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Johnson's Russia List
3 December 1998
[Note from David Johnson:
1. AFP: Russian Hunger Striker Protesting Unpaid Wages Dies.
(DJ: Who killed this nameless teacher? Was it political? Was it important?
Who cares? What does it mean? Any takers?)
2. Patrick Armstrong: PUBLIC WORKS PROGRAM FOR RUSSIA?
3. The Washington Times: Daniel Matuszewski and Christopher Wright,
Renew U.S.-Russian exchanges.
4, AP: U.S. Wants To Aid Russia Scientists.
5. Ustina Markus: On regions and devolution.
6. Jerry Hough: On democracy and markets.
7. Anatole Lieven's "History Is Not Bunk" at
8. Jamestown Foundation Monitor: KIRIENKO MAY BAIL OUT OF NEW CENTER-RIGHT
COALITION...WHILE GAIDAR HOPES TO WIN AS MANY SEATS AS THE COMMUNISTS IN THE
NEXT PARLIAMENT. (And Chubais for governor in St. Petersburg?)
9. the eXile press review: Matt Taibbi, Safire Breaks His Rules.
10. Moscow Times: Tanya Mosolova, Women Navigate Russian Culture.
11. Reuters: IMF says may help Russia if policies right.
12. Reuters: Russia says ``tragic mistake'' to skirt U.N.]
Russian Hunger Striker Protesting Unpaid Wages Dies
MOSCOW, Dec. 02, 1998 -- (Agence France Presse) A Russian school teacher
taking part in a mass hunger strike over unpaid wages died Tuesday, the RTR
television station reported.
The 43-year-old primary school teacher had been refusing food for 10 days and
died at his home in Ulianovsk in the Volga region, where he had been taken by
The father of two and veteran of the war against Afghanistan was protesting
with 100 colleagues in the city against salary arrears going back to July, the
Some 450 teachers from 10 schools and colleges at Ulianovsk, the birthplace of
Lenin, decided ten days ago to go on hunger strike having failed to gain
satisfaction through regular strike action.
Last week their numbers were down to 320 as more than 100, already weakened by
privation, dropped out for medical reasons and seven were hospitalized.
Emergency funds announced by Moscow for the teachers in the town had still not
arrived Tuesday, the television station reported.
Hunger strikers by state workers such as teachers and health employees have
become a fairly common form of protest in cash-strapped Russia in recent
months, the latest being some 40 staff of the emergency medical services at
Khabarovsk, in the far east of the country.
But the Ulianovsk teacher, who earned 400 rubles ($23) a month, is the first
victim of such action and was being dubbed by the media as the first "martyr"
of Russia's economic crisis.
More than 27,000 teachers throughout Russia were on strike in November over
Valentina Matvienko, the deputy prime minister for social affairs, said a
month ago that the government would be unable to pay all the back wages owed
to its employees by the end of the year, as had been announced by Prime
Minister Yevgeny Primakov.
On Oct. 1 public sector wage arrears stood at 88.1 billion rubles ($5.16
billion), according to official figures.
Date: Wed, 02 Dec 1998
From: Patrick Armstrong <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: PUBLIC WORKS PROGRAM FOR RUSSIA?
Since everyone is offering suggestions on how
Russia can be saved, I put out this suggestion. I
can't remember seeing anyone make it but it is so
obvious someone must have. To me the mystery is
that no one in the Russian government seems to
have proposed it.
When Gaydar started his "shock therapy", neither
he nor anyone else thought about what to do with
the people who would be put out of work as the
Soviet factories were closed. After six years of
depression, the question is still unaddressed.
As everyone who's been there knows, Russia is a
touch deficient in infrastructure. The roads are
poor, telephones in the sticks primitive, there
isn't enough housing, the railways are overloaded
etc etc. Why is there no big national works
program to build and repair Russia's
infrastructure? For the most part, Russia already
has what it needs to do these projects in the
ruble economy, it wouldn't have to import much.
How do you pay for them? -- print the rubles of
course, how are such projects financed anywhere
else? Keynes recommended in a depression paying
one group of workers to fill in the holes that the
other group had dug. A four lane, limited access
highway between Russia's two capitals would be
much more useful tah a hole. They say that
Eisenhower's national highway project in the US
was a great wealth creator and economic engine
starter: is there some law that says the same
thing can't happen in Russia?
I know the idea is heresy to the monetarists but
monetarists don't seem to be quite so self-
confident these days.
