Review
column. I would like to encourage recipients to pass on to me
their own views. I'd like to encourage some discussion.)

10. Floriana Fossato (RFE/RL): Yeltsin Boosts Caucasus Policy.]


Financial Times (UK)
12 March 1998
[for personal use only]
Russia: US see hopes for science links
By Nancy Dunne

Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin and US Vice President Al Gore 
yesterday hailed the accomplishments of their joint economic commission 
and said there were "enormous opportunities" for joint action in 
economics, science and technology.
But behind the friendly proclamations, US officials were privately 
disappointed that Russia has twice rejected formal requests to assist in 
an investigation into diversion of high technology products.
Since last year, the US has been trying to establish how high-speed 
Silicon Graphics and IBM computers came to be sold without licences.
While the two sides prepared to announce a long list of joint projects, 
ministers in Moscow said Russia would continue building a power plant in 
Iran, despite US opposition.
The underlying tensions were not apparent at a dinner hosted by the US 
vice president. "The partnership we have created is succeeding," Mr Gore 
said. "And we also, along the way, are discovering that Americans and 
Russians are bound together by shared interests, shared values and a 
common vision of a better world."
Mr Chernomyrdin, however, made reference to "ages-old irritating factors 
in our relations which introduced unnecessary tension in our bilateral 
economic ties".
Russian supplies to countries that the US considers "outlaw states" is a 
persistent irritation. Russia badly needs the business, however, and 
last week Vladimir Bulgak, Russian deputy prime minister, said there 
could be no complaints regarding Russia's co-operation with Iran.
The light-water reactors cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium, Russian 
officials maintain, stating that they are the same as those which the US 
has contracted to supply to North Korea.
Russian companies have been chosen to build a 1,000MW nuclear power 
plant at Bushehr at a cost of $850m. Work on the first reactor began 
more than a year ago.
"Iran is part of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and has signed 
the nuclear weapons non-proliferation pact. All Iranian sites are open 
to international inspectors," Mr Bulgak said, according to Interfax news 
Ukraine last week bowed to US pressure to give up its part in the 
project. Its state-owned AOA Turboatom plant was to design and build 
The US is also concerned about Moscow's alleged exports of ballistic 
missile technology to Iran. Under US pressure, Boris Yeltsin, Russia's 
president, issued a decree tightening controls on missile technology 
exports, but Washington has been seeking assurances this will be 
Washington and Moscow were also expected to discuss their differences 
over pipeline routes in the Caspian. The US wants a southern route from 
Baku, Azerbaijan, to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. Russia wants 
a northern route across its own territory to the Russian Black Sea port 
of Novorossiisk.


Journal of Commerce
March 12, 1998
[for personal use only]
Guest Opinion
Russia: Who's guarding whom? 

