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Johnson's Russia List


December 31, 1998    
This Date's Issues: 2538  2539  

Johnson's Russia List
31 December 1998

[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: US denies entry to former Russian sell-off chief. (Kokh).
2. David Rowell: Danzer/Lebed the potential Leader?
3. Cameron Sawyer: re Lebed.
4. Dmitri Gusev: Re Danzer/Lebed.
5. Moscow Times: MAILBOX: Western Aid No Help. (Response to Stephen

6. Reuters: Gorbachev has $80,000 frozen in bank, but not broke.
7. Interfax: Over 70% of Russians Interested in Presidential Election.
8. Interfax: Russian Poll: Financial Crash Most Important Event of 1998.
9. Interfax: Poll Shows Primakov Most Popular Politician of 1999.
10. Moscow Times: Leonid Bershidsky, Tax Ministry Records 29% Leap in 

11. AFP: Few St. Petersburg homeless children see comfort on New Year's.
12. The Independent: Helen Womack, Russia's forests in retreat.
13. Interfax: Poll Shows Majority Support Reinstating Dzerzhinskiy

14. Interfax: Lebed Rules Out Cooperation With Luzhkov.
15. TASS Carries Text of Yeltsin Speech on Belarus Union.
16. Interfax: Russia's Foreign Debt To Grow to $145 Billion by 1 Jan 


US denies entry to former Russian sell-off chief

WASHINGTON, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Alfred Kokh, the one-time head of Russia's
privatisation campaign, has been denied entry to the United States, but the
U.S. Immigration and Naturalisation Service declined to give a reason. 
``We did find him inadmissible. He was not admitted and was returned to
Russia,'' INS spokeswoman Barbara Francis said on Wednesday. 
Kokh, who visited the United States earlier this year, tried to enter the
United States through New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on 
Dec. 23, she said. 
The Moscow prosecutor's office said in May it had brought embezzlement
against Kokh, a deputy prime minister until March this year and one of the
highest-ranking figures to be charged with corruption in post-Soviet Russia. 
Kokh served as chairman of the State Property Committee -- effectively the
privatisation ministry -- from September 1996 until he resigned in August 1997
and he headed a programme charged with selling off former Soviet state assets.
Critics say the programme was opaque and poorly managed, allowing a small
group of banks and individuals to take charge of desirable firms in the energy
and metals sector. 
Kokh also came under fire for accepting a $90,000 advance to write a book
about privatisation -- a princely sum in a country like Russia, where millions
are living below the poverty line. 


Date: Wed, 30 Dec 1998
From: David M Rowell <>
Subject: Danzer/Lebed the potential Leader?

