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Johnson's Russia List
2 June 1998
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Yeltsin to meet Russian businessmen amid crisis.
2. Reuters: Russia's top taxman set to wield axe to raise cash.
3. Rossiiskaya Gazeta: Yeltsin's radio address on the press.
4. Richard Helbig: TO HELL WITH ALL THE SPECULATORS!
5. The Guardian (UK): One man finds himself an island. James Meek
on the post-Soviet decline of the one-time scourge of the Kremlin.
6. Chicago Tribune: Interview with ALEXANDER LEBED.
7. RFE/RL: Paul Goble, Environmental Disasters May Renew Nationalism.
8. InterPress Service: Andrei Ivanov, HEALTH-CIS: Sexually Transmitted
Disease Sweeps Ex-Soviet Union.
9. Itar-Tass: Russian Markets Threatened by Funds in Shadow Economy.
10. Reuters: NATO expansion has gone far enough -Primakov.]
Yeltsin to meet Russian businessmen amid crisis
By Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, June 2 (Reuters) - President Boris Yeltsin meets influential Russian
industrialists and bankers on Tuesday amid a financial crisis which has
prompted leading world powers to consider putting together an aid package for
Russian shares took another battering on Monday and markets elsewhere in the
world were unsettled by fears over financial problems which could trigger
political stability in Moscow.
But the United States said after the Russian markets closed that it was
working with other Group of Seven (G7) top industrial nations on providing
financial aid, and Prime Minster Sergei Kiriyenko was optimistic.
``The situation on financial markets is under control. There will be no
devaluation: we will maintain the level of the rouble,'' Kiriyenko said in an
interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro for publication on Tuesday.
U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin also sounded hopeful after
confirming the G7 countries -- the United States, Italy, France, Germany,
Japan, Britain and Canada -- might provide aid in addition to International
Monetary Fund cash.
``The past few days have been difficult for Russia, as well as other emerging
markets,'' Rubin said. ``However, Russia's new policy package, an agreement
with the IMF staff, was the right framework to reassure investors.''
The dose of optimism towards the end of Monday helped lift prices on the world
emerging debt market, in which Russia is an influential player.
Emerging debt traders said sentiment had improved on hopes that an aid package
might be put together for Russia in addition to an existing $9.2 billion IMF
credit, the latest $670 million tranche of which is expected to be released
Kiriyenko says he is not about to ask for foreign assistance. But stocks
remain under pressure after heavy drops last week which, along with soaring
treasury bill yields, helped force the government to triple interest rates to
The benchmark RTS share index closed down 10.24 percent at 171.71 on Monday,
and has lost 50 percent of its value in the past month. The rouble hit 6.18 to
the dollar from 6.17 on Friday.
Precious metals futures prices fell in New York on fears over Russia, the ex-
Soviet republic of Moldova cancelled a planned Eurobond issue, Estonian shares
fell 12 percent and the Czech crown weakened against the mark.
Yeltsin has backed Kiriyenko to the hilt in the crisis.
The president has demanded that major Russian companies pay their taxes and
help remedy the huge problem of tax evasion which leaves state coffers bare as
the government tries to pay off huge wage arrears and thus stifle any budding
His meeting with six bankers and four industrialists offers him a chance to
hear their ideas on the crisis and to persuade them to do more to help Russia.
Many are accused of getting rich through reforms without putting anything back
Alexander Livshits, a former finance minister who advises Yeltsin on the
economy, said the Kremlin meeting would include ``discussion of the current
situation and the mechanism for cooperation between business and the
``It is possible to consolidate power and big business only on the basis of
solving the concrete problems facing the country,'' Interfax news agency
quoted Livshits as saying.
Expected at the meeting are leaders of Rosprom-Yukos, Most Group, Interros,
Alfa Group, SBS-Agro Bank, Rossiisky Kredit Bank, Gazprom natural gas
monopoly, UES electricity company, LUKoil and Surgutneftegaz oil companies,
the agency said.
Some of the bosses attending helped bankroll Yeltsin's re-election in 1996 but
he has criticised them since for trying to exert too much influence in
Livshits made no suggestion that Yeltsin might seek financial help from the
business leaders at the meeting.
One source of revenue is the auction of a controlling stake in Rosneft, the
last major oil company still in state hands.
Kiriyenko cut the auction starting price on Monday to about $1.6 billion, much
less than the $2.1 billion -- with a further obligation to invest $400 million
in tax arrears and investment -- sought at a first auction at which no bids
Russia's top taxman set to wield axe to raise cash
By Peter Henderson
MOSCOW, June 1 (Reuters) - Heads rolled in Russia on Monday as a new tax chief
took up the post the economy depends on.