MOSCOW -- It's a bad day for a person in public life when he first walks 
into a room and hears the words: "This is Officer J. He's been assigned 
to protect you. Wherever you go, he goes."
A sense of pride overwhelmed by a consciousness of lost freedom, of 
barriers going up between him and the rest of humanity, of a Rubicon 
crossed, of unease, and perhaps a vague, unreasonable sense of having 
committed some felony.
How much worse, then, to have it happen the other way around? You wake 
up one morning and nothing has changed -- you have the same senior 
government post, you're exposed to the same risks. But Officer J. isn't 
there anymore, holding the door of the limo open. Come to think of it, 
the limo isn't there, either. What's going on?
That's what happened to Boris Nemtsov and Anatoly Chubais, the most 
senior pro-Western economic liberals in Boris Yeltsin's government, last 
week. At a stroke Mr. Yeltsin deprived them of their bodyguards and 
their special cars. The ostensible reason was to save government money 
-- but was it?
Previously, each of the first vice premiers was assigned three full-time 
bodyguards with the rank of captain or higher from an elite federal 
service trained to protect VIPs. Now, outside of working hours, they 
have no protection.
Few would argue with an earlier cost-saving measure announced by the 
president that deprived most senior bureaucrats of using government 
aircraft for routine business trips. Many would find it amusing that Mr. 
Nemtsov, one of whose first actions on joining the government last year 
was to try to get top civil servants out of their foreign cars in favor 
of sedans from his home town, should now be barred from using cars from 
the government's special garage.
Besides, Mr. Nemtsov and Mr. Chubais aren't the only ministers affected: 
10 other senior officials are also stripped of their protection.
Yet, examined more closely, the decision is a peculiar one. Among those 
who will still have a full team of bodyguards, apart from Mr. Yeltsin 
and Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin, is the head of the presidential 
administration, Valentin Yumashev. A powerful man in the Kremlin because 
of his closeness to the president, yes. But at risk of attack? Not more 
than many a humble official from such sensitive ministries as finance or 
the privatization agency, the State Property Fund, one of whose 
bureaucrats was gunned down by a sniper last year.
Unlike Mr. Yumashev, Mr. Nemtsov and Mr. Chubais have scores of enemies 
-- powerful, wealthy, ruthless men who feel threatened by decisions made 
or policies canvassed by the two liberals over issues like the 
privatization of state oil companies or the auctioning of stakes in 
telecommunications firms to foreign investors. The link between business 
and murder in Russia is crystal clear.
The removal of Mr. Nemtsov and Mr. Chubais' bodyguards smacks of a 
warning of the ugliest kind. It is reminiscent of the treatment of Mr. 
Yeltsin's former vice president, Alexander Rutskoi, who had his 
privileges gradually stripped from him as Mr. Yeltsin turned against his 
former comrade.
Mr. Rutskoi, now governor of Kursk province, was no democrat, and to 
call Mr. Nemtsov and Mr. Chubais "reformers" is to use a glib epithet 
that obscures more than it explains for foreigners who know little of 
the party-colored cloth Russian politicians cut their suits from these 
days. Yet whatever their qualities, a ruler who governs in the name of 
the people must treat the people's officials with a degree of openness 
and respect.
It is hard to imagine that the often befuddled Mr. Yeltsin really 
thought through what he was doing when he revoked Mr. Nemtsov and Mr. 
Chubais' bodyguards. It would be quite in character for the president to 
allow himself to be persuaded that bodyguards were a hierarchical 
attribute, like office space or an entertainment allowance, and that he 
was simply moving the peg of eligibility one rank higher to save money.
Yet it is clear this is not the case. Eligibility for state protection 
should be decided by perceived threat, not rank, and under these 
criteria Mr. Nemtsov and Mr. Chubais are in far greater danger than Mr. 
Yumashev -- or former Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, or Foreign 
Minister Yevgeny Primakov, two other still-guarded individuals.
The move is even more puzzling in that one of the few remaining firm 
policies of Mr. Yeltsin's second term, if policy it can be called, is 
that the popularly despised Mr. Chubais and his ally, Mr. Nemtsov, will 
not be sacked. The president still appears genuinely fond of Mr. Nemtsov 
and may look on him as an heir. Mr. Nemtsov, for his part, has been 
slavishly loyal to Mr. Yeltsin in the past year, spoiling his democratic 
reputation by praising his boss (unrealistically) as the strong czar 
that Russia needs.
So why have the bodyguards gone? One possibility is that the move was 
agreed in advance between Mr. Yeltsin, Mr. Chubais and Mr. Nemtsov, to 
make the liberals appear less remote from the people. The other, more 
sinister version is that rivals in the Kremlin's court intrigues have 
managed to use the president to send their own warning to the two vice 
The old question -- who runs Russia? -- has not gone away. 
James Meek writes for The London Observer. This article was distributed 
by Scripps Howard News Service. 


Moscow Times
March 12, 1998 
DEFENSE DOSSIER: Army Morale at a New Low 
By Pavel Felgenhauer 