I was impressed with John Danzer's earlier comments about Lebed and his
core centrality to Russian affairs, and enjoyed reading his most recent
comments, too (JRL 2537). They are both appealling and also clearly and
well expressed. I guess I'm kinda sorta a Lebed supporter myself, for
what it is worth.
However, I do feel John's most recent message falls into a bit of a
potentially fateful trap. He analyses things not from the ground-zero
perspective of the Russian "man in the street" but rather from the
top-down overview perspective that we are blessed/cursed with having
Yes, I agree, from the same perspective, with everything he says. But -
and it is an important but - are these same issues viewed and understood
in the same fashion by the majority of the Russian populace?
I really think not, and a consideration of the limitations present in
John's reasoning are helpful in understanding some more of what is
happening in Russia at present.
There are two very relevant factors to be considered in trying to
determine what the groundswell mass of Russian people feel about any
given issue :
First, the Russian population is not as closely normed as is the case
here in the US. In the US, we generally tend to share broadly similar
views on life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, etc etc - how many
times have we been told that the differences between Democrats and
Republicans are all but absent! In Russia, however, there is an
incredible range of different lifestyles and value systems and
everything else that goes up into the socio-demographic mix. It is
close to impossible to postulate what an "average" Russian is thinking,
because there is no such thing as an average Russian. A person's
world-view differs widely even between Moscow and St Petersburg, and
hugely between these two cities and anywhere else; a person in the
frozen, abandoned, desolate north-east has nothing in common with a
citydweller, and so on and so forth.
Secondly, the distribution of information in Russia is very flawed.
Quite apart from the extremely partisan editorial stances of the major
mass-media, much of Russia gets little "national" news at all, and that
which they do get has been severely filtered by the biases of whichever
medium is carrying the news to them. The notion that this fictional
"average" Russian is well-informed is sadly incorrect. Most Russians
lack the data to make the semi-rational decisions which we impute to
Thirdly (okay - so I said two!), it is my subjective feeling that most
Russians (and now it is my turn to generalise!) have extremely
compressed compacted spheres of interest. While in the west, we are
interested in saving the whales, carbon dioxide levels in the upper
atmosphere, saving for retirement, the quality of life of future
generations, and indeed, we are even willing to make personal sacrifices
in order for a "common good" (eg pay more for clothes not made by child
labor, etc) all of these factors are prominently and entirely absent in
most Russians. The basic fact is that when you're struggling to find
the money to buy your next dinner, and when you're never sure when your
next pay packet will arrive, or how much will be in it; when you don't
know, when you go home in the evening, as to whether there will be any
power or water or not; in cases like this you're less concerned with
other more broadranging goals and ideals.
This point is, I suggest, seminal in understanding the Russia of today.
People have been beaten down to a semi-apathetic group that is too
cynical and too pre-occupied to consider solutions on the grander
scale. What other reason can be advanced to explain something that
demands explanation in Russia at present (and which I've seen very
little commentary on) - namely, the fact that as time continues to
relentlessly march on, and the notion of a Russian turnaround becomes
more and more distant and less and less credible, with continued
deterioration in personal circumstances, why oh why are the
demonstrations not growing in number? Why aren't the demonstrations
that take place getting larger turnouts? Why has no popular movement
sprung up? etc etc etc Russia is overdue for another revolution. In
the best Sherlock Holmes manner, the absence of this has become a very
relevant, but easily overlooked, fact.
I'd like to see a Lebed-like leader assertively address some of the
issues that currently no-one has dared to address - starting with the
blindingly obvious need to introduce what John so quaintly describes as
"unspeakable" policies so as to repair the rotten core of Russian
society - the police and other power ministries. Things are really
broken beyond all belief when one has more to fear from the police than
from the criminals!
This is also another clue as to the current apathy of the Russian
people. What is the point in changing the people at the top - the
leaders - when the people they interact with - the local GAIshnik, etc -
remains the same? The leaders have little or no relevance to most parts
of most Russians' lives at present. Macro-economic events are being
upstaged by micro-economic events.
My take on the future of Russia (and it is only a wise man or a fool
that pretends to be able to predict the future in Russia, and I have no
pretentions as to being wise!)? I believe we will see Yeltsin stay in
office either until the next election, or until he dies/becomes
unabiguously and completely incapacitated, whichever happens the sooner.
The next President? Mayor Lushkov has a very strong appeal to people
who believe that there is such a thing as a free lunch, a syndrome that
is as much a factor in Russian politics as it is anywhere else in the
world. Gen Lebed has yet to do anything remarkable in Krasnoyarsk, and
so, excepting any unexpected twist of fate, I think my money is on (a)
elections occuring, and (b) Lushkov becoming Russia's third President.
Dinner wagers gladly accepted!

David M Rowell.
(President, Anzac Travel Inc; Principal, Allegro Consulting)


Date: Wed, 30 Dec 1998
From: Cameron Sawyer <>
Subject: re Lebed
To: "Mr. John Danzer" <>,

Dear Mr. Danzer:
I'm sorry but I think you are really off base on Lebed. He is neither as
dangerous nor as popular as you think. He is no kind of fascist and there
is no reason to believe that he will be much less inclined to keep
democratic processes going as anyone else. Russians love legitimacy in
government; just read any good history of the Russian Revolution and you
will see the extent to which even revolutionaries in Russia have always
been obssessed with finding some kind of legal basis for exercising power
(Pipes is very insightful on this). Legitimacy today comes from elections
and hardly anyone questions that in Russia, certainly not Lebed, or even
Lebed is a straight talking guy (slow talking, too) who does not seem to be
bright enough for any kind of fine policy work. He is not a rocket
scientist on economics and tried to do a little price control in his region
during the currency crisis, but even that was nothing dramatic -- he merely
set a temporary limit on the percentage markup from wholesale to retail
prices for items of "first necessity" (mostly basic foodstuffs, soap,
etc.). Big deal. He says very good things about private property, ringing
Jeffersonian stuff about how Russians need to work for themselves and how
Russia needs a class of owners, average people owning property.
The main concern with Lebed is that he may be manipulated by Berezovksy or
someone else behind the scenes, not that he is going to be some kind of
fascist dictator. He talks law and order but not in any kind of fascistic
way. Under Lebed the constitutional rights of criminal accused might take
a step backwards, not a great thing, but there might be a compensating
reduction of corruption.
This is a theoretical discussion anyway, because Lebed does not much
capture the imagination of Russian voters these days. If Lebed becomes a
more serious contender.
It's important to keep the political debate in Russia in perspective. The
apocalyptic tone in Western commentary does not at all correspond to the
reality of the situation. Excluding the extreme fringe parties, the
policy differences between the competing groups are rather subtle. The New
Deal is much cited by the Left and that is really about as far left as
anyone within the mainstream goes. (I am including the KPRF, Luzhkov, and
all the democratic parties in my definition of the "mainstream"; I am
excluding the LDPR, Anpillov's gang, and the various fascists, who together
get less than about 5% of support.) Other than an ugly anti-Semitic
outburst or two from the KPRF, the current poitical debate in Russia has a
surprisingly healthy and serious tone, something evident to anyone living
in Russia, reading Russian newspapers and watching Russian television, but
something you would never understand from the wildly distorted press we get
in the West. 
This may all change if the economic situation gets much worse in 1999 --
and it may -- but so far there does not appear to be any threat at all of
fascist dictatorship, a return to socialism, or civil war. The Russian
people are certainly disappointed with Yeltsin, but that does not mean that
they are ready to abandon democracy or a free market economy. A rerun of
the Weimar Republic sells newspapers, and is easy for hack journalists to
write sitting in their cubicles in New York or Atlanta, but as of today
that is not at all the situation in Russia.
This is not idle academic speculation. I own a business based in Moscow
with about 92 employees. (I am following Masha Gessen's recent request for
contributers to Johnson's list to reveal their positions and personal
situations). If I thought the country was going to blow up, I would
certainly liquidate my assets in Russia and move away. I have looked at
the situation very carefully, and I am putting my money -- literally, and
in fact most of my net worth -- on a muddle-through period followed by a
sustained boom in Russia.