Former Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov returned to the government and began to
figure out how to raise money at home.
"In Russia, nobody believes it can be done. The first priority is personnel
changes," Fyodorov told an investors conference.
He was speaking shortly after he fired his first lot of employees, before he
was even sworn in as head of the Federal Tax Service.
Russia needs to raise domestic revenues to avoid resorting to international
support to cover its short-term financing needs.
The government's borrowing costs have risen sharply in recent weeks, fuelling
rumours of an international bailout.
Fyodorov, a former investment banker, gave no details of those he dismissed on
his first day in the new job. His predecessor Alexander Pochinok was fired by
President Boris Yeltsin last week.
Fyodorov -- who proposes lowering the top tax bracket to 20-25 percent from
around 35 percent now to improve collection rates -- criticised the government
for not pushing a landmark tax code hard enough.
"I know there was definitely a lost opportunity to ram it through the
parliament," he said.
Tax collection is miserably low in Russia despite a high-profile media
campaign, tougher police efforts and the pointed attention of the
International Monetary Fund, which has held up loan payments to Russia over
Improved collection is at the top of a list of revenue-raising measures the
government has announced, to wide yawns from foreign investors who want to see
movement and money.
Fyodorov promised action but said little could be done to radically improve
revenues while the tax burden was unequally distributed and the government
responded to shortfalls by shaking down a few top companies.
Companies would continue to hide earnings under punitive conditions. "One can
increase the efficiency of tax collection by brutal force...but it will be
incremental," he said.
He promised no quick and easy solution, while a federal bankruptcy service
official told the same conference that the first sales of assets under a fast-
track bankruptcy procedure just introduced would be in November or December.
Russia needs money faster than that. Central bank and government officials say
it is considering cheap funding from international sources, including banks
and governments, so that it can buy back expensive rouble-denominated debt.
But the government has also denied it is having talks on new loans, which
analysts say are necessary to revive markets which have deteriorated to 1996
"Some kind of international funding will be a necessary condition, but not a
sufficient one," said Philipp Hildebrand, global strategist at Moore Europe
Research Services, attending the conference organised by the MFK Renaissance
investment group in Moscow.
"The government will need to take the opportunity of a short term reversal of
sentiment to back up with a credible policy platform."
Market rumours are that Russia could tap Western banks or leading
international nations for billions of dollars in a week or so. But Fyodorov
said the credits should come with strings attached.
"Money is very welcome -- we need it," he said. "But that money should be used
for very specific targets."
>From RIA Novosti
May 30, 1998
YELTSIN: "I HAVE ALWAYS PROTECTED AND WILL PROTECT FREEDOM OF THE PRESS"
President Boris Yeltsin's Radio Address to the Nation
Dear Russians, Moscow this week was the venue of a
congress of the International Press Institute, which unites
journalists from the most respected mass media the world over.
I took part in the work of that congress. Yesterday, I had a
conversation with the chief executives of the leading
television channels of Russia.
Relations between the authorities and the press have been
one of the main subjects discussed at those meetings.
The mass media is the strongest lever of influencing
public opinion. It is only natural that the state does care
about what kind of influence newspapers, the radio and
television exercise on people.
The majority of today's leading journalists have had a
harsh schooling of ideological censorship. That is why their
reaction is particularly painful when this subject is
discussed. They sometimes even suspect the authorities of the
desire to dictate their will and again begin giving away
I have said more than once and want to repeat now that I
have always protected and will continue to protect freedom of
mass information. I will facilitate the development of both
government and non-government newspapers, magazines and radio
and television companies. We should and will work with them
only in the form of a dialogue.
* * *
It goes without saying that journalists are not to blame
for our current social and economic difficulties. Nonetheless,
it is important to feel one's responsibility for the precise
and prompt coverage of these problems. People find out what is
happening in the country mostly from newspapers and television
and radio programs. Precisely the mass media often hint their
readers and viewers how to appraise the developments.
It is certainly not difficult to find out what is bad in
our country. When journalists honestly tell about such things,
it would be a sin to reproach them that their stories turn out
to be so sad.
But the principle of freedom of the press does not mean
permissiveness and open cynicism. It does not mean either
disregard for professional ethics or irresponsibility.
I know that newspaper radio and television stations
receive many letters. People are sick and tired of the fact
that everything is being described for them only in the black.
Reports and publications are too often studded with stories of
violence and crimes, catastrophes and accidents.