This week President Boris Yeltsin once again praised his defense 
minister, Igor Sergeyev. Yeltsin said military reform was going as 
planned and all problems would be settled in due course and so on. The 
same day, however, Sergeyev announced during a Defense Ministry meeting 
of the high brass that morale in the armed forces was crumbling. Were 
they both speaking of the same army? 
Sergeyev said the situation is "critical" and that servicemen are 
deserting the army, harassing local civilians and killing each other in 
the barracks. Officers and soldiers are committing suicide; commissioned 
officers committed 18,000 felonies in 1997; and in the Severo-Kavkazsky, 
Uralsky and Zabaikalsky military districts, the number of felonies 
doubled in 1997. Many commanders are losing control of their units. 
Sergeyev's assessment is correct. The morale of Russia's military is 
nearing the breaking point. But he forgot to mention that military 
reform is the main cause of the growing discontent. 
Life and service in the Russian armed forces has been grim for many 
years. Soldiers have had to live with bad food, bad housing, pay arrears 
and bloody local wars. Last August, Yeltsin promised the military that 
all arrears would be repaid by Jan. 1, 1998. They were not. 
Today, the Russian government is promising to partially repay arrears by 
June 1, 1998. The key word is "partially." After June 1, a new repayment 
date will most likely be announced. 
Money matters are not, however, the only problem that is breaking 
morale. Pay conditions are not worse now than they were a year or two 
ago. In fact, arrears have decreased. It is the long awaited reform that 
has disenchanted Russia's officers. 
In the end, Sergeyev's idea of military reform has resulted in all the 
real procurement money being pooled to buy new intercontinental 
strategic nuclear missiles. But basing all Russia's defenses on nuclear 
deterrence is absurd. Nukes are weapons that will (hopefully) never be 
An increasing number of officers and generals, including those in active 
service and in high-ranking positions in the Defense Ministry, are 
openly saying -- even to journalists -- that Sergeyev is not fit to 
command Russia's military. Russia's conventional fighting forces -- 
army, airborne troops, air force and others -- are being run down by a 
general who has dreamed for many years of new missiles. 
A feeling of despair has engulfed most of Russia's professional 
military. It is not only that the prospects of early forced retirement 
are haunting Russian military commanders. Many bitterly say they are 
glad to get out with benefits. It is the scene of a great army crumbling 
that is finally breaking morale. 
No wonder more and more commanders are giving up and letting control of 
their units simply slip away. In desperation, many even say they would 
have preferred a civilian politician as defense minister to Sergeyev. 
What the end result of this crisis of morale will be is anybody's guess. 
On one hand, retired general Lev Rokhlin, whose anti-government movement 
was officially registered this week, believes the army will revolt some 
time this year and send Yeltsin packing. On the other hand, Kremlin 
officials obviously believe that officers -- as good Russians -- will 
whine but will endure any hardship until the day economic growth 
But even in the Kremlin, arrogant bureaucrats understand the risks they 
are taking. Yeltsin also said this week that he will resist all attempts 
to "pull us into Kosovo." He also said that Russia's peacekeeping forces 
can only be decreased -- not increased. Apparently, the Kremlin is 
considering a drastic reduction or full withdrawal of forces from Bosnia 
sometime this year. 
Russia's political influence in the Balkans increases when Serbs are in 
conflict with Washington and decreases when fences are mended. So 
peacekeeping is simply an unneeded drain on scarce resources, say 
Russian generals. 
In any event, sending the present Russian armed forces into any kind of 
action would be a serious error. Things could get worse than they were 
in Chechnya -- the troops could rebel instantly. Yeltsin's only hope of 
fending off a military insurrection is to keep his army, with its broken 
morale, in its barracks and feed it with promises of wage increases and 
other goodies. 
Unlike Sergeyev, who apparently believes that he is reforming the 
military, Yeltsin, as always, is deliberately playing political poker. 
Ever since 1989, he has won almost all draws and now hopes to win again. 
Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and national security affairs editor of 


Russia Vows To Curb Missile Deals
11 March 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) - With a pat on the back from Vice President Al Gore, Russian
Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin made new promises Wednesday to keep a
lid on the export of weapons technology to Iran. 
Privately, Clinton administration officials were as pleased with the
pledge as
Gore was publicly. ``We are making tremendous progress, and I am grateful,''
Gore said at the end of a two-day meeting of the science and economics
commission he and Chernomyrdin chair. 
``Russia has no interest in seeing these dangerous systems spread to any of
its neighbors,'' the vice president said. ``U.S. and Russian experts will work
together to further the Russian interest and to address the concerns we have
The commission itself churned out a now-familiar stack of documents and
statements designed to improve U.S.-Russian relations and to enhance
investment opportunities for American firms. The breakdown of communism has
spawned new fortunes for both Russian and American entrepreneurs. 
Some of the agreements are aimed at promoting opportunities for Russians to
buy and sell property, to ease excise taxes on joint energy and soft-drink
projects valued at about $900 million, to safely reduce nuclear and chemical
weapons stockpiles in Russia and to reduce the danger of exposure to lead in
``Rejoice, rejoice,'' Chernomyrdin exulted at the news conference. 
Naming only ultranationalist political leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the prime
minister said ``not everybody likes our work,'' but he pledged to continue
along a path of cooperation with the United States. 
``We cannot afford to slow down,'' he said. 
Russian companies and scientists have been assisting Iran in its missile
programs. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, saying the central government
possibly was unaware, sent senior diplomat Frank Wisner to Moscow four times
in the past year to try to curb the proliferation. 
``What we need to do is to seek tangible changes in our controls,''
Chernomyrdin acknowledged Wednesday. 
The officials' joint appearance was good-humored. Chernomyrdin, remarking on
development in trade with the United States since communism was cast aside,
said Russia used to export only vodka and caviar. 
Hesitating a moment, he added with a chuckle: ``Not bad.'' 
Gore said trade had increased more than 50 percent since the commission was
established five years ago and the United States is the largest investor in
``Optimism prevails,'' he said. 
No mention was made of stresses over the planned expansion of the U.S.-led
NATO military alliance eastward toward Russia or Russia's efforts to soften
U.S. actions against Iraq during a series of crises over Iraq's obstruction of
U.N. monitoring of suspected chemical and biological weapons caches. 
Chernomyrdin, however, raised the Russian parliament's failure to ratify the
1993 START II treaty to trim U.S. and Russian arsenals of long-range nuclear
``It needs to be done,'' he said. ``The government should do more work on
Earlier, Chernomyrdin talked to President Clinton about staging another
U.S.-Russian summit meeting. But the prime minister said no date was set. He
implied it may be delayed until the arms-reduction treaty is approved. 
On Thursday, Gore is due to escort Chernomyrdin on a tour of Silicon
Valley in