Date: Wed, 02 Dec 1998
From: Chris Wright <email@example.com>
Subject: Renew U.S.-Russian exchanges
The Washington Times
November 27, 1998
Renew U.S.-Russian exchanges
By Daniel Matuszewski and Christopher Wright
Daniel C. Matuszewski and Christopher Wright are, respectively, president
and director of communications of the International Research & Exchanges Board
The financial crisis that has engulfed Russia has raised claims and
counterclaims throughout the foreign policy and financial communities about
who is to blame for the situation Russians now face and about the impact of
the crisis on Russia's political and geopolitical future. We leave it to
others to judge the steps and missteps that have brought Russia to this
difficult juncture, and only time will tell what this crisis will mean to
Russia and to the world. But at this critical moment in its history, it is
important to reflect on the good that has been done and that continues today
in Russia by thoughtful, dedicated people and institutions in both our two
Forty years ago, the first cultural and educational exchange agreement
was signed between the United States and the Soviet Union, creating a
critical opening for the exchange of ideas through the exchange of people.
The closed society of the USSR was cracked open enough to allow a few Soviet
scientists, scholars, writers, and artists to travel to the United States,
and an equal number of Americans to visit the Soviet Union. Very rapidly
thereafter, similar programs were opened with the countries of Central and
Among the first academics to come to the United States in November 1958
was Aleksandr Yakovlev, a student of American history from Yaroslavl who
attended Columbia University for two semesters. Nearly 30 years later he
would emerge as one of the principal architects of perestroika under Mikhail
Over the course of the last four decades, other figures have emerged to
play pivotal roles in the region. Hungarian economist Janos Kornai, now a
professor of economics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Harvard
University, worked with American experts and policy makers in several of
these exchange programs in the '70s and '80s. One of the first East European
economists to identify clearly the contradictions inherent in central
planning, he spearheaded Hungary's transition to a market economy. Mr.
Kornai's work in the 1980s had a great influence on both Polish and Soviet
Andrei Kokoshin, a participant in both field research and conference
exchanges between 1976 and 1989, was instrumental in shaping the special
relationship between Russia and NATO at a moment of strong Russian
apprehension toward NATO expansion. Mr. Kokoshin served as deputy minister
of defense and the highest-ranking civilian in that ministry before being
appointed to head the prestigious Defense Council. Despite his recent
removal, we are likely to see him and similar reformist figures move back
into positions of influence as the political wheel turns.
Dariusz Rosati, recent foreign minister of Poland, also participated in
several academic exchanges and conference series with American academic
colleagues in the 1980s and early '90s. As foreign minister, Mr. Rosati
quietly but persistently negotiated with Yevgeny Primakov, Andrei Kokoshin,
and other Russian counterparts to win Russia's understanding and
acquiescence to Polish, Hungarian, and Czech membership in NATO, attempting
to lay the groundwork for future stable relations in the region.
Over the past 15 years in particular, these exchanges of people and ideas
have had a dramatic impact on the region's increased openness and exposure
to the world. Rigid travel restrictions and control of information have
given way to access as professional exchanges continue, as Russian tourists
and entrepreneurs, artists, scholars, scientists and journalists surface in
every corner of the globe, and as Western media and Internet connections
appear in virtually every city in Russia.
International exchanges play an indispensable role in creating and
sustaining the trade in ideas that has so reshaped the world in recent
years. Funded by the U.S. government, by private foundations, and by an
increasing number of American corporations, modest investments in
international exchanges have paid enormous dividends in increased
understanding and cooperation between East and West.
American scholars and scientists are collaborating with Russian
colleagues on every imaginable topic in the natural, social, and policy
sciences, and the oft-neglected humanities. U.S. universities are working
with counterparts in Russia to reshape Soviet-era university curricula and
develop innovative courses to educate new generations of entrepreneurs,
bankers and community activists. Advocacy organizations in both countries
are working together on issues ranging from human rights and freedom of the
press to environmental protection and improved health care.
The Russian people and their academic, commercial, governmental and
nongovernmental institutions have far greater exposure and access to the
rest of the world than they did a mere decade ago, and few Russians will
willingly give up that access. Difficult as the current crisis is, no
reputable opinion poll has uncovered any desire among the Russian public to
return to the days when people could not travel beyond their own oblast
without special permission, when any conversation with a foreigner had to be
reported to the "proper authorities," when access to computers and fax
machines -- indeed even typewriters and copy machines -- was tightly controlled.
As we watch and assess developments in Russia today, it is important to
remember how far Russia has come, and to remain committed to the programs
that have proven successful even in the most trying of times. The exchanges
launched in 1958 have survived the Berlin airlift, the Cuban missile crisis,
and the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, and the collapse of the
Soviet system. They have been involved in the rebirth of 15 states and
nations in the region, and have more than proved their worth.
Fortunately, Congress has funded almost all of the administration's
foreign operations request under the omnibus appropriations bill, with
assistance to the Newly Independent States region totaling $847 million,
more than a 10 percent increase over last year. It is crucial that these
resources be invested wisely in programs that continue to strengthen ties,
to create innovative relationships, to foster new methods of cooperation
between the crucial countries involved. As U.S. ambassador to Russia James
Collins recently stated, "The United States cannot afford to stand on the
sidelines. We must maintain critical ties" by embracing the spirit that
first inspired exchanges.