Such happenings may not be hushed up either in the same
way as the humiliating instances of delays in paying pensions,
the absence of normal housing for servicemen and the shortage
of funds for the maintenance of schools, hospitals and museums.
But is it all that makes up our life? It is true that
unfortunately good news are rather rare today. But there are
some. It is important to remember this and not to forget to
tell one's readers, listeners and viewers about them.
* * *
Opening newspapers and putting our radio and television
sets every morning, we find out what is happening in the
country and in the world. As ever, there are good news and
there are bad news. In a word, the mass media show us life as
I think that it is our great achievement that we can
openly say and hear the truth as it is without either
embroidery or excision.
I am sure and I will do my best so that it should always
Date: Mon, 01 Jun 1998
From: "Richard Helbig" <email@example.com>
Subject: From H. Richard Helbig---PH+C---Moscow
TO HELL WITH ALL THE SPECULATORS!
by H. Richard Helbig--President--Price, Helbig & Company--Moscow
[for personal use only]
While the Russian stock market was giving speculators daily gains unheard
of around the world last year, trading rooms, emerging-market fund
committees and other participants, including the newly-intelligent financial
press in Russia and elsewhere, were jumping with unlimited optimism. Adding
to profits from "no-brainer" stock investment decisions, Russian T-bills
pulled-up-the-rear by continuing to provide their juicy double-digit
rewards. Wasn't Russia fun? Wasn't it the "best darn market" anywhere!
To those of us who have been around for more than a single market cycle,
1997 had all the classic signs of excess: rubber-chicken Russia capital
market conferences packed five-star hotels around the world, expense
accounts for all the boys were huge, and trader's bars were full. Tips there
were large, cash and in US dollars.
Less anecdotally, we and everybody else for that matter, knew that
information on Russian corporations was terribly flawed despite its glossy
wrappings, that nothing was happening too quickly out there in the regions,
that Russian enterprises were either desperately alone in the new market
economy, or they were being gathered and shorn by Russia's version of early
America's robber-barons. Variations on this theme were playing themselves
out in a lot of the other developing markets.
So, here it comes again: the morning-after-the-night-before, and
speculators woke-up to it in Asia first. I'm not personally as close to any
Asian economy as I am to the Russian, but it doesn't take much imagination
to guess that the optimism there was created by the same people or at least
the same types who reigned supreme here last year.
Moving markets here the rallying cry was: "Russia is different". Peculiar
at the time but, in my mind, more appropriate now than it was 12 months ago!
The Russian economy, and those trying to modernize it have, from the
beginning, been facing daunting odds, but they were making tangible
progress. If we divorce ourselves momentarily from the 'instant
gratification' mind-set that the speculator / mass media community has
forced us all into, then we must admit that the transition from a
centrally-planned to a modern market economy in Russia has and continues to
proceed remarkably. (Heaven forbid, but we were all saying that to one
another with conviction only a few months ago.) So, stop for a moment and
think again about the sheer scale of the transition that is going on
here--it's not just a change in the ownership and operation of the business
sector, it is and remains the turning inside-out of a way-of-life, even of a
mind-set. This is a major revolution: in politics, in business, in public
institutions and in daily life.
No 'revolution' is smooth. Of course criminality has slipped into the
vacuums, of course the powerful are greedy, unfortunately the lower rung
slips---so what else is new?
Precisely this: the current Russian revolution has no armed camps, no
gulags and no mental institutions for political dissenters; no forced or
child labor, an open educational system and a free press. Add this: Russia's
citizens collectively own a greater portion of this economy's new corporate
stock than all the 'new speculators', they go to work without pay for months
at a time and they sustain their families from field, forest and their
garden plots. They're also out on the streets and along the highways selling
goods their employers pay them in-kind. Under duress they're striking, but
they're not fighting.
So who's to blame for the ugly state-of-affairs Russia's in now? We can
all find the easy targets: Yeltsin, his old cabinet, his new cabinet, the
Duma, the big-business / media tycoons, or the old stand-by: corrupt
officials. But did they really create this latest extreme round of crisis,
this panic? The circumstance of lower oil prices coming as they have at this
particular juncture is perhaps getting nearer the truth. Between this and
the 'lost' Rosneft auction, lower oil prices appear to be the 'straw' about
to break the 1998 budget's back--and that is serious. 'Asia''s slowdown is
also a real effect on the Russian economy down the road, just as it will
have real effects on everybody's economies in coming months and years,
But these things the Russian economy and its caretakers have, and can
deal with in the normal course of things; better perhaps than most.