NATO: Member Countries Proceed With Enlargement Ratification 
By Sonia Winter

Washington, 11 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The United States this month will 
become the fourth NATO country to approve amendments to the NATO treaty 
allowing Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to join the military 
Canada was the first in early February to ratify the protocols of 
accession, followed by Denmark, and earlier this month Norway. 
The U.S. State Department says the next to vote on the protocols will be 
Iceland's legislature which is set to debate NATO expansion next 
Wednesday (March 18). 
Italy will also begin the ratification debate this month but Rome's 
senate is not expected to vote until late spring. 
Under NATO's founding agreement of April, 1949, the so-called Washington 
Treaty, legislatures of all 16 NATO members must ratify amendments to 
the original treaty. 
U.S. officials say they anticipate no major problems in any of the 
ratifying NATO member-states -- not even Turkey. 
The Turkish government last year, angry over the European Union's 
rejection of its application, threatened to block NATO expansion until 
its candidacy for EU membership was reconsidered. But the Turks raised 
no major obstacles at a key meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels in 
December which formally invited the three Central European nations to 
join the alliance. 
Cameron Munter of the State Department's NATO Enlargement Office says 
all indications at present are that ratification of the NATO protocols 
will move through the legislative process in NATO member states in time 
for a planned NATO summit and 50th anniversary commemoration in 
Washington next year in April. 
President Bill Clinton said more than a year ago this should be the 
occasion at which Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic would become 
NATO members. 
Munter said Turkey may well be the last country to approve expansion 
because the ratification debate is scheduled late on the legislative 
calendar in Ankara and is part of a complicated parliamentary process. 
He said "it could be 1999 before Turkey approves the protocols but we 
expect it to happen well before April of that year." 
Meanwhile, the German Bundesrat plans to consider ratification in May 
and the British parliament in July. NATO expansion is also on the summer 
schedule of legislatures in Belgium, Greece and Portugal. 
Parliaments in The Netherlands and Spain are to consider the issue in 
late October. 
France and Luxembourg have not yet announced a date for their 
ratification debates. 
Munter says the three new NATO members will also have to ratify the 
protocols of accession, even though as candidates they spent six months 
negotiating their provisions in 1997. 
He says under NATO regulations, the candidate members cannot technically 
accept the protocols until all other NATO countries have ratified them. 
But the Central European parliaments can begin a ratification debate in 
advance as the Czech legislature has decided to do. 
Munter points out that ratifying the expansion protocols is not a 
straightforward one-step procedure. 
In the United States and many other countries, parliamentary approval is 
only the first and most visible part given the role of the U.S. Senate 
on international treaties to advise and consent. 
When Clinton signs the ratifying documents, the second part of 
ratification will be completed. The White House says the signing will 
not be marked by a special ceremony and is likely to be one of the 
things Clinton will do during the course of an ordinary working day. 
Ratification of the protocols of accession will enter into force when 
the documents are duly registered with the NATO treaty. 
As Munter puts it "the instruments of ratification must be deposited 
with the Washington Treaty." 
NATO was founded in Washington, so the NATO treaty resides in one of the 
dusty cabinets of the U.S. State Department's Legal Office. That is 
where the U.S. documents will be taken from the White House, bound with 
the traditional red tape in a large folder, bearing America's national 
seal depicting a bald eagle. 
A procession of foreign emissaries will come to the Legal Office 
throughout the year, bringing similar folders, similarly bound and 
sealed. The folders will be deposited with several other sets of 
accession protocols, marking previous rounds of NATO expansion. 
The military alliance was formed in 1949 by only 12 countries -- 
Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The 
Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. 
It increased to its present membership of 16 nations in three separate 
rounds of expansion. Greece and Turkey joined NATO in 1952, Germany in 
1955, and Spain in 1982. 