Cameron F. Sawyer


Date: Wed, 30 Dec 1998
From: Dmitri Gusev <>
Subject: Re: Danzer/Lebed

I would like to comment on the latest John Danzer's piece on Lebed.
First of all, Luzhkov may very well have the means to dispose of 
Lebed if the need be, while the opposite appears less likely to 
be true. Danzer does not seem to take that into account in his 
analysis. I disagree with his negative prediction as to whether 
there will be presidential elections in Russia within the next 
10 years. And Lebed may actually have a chance to win the election 
if he survives long enough. I don't think the ordinary Russians 
are quite as afraid of Lebed as the West and the Russian elite
apparently both want them to be.
The second comment is going to be a reply to the following 
statement by Mr. Danzer.
>The REAL problem in Russia is that the United States and other
>Western Nations through the IMF have indiscriminately dealt with a
>ruling elite who are criminals. Can you state the problem in
>simpler terms.
The major part of the real problem is that the ruling elite
in Russia is, indeed, largely corrupt, and its immediate,
short-term goals tend to be in conflict with the long-term
national interests. (Not that Russia's leadership has much
of a strategy. It does not feel safe enough to have one.) 
However, what should be perceived as the right way of 
dealing with that elite depends on the real goals pursued 
by the leadership of the West. That is to say, if the goal 
is to strengthen Russia economically and integrate it in 
the world market as a stable, reliable, and prosperous 
partner, then the Western policy has been an utter failure. 
However, if the actual objective is to weaken Russia so that 
it can no longer maintain its nuclear arsenal, then the policy 
criticized so vocally by Mr. Danzer and many other analysts 
may be not so bad, after all. A comment I overheard on the 
NPR a couple of days ago referred to the deployment of 10 
Topol-M missiles as something that "the world community has 
been anxious to avoid". Now, who is more likely to neglect 
the nuclear program, the current government, or Lebed? 
I submit to you that the current government is already 
neglecting it, hence so ridiculously few new missiles.
I wonder if the older, multi-warhead missiles are as
capable of serving out two or three times the intended
life term as the "Mir" space station, though. Can anyone 
PLEASE comment on that? I understand that many technical
details are secret, but don't we have enough general
information to decide one way or the other?
It appears rather obvious to me that if Russia's nuclear 
arsenal suddenly disappeared overnight, the country
would not be getting much more attention in the West
than Somalia or Cambodia from that moment on.
And if the strategic goal of the West is to rid Russia
of its nukes and forget about it, regardless of what shape 
Russia's economy and population will be in at that point, then 
catering to its current elite and trying to make a scare figure
out of Lebed makes sense. If such a conscious effort is 
being made, and this is not what one would expect to be 
publically acknowledged by the Western officials, 
but Vaclav Havel had hinted that he preferred this
kind of approach, then the policy's being misguided or 
not may very well depend on the technical details of how 
the old missiles were made and whether the expiration of 
their intended life term actually renders them so unreliable 
or disfunctional that they cannot serve much longer. 
I wonder if there is a strong correlation between someone
believing that the West wants to see Russia's economy
recover before the nukes are gone and that person's
opinion on whether Clinton would still have ordered 
the strikes on Iraq without following the proper U.N.
procedure if the impeachment proceedings were not on
the agenda in Congress at that time. 

Happy New Year! 
Sincerely yours,
Dmitri Gusev
Computer Science Department
Indiana University, Bloomington


Moscow Times
December 31, 1998 
MAILBOX: Western Aid No Help 

In response to "Time to Rethink Russia," Dec. 25 
Written by a U.S. resident of Moscow who would prefer to remain anonymous
for business reasons. 