What the Russian economy and its nascent financial institutions cannot,
however, easily protect themselves from is the insanity and pessimism that
has affected the speculator community of which I earlier spoke. No
economy---not micro-Asia's or Latin America's, not Japan's, and in the end
not America's, can any longer withstand that short-sighted, ridiculous and
greedy financial herd that the world's central bankers have unwittingly
allowed free reign over their money and their financial markets.
The panic of the last few days here in Russia has been caused by the same
idiots who came for a free-ride last year and who today are having their
intelligence questioned and/or their heads handed to them. They're
frightened, they want to have their 1997 'party' back, or they want to blame
somebody else for their short-sightedness. Better still, they would like
someone to bail them out. Oh, how a massive loan from the usual place would
go down well now!
To them, to that, I say: "fry in hell", "do you have any idea what damage
you're doing to the lives of ordinary people, or the disruption to the
'real' investment process you're causing with your moodiness?" To Mr.
Dubinin and to the newly formed government of Mr. Kiriyenko I say: stick
with it guys, hold the line and do what you have to do today. Know however,
that when this all passes, that you have to try with renewed vigilance to
keep this type of money out of Russia. The credo that: "global capitalism is
making markets more flexible and robust, societies more democratic, doing
what it has always done for centuries--destroying the old, creating the new"
is as bankrupt as the economies that it is now leaving in its wake.
If capitalism is as robust as its proponents claim then it too must
change---away from the more-for-the-biggest--towards a more equitable and
less turbulent means of doing its good. It must be slowed down and yes, it
must better control the hired-gun speculators now running rampant through
the world's economies.
Russia has always been expected to create its "own, unique, all-Russian
economic model". I hope the lessons of these last few weeks provide the new
government and the Central Bank with the insight and courage to do just that.
(Richard Helbig is the president of an American-Russian investment
banking firm, PH+C, based in Moscow. He has worked in Russia for six years
restructuring and financing Russian enterprises. Price, Helbig & Company is
a correspondent of Horwath International, a worldwide organization with
offices throughout Europe, Asia Pacific, the Middle East and the Americas.)
The Guardian (UK)
30 May 1998
[for personal use only]
One man finds himself an island
James Meek on the post-Soviet decline of the one-time scourge of the
A new book by the Nobel prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the
internationally revered symbol of intellectual resistance to Soviet
tyranny, is to have a print run in his native Russia of just 5,000 due
to lack of demand.
The book, Russia in Collapse, a collection of essays lashing out at
every perceived evil afflicting post-Soviet society from Ukrainian
nationalism to incompetent land reform, goes on sale at a single Moscow
outlet next week.
Retailing at £1 for the paperback edition, £1.40 for the hardback - a
third of the price for the best-selling memoirs of Boris Yeltsin's
bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov - the tiny print run for a potential
readership of more than 300 million Russian-speakers worldwide shows
just how interest in the writer has fallen since he broke Stalin's spell
of fear 36 years ago.
"Tell me what kind of print runs we have in this country these days,"
said a defensive Munira Urazova, secretary of the Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Fund. "Usually it's one, two or three thousand. I don't think anyone's
printed 100,000 copies of a Russian book for a long time."
In 1962, on the eve of the publication of A Day in the Life of Ivan
Denisovich, the work that made Solzhenitsyn's reputation, half Moscow
was agog with anticipation and the other half had already read it in
hand-copied samizdat versions.
After the novel's appearance in the magazine Novy Mir, two subsequent
Soviet editions totalling 850,000 sold out immediately. Solzhenitsyn's
biographer Michael Scammell believes that if the Soviet Union's planning
system had allowed it 8.5 million people would have bought it.
The writer's denunciation of the forced labour system, The Gulag
Archipelago, sold in similar quantities in the Soviet Union and abroad.
Since his forced exile to the west in 1974, Solzhenitsyn has continued
to study and write feverishly, but the reading public's enthusiasm for
his works has vanished as utterly as the enemy he once fought.
Russia in Collapse is only Solzhenitsyn's second book since he returned
to Russia in 1994. The other work, The Russian Question at the End of
the 20th Century, was not widely read. His only ventures in fiction,
published in magazines, have been criticised as being naive and
simplistic about the new Russia.
The 79-year-old writer is not a recluse - he travels around provincial
Russia, speaking to small audiences, occasionally writes letters to the
newspapers, and sponsors a literary prize - but he rarely gives
interviews and has retreated from the national stage as the audience has
turned its back on him.
He was deeply hurt when the country's biggest TV channel, ORT, pulled
the plug on his short-lived prime time broadcast, in which he
materialised at suppertime in his tweedy safari suit to harangue viewers
on the ills of communism, capitalism and materialism. TV executives said
the viewers had found him boring.
