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Johnson's Russia List
17 January 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Bleeding ulcer puts Yeltsin back in hospital.
2. AFP: Russia facing massive "millennium bug" problem, says official.
3. Washington Post: By W. Bruce Lincoln reviews William Odom's
THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET MILITARY.
4. Chicago Tribune: Colin McMahon, THE REHABILITATION OF
5. The Sunday Times (UK): Mark Franchetti, Russian priests get rich on
back of big business.
6. Renfrey Clarke: THE KILLING OF LAKE BAIKAL.
7. AFP: Russia admits it failed in fighting organised crime.
8. Moscow Times: Igor Zakharov, BOOKWORM: New Rich Not So Different
9. Ilvi Jõe-Cannon: Re Valentin Rasputin’s interview/3010.]
FOCUS-Bleeding ulcer puts Yeltsin back in hospital
By Alastair Macdonald
MOSCOW, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin was rushed into
hospital on Sunday with an acute bleeding stomach ulcer, Kremlin officials
By evening he was stable and even cheerful, aides said.
But the latest dramatic health setback for the 67-year-old leader
fuelled new calls for him to stand aside well before his term is due to end in
the middle of next year.
Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Yakushkin said the president felt unwell
morning and was taken into Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital where an urgent
gastroscopic examination was performed. He would be confined to bed for at
least a few days.
Independent medical experts said the condition, possibly brought on by
frequent aspirin tablets taken to ease Yeltsin's heart problems, could keep
him in hospital for at least a week and possibly several. If drugs failed to
cure the problem, surgery could be required, which would prolong his recovery.
Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who has been effectively running the
for months as Yeltsin has struggled to get over an earlier bout of illness,
said the president's new problems posed no threat to national stability.
``No extraordinary situation has arisen in the country due to the
illness,'' he told Itar-Tass news agency.
Yet the relapse after a few weeks of seemingly better health was sure to
increase pressure from opponents and ambitious former allies for him to step
aside, even though he has vowed to see out his term.
``It could strengthen the argument for an early presidential election,''
hardline Communist Viktor Ilyukhin told Ekho Moskvy radio. ``It's no secret
the president's ill, and seriously ill.''
Only last week, the ambitious mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, long a Yeltsin
ally, said it might be time for him to go.
The Russian government has shown on numerous occasions in the past that
cope without Yeltsin for long periods, despite a constitution that places vast
powers, including the world's second nuclear arsenal, in the president's
Primakov, the 69-year-old former spy chief and foreign minister, has been in
effective command since Yeltsin appointed him in September to appease the
A spokesman for President Bill Clinton summed up that sanguine view in the
first U.S. reaction to Yeltsin's illness.
``As the Kremlin indicated last year, Prime Minister Primakov continues to
handle the day-to-day affairs of the government,'' White House spokesman P.J.
The Communist speaker of the State Duma, the lower house, called on
sign formal control of the army, police and foreign affairs over to Primakov
for as long as he was unwell.
But Yakushkin said no such measures had been taken.
Primakov returned to Moscow on Saturday evening after a trip to Siberia,
he vowed to honour Russia's debts despite the financial crisis that brought
down his predecessor in August and remains the biggest headache facing the
He is due to attempt to get his 1999 budget through a second reading in
parliament on Tuesday, despite a warning from the International Monetary Fund
on Friday that the draft was not sufficiently realistic to persuade the IMF to
extend new loans.
Yakushkin played down the severity of Yeltsin's illness. ``This morning he
didn't feel too great and the doctors decided hospitalisation was necessary,''
the Kremlin press secretary said in televised remarks. ``He's upset, as anyone
would be. No one would wish to start a new year in hospital.''
But went on: ``He sounds cheerful, and he wants to get over this illness as
fast as possible and get back to work.''
Michael DeBakey, the pioneering U.S. surgeon who advised on Yeltsin's
1996 heart bypass operation, told Reuters the president had previously
suffered a similar ulcer and that the latest one should not cause more
problems for his heart.
DeBakey said Yeltsin's overall health was ``pretty good.''
The president had appeared to be regaining his strength after nearly
collapsing on a tour of Central Asia last October.