U.S. Wants To Aid Russia Scientists
December 2, 1998
By H. JOSEF HEBERT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Energy Department is looking for U.S. businesses to
help Russia create jobs for its economically struggling nuclear scientists --
hoping to reduce the chances some might sell their knowledge to other
countries or terrorists.
Representatives from dozens of companies gathered Wednesday to hear energy
officials outline the program aimed at promoting new economic development in
Russia's 10 once highly secret nuclear cities.
Tens of thousands of scientists and other nuclear workers once lived elite
lives within the fences of the secret cities, but in recent years the workers
have struggled as Russia scaled back its nuclear program. Thousands have lost
their jobs or been forced to accept poverty wages. Some often go unpaid for
The U.S. program, which officials said will cost about $30 million by next
Sept. 30, is designed to help Russian officials in three of the cities. Its
aim is to teach Russians more about starting new businesses and attracting
William Desmond, director of the Energy Department's Nuclear Cities
Initiative, admitted the program will take time because ``the challenges are
absolutely incredible.'' He said 30,000 to 50,000 workers involved in Russia's
nuclear program may face job losses over the next five years.
``We're going to take some fairly small steps to get started,'' Desmond said
but expressed overall optimism.
Congress last year provided $15 million for the Russian initiative, and
Desmond said another $15 million or so will be found in other DOE programs.
``What this is all about is jobs,'' he said. The aim is for U.S. know-how and
new business ventures to produce several hundred new jobs in each of the three
cities earmarked for the early part of the program.
Russian's deepening economic problems are making the situation in the nuclear
cities even more of a challenge, U.S. officials said.
Kenneth Ames, an official at the DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory,
recently returned from Sarov, one of the nuclear cities. He said Wednesday he
saw ``no sense of panic'' but great uncertainty.
At Sarov, birthplace of the Soviet Union's atomic bomb, Ames talked to
managers of a factory that makes lenses for eyeglasses. While they portrayed
the venture as a success, he said, the company was deeply in debt and faced
possible bankruptcy. If it should close, 103 jobs will be lost.
``Saving jobs at this point is just as important as creating new jobs,'' said
While showing interest, some businessmen at Wednesday's briefing expressed
hesitancy about investing in the program at a time of great economic and
political uncertainty in Russia.
Robert Summers, managing director of Technology & Systems International, told
Energy Department officials that his company has worked in Russia and found in
many cases ``a fundamental lack of understanding'' of how to organize
John Soares, an official of Westinghouse Safety Management Solutions Inc., a
Potomac, Md., company that works with DOE at the Savannah River weapons
complex in South Carolina, said his company could help develop new jobs in
Russia related to nuclear cleanup and storage.
But, he added, ``We need to have DOE tell us more about the nuclear cities.
... We know very little about the workings of the cities.''
Russia remains reluctant to provide large amounts of detailed information
about its nuclear program, which makes the job more difficult for U.S.
companies. ``Some of your questions probably will never be answered,'' Desmond
From: ustina.markus@DTRA.mil (Ustina Markus)
Subject: on regions and devolution
Date: Wed, 2 Dec 1998
Re: Nick Holdsworth's query on regions and devolution (JRL #2499)I have not
heard any rumors of Primakov cutting a deal with regions and giving them
autonomy, but the scenario is not unlikely. Moscow has not been a good
manager of the regions, even in the Soviet era, and very likely even back
under the tsars. Two recent JRLs (2493 & 2495) noted that the situation in
Chukotka is so bad that the Red Cross estimates average life expectancy
there to be 34. This is one of the regions that probably needs the food aid
being send to Russia, yet that aid cannot go directly from Alaska to the
region, but must go through Moscow for customs clearance and then back there
before it can be distributed. Such rules make it difficult and expensive to
get aid to Chukotka. And given the notorious corruption of Russian's customs
agents, if aid must pass through that hurdle before distribution it is
likely that a good deal of that aid disappears at that hurdle. There are
many more examples of Moscow being more of a hinderance to the well-being of
regions, than their subsidizer, as it is sometimes portrayed. My
understanding is that Moscow has not made good on its pledge to help rebuild
Grozny after the cease-fire; the regions rich in natural resources such as
gas and oil have abysmal living standards even though those resources bring
in most of the country's hard currency earnings; etc. It doesn't take a
genius to figure out that Moscow lacks basic management skills in the
This inability to manage has translated into the regions increasingly taking
charge of themselves. Governors ignore directives from Moscow, which they
deem unsuitable for their region, and generally run their region with no
regard for the Russian Federation as a whole, but only that region's
interests in mind. In the case of Tatarstan, this has actually been
formalized through an agreement with the center. While other regions do not
have such agreements, the local government is the de facto ruler there, and
not Moscow.Under the circumstances, the rumor that Primakov may be
considering formalizing some regions' autonomy is highly plausible. The
regions most likely to seek autonomy are those with natural resources and
viable industries. While this may appear as a loss to Moscow, there is
little Moscow gains from resisting this devolution. Several regions have
already stopped making tax payments to Moscow, arguing that they either do
not have the cash or do not get anything from Moscow in return. In some,
there have been calls not to have the local military recruits serve outside
of the region. If Moscow were to attempt to rein in these governors, it
would probably be costly to the center and would not work. The Russian army
and public demonstrated that they did not have the will to force the Russian
Federation to stay together in Chechnya, and the government then discredited
itself as a subsidizer of the regions after it failed to rebuild the
destroyed Chechen capitol. By offering de facto autonomy, Primakov would
not actually be giving anything away, since the regions are already largely
outside of the center's control when it comes to their local affairs. At the
same time, the governors who want autonomy would be likely to support who
ever offers it in the next presidential elections. Any candidates opposed to
regional autonomy would be probably find several key regions hostile to
It is worth noting that autonomy is a far cry from independence. There is
little reason for the few regions, which may want autonomy to want
independence. With the exception of the Transcaucauses, the majority
population in the regions is ethnically Russian and identifies with Moscow.