Professor Stephen F. Cohen's article urging U.S. help for Russia would
appear to have been sent to the wrong address. Surely the Moscow-based
readers of The Moscow Times are well aware of the futility of his proposals
for Western aid to Russia, particularly after the International Monetary
Fund's August tranche evaporated in the wake of the government's ruble
devaluation and de facto default. 
Many of Professor Cohen's points strike Moscow ears as strange. He urges
that the West "help Russia locate and repatriate the enormous wealth ...
taken illegally and stashed abroad." Of course, these efforts are well
under way, but professor Cohen's phrasing of the issue would seem to imply
that it is the Primakov government that is actively undertaking the search.
In fact, most of the loot taken from Russia during the past 10 years was
lifted with the connivance of one or another arm of the Russian government
(including Communist parliamentary deputies and government officials), a
process launched in earnest by the Communist Party hierarchy during the
last years of the Gorbachev regime. Today the only serious efforts to
reclaim stolen Russian funds are being advanced not by Russian Communists
but by Western creditors in London courts. 
Professor Cohen's analysis suffers from the same defect afflicting many
left-leaning commentators in the United States, namely the false beliefs
that a) U.S. policy has significant influence on Russia's internal
development and that b) with U.S. assistance, Russia during the Yeltsin era
has followed the path of capitalist reforms. In truth, reform has not
failed in Russia - it has not yet been seriously tried. Western aid has
merely made it easier for Russia to avoid real reform. As has been pointed
out by Clifford Gaddy and Barry Ickes, the country's "virtual economy" does
not function like a free market. It is largely a continuation of the Soviet
economic system in which capital allocation bears no relation to the
creation of economic value and in which value-destroying industrial
mammoths continue to receive huge subsidies (now disguised as tax and
inter-enterprise arrears) from an impoverished society. 
Western aid agencies and policy-makers bear some blame for participating
in this ruse, but it is one that also took in many sharp-eyed investors.
Yet, long after bankers and investors abandoned these illusions, Western
commentators such as Professor Cohen continue to cling to the erroneous
view that Russia today has a capitalist economy. A visit to a few randomly
selected Russia factories would quickly dispel this notion. What is perhaps
harder for Russia's friends in the West to abandon is the idea that there
exists a Russian national institution capable of articulating a coherent
vision of Russia's national interest and pursuing it with vigor and
effectiveness. In other words, the sad truth is that the West cannot help
the Russian nation because there is no Russia nation to help. 
Of course, the Russian people exist (more or less), but few Russians or
foreigners resident here would argue that the Russian state is today
capable of devising policies or allocating resources in accordance with any
sort of social-democratic notion of national welfare. As long as the
leaders avoid true economic reform and fail to collect taxes, the lion's
share of monetary and fiscal resources will in all likelihood continue to
be siphoned from the nation by corrupt politicians and by politically
well-connected industrial managers. 
Ultimately, it is only ordinary Russians themselves who can undo the mess
created by Soviet mismanagement and post-Soviet non-reform. The prognosis
is not encouraging. Although one may sympathize with Professor Cohen's
democratic socialist hopes for Russia, such intentions have no more
connection with today's Russian social realities than those in the days of
Nikolai Bukharin, the "rightist" Bolshevik of the 1930s profiled in a
famous study by Professor Cohen. 
The vast majority of Russians have little or no interest in political
parties, programs or, indeed, in political activity of any kind. For this
reason alone Russia is unlikely - despite the astonishing sufferings of the
population - to see the emergence of a reformed Communist or
left-alternative party (as has occurred in Poland) that respects private
property and governs in an economically responsible manner - for example,
respecting the independence of the nation's Central Bank. 
The comparison with Poland highlights the ultimate cause of Russian
cynicism and political passivity. In contrast to Communist Poland's
Solidarity movement and independent Catholic Church, in Soviet Russia every
independent social institution and all associative behavior was thoroughly
crushed by the Bolsheviks and their successors. Consequently, today's
Russians, unlike their democratic and increasingly prosperous Polish
neighbors, perceive no self-standing civil institution or organization that
can offer them something approaching real participation in the affairs
governing their lives. 
Aside from a few well-publicized but poorly attended Communist rallies,
the Muscovite never hears about a party gathering or political assembly;
rarely does one even hear a discussion of politics. 
To the foreigner, Russian social behavior appears to be governed by the
deeply ingrained view of social activity as a series of one-off, zero-sum
games in which each secures benefits at the expense of the rest, and
particularly at the expense of the government, which, after all, has
decimated the population's savings several times this century and twice
this decade alone. 
In the end, it is the Russian nation that plays the sap in the great game
of beggar-thy-neighbor characterizing most aspects of Russian life today.
Sadly for Russia and for the world, so long as the national pastime remains
the arbitrating of the state, "Help for Russia" will be little more than a
futile slogan. 