Washington Post
11 March 1998
The NATO Dispute

FULL-SCALE hearings on NATO enlargement produced a Senate Foreign
Relations Committee vote of 16 in favor of admitting Poland, Hungary and the
Czech Republic and two opposed. Support is bipartisan and spans most of the
political spectrum. Some of those on the short side wish to delay a final
vote for further study -- of an issue that has been under scrutiny for more
than five years. More reasonably, others wish a focused one-day debate prior
to consideration of ratification.
The core issue remains what it has always been. Should the United States
push its security frontier into the formerly Moscow-ruled territories
liberated by the end of the Cold War? We share the pro-enlargement view that
it is a fitting, prudent and desirable exercise of American power to shelter
the new democracies in an arc whose instability has repeatedly meant chaos,
repression and war. The contrary, anti-enlargement view is that such a reach
would commit the United States to boundless new troubles and overwhelm
Russia's pursuit of democracy to boot.
The skeptics rightly set demanding standards for American assumption of a
major new international responsibility. But supporters wield a powerful
strategic case. To the common benefit, enlargement serves the stability of
the region lying between an unpredictable Russia and the doughty but exposed
new democracies of Central Europe. Enlargement has a further unique
advantage: It keeps faith with people and values that Americans deeply
prize. To ask countries emerging from decades of enforced subordination to
Moscow to continue resting their international orientation on the unwanted
wishes of Moscow is to us unthinkable.
The new Russia is not the old Soviet Union. But it is not yet the new
Russia of its own high aspirations either. Already NATO, to accommodate
Russia, has made structural changes so far-reaching and so favorable to
Moscow as to stir serious apprehensions of the "dilution" of the alliance.
Russian officials pocket these gains and ask for more. Attentiveness to
Russian political priorities is all very well. But there is a point at which
the soliciting -- Russian or American -- of deference to a Russian
"psychological factor" verges on the frivolous.
The Senate action may center on amendments. John Warner would mandate a
three-year pause after the first three new members are taken in -- a shackle
on executive flexibility. Daniel Patrick Moynihan would link a candidate's
NATO membership to its prior accession to the European Union -- a proposal
Europe has already in effect rejected by its accession stall. John Ashcroft
would restrict NATO's geopolitical reach -- a matter properly given to
alliance consultation. Ted Stevens would reduce the American share of
alliance costs -- the old burden-sharing issue.
Getting the Europeans to ante up is fair enough. But other proposed
amendments have grave defects. The test is whether an amendment allows the
United States and its allies -- the secure democracies -- to shelter the
insecure democracies in a Europe with the best chance it has ever had to
become whole, prosperous and free. 


Russia: Oppenheimer Was Not a Spy
11 March 1998

MOSCOW (AP) - Denying recent media reports, Russia's Foreign Intelligence
Service declared Wednesday that U.S. atom bomb pioneer Robert Oppenheimer
never provided any information to the Soviet Union.
Spokeswoman Tatyana Samolis was commenting on Russian news reports alleging
that the American scientist passed along secrets about early U.S. nuclear
weapons production.
Other reports have mentioned Danish scientist Niels Bohr as another source of
information for the Soviets, the Interfax news agency said.
``Such reports about Oppenheimer and Niels Bohr regularly appear in the press
but are absolutely untrue,'' Samolis said. ``Those people never provided
information to the Soviet foreign intelligence service - absolutely never.''
From 1943 to 1945, Oppenheimer headed the Los Alamos laboratory in New
where the United States designed and built the first atomic bomb. Bohr, who
fled Europe to escape the Nazis, advised U.S. scientists at Los Alamos.
Soviet intelligence used information obtained in the West to advance Moscow's
own nuclear weapons program.


Yeltsin: Civilians Can Junk Weapons
11 March 1998

MOSCOW (AP) - President Boris Yeltsin favors setting up a separate, civilian
institution to rid Russia of its scrapped nuclear submarines and chemical
weapons stockpile, the defense minister said Wednesday.
Yeltsin ``has fully approved the decision'' to create such a body, thus
relieving the Defense Ministry of ``inappropriate functions,'' Defense
Minister Igor Sergeyev said.
Sergeyev has said his cash-strapped ministry, charged with implementing
Russia's complex military reform, has neither the money nor the manpower to
deal with old nuclear submarines and chemical weapons.
Meanwhile, stocks of both are piling up and deteriorating, creating a
situation that many Russian and Western experts regard as grave.
Russia signed the 1993 Paris Convention on Chemical Weapons, which calls for
Moscow to destroy its huge Soviet-era arsenal by 2005. Parliament ratified it
last year.
But work has been slow and plagued by funding shortages. Many lawmakers say
Russia cannot afford the huge costs of dismantling its chemical arsenal.
Russian officials say they expect foreign money to cover about $1 billion of
the estimated $6 billion cost of destroying 44,000 tons of chemical weapons.
Meanwhile, environmentalists are concerned about Russia's fast-growing fleet
of decommissioned submarines.
Only 16 of the 156 mothballed submarines have been properly dismantled. The
rest are rusting away in Arctic and Far Eastern harbors, posing a threat to
the environment.
Most are likely to stay there for decades. With its pressing financial
problems, Russia is capable of dismantling only five or six vessels a year,
while the number of decommissioned submarines rapidly increases.
Many of the submarines are in poor condition and have not had proper
maintenance for a decade. Some hulls are rusted through and half-submerged.
Others may leak if they are moved.