With the exception of Dagestan and Chechnya, none of the other regions have
called for independence. Complete independence carries a high price tag. Any
region wanting independence would have to be prepared to set up its own
currency, its own national armed forces, its own foreign embassies, etc.
There has been no evidence that any region is laying the groundwork for, or
aspires to these things. Even Tatarstan, which has a majority indigenous
population, seems content with autonomy within the Federation. Basically,
the motivation for regional autonomy is economic. Some regions feel Moscow
is not doing a good job managing them and think they would be better off if
left to manage themselves. Most regions do not aspire even to autonomy,
however, since they still hope for subsidies and bailouts from the center.
As for the foreign policy aspect of autonomy, apart from independent
bilateral trade deals, which are favored by the resource-rich regions, there
has been no evidence that any region is actually developing its own foreign
policy. Thus by offering autonomy, Primakov would not necessarily be
undermining the Russian Federation. On the contrary, by refusing to do so he
may end up forcing some regions, which are fed up with Moscow's
mismanagement and neglect, to reject Moscow completely.
As for the West, a looser Russian Federation made up of a number of
autonomous regions is not a worrisome scenario. Most regions are eager for
investment from the outside world, and are not pursuing policies which would
brand them rogue states. With fewer regions to manage directly, Moscow may
be better able to focus on and deal with problems affecting European Russia.
In the end, a Russia made up of several autonomous regions would be unable
to emerge again as a superpower and direct its resources towards its
military as it had during the Cold War. Since support from the regions will
be important in winning the next presidential election, Primakov may well be
building a network of political allies as Nick Holdsworth's rumor suggests.
Date: Wed, 2 Dec 1998
From: "Jerry F. Hough" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: 2500-Matloff/Lebeds, Lebed Comments
The Lebed articles just deepen the sadness, for they correspond
to so much of what is said privately and not so privately in America.
There is no evidence that there is a conflict between democracy and the
introduction of a market in a country with high education levels and the
patience of the Russians. The public would have supported--it does
support--the type of economic reform that would work. Certainly nothing
in democracy had any responsibility for what happened the last seven
years. The problem was that people who called themselves democrats
introduced a form of economic reform the public did not want and a form of
reform that could not work because of its inner logic. Democracy is
a state as Marx said, not anarchy, and what we have had is anarchy.
Gordon Tullock is quite right that anarchy and corruption are
logically identical. Many in the West have the illusion that Lebed will be
the Pinochet who introduces a reform that will not work in Russian conditions.
Lebed could form a party like the Liberal Democrats in Japan and rule quite
comfortably with the present constitution or one even more democratic.
If only our democratization could go to trying to teach an elite,
including Lebed's advisers, on what early democracy can and should be instead
of financing the same kind of Bolsheviks, who like Lenin call themselves
democrats and who conned us on economic reform.
Date: Wed, 02 Dec 1998
From: yale richmond <email@example.com>
Subject: "History Is Not Bunk"
Anatole Lieven's article, "History Is Not Bunk," recommended by Abraham
Brumberg in JRL 2499, can be found on the internet at
It's well worth reading.