Gorbachev has $80,000 frozen in bank, but not broke
By Adam Tanner

MOSCOW, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has $80,000
of his own money and a large amount of his research foundation's funds frozen
in an ailing Russian bank but he is not on the brink of bankruptcy, an adviser
said on Wednesday. 
``He is in the same situation as many other people whose money, whose
have now been kind of thrown into question,'' said Pavel Palazchenko, a long-
time adviser to Gorbachev who also acts as a spokesman. 
Palazchenko contacted Reuters to counter media reports that Gorbachev was
``We don't want the impression to be given that he has been left without any
personal funds,'' Palazchenko said, adding that Gorbachev had $80,000, just
part of his overall savings, in a hard-hit bank. ``He is working on trying to
recoup that money, but that does not mean that that is the only money he
Millions of Russians suffered when the country's banking system came to a
halt on August 17, and many depositors are still trying to recover their funds
months later. 
Asked whether Gorbachev's stature as the statesman who freed Eastern Europe
from Soviet domination had helped him recover his money, Palazchenko said:
``No, no, not at all. He is working with lawyers in order to have this thing
In an excerpt from the German newspaper Express, Gorbachev added: ``We are
still hopeful and are taking necessary measures to succeed in getting these
funds back. I've turned to well-known Russian lawyers and they are helping
Palazchenko said Gorbachev, who is largely ignored at home where he is
for the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, is a big draw during his travels
``He has not been left penniless because even after the crisis of August
17 he
has made some trips abroad where he gave some lectures, had some money paid to
him,'' he said. 
He can earn $75,000 or more for lectures and earned about $150,000 for
appearing in a Pizza Hut advertisement that aired earlier this year, which he
said he did to help finance his think-tank. 
Ironically, after the August crisis Pizza Hut announced that it would close
its two Moscow restaurants. 
``He is not a person who will not be able to earn enough money for, you
making a decent living,'' said Palazchenko, who served as Gorbachev's
translator during historic summits with U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and
George Bush. 
Gorbachev also published a new history book in Russian this week, which
for $1 and has an initial print run of 10,000. It will be published in English
and German later. 
Palazchenko declined to say how much Gorbachev Fund money had been frozen
said operations had been hurt. 
``A lot of the salaries have not been paid on time to people in the
foundation, including myself,'' he said. 
Gorbachev vowed that his foundation, which sponsors seminars and research,
would carry on its work. 
``This financial blow was especially noticeable because this year we have
begun building a new building for the fund and the perestroika archives and
library,'' Gorbachev said in the Express interview. ``Nonetheless the fund
will continue work and fulfil all its programmes.'' 


Over 70% of Russians Interested in Presidential Election 

MOSCOW, Dec 26 (Interfax) -- Over 70% of potential voters expressed an
interest in the presidential elections slated for 2000, Director of the
Sociology and Parliamentarism Institute Nugzar Betaneli told InterfaxSaturday.
The number of supporters of leader of the Communist Party Gennadiy
Zyuganov grew from 14% in December 1997 to 18% this month, Betaneli said
referring to an opinion poll of 6,000 Russians.
Should presidential polls be held today, Yabloko party leader |13% of
votes, up from 8% last year, according to the survey. Moscow Mayor Yuriy
Luzhkov's popularity rose to 10% from 8% a year before.
Four percent of Russians would choose Prime Minister Yevgeniy Primakov
among presidential candidates. Three percent of the respondents are ready
to vote for former Prime Minister Sergey Kiriyenko.
Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed suffered a drop in popularity
from 10% last year to 7% in December 1998. The number of voters ready to
back Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev fell from 4% to 3% in the past year. 
The rating of Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskiy
remained unchanged at 4%.
Public support for Viktor Chernomyrdin, formerly prime minister and
today leader of the Our Home is Russia political party, declined from 2% to
1% during the year. Less than 1% of Russians would vote for former First
Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, down from 6% in December 1997.
Seven percent of Russians would vote for other candidates. Around one
third of those polled denied liking any politician.
Furthermore, 5% would vote against all candidates. Ten percent of the
respondents said they would not vote and 15% were in doubt.


Russian Poll: Financial Crash Most Important Event of 1998 

Moscow, Dec 28 (Interfax) -- Most Russians, 82% of the population,
consider the outgoing year to have been more difficult than the preceding
one, up from 79% of the citizens of the USSR who said this in 1988,
according to an opinion poll of 1,600 Russians conducted by the Public
Opinion Fund on December 18-22.
Just 3% of those polled consider the outgoing year easier than 1997,
down from 7% ten years ago. Fifteen percent said both years were similar,
up from 14% ten years ago.
Asked to single out three events of crucial importance in 1998, 43%
named the August 17 financial crash, 32% -- the murder of State Duma deputy
Galina Starovoytova, and 30% -- the growing inflation.
One fourth of those polled singled out air strikes against Iraq, 22%
the introduction of new Russian rubles, 16% the dismissal of former Prime
Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's government and formation of Sergey
Kiriyenko's government, and 15% the dismissal of Kiriyenko's government and
formation of current PM Yevgeniy Primakov's government.
Furthermore, 14% of Russians named the spring and summer strikes of
coal miners and the blocking of railroads throughout the country among the
events of the year, 13% -- the Lewinsky scandal involving U.S. President
Bill Clinton, 12% -- the bankruptcies of major Russian banks and 10% the
preparation of the impeachment procedure against Russian President Boris
Yeltsin in the State Duma.
Abductions of journalists and foreign citizens in Chechnya and the
Treaty on the Belarusian-Russian Union received 9% votes each.
Eight percent of the respondents stressed the importance of burying
the remains of Russia's last tsar and his family in St Petersburg and the
election of Aleksandr Lebed to the post of Governor of Krasnoyarsk.
Withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya, the Ruslan jet air crash
and the explosion at a coal mine in the Kemerovo region were named major
events of the year in 1997.