The director of the firm publishing the book, Victor Moskvin, said 5,000
was only the start. "Times have changed in the country. Not so many
people can afford to buy books. But we will print a new edition quickly.
I'm talking about a matter of weeks."
To promote Russia in Collapse, extracts have been published in four
newspapers, including the weekly Argumenti I Fakti, the most popular in
the former Soviet Union.
The extracts reveal a man consumed by rage, bitterness and sorrow at the
state his country has been reduced to since the collapse of the Soviet
Union, with a focus on complaint and lament rather than renewal,
reminiscent of the speeches of communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.
The text is bizarrely at odds with the cheery, energetic, enthusiastic
figure who still occasionally flashes across Russian television screens.
Mr Moskvin said that since extracts had appeared his firm had been
bombarded with calls from prospective buyers as far away as Siberia,
Kazakhstan and Ukraine. "He's a great 20th century writer. The new book
is a deep view of the state of Russia today."
Ms Urazova said: "Any publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's has always
received a response from the people, from ordinary simple folk in the
first instance. And that's what's happening now."
31 May 1998
[for personal use only]
GOVERNOR OF KRASNOYARSK REGION IN RUSSIA
By Colin McMahon, Tribune Moscow Correspondent.
With his May 17 election as governor of the giant Krasnoyarsk Territory in
Siberia, former army Gen. Alexander Lebed has re-established himself as one of
Russia's most popular politicians. Praised for ending the war in Chechnya and
standing up to President Boris Yeltsin, who fired him as national security
adviser in 1996, Lebed has set his steely gaze on running for the presidency,
perhaps as early as 2000. With Russia's economy in crisis, Lebed's attacks on
Kremlin policies are winning over more Russians. The 48-year-old Lebed talked
with Tribune senior editors in Moscow before launching his successful campaign
Q: Let's start with the economy. What's its overall status?
A: It is the seventh year of reforms and a number of major issues have not
been solved yet. For example, there is no land code or a comprehensible land
law or a land inventory. Tax policy is outrageous, and the tax code that is
now being discussed will kill off the middle class, which did not even get the
chance to develop.
The privatization was being conducted for the benefit of 3 percent or at
most 5 percent of the population. A superficially thin layer of rich people
has formed. There is an enormous layer of people who are either on the verge
or have crossed the border of poverty.
The social scales are tilted so much they can break. Capital is escaping
out of Russia, which means it is neither safe nor profitable in Russia. It
seems to me that (leaders) have merely been displaying official optimism.
Q: Is that an occasional show just for outsiders, or is it an everyday
A: For us, too, but there are some nuances here. Moscow has concentrated in
itself not less than 80 percent of the banking capital of the country. Up to
30 percent of the federal budget is either directly or indirectly used for
Moscow. Moscow now is like a commercial facade, and the Americans, French and
Germans come here and are being shown, "Look, this is how we live."
But beyond the Urals lives a fifth of the population with 3 percent of the
capital. You can judge what kind of life they have.
Q: You have formed a political party. What solutions do you see?
A: I think we must begin by solving the land issue. Russia is the owner of
the largest black-earth area in the world, but 73 years of Communist rule did
not go without an impact. No people here know through practice what private
property is. For almost four generations people were being forced to forget
what it is like to feel the responsibility of the ownership of anything.
Moreover, two-thirds of the country is in the north, therefore it is not
possible to solve the land issue by the means of an all-Russia referendum. I
do not think there will be many people who would desire to own a square meter
of the tundra.
The south is a fertile land and, with an irrational solution, people over
there will fight for every meter, because the division of land always means
war. Those issues could be solved gradually and through regional referendums
of people living in similar conditions.
Another problem is the tax policy: 35 to 40 percent must be the tax limit
for Russian citizens; today it is 92 to 95 percent if you are lucky. . . .
That is why all entrepreneurs and businessmen in Russia have become crooks.
Q: Privatization in agriculture will require capital investment. Where will
the money come from?
A: Investment in the agricultural sector starts giving profits by the sixth
year. It's a long-term investment, and that's why the Russian people today
refuse to get into that. This must be taken phase by phase, by reviving the
trust of the people in the state.
Land is the most precious thing after the people, and these imbeciles are
running around saying that they are afraid of
selling their motherland. Ten percent of investment capital in the U.S.
comes from Japan, but I never heard any complaints that anybody gets their
wages in the yen.