Jamestown Foundation Monitor
December 2, 1998
KIRIENKO MAY BAIL OUT OF NEW CENTER-RIGHT COALITION... The center-right
coalition made up of such luminaries as former Acting Premier Yegor Gaidar
and privatization architect Anatoly Chubais has reportedly hit another
snag--one which could be deadly. "Kommersant daily" reported today that
former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, who was among the politicians who
signed a statement last week announcing the coalition's formation, has been
holding talks with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, head of the centrist grouping
"Otechestvo" and a leading presidential aspirant, about a possible political
alliance. After the Gaidar-Chubais coalition announced its existence last
Friday (November 27), Kirienko--while not disavowing it, as did Saratov
Governor Dmitri Ayatskov--appeared to back away from it, saying he planned
to form his own political party (see the Monitor, November 30). Unnamed
sources close to Kirienko told "Kommersant daily" that after Kirienko lost
the premiership in the wake of last August's financial collapse, he stayed
in contact and has maintained good relations with Luzhkov. The newspaper
noted that Luzhkov, who has been highly critical of Gaidar's economic
reforms and Chubais' privatization, never actively criticized Kirienko. The
paper continued that Kirienko could serve to "fix up" and "democratize" the
Moscow mayor's image. It said also that Luzhkov had earlier tried to recruit
another young politician, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, but
was unsuccessful. Nemtsov has joined the Gaidar-Chubais coalition
(Kommersant daily, December 1).
Kirienko's defection would deal a potentially lethal blow to the new
center-right coalition, which is planning to contest next year's
parliamentary elections. Chubais, who currently heads United Energy Systems,
the state electricity monopoly, has said several times that Kirienko is the
coalition's natural leader, simply because polling data shows him to be the
most popular among the coalition's leading lights. Oleg Sysuev--first deputy
head of President Boris Yeltsin's administration and another of the
coalition's signatories--said: "We counted very much on Kirienko. If he goes
over to Luzhkov, it means the center-right has died" (Kommersant daily,
...WHILE GAIDAR HOPES TO WIN AS MANY SEATS AS THE COMMUNISTS IN THE NEXT
PARLIAMENT. None of the parties in the Gaidar-Chubais coalition--including
Russia's Democratic Choice, led by Gaidar--managed in 1995 to win 5 percent
of the popular vote, which any given party needs in order to have
parliamentary representation. However, Gaidar, in an interview published
today, noted that, taken together, the parties in the new
coalition--including his own Democratic Choice, former Deputy Prime Minister
Boris Fedorov's "Forward, Russia!" and Viktor Chernomyrdin's Russia is Our
Home (ROH), among others--won 22 percent of the vote. Gaidar noted that this
total equaled that won by the Communist Party and considerably surpassed the
percentage won by the party of his main rival, Grigory Yavlinsky's Yabloko
(Izvestia, December 2). Officials of Russia is Our Home, however, have been
cool, even hostile, to feelers from Gaidar and Chubais suggesting an
alliance. Gaidar himself admitted that ROH is split, and that the majority
within the movement may wind up supporting Luzhkov and his centrist
coalition (Izvestia, December 2).
Meanwhile, "Vlast," Kommersant's weekly political magazine, reports in its
latest issue that Russia's Democratic Choice, along with its allies among
smaller parties and movements in St. Petersburg, have a plan to run Anatoly
Chubais in the St. Petersburg gubernatorial elections in the year 2000.
Chubais would likely go up against Vladimir Yakovlev, the incumbent
governor, who has received a lot of bad press over the last week for not
attending the funeral of murdered State Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova.
According to "Vlast," pro-Chubais forces are viewing the December 6
elections to St. Petersburg's legislative assembly as a kind of dress
rehearsal for a Chubais gubernatorial bid. The magazine also noted that
gubernatorial elections in neighboring Leningrad Oblast are set for
September 1999, but may take place earlier. Earlier this year, Starovoitova
announced her plans to run for governor of Leningrad Oblast after Vladimir
Zhirinovsky, head of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of
Russia, said he would make a bid for the post. Some among the region's
political and financial elites are hoping for an amalgamation of the St.
Petersburg and Leningrad Oblasts, with Chubais as governor of the new
administrative entity, "Vlast" reports. Chubais' bid, however, will likely
be opposed by Yabloko, which, according to "Vlast," played a key role in
Yakovlev's defeat of Anatoly Sobchak in the 1996 gubernatorial elections.
Date: Wed, 02 Dec 1998
From: "Matt Taibbi" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: eXile Press Review
Safire Breaks His Rules
eXile Press Review
by Matt Taibbi
There are plenty of snobs in the American literary scene, but New York
Times columnist William Safire stands out among them in a league all his
own. He is the Michael Jordan of American snobbery, a truly unstoppable
individual phenomenon, a cottage industry unto himself. More than anyone
else in American letters, Safire is responsible for having made
respectability synonymous with being a nitpicking reactionary bore. He has
spent half his professional life correcting America's grammar in his
fiercely pretentious "On Language" column, and the other half mobilizing
public opinion behind his own peculiarly grim, fearful, power-worshipping
vision of humanity-- a vision in which governs that ordinary people should
be compelled to place their faith in a strong executive branch and a
space-based missile system to protect them from dangling participles, teen
sex and communism.