Poll Shows Primakov Most Popular Politician of 1999 

Moscow, Dec 24 (Interfax) -- The Russian people consider Prime
Minister Yevgeniy Primakov to be the most popular politician of 1998, the
Public Opinion fund told Interfax Thursday.
This conclusion was drawn on the basis of an opinion poll involving
1,500 urban and rural residents, held on December 13. No list of
politicians was offered and a total of 40 politicians were named.
The chart was led by Primakov, named by 19% of those polled.
Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov (10%), Yabloko leader Grigoriy Yavlinskiy
(6%) and Communist party leader Gennadiy Zyuganov came next.
Three percent of those polled supported ex-prime minister Sergey
Kiriyenko and 2% of the respondents' votes went to Governor of Krasnoyarsk
territory Aleksandr Lebed, to the murdered State Duma deputy Galina
Starovoytova and to leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia
Vladimir Zhirinovskiy.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin and ex-prime minister Viktor
Chernomyrdin were named by just one percent of the respondents and found
themselves last in line.
Back in December 1996, Russian citizens were asked the same question
and named Aleksandr Lebed, Yuriy Luzhkov and Boris Yeltsin as the most
popular politicians; in 1997 Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, Yuriy
Luzhkov and Boris Yeltsin topped the popularity chart.
Indicatively, the status of "man of the year" is traditionally given
to a politician which is moved to the forefront by the president in a
period of crisis. Lebed and Nemtsov quickly lost their popularity. In
1997, Lebed moved from first to seventh place in 1997 and in this year got
sixth place. Nemtsov, the most popular politician of 1997, was mentioned
only five times this year.
But Yuriy Luzhkov has won second place in the "politicians of the
year" chart three times in a row.


Moscow Times
December 31, 1998 
Tax Ministry Records 29% Leap in Revenues 
By Leonid Bershidsky
Staff Writer

The Tax Ministry announced Wednesday that the federal government's tax
revenues jumped 29 percent in November. 
The ministry said it had collected 18.1 billion rubles ($876.5 million at
Thursday's official rate) for the federal budget with about 70 percent in
cash and the rest in various kinds of offsets and barter deals. 
But one economist said the increase in tax collection was illusory. It
was not that taxpayers were suddenly realizing their civic responsibility
or tax inspectors inventing some radically new collection methods. Rather,
seasonal factors and high inflation contributed to the revenue growth. 
"These figures do not seem unusual," said Maria Gorban, an analyst with
the Russian European Center for Economic Policy. "In November and December,
tax revenues always go up because of the way the tax system works. But
spending always increases even more than the revenues by the end of the
Inflation also undercuts the increase. The November figure was 24 percent
higher than the same month last year, but this was actually a fall in real
terms. Prices in 1998 have risen by about 80 percent. 
The Finance Ministry on Wednesday announced that it paid out about 10.3
billion rubles in December to cover salaries to public sector workers,
servicemen and police. It also transferred 3 billion rubles to the Pension
Fund to cover its debts to retirees and doled out 4.2 billion in aid to
regional budgets. The last figure was 30 percent higher than in November. 
The Finance Ministry says it will make regular announcements of its
payments to regions to put pressure on them to transfer the funds to
budget-sector workers rather than use the money for other purposes. 
According to Gorban, the increase in tax collection compared to last
year's level was mainly due to a jump in inflation that followed the Aug.
17 ruble devaluation. 
"Tax collection always grows in the immediate aftermath of high
inflation," Gorban said. 
The ruble closed at 20.65 to the dollar Wednesday in the final morning
trading session of 1998 on the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange. That
represents a 70.1 percent drop from the rate of 6 rubles per dollar at the
start of the year. 
Inflation is expected to reach about 60 percent in 1998, erasing much of
the value of the budget's tax revenues. 
The federal and regional budgets together received 51.7 billion rubles in
taxes in November, the Tax Ministry said. 
Value-added tax accounted for 24 percent of total tax revenues, profit
tax brought in 18 percent, income tax and excises accounted for 14 percent
each, property tax amounted to 10 percent and th erest came from other
assorted levies. 