Q: How have your travels affected your point of view regarding Russian
A: The West wants Russia to look only to the West. In the West, everybody
refuses to acknowledge such a simple fact that three-fifths of Russian
territory is Asia and that one-half of Europe is Russia.
In the West--especially in Europe--China, Korea and Japan are regarded as
faraway, exotic countries. For us they are neighbors. A system of European
security cannot be constructed without Russia, and hence the world system of
Russia is a natural bridge between East and West. This Eurasian idea is
very close and understandable to me, and I think this is what the future is. I
am an optimist by nature, and I do not want to paint a picture of an
apocalypse, but if one studies history thoroughly, one sees that a collapse of
any country, especially one the size of the Soviet Union, means a change in
world order, and change usually means war.
I call everyone to love Russia, to love it not because you like it, but
become completely selfish and love yourself, and through that love Russia, so
that it doesn't collapse and bury everything under its ruins.
Q: You say you are an optimistic man, but you talk mostly of problems. What
makes you optimistic?
A: I know the history of my country and my people. And I know that Russia
possesses a unique ability to crawl out of a ditch even if all its bones are
broken. Russians will use their teeth, their gums if they have no teeth.
Q: But you don't think the current president is up to it, do you?
A: Do you know what was a previous job of the first democratically elected
president of Russia? He was secretary of the Sverdlovsk public committee, and
to hold such a post in Leonid Brezhnev's time, one had to possess very special
qualities. He was also the secretary of the Moscow city party committee. He
was a candidate to the political bureau and a member of the central committee
of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. And suddenly when he was 60 years
old, when one is supposed to get old and sick, he decided that he was a
democrat, and the whole world believed him. "My friend Bill. My friend Kohl.
My friend Jacques Chirac. Very good friends."
Q: When was the last time you spoke with Yeltsin?
A: I clearly remember the time before the last, on Aug. 12, 1996. I decided
to report to the president on the situation in Chechnya. As I went on with my
report he looked more and more bored and then excused himself, saying he was
not feeling well. After that he refused to see me. I had violated the main
commandment: I had tried to report to the president things that did not please
Numerous flatterers are at his ears, who keep telling him that "the reforms
are going on, the people are happy, everybody loves you." And suddenly there
is this impolite person who wants to spoil the bowl of honey with a spoon of
Q: What makes you think that having been a decorated general in the Soviet
army would be a credential to be the president of Russia?
A:.Let Gen. Eisenhower be the one to answer that question.
An edited transcript
Russia: Analysis from Washington -- Environmental Disasters May Renew
By Paul Goble
Washington, 1 June 1998 (RFE/RL) --Environmental disasters, some left
over from Soviet times, others the product of the actions of weak new
governments, and still a third group the result of the activities of
foreign firms, may reignite nationalist passions in many post-Soviet
There are three reasons behind this somewhat surprising conclusion.
•First, as a recently released poll shows, citizens in the post-Soviet
states appear to be even more concerned about the environment than are
residents of other countries around the world.
•Second, the leaders of many of the national movements in these
countries started as environmental activists in Soviet times and thus
are now as a result of new ecological disasters simply returning to
•And third, the media have focused increasing attention on such
disasters, especially when corrupt local officials or foreign firms
appear to be to blame.
The United States Information Agency last month released the results of
two surveys its researchers conducted in late 1997 in the Russian
Federation, Ukraine and Kazakhstan on popular attitudes toward
These polls found that majorities in all three countries -- including
more than 65 percent in the Russian Federation -- said they favored
protecting the environment even if doing so meant that they would have
to put up with slower economic growth. Such support for environmental
activism would be impressive anywhere; it is especially striking in
countries whose economic situation is anything but good.
In addition, the survey showed that the citizens of these three
countries were extremely critical of what their respective governments
were doing to clean up environmental pollution. Some 70 percent of
Kazakhstanis, 85 percent of Russians, and a like percentage of
Ukrainians felt their national governments were doing a poor job in this
Not surprisingly, politicians both in power and in opposition are
sensitive to such attitudes, seeing them either as a threat or an
opportunity. And that is particularly the case with those political
figures who began their careers as spokesmen for ecological causes in
In the 1960s and 1970s, environmental concerns were among the few issues
that opposition groups, especially in the non-Russian regions, could
raise without falling afoul of the Soviet state. Many of these
environmental activists subsequently became historic preservationists
when that became possible. And later still, they adopted an openly
nationalist agenda as the Soviet state crumbled around them.
Now in the post-Soviet environment, these same people are drawing
strength from others appalled by the environmental degradation visited
upon them by past Soviet practices, by the failure of their own
governments to prevent new disasters, and by the poor ecological record
of many Western firms now operating in these countries.