Date: Wed, 11 Mar 1998
From: "matt taibbi" <> 
Subject: Press review

Press Review
By Matt Taibbi
the eXile
Abram Kalashnikov is on vacation.

Actually Abram Kalashnikov is not on vacation. We don't pay him enough to
afford one. I just decided to take over his column this week. It'll give
him time to spend at home with that ugly wife of his, and those two kids-I
don't think even he knows their names.

The real reason I sent Abram packing is that he's not up for the job this
week. That's because there have been two articles published in the Western
press lately that were so atrociously dishonest that they fall outside the
range of Kalashnikov-style snide bearded commentary. These two pieces have
raised, for the first time in my experience here, the possibility that
Western reporters are being paid off to write flattering pieces. Which is a
new thing. I mean, even Carol J. Williams never sank that low.

The last time the Reuters news agency ran stone-cold obvious blowjob
coverage in favor of Anatoly Chubais, I called local chief correspondent
Martin Nesirky and asked for an explanation. That was last fall, when
Reuters carefully avoided including any mention of Oneximbank-and therefore
the crucial implication of bribery-after Chubais and three aides were
disciplined for receiving an inflated book advance from Segodnya publishers. 

That interview served its purpose in exposing Nesirky as a pro-Chubais
lummox; at one point he even blundered and blurted out that whether I "like
it or not, Chubais is a well-known figure in the West who [sic] Russia
needs to maintain a relationship with the IMF." But though we ran that
interview in a cover story, seeing Nesirky make a fool of himself wasn't
quite emotionally satisfying enough, given the play the initial Reuters
stories got around the world.

So this time, after Nesirky and co. made exactly the same outrageous
oversight in a March 6 article entitled "Chubais Wages War on 'Crony
Capitalism'", I decided to bypass Nesirky (who didn't return my calls
anyway) and call his boss in London, Reuters international news chief
Graham Stewart. I figured that if just writing about the guy doesn't make
me feel better, I might at least get him in trouble with his superiors and
ruin his career a little bit and see if that does the trick.

Stewart said that he was "not aware" of the "specific background" that had
been overlooked in the Chubais case. In this case, Nesirky had again sent
through a piece which cast Chubais as a fighter for the people against
"oligarchs" and entrenched money interests. Although the title of the piece
was preposterous in itself, there was one sentence in particular which was
positively criminal:

"Chubais, a brilliant administrator and much respected in the West, lost
some of his prominence last year after a scandal, initiated by the media
controlled by his opponents, over high fees he and his allies accepted for
a still unpublished book."

Dissecting that paragraph line by line, it's hard not to notice an
extraordinary effort to save Chubais's reputation by turning a bribery
story into a story of an unsubstantiated attack on an honest official by
unscrupulous enemies. First you get the dual compliment-qualifiers in the
parenthetical phrase "brilliant administrator and much respected in the
West," which are not only superfluous to the sentence but of questionable
veracity. After all, on what basis could anyone possibly call Chubais a
brilliant administrator? Does Nesirky have any idea? I doubt it. The
Russian government under Chubais's watch has been the most poorly
administrated country outside of Africa. It can't collect taxes, control
the regions, fight crime, even regulate a crude facsimile of a capitalist
economy. What Chubais is is a brilliant self-publicist and intriguer, which
is different from being an administrator, who does things like collect
taxes-something Chubais has failed spectaularly at. 

In any case, the sentence doesn't get any better from there. The phrase
"initiated by the media controlled by his opponents," ignores the fact that
Chubais himself admitted to accepting the book advance! He was guilty,
which means he himself initiated the scandal, not the opportunistic
reporters who took advantage of the story. But Reuters insists on keeping
Chubais isolated from the bribery story. In the next phrase, they write
that the scandal revolved around "high fees he and his allies accepted for
a still unpublished book." This implies that the wrongdoing here was for
simply accepting an inflated book advance. 