At the end of last month his doctors lifted the travel ban they had imposed
after that incident and he announced plans for a state visit to France on
January 28-29. Yakushkin said Yeltsin would discuss the visit with French
President Jacques Chirac.
But the trip would now seem unlikely to go ahead, joining a long list of
broken engagements abroad that is sure to place a question mark over the role
he can play in future diplomacy.
On Thursday, Yeltsin cancelled what were to have been his first meetings in
the Kremlin since the New Year holidays.
Yeltsin has been plagued by ill health since suffering a mild heart attack
days before he was re-elected in July 1996. Doctors blamed the stress of a
campaign in which he came back from nowhere to outflank his Communist rival.
Surgeons performed a quintuple heart bypass in November of that year in a
to restore the president's vigour and save a second term that seemed to risk
Yet within weeks he was felled by pneumonia and, as Russia has sunk deeper
into economic chaos unleashed by attempts at market reforms, he has played an
increasingly intermittent role.
Should the president be completely incapacitated, Primakov would assume his
powers for three months until an election.
Russia facing massive "millennium bug" problem, says official
MOSCOW, Jan 17 (AFP) - Russia faces huge problems ensuring its missile systems
will not be affected by the so-called "millennium bug" computer problem, ITAR-
TASS on Sunday quoted a senior official as saying.
Alexander Krupnov, head of the State Committee for Communications and
Information, added that fixing the computer problem could cost the country
1.5-3 billion dollars, up to six times his original estimate.
"Entities such as the defence ministry face great difficulties from the
viewpoint of all types of missiles," the news agency cited Krupnov as saying
after a Russian-US investment symposium in the United States.
"The technologies they have are 20 years old," he said, adding that "time is
running out" to fix the problem ahead of the year 2000.
Scientists warn that obsolete computer chips or software could mean that
systems will fail in 2000 because dates ending in "00" will be interpreted as
the year 1900, triggering potentially crippling errors in logic.
Analysts say the so-called "Y2K" problem could have devastating consequences
for ballistic missiles, early warning defence systems and nuclear power
stations, but none of the experts know for certain what exactly will happen on
When Russia launched its own "Y2K" programme last July, Krupnov said Russia
would need to spend some 500 million dollars overhauling its computers and
But western officials warn Moscow has been slow to recognize the embedded
microchip issue, involving tiny processors that perform vital control
functions in a vast array of equipment, including cellular telephones, fax
machines, heart pacemakers, monitoring equipment in nuclear plants, pipelines,
radar and missiles.
Krupnov said government departments were due to report shortly on their
progress in updating their systems.
His gloom contrasts sharply with the public serenity of defence chiefs.
Strategic rocket force commander Vladimir Yakovlev last month said solving Y2K
would cost his forces just 10 million rubles -- less than half a million
"The general feeling is that the situation is not as bad as they say and
there's no point in getting worked up about it," Mikhail Salnikov of the
Compulog computer magazine told AFP last week.
17 January 1999
[for personal use only
Book World book review
Shooting Themselves In the Foot
By W. Bruce Lincoln
Review of THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET MILITARY
By William H. Odom
Yale. 523 pp. $35
Reviewed by W. Bruce Lincoln, the author of 11 books about Russia and the
Soviet Union, the most recent of which is "Between Heaven and Hell," a
history of Russia's artistic experience.
The collapse of the Soviet military marked a defining moment in modern
history. For decades this military colossus had stood as the indisputable
defender of Lenin's vision, and its privileged position had testified to
its vital role as an instrument of Soviet foreign and domestic policy. To
the military alone the post-World War II Soviet Union owed its superpower
status. And yet, in the six short years of Gorbachev's rule, the Soviet
military fell apart. It "melted," William H. Odom writes, "like the spring
ice in Russia's arctic rivers."
How did this happen? And why? To answer those questions is the purpose of
Odom's study, and as a longtime student of Soviet military affairs, a
former director of the National Security Agency, and the present director
of national security studies at the Hudson Institute, he is well-equipped
to take up that task. The result is far and away the most impressive
treatment of the subject yet to appear. No other single volume rivals the
thoroughness of Odom's account or equals the complexity of his analysis.