And just as in Soviet times, they are focusing attention not so much on
the environment in general but rather on conditions in their own country
or even in a one part of it. According to the USIA poll, only one person
in 50 was concerned about global climate change, but virtually everyone
was worried about more immediate environmental degradation.
The media in each of these countries are playing up these issues,
frequently with an increasingly nationalist gloss directed either at the
Soviet past, an uncaring and corrupt local regime, or foreign firms.
In the last few weeks, for example, the press in Kyrgyzstan has called
attention to the environmental disaster visited on that country's Lake
Issyk-Kul by a Canadian gold mining concern. Ukrainian media have
continued to discuss the fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear accident, a
disaster made all the worse by Soviet policies and the West's
unwillingness to help. And the Georgian media have raised questions
about the consequences for that country if a dam is built by Turkey on
the border between the two countries.
Many in the West and in these countries as well may be inclined to
dismiss such concerns as being relatively unimportant to the political
life of this region. But the experience of these countries in the past
and the intense feelings that environmental issues can still arouse,
point to a different conclusion.
They suggest that future environmental disasters in this region may
quickly lead to a nationalist response, particularly if those
responsible are foreign in one sense or another. And that conclusion in
turn indicates that anyone seeking to do business with these countries
must be especially environmentally responsible lest he set off a popular
movement that no one will be able to control.
>From InterPress Service
Title: HEALTH-CIS: Sexually Transmitted Disease Sweeps Ex-Soviet Union
By Andrei Ivanov
MOSCOW, May 26 (IPS) - While the rapidly rising incidence of
HIV infection and AIDS in the former Soviet Union causes much
concern, it is only one of a range of sexually transmitted
diseases (STDs) which are currently engulfing the region.
A dramatic increase in the number of syphilis cases in Russia,
for example, is posing problems for lawmakers and health
According to the Russian Health Ministry, around 450,000 cases
were registered in 1997 alone, almost 200,000 more than in 1995.
This compares with just 7,900 new cases in 1990.
''This could become a problem for the whole of Russia,'' says
Aleftina Aparina, of the Committee for Children and Family Affairs
in the State Duma (parliament). She points out that the official
figures to not reflect the real situation ''because many people
do not even know they are infected''.
The problem is particularly acute in northern Russia. Even
more disturbing is the fact that those affected are getting
''Each year we register more and more cases where children under
14 are suffering from this disease,'' she says.
Eduard Sarkisov, a member of the Russian Academy of Medical
Sciences says the rate of spread is ''frightening''. Over the
past 10 years the number of cases reported annually has increased
Health officials blame economic hardship for the spread of
the disease. Boris Andreyev, a doctor at Moscow's Botkinskaya
hospital, explains that for most Russians financial problems
take precedence over health considerations. And the government
has no funds to combat the problem.
In the early days of the Soviet era the state had programmes
targeting syphilis. ''With the help of police, we could force
an infected person to be treated, but now all we can do is tell
them they have it,'' Andreyev says.
While syphilis is not always life-threatening, it is extremely
dangerous. It can produce small genital sores, but often goes
unnoticed in women.
If left untreated, it can lapse into a latent stage that can
persist for years. But secondary syphilis can then develop in
the form of severe damage to the central nervous system, lesions
of the heart, skin or bones and eventually death, usually owing
to brain damage.
In Ukraine, the spread of STDs is an epidemic of the young.
The syphilis rate among the over-30s now stands at around 180
cases per 100,000, according to the Ministry of Health. For girls
under 15, however, the rate is 600 cases per 100,000, while for
15- to 16-year-old girls it ranges between 1,550 and 2,000 per
100,000. This is largely the result of teenage prostitution.
About 2,000 girls work as prostitutes in Odessa in the winter,
according to psychologist Valeri Kiunov, who has investigated
the sex trade for UNAIDS and Odessa State University. But in
the summer, the prostitute population more than doubles.
Kiunov has identified six categories of prostitutes. The youngest
girls, aged 11 to 17, mainly work by flagging down customers
on the streets after school two or three times a week. They
typically earn 40 to 50 dollars a week and use condoms.
A second group, averaging 26 years of age, works through female
pimps and tends to have steady customers. Kiunov says two-thirds
of these women have had at least one STD in the past three years.
Members of the poorest groups congregate around factories and
large workplaces, and take on 20 to 40 clients a week. The mean
age of the group is 19, and they account for more than half of
Odessa's sex workers.