In fact, Chubais was accused of taking money from a publishing house
controlled by a bank (Onexim) that won the Svyazinvest tender, which
Chubais oversaw. Probably no better example of "crony capitalism" at its
worst came out in the Russian press last year, yet Reuters carefully
omitted it. Last fall, I was ready to believe that Nesirky was just stupid
when he sent that stuff through. But now, to leave that out in an article
entitled "Chubais Wages War on Crony Capitalism," I have to assume that
something else is at work. Stewart, his boss, said he would speak to his
Moscow bureau about it; at press time, I didn't know the result of that

Worse even than the Reuters piece was a column by Fred Hiatt of the
Washington Post entitled "Keep On Helping Post-Communist Russia Get Ahead."
The article was ostensibly about Russian foreign policy and about the
gradual phasing out of Soviet-era leaders, but contained a bizarre and
seemingly irrelevant homage to Vladimir Potanin of Oneximbank:

"...But for every Russian who still dreams of dominating Latvia or Ukraine,
plenty more still just want to do business there.
"One such person is baby billionaire Vladimir Potanin, who in the space of
a decade has metamorphosed from low-ranking Soviet bureaucrat into one of
the world's most influential businessmen, with interests in banking, oil,
mining, newspapers and more.
"Like many of his generation, Mr. Potanin, 37, is just now coming up for
air from the post-Soviet maelstrom and checking out the world. He is
forming international alliances, including with British Petroleum and the
financier George Soros, and recently came to Washington, seeking to show
that not all "robber barons," as they are commonly known in America, are
the same.
"A new Duma will be elected next year. Mr. Potanin hopes that it will have
a better 'understanding of the modern world, of getting Russia integrated
into the world.' Businessmen like himself will be working toward that goal,
he said."

First of all, Potanin is an ex-Komsomol official who is absolutely from the
Soviet school of leadership, and doesn't fit, rhetorically, as an example
of the new non-Soviet generation. Secondly, Potanin made his money in a
completely Soviet way-through the old method of tribute. He won a bid for
Norilsk Nickel when Chubais put Oneximbank in control of the tender,
bidding $171 million for a company worth billions, using government funds
Onexim held as an authorized bank to make the purchase. He won the
Svyazinvest bid under mysterious circumstances; Chubais and four of his
aides (including then-State Property Chief Alfred Kokh) were all
disciplined for accepting money from Onexim-controlled organizations.
Potanin has also been a key figure in the dismantling of the free press in
Russia; he was the main impetus behind the firing of Igor Golombiyevsky, an
incident most people see as the Alamo for the free press in Russia. Yet
this guy, the prototypical "robber baron," a guy who made his entire
fortune through government favors, is the guy Hiatt is hyping as the "baby
billionaire" who is "just coming up for air" and different from other
"robber barons." He makes Potanin, one of the most ruthless operators in
Russia, out to be some kind of eagle scout just getting ready to join a
management training program at AT&T. This is something I've never seen
before-a column in the Washington Post, reading like an advertorial in

Just imagine how absurd that passage would look if it were about any
Russian businessman other than the one most closely connected to U.S. ally
Anatoly Chubais. If it had been Yevgeny Dovgan, or Sergei Mavrodi, or
Vladimir Bryntsalov, no Western reader would have been able to get through
that piece without concluding that Hiatt had either gone insane or been
paid off. Yet the only difference between those guys and Potanin is that
they're smaller-time. And another thing: Potanin isn't even quoted directly
in the piece. If Hiatt had been given an interview, you'd almost understand
the article in the context of a journalist blowing someone who gave him a
scoop. But here it just appears out of the blue, a weird little p.r. pitch
in the middle of what is otherwise a serious policy editorial. 

So what's up? I called up Hiatt and asked him what prompted him to put all
of this stuff in his piece. 

"I'm going to let my writing speak for itself," he said.

"But do you know anything about Vladimir Potanin? Do you anything about

"Of course I do," he said. "I've written a lot about it."

"Then how could you write that Potanin 'just wants to do business'? The guy
walked away with Norilsk Nickel for nothing..."

"Again," he said, "I'm going to let the writing speak for itself."

"Okay, well then can I just ask you flat-out; were you paid to write this

Long pause. "Oh, please," he said.

"Why?" I said. "He pays off dozens of Russian journalists. Why not the
Washington Post?"

Another long pause. "I was not paid to write this piece," he said.

Whatever. As Johnny Cochran said, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." The
Hiatt-Reuters pieces don't fit, not logically, not even in the context of
sheer laziness or natural bias. If I'd read either piece in a Russian
paper, I'd assume they were "zakazniye" articles, and would have a 99%
chance of being right. Does it really make any sense to conclude the
opposite just because the writers were Westerners? You be the judge.
Personally, I've still got a reasonable doubt.


Russia: Yeltsin Boosts Caucasus Policy 
By Floriana Fossato

Moscow, 11 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- As Chechnya's President Aslan 
Maskhadov continues an unofficial, but high-profile visit to London this 
week, after meeting Azerbaijan's President Heydar Alyiev in Baku, 
Russia's President Boris Yeltsin today made an attempt to boost Moscow's 
own Caucasus policy. 