Safire would be just a slightly more loathsome member of a storied class of
tiresome Times pundits were it not for the fact that, unlike the average
Times columnist, he has a tendency to be freakishly, comically inaccurate.
One of his favorite subject outlets for fallacious wrong-headedness is
Russia, about which he writes confidently and often, despite apparently
knowing almost nothing about the place beyond what he reads in the
newspapers. A column he published last week, entitled "What Russia Needs
Now", is a masterpiece of gibberish, and a provides a rare glimpse into the
ugly science of influential modern American commentary.
Judging from Safire's column, high-level punditry is simply a matter of
taking the already oversimplified and sharply biased language of everyday
news reports and using it to fashion a pastiche of incoherent but
convincingly stodgy-sounding opinion. Safire's latest Russia piece was so
bad, in fact, that it violated outright many of his own fabled "Rules On
Writing", that nasal page-long list of dreary literary "absolutes" which
hangs on the bulletin board of every William Buckley-wannabe in America.
Judge for yourself: listed below are a few Safire "rules", followed by the
excerpts from his latest Russia column which appear to violate them.
1. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
Here's the lead from Safire's column:
"WASHINGTON -- During the spring primary elections in Chicago in 1928,
candidates were machine-unned and bombs at polling places terrorized voters.
Desperate to prevent political violence in the November election, the head
of the Crime Commission went to the city's most powerful gangster, Al
Capone, to plead for help.
"Capone, amused and flattered, delivered. With his cooperation, all known
local gunmen of his and rival gangs were rounded up on Election Eve.
Violence was suspended long enough for peaceful citizens to vote; 'not one
election fraud,' marveled the anti-crime chief at the display of Capone's
"In Russia today, organized gangs of criminals are gunning down reform
candidates, honest officeholders and political journalists. The country is
out of the Government's control, and nowhere is political crime more
violent than in St. Petersburg, heart of Russia's democratic reform."
Safire here appears poised to make the argument that the Russian government
should strike a deal with the biggest and baddest of Russia's mafiosi to
help restore order. This is a stupid and uninformed idea, but for the time
being it still makes for a coherent rhetorical argument. However, by the
end of his column, Safire has abandoned the Capone idea--having never
gotten around to showing how it could be repeated in modern-day Russia--and
decided to press a different Prohibition-era Chicago parallel:
"In 1929, at the behest of a Chicago publisher, the newly elected
President, Herbert Hoover, sent in a team of agents to break up Capone's
violent politico-criminal empire.
"Eliot Ness of Cleveland headed an incorruptible force of a dozen
'untouchables.' They nailed Capone not for his murders but on a
white-collar charge of Federal income tax evasion. He died in jail --
'nutty as a fruitcake,' as a gangland visitor reported.
"What happened in Chicago 70 years ago can happen in St. Petersburg with
Russian 'untouchables.' It begins with presidential will."
That's how Safire's piece ends. Having begun with the argument that Russia
should appeal to its own Al Capone to help rescue democracy, he ends by
urging President Boris Yeltsin to choose a crack team of "untouchables" to
COMBAT modern Russia's version of Al Capone. When you start your argument
by prescribing an Al Capone solution and end by offering an Eliot Ness one,
that's mixing metaphors, the equivalent to saying Russia should take the Al
Capone bull by the Eliot Ness hand.
That in this context it is also moronic (ital), that the creation of a
Federally-sponsored "Untouchable" force is impossible in a country where
the Federal government is completely corrupt itself, that the blanket
advocacy of wholly American solutions to specifically Russian problems is a
pointless and absurd exercise anyway, and that President Yeltsin cannot
hope to eliminate Al Capone while he is busy actually BEING Al Capone-
these are merely elements of plain, ordinary bad journalism. But mixing
metaphors, that's something else. You wouldn't expect that of William
2. Avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives.
There isn't a bigger cliché in Russia coverage than "reformer". Safire
leaned on it heavily in his piece, most notably in an un-Safirian display
of sputtering literary aesthetics which appeared to violate the spirit of
another Safire rule:
3. "Verbs have to agree with their subjects".
Here's that line:
"How can we help the embattled reformers in Russia? Certainly not by
pouring more monetary aid down its banking system's drain."
I think even William Safire would agree that it would have been more proper
to write "How can we help the embattled reformers in Russia? Certainly not
by pouring more monetary aid down the drain of their country's banking
system." As it stands, the "its" in the second sentence sounds
uncomfortably like it is supposed to agree with the subject of the previous
sentence, which is the ridiculous but still solidly plural term "embattled
reformers". Of course, this is a minor point compared to the fact that
there are no genuine "reformers" in Russian politics today, and that the
"reformers" Safire describes "hurling defiance at the intimidators"
included a man, Anatoly Chubais, who was caught on tape suppressing
evidence in contract killings. If this isn't a questionable and misleading
use of a journalistic cliché, I don't know what is. Couldn't the great
William Safire have sought viable alternatives?
4. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Here's yet another curmudgeonly chauvinist point made by Safire in the body
of his piece:
"That Prime Minister [Primakov] cannot be bothered with political crime; he
is too busy denouncing America and Britain for daring to threaten Saddam
Hussein, and sending new reactors and technicians to help Iran become a
nuclear power despite feeble Clinton protests. (That's the old spymaster's
way of thanking the U.S. for supplying thousands of tons of free grain to
starving Russians this winter.)"
It's certainly a trend among Western commentators to refer to "starving
Russians", even though, locution-wise, it's a little bit of a flaky
construct. It's flaky because Russians have their own grain stored up from
as long ago as 1993, and have no need for American grain whatsoever. In
fact, the shipment of American grain has been widely reported to be
actually harmful to Russia's domestic food distribution network, as it will
in effect result in price dumping that will hurt domestic suppliers. So
Safire might have been inadvertently right when he said Primakov was
"thanking" the U.S. for its grain shipment. He might, in fact, have been
giving it all the thanks it deserved.
Some parts of Safire's piece were merely ridiculous without specifically
violating any of his "rules":
"Without condescension, we should offer to share with the Russians our
experience in combating organized crime. Our Federal agents and big-city
cops know how mafias corrupt officials, and are wise to the latest computer
techniques in moving hot money to foreign fronts. Some even remember how to
induce rival gangs to "go to the mattresses" and destroy each other. The
point to make to those Russian cops struggling to be honest is that only a
few generations ago America had to break the underworld triangle of corrupt
politicians, thieving financiers and thugs for hire. We learned how to
slice through cozy arrangements by using an elite force recruited outside
Uh…Sure, William. Just tell me which branch of government you'd like to
have recruiting this "elite force", and we'll get right on it. If you mean
President Yeltsin, we'll just be sure to tell the force not to look into
the ownership of his 26% of ORT shares, or into his son-in-law's
appointment to the head of Aeroflot.
The scary thing about all of this is that it is precisely the columns
written by people like Safire which shape American foreign policy. It
should be a source of general concern that so many of them are made up on
the spot, without the backing of any real research, and guided only by the
muddled reports of other journalists. It isn't, of course. At least not as
much as dangling participles, teen sex or communism.
December 3, 1998
Women Navigate Russian Culture
By Tanya Mosolova
Ever noticed that Russians do not shake hands as firmly as people from the
West? That they stand uncomfortably close to their interlocutor during a
conversation, or that they frown at you when you whistle in public?
"We have a lot in common, but it is also obvious that we do have some
differences. And when in a strange country, it is better to know about the
differences in our way of life in order to behave and to work effectively,"
said Olga Dugina at the first meeting of the Navigator mentor program.
The program puts expatriate women in touch with Russian volunteers who help
them negotiate the cultural minefield that is living in Moscow, to avoid
embarrassing faux pas and to promote cross-cultural understanding.
It is one of several projects organized by the Alliance of Russian and
American Women, a nonprofit organization founded in 1991 to help Russian women
succeed in a free market economy.
"So far all the Alliance's programs were aimed at assisting Russian women in
business, but now for the first time we decided to make the movement double-
sided," said Dugina, the project director. "It might be difficult for us to
support foreign women in business, but we can really help them to adapt more
easily to what is an unfamiliar and not always friendly country."
The mentor program pairs Russian women who speak English with foreign women
who are interested in learning more about Russian culture.
The pairs will meet twice a month during the six-month duration of the
program. The first meeting of the month is informal and the second meeting
consists of all the pairs gathering as a group. The informal meetings can take
place anywhere - at the theater, market or banya - depending on the
The group meetings allow all the women to compare notes. At the first of these
get-togethers in November, Russian and expatriate women discussed differences
in the everyday lives and behavior of Russians and Westerners.
"In Russia, the firmness of a handshake does not demonstrate at all the level
of respect to the person," said Dugina, who joined in the discussion.
"Moreover, while not intending to seem aggressive, it is customary for
Russians, especially for women, just to offer their hand without applying much
strength in the handshake."
It also came up in the discussion that Western men are more family oriented
than their Russian counterparts and often have pictures of their loved ones on
their office desks. Russians, though, maintain stronger family ties, the group
said. Grandparents often help rear their grandchildren, and children, in turn,
take care of elderly parents.
It was also pointed out that Russians seldom smile and don't greet their
neighbors when getting on the elevator. But at the same time, they tend to be
devoted and reliable friends.
Although learning about Russian culture and traditions is a large part of the
mentoring program, finding new friends is another bonus.
Kristi Haigh, who came to Moscow from the United States two months ago, said
she saw the program as a good way for her to meet Russian women.
"I don't want to spend the entire time I am in Moscow just associating with
expatriate women, although I certainly want some expatriate friends as well."