''They can't afford condoms (which cost 25 cents each),'' says
Kiunov ''and when you talk to them about 'safe sex' they think
it means avoiding getting beaten up''.
In the Republic of Moldova, it is estimated that more than
a third of the growing population of homeless children in Chisinau
city are infected with syphilis. The number of new cases in the
Republic rose from under 700 in 1990 to almost 9,000 in 1996.
A Well Woman's Clinic opened in Chisinau last year to screen
women for STDs, and testing for syphilis is now mandatory by
law, which may lead to a slight decrease in number of cases this
year, according to the clinic's director, Boris Gilca.
But STDs still carry a stigma which deters people from seeking
help. ''Sometimes they don't contact a doctor for treatment and
use self-treatment which may have serious consequences,'' Gilca
Throughout the former Soviet states, prostitution has become
the industry of last resort in face of economic collapse and
unemployment. For some in Moscow and Odessa, Tbilisi, Novosibirsk
and Irkutsk, it means survival. For others it has become big
Multinational crime syndicates regularly bring thousands of
girls (and sometimes boys) from the poorest areas in the former
Communist world to areas that share borders with western European
and Middle Eastern countries, explains Marco Gramegna of the
International Organisation of Migration.
He estimates that half a million women from the former Soviet
Union had been smuggled into western Europe and forced into
prostitution by 1995. ''The scale of the operation has escalated
since then, with up to 300,000 more women trafficked into western
Europe annually, mostly from Russia and Ukraine,'' he says.
In the Baltic states young women are recruited to service
from Finland, Norway and Sweden. Health officials estimate that
2,000 Estonians work as prostitutes in Helsinki.
The Deaconess Institute of Helsinki, a government-financed
medical research facility, says syphilis rates among Estonian
prostitutes increased 16-fold from 1990 to 1995, when the rate
reached 852 cases per 100,000. And the gonorrhoea rate doubled,
to more than 3,000 cases per 100,000.
Efforts are being made to stem the tide of infection, however.
In Moscow, Saviour's Hospital for Peace and Charity has launched
various programmes aimed at young women at risk.
The 2,300 adolescents who visit the centre each year are screened
for a number of STDs and given condoms. Educators from Saviour's
also travel to Moscow schools to teach teenagers about safe sex
and reproductive health.
Melissa Zahniser, programme co-ordinator for Magee Womancare
International, which works closely with the centre, says that
though a strong network of women's health centres may slow the
spread of STDs, men also have to get involved if the problem
is to be tackled effectively.
''Often they want to keep the problem under wraps. And services
have not been as planned out as they have been for women,'' she
''But if you want to make sure the same people aren't getting
reinfected, you've got to make sure that both partners are
diagnosed and treated, and that they learn about precautions.''
Russian Markets Threatened by Funds in Shadow Economy
Moscow, May 28 (Itar-Tass) -- While huge funds are circulating in the
shadow economy, there will be no stability at currency markets, believes
Gennadiy Kulik, deputy chairman of the State Duma Budget Committee.
Kulik recalled that, at expert estimate, about 36 billion dollars was
brought into Russia last year. He believes a large part of these funds is
circulating in the shadow economy and that taxation is thus avoided.
"We shall continue to be threatened with currency upheavals like the
one last Wednesday since the shadow economy accumulates virtually half the
funds of the country," Kulik said.
He believes the government should exert itself to ensure that people
be more inclined to keep their savings in banks rather than in stockings.
Financiers estimate that Russian residents now keep 80-90 billion
denominated roubles. "If this money was in circulation, nothing like the
Wednesday upheaval would have happened," Kulik said.
NATO expansion has gone far enough -Primakov
HELSINKI, June 1 (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov said on
Monday NATO expansion had gone far enough and that halting the process would
serve European stability.
``We do not want the NATO expansion process to start again,'' he told a news
conference with Finnish Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen at the end of a four-
``That would be the best solution and one that would create stability in
Europe,'' Primakov said.
NATO has invited three former Warsaw Pact countries, Hungary, Poland and the
Czech Republic, to join it and has said the door remains open to further
applicants though no decisions have been made on another round of enlargement.
The former Soviet Baltic republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, have all
said they want to join NATO, but neighbouring Russia has adamantly opposed the
prospect of having the western alliance at its borders.
Primakov's remarks came at the end of an official visit that started on Friday
and included talks with Halonen, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and Prime
Minister Paavo Lipponen.
The talks with Finnish leaders covered a range of topics, from international
affairs, including the situation in the former Yugoslavia and Albania, issues
in the nearby Baltic states and Finnish-Russian bilateral concerns.