This Date's Issues: 2105•2106
Johnson's Russia List
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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
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
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
Journal of Commerce
March 12, 1998
[for personal use only]
Russia: Who's guarding whom?
BY JAMES MEEK
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
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
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.
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
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
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
By BARRY SCHWEID
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
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
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
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
France and Luxembourg have not yet announced a date for their
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.
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
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
By SERGEI SHARGORODSKY
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
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
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" <email@example.com>
Subject: Press review
By Matt Taibbi
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
"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
"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,
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
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
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
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.