The first meeting was very successful, Haigh said. "I think it was a wonderful
experience for the expatriate women, because the Russian women were so warm
and friendly and eager to share their experiences and the differences between
their cultures," she added.
IMF says may help Russia if policies right
By Brian Killen
MOSCOW, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Russia may receive further support from the
International Monetary Fund early next year if the government presents
credible and pragmatic economic policies, IMF Managing Director Michel
Camdessus said on Wednesday.
Camdessus, speaking after two days of talks in Moscow with Prime Minister
Yevgeny Primakov and other officials, gave no clear commitment to future
credits, which Russia says it badly needs to avoid hyperinflation and foreign
IMF experts would return to Russia in January for detailed policy discussions,
Camdessus told a news conference.
"We will be ready at that time, on the basis of proposals of your country, to
see what kind of new steps (will be taken).
"We have many things to do together and there are many domains on which we can
promptly agree," he said, without elaborating.
Primakov stressed the importance of the IMF to Russia as it struggles to
tackle its worst economic crisis in years and restructure a crushing foreign
"The government is optimistic about prospects for this relationship," he said.
A fund official said later Camdessus left Moscow in the evening.
The prime minister invited Camdessus after an IMF mission voiced reservations
about some of the government's plans and a 1999 budget draft which it
described as over-optimistic.
Primakov, 69, who only last weekend dismissed some IMF officials as "kids
who've seen almost nothing in life," said the release of new credits was not
The IMF has been holding up a $4.3 billion loan tranche for Russia since
September pending evidence of fiscal discipline and commitment to reform.
Camdessus said Russia was obliged by the recent crisis to redouble efforts to
keep reforms on track. But he praised the government's determination and
efforts in adverse conditions.
"I salute the efforts of the government," he said. "I am certain we will be
able in the next few weeks and months to arrive at very solid arrangements."
Primakov earlier played down Russia's chances of persuading the IMF to release
billions of dollars in loans. "He has come with a little briefcase of
documents rather than with a huge trunk of cash," he told reporters.
"An exchange of opinions has begun and it would be primitive to imagine he
will decide today whether to release (funds) or not."
Russia, which is also mired in a political crisis as President Boris Yeltsin's
health wanes, says it may have to print money to meet its foreign debts and
pay off state sector wage arrears unless the IMF offers urgent help.
But First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov, a moderate Communist, gave
Camdessus little cause for comfort in an address to the Federation Council
upper house of parliament at the start of a debate on the government's
"The aim of the Russian state and government is social reorientation of the
market economy. The instrument of this reorientation will be civilised state
regulation of the market based on the experience of developed countries,"
"This will frighten the representatives of the IMF and some parts of our
The Kremlin said Primakov had spoken to Yeltsin by telephone and "informed him
of his talks with the head of the IMF, his report to the Federation Council
and contacts with its members."
The president is in hospital recovering from pneumonia and has handed over the
day-to-day running of the economy to Primakov.
Russia's State Duma (lower house of parliament) on Wednesday passed a
resolution demanding Kremlin doctors prepare and present to the chamber a
medical report on Yeltsin's health.
Russia says ``tragic mistake'' to skirt U.N.
OSLO, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Russia took a veiled swipe at the United States and
NATO on Wednesday, saying it would be a ``tragic, fatal mistake'' to allow
intervention in foreign nations without U.N. approval.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told a 54-nation conference in Oslo that
Moscow wanted to strengthen existing mechanisms for bolstering international
security under U.N. rules.
``Claims by certain countries and their alliances to the right to enforcement
action in respect of sovereign states at their own discretion and without
authorisation of the U.N. Security Council are dangerous.''
``It would be a tragic, fatal mistake to set such precedents,'' he said in a
speech on the first day of a two-day meeting of foreign ministers of the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Ivanov did not mention threats by the U.S.-led NATO alliance in October --
opposed by Russia at the United Nations -- to launch air strikes on Yugoslav
targets if President Slobodan Milosevic failed to agree to end a crackdown in
Ivanov said Yugoslavia should be allowed ``full-fledged participation'' in
working out a settlement to the Kosovo conflict. Milosevic agreed to a truce
in October, defusing NATO threats of military action.
About 1,500 people died and some 250,000 were forced from their homes during
the Serb offensive aimed against sepratist ethnic Albanian guerrillas earlier
Russian leaders are wary of endorsing international intervention in civil wars
or ethnic disputes within a single country for fear of setting a precedent of
support for their own breakaway region of Chechnya.
In drawing the difficult line between the international community's
involvement in a settlement and the internal affairs of a sovereign state it
was necessary to pursue just and lasting solutions, Ivanov said.
``It is precisely by this principled approach that Russia is guided in her
approach towards regional conflicts, including those that are 'burning' or
'smouldering' along the perimeter of Russian borders,'' he said.