Few St. Petersburg homeless children see comfort on New Year's

MOSCOW, Dec 31 (AFP) - At least 17,000 homeless Saint Petersburg children will
greet New Year's, Russia's most-awaited holiday, in freezing cellars and
Only ten percent of that number have lost their parents, Anatoly Zheleznev,
head doctor of the Tsimbalin hospital -- the only one to serve orphans in
Russia's second city -- told ITAR-TASS news agency. The rest have simply been
Those 32 children who will meet the new year in the hospital are the lucky
Many of them have never received a traditional present for New Year's. Most
also do not enjoy the luxury of heat in winter, comfort, and clean clothes.
Hospital workers teach children to read and write in addition to treating
their illnesses and injuries.
Around one million children are estimated to be homeless in Russia, which
a population of 148 million, according to Interfax news agency, citing figures
from a conference on the protection of children.
Among factors contributing to homelessness are divorce resulting in one
losing residence privileges, confidence tricksters who cheat people out of
their homes and a growing number of under-age runaways.
Another factor is that the government has been unable to provide housing for
needy individuals like those who grew up in state-run orphanages and those
recently released from prison.
Russia's current economic crisis has only increased the number of abandoned
As for the orphans in the Tsimbalin hospital, the Saint Petersburg city
administration and the Petersburg Tradition Fund have provided toys and food
for their New Year's presents 
Some of the luckier patients are even taken for excursions around the Baltic
city at the mouth of the Neva river.
"The children don't recognize the city. They've only seen fences and
and not luxurious palaces," for which the city is famous, Zheleznev said to


The Independent
30 December 1998
[for personal use only]
Russia's forests in retreat
By Helen Womack in Moscow 

Seizing the moment when Christmas trees are in the public consciousness, the
Russian branch of Greenpeace has launched a campaign for more rational use of
the forests that are potentially one of Russia's greatest assets. 
At present they are wasted and the forestry industry joins most other
in depression and crisis. Absurdity begins at the Christmas-tree markets that
have sprung up in Moscow and other cities so that Russians can take home the
traditional yolka (fir) for New Year celebrations. The former Soviet Union
occupies a sixth of the world's land surface and much is covered by
evergreens. Yet the best-shaped firs at the Moscow market are from Denmark and
cost $50 (31) a metre, a month's salary for the average Russian. 
"We could grow our own trees much more cheaply but we are badly organised,"
said Igor Babanin, of Greenpeace. "The Danish farm their firs as the Dutch
grow tulips. We do have a few evergreen plantations in the Moscow region but
most Russians prefer to steal from nature than to buy." 
Last New Year, Igor patrolled commuter trains with forestry inspectors and
fined citizens coming into town with illegally felled firs. "Most of the
people were innocent. They had bought the trees from cowboy operators. They
are the real menace. They go into the forests and cut down far more trees than
are needed. Then, after New Year, piles of firs are left rotting in the
The waste in the Christmas-tree trade is only part of the story. The state,
desperate for revenue, loses vast sums each year because of the way it taxes
the forest industry. This month, Greenpeace activists tried to climb on to the
roof of Rosleskhoz, the state organisation that supervises the industry, to
highlight the problem. But they were brought down by pistol-toting security
In most countries, tax is paid when a tree is cut, regardless of how the
is to be used. In Russia, the cutting goes untaxed, as dues are supposed to be
paid later, when the wood is processed. Dishonest or financially strapped
firms underestimate the amount of processing and less tax reaches the state
Timber is valued by the Finnish tax man at $50 per cubic metre and even east
European trees are worth $10. 
But the cutting tax in Russia is 50 cents per cubic metre. "It is a hangover
from Communist times, when the blessing of nature were supposed to be free to
Soviet man," said Alexei Yaroshenko, a Greenpeace biologist and forest expert.
"But it makes no economic sense. Some members of the State Duma saw our
protest on television and came to talk to us. They were working out the 1999
budget and were interested in our arguments." 
In all likelihood, Russia's tax anomalies will be ironed out over time. If
that was the only problem, Greenpeace could be confident. But the organisation
is raising the alarm over the disappearance of the forests themselves. 
"Russia is such a big country that we have believed its resources were
infinite," said Mr Yaroshenko. "The truth is very different." Greenpeace is
particularly concerned about what it calls ancient forests, in other words
those that have never been touched by man. It is frightening how few are left.
In northern regions of Russia, such as Archangelsk, Komi and Karelia,
only 12
per cent of the woods have grown naturally for centuries, while the rest are
"secondary forests", poorer woods growing where old trees were cut down. "If
we continue logging at the present rate, all the ancient forests this side of
Siberia will be gone in 10 to 15 years," said Mr Yaroshenko. 
The consequences of forest loss in Russia, just as in the Amazon and other
parts of the world, will be devastating. Not only do the original forests
contain millions of types of flora and fauna but they also regulate the
world's climate. When destroyed, they release huge amounts of carbon, which
heats up the atmosphere. Greenpeace says the remaining ancient forests should
be left alone and secondary forests and plantations should be better managed.
With recycling technology, there is no reason why forests that have grown for
1,000 years should be cut down to make toilet paper. 
One piece of news inspires Greenpeace this holiday season. After seeing the
organisation's satellite maps of the world's dwindling ancient forests, the
Svetagorsk pulp and paper mill, run by Swedes on Russian territory, became the
first in the world to pledge to stop using wood from such forests. 
"It's a drop in the ocean, but it's a start," said Mr Yaroshenko. "Go to
supermarkets and DIY stores and demand that the products they sell are not
made at the cost of our last natural heritage." 