During a Kremlin meeting with officials and elders from Russia's north 
Caucasus republics, Yeltsin said he is "worried by the unstable 
situation" in the region, and by "the growing distaste that people show 
for local, as well as Federal officials." But, Yeltsin added that Russia 
is a great multi-national state, fearing no-one, from (U.S. President 
Bill) Clinton to anyone else."

Opening the Kremlin meeting, Yeltsin said he had "great expectations" 
concerning its results, and added that he hopes the Caucasus elders can 
give him "advice," during "open consultations," on solving problems of 
the north Caucasus. According to Yeltsin, there are in the region 
"extremists, trying to set (ethnic) peoples off against each other," 
with the aim of directing the fight "against authorities." 

The Interfax news agency reported that Yeltsin met representatives of 
ten north Caucasus republics and regions (eds: the republics of Adygeya, 
Dagestan, Ingushetia, Karachaevo-Cherkessiya, Kabardino-Balkariya, 
Kalmykiya, North Ossetia, as well as the Stavropol, Krasnodar and Rostov 
regions). Only separatist Chechnya was not represented at the Kremlin 
meeting, and the talks did not appeared to focus on the situation in 
Chechnya. However, earlier today, Yeltsin consulted Russia's Deputy 
Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov, who prepared the meeting with north 
Caucasus elders, for a discussion that focused largely on Chechnya. 

The presidential press-service said Yeltsin told Abdulatipov that only 
dialogue and informal contacts with representatives of peoples of the 
north Caucasus will help create and strengthen Russia'a national 
policies for the north Caucasus. He said that "joint work to restore 
Chechnya is the best medicine to heal the wounds that remain after the 
military confrontation" with Moscow. 

Yeltsin also told Abdulatipov, who heads Russia's State Commission for 
the Stabilization of Relations with Chechnya, that it is necessary "to 
begin the implementation of a coordinated program for Chechnya's 
restoration." Without elaborating, Yeltsin also said that the 
restoration task "is impossible without proper financing." 

Russia has pledged to restore Chechnya's economy, ruined by more than 20 
months of armed conflict with Russia forces, but Chechnya's officials 
have complained that help has failed to materialized. 

Maskhadov said yesterday, in a joint news conference with Alyiev in 
Baku, that countries should solve their problems without outside 
"prompting," clearly criticizing Moscow's involvement in the Caucasus 
region - outside, as well as within - the Russian Federation. 

According to Maskhadov, countries in the region - once part of the 
Soviet Union - should create a "common Caucasus home" and tackle their 
problems together. He said he was referring mainly to Chechnya's 
struggle with Moscow for independence, as well as to the 
Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

Alyiev, who expressed satisfaction with the oil flow through a key 
pipeline that runs from Baku to the Russian Black Sea port of 
Novorossiisk via Chechnya, promised Maskhadov that Azerbaijan will 
continue to provide humanitarian help to Chechnya, and help restore the 
republic's economy. 

A cease-fire agreement that ended fighting in Chechnya in August 1996 
left Chechnya's future status unclear, and the republic remains largely 
outside the control of Russian authorities. Chechen officials say they 
have de-facto independence, but Moscow insist Chechnya is, and must 
continue to be, part of the Russian Federation. 

The on-going dispute has also caused diplomatic embarrassment ahead of 
Maskhadov's trip. London, like other countries, does not recognize 
Chechnya, and Maskhadov had his British visa stamped on his Russian 
passport, not on his Chechen one. While in Britain, Maskhadov will not 
meet British ministers, but he will meet top Foreign Ministry officials, 
to discuss the fate of two Britons kidnapped in Chechnya last Summe

Abdulatipov today told the north Caucasus officials and elders, ahead of 
their meeting with Yeltsin, that "Russia is ready to reach any 
compromise with Chechnya, except on the status of the republic." 

And Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin, who, in his former post as 
Security Council Secretary, was until recently Russia's top negotiator 
with Grozny, today said Kremlin and Chechen negotiators will meet again 
this week to try to work out a comprehensive treaty. Rybkin said a firm 
date and place for the meeting have yet to be decided, but he added that 
Abdulatipov will also chair a meeting of the state commission for 
stabilization in Chechnya this month. 

The majority of observers in Moscow remain skeptical that the Kremlin's 
latest effort in the north Caucasus can bring the positive results for 
which Moscow hopes. North Caucasus elders do not hold any real power, 
and their influence on officials in the region is limited.

Moscow experts tell RFE/RL that concerted Kremlin efforts to address the 
war-inflicted, economic damage to Chechnya could prove a much more 
productive strategy to demonstrate Moscow's resolve in addressing the 
needs of the north Caucasus. 


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