Poll Shows Majority Support Reinstating Dzerzhinskiy Statue 

Moscow, Dec 27 (Interfax) -- Russians on the whole back the recent
initiative of the State Duma, the country's parliament, to return the
monument of the Soviet Russia's first special service pioneer Felix
Dzerzhinskiy to the Lubyanka Square in the capital's down town. In a poll,
the Duma's recommendation was approved by 45% and disapproved by only 36%
of respondents.
Sponsored by the Obschestvennoye Mneniye or public opinion fund, the
mid-December poll involved an estimated 1,500 urban and rural residents
across Russia.The most zealous advocates of the statue's return to Lubyanka
rural dwellers (53%), people with incomplete secondary school education
(54%), and folks loyal to the communist leader Gennady Zyuganov (64%),
opposed mainly by people with higher education (47%), backers of the Moscow
Mayor Yuri Luzhkov (50%), and especially Muscovites themselves (53%).


Lebed Rules Out Cooperation With Luzhkov 

Moscow, Dec 25 (Interfax) -- Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Lebed has
ruled out cooperation with the Fatherland movement created by Moscow Mayor
Yuriy Luzhkov.
"It is impossible because the people are not the right ones and the
absence of [cooperation] prospects is not linked to ideologic or political
motives," Lebed told Interfax.
The Honor and Fatherland movement led by Lebed will run in the State
Duma elections.
Lebed said his presidential bid will depend on "the people's need for
him." "I have not felt the urgency so far. When I feel it, we will talk ,"
he said.He described the 1999 budget plan as balanced. The government
produced a budget based on projected revenues while parliamentarians use
political and populist considerations. "The Federation Council will finally
adopt the parameters proposed by the government despite the initially
negative reaction," he said.


TASS Carries Text of Yeltsin Speech on Belarus Union 

Moscow, 25 Dec -- The president of the Russian Federation, Boris
Yeltsin spoke today at the signing ceremony of the declaration of further
unification of Russia and Belarus. This was reported by the head of
state's press service.
We are transmitting the full text of the speech as received by ITAR-TASS:
Esteemed Alyaksandr Ryhoravich!Esteemed ladies and gentlemen!
We have just witnessed a truly historic event. A declaration on
further unification of Russia and Belarus has been signed. This document
opens a new page in our relationship. It embodies the aspirations of our
countries and peoples to come together. Two other important documents were
signed -- a treaty on equal rights of citizens and an agreement on creating
equal conditions for enterprises. Moreover, all the documents were signed
by the presidents.
Over a short period of time we have moved from a commonwealth to a
union. Now we have moved to a new stage: We are addressing the question
of voluntary unification in a union state. I think we have, rightly, much
to be proud of in this result. We have selected the form for deepening
integration. It has proved its viability and effectiveness.
Today, we can completely justifiably say that the efforts to unite the
material and intellectual resources of our countries are bearing fruit. We
started by eliminating commercial, customs, and frontier barriers. Now we
are moving toward the creation of a multi-layered structure of a single
economic space. Russians and Belarusians today do not feel themselves as
foreigners in our states. Their social rights have been made equal in many
respects. The union has allowed us to act more closely and successfully on
the international scene and to cooperate in the field of defens andsecurity.
Our countries are entering the 21st century in a new guise,
confidently moving together toward a union state. This is fully in tune
with the aspirations of the peoples of Russia and Belarus."


Russia's Foreign Debt To Grow to $145 Billion by 1 Jan 1999 

Moscow, Dec 25 (Interfax-FIA) -- Russia's foreign debt will grow to
$145 billion by January 1, 1999, Russian Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail
Kasyanov said in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station Friday [25
December].Of this sum, the former Soviet Union's restructured debts amount to
$103 billion and Russia's new debt, accumulated since 1992, to $42 billion,
he said."Russia's new debt will not be restructured," he added.
He said that the new debt includes Russia's debts to the International
Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and
Development. "Russia is to repay $4.5 billion on these debts next year,"
Kasyanov said.
The new debt also includes loans extended to Russia by the governments
of foreign countries, 70% of which were provided by Germany, plus the
repayment and servicing of Eurobonds, the debt on which amounts to about
$16 billion. Russia is to repay about $2 billion on Eurobonds in 1999,
Kasyanov said.He said that Russia is servicing Eurobonds fully and on time.
"Tomorrow we shall necessarily repay the coupon on 30-year bonds, which
mature on December 26," he said.
Next year, Russia will be able to service no more than $9.5 of its
foreign debt. This sum includes the servicing of the entire new debt and
the repayment of part of the interest on the debt left by the former Soviet
Union, Kasyanov said.



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