>From beginning to end, the force of his argument challenges his readers to
think in new ways about one of the most complex phenomena of modern times.
Especially after World War II, the military dominated Soviet thinking,
policy and society. Communist ideology demanded that everything be
subordinated to the military, and insisted that no price was too high to
pay for preserving it. For it was the military that kept the Soviet
multinational state from fragmenting into its disparate parts. And, just as
the military shielded the Soviet state from internal discord, so it also
defended the state against foreign attack. As the preeminent expression of
Von Clausewitz's observation that war is simply the continuation of
politics by other means, the military served as the key instrument for
expanding the Soviet empire and furthering its policies abroad. Its armed
forces were the largest and arguably the most powerful in the world. Its
nuclear arsenal was by far the largest, and it was controlled by men who
believed, as Odom writes, "that nuclear war was winnable and that nuclear
use made good military sense."
And yet, by the mid-1980s, the military had become a force that crippled
every aspect of Soviet life. Bloated beyond belief and paralyzed by
corruption, the military failed as policymakers in Afghanistan and became a
prime source of resentment at home. Anxious to move beyond the stagnation
that had soured Soviet life during the Brezhnev era, Gorbachev decided to
cut military expenses. To do so, he launched a serious effort to improve
relations with the West in the belief that large-scale disarmament could be
made possible by effective arms control. That required him to limit the
Soviet Union's ability to make war. And that eventually obliged him to
abandon the ideological foundations that underlay the legitimacy and
purpose of the Soviet state.
By the mid-1980s, there was surprising agreement among the Soviet elite
that excessive military expenditures lay at the root of their nation's
troubled economy. But neither they nor Gorbachev understood that, as the
Soviet Union faced new challenges from the nationalities held by force
within it, the policy of demilitarization would lead to the destruction of
the Soviet system. Therein lay the ultimate tragedy of the Gorbachev era.
"There was no way to retreat and no clear way to go forward without
yielding to the centrifugal forces emerging in the national republics,"
Odom writes. But with the weakened military that had been brought about by
Gorbachev's efforts to reallocate Soviet resources, there was no way to
defend the Soviet Union against those forces. Unwittingly, Gorbachev had
undermined what every leader since Peter the Great had known was Russia's
key to empire. Without its armed forces, the Soviet state had no chance to
And so the military -- the singular buttress of Soviet power, ideology
and policy -- collapsed. Odom sees in that event far-reaching implications
for the future, for he views Russia as now having "the first real
opportunity in modern times to break out of a cycle of structural
conditions that have kept it from the path of liberal political and
economic development." In that context, he argues, the key question now
remains whether the military "again becomes a substitute for law and the
foundation of Russia's sovereignty and stability" or whether it "becomes
the guardian of a constitutional state based on a market economy, popular
political participation, and guaranteed individual rights." The former
would return Russia to the path it has trod since at least the days of
Peter the Great. The latter could lead Russia to capitalism and a Western
But the historical factors shaping this choice are even more complex than
Odom argues, for before the constitutional state, market economy, and
popular political participation can appear, they will have to overcome at
least five centuries of political experience that is pushing Russia in the
opposite direction. Russia's masses are not accustomed to serving their
nation. Except for a brief moment at the beginning of this century, their
historical experience has never encouraged the development of that sense of
civic responsibility which is essential to the proper functioning of
democracy. With one or two brief exceptions, Russia has been throughout its
history a nation of petty-minded, self-serving interest groups, upon which
reform and change have never been imposed successfully except by autocratic
rulers from above.
In the past, the alternative to a strong and determined ruler with the
power to impose change in Russia has been a society fragmented to the point
where all sense of national interest has been lost. We are seeing that
again today in the conflicts within the Duma and in the confrontations
between the Duma and Yeltsin's government. And so the solution to the
dilemma that Odom poses at the end of his book remains uncertain, and we
cannot yet tell whether Russia will follow the old path or a new one. At
the moment, the forces of time and history seem to argue for the old path.
If that turns out to be true, then Odom's brilliant study will become a
handbook for Western military planners and policymakers who need to know
what forces have shaped Russia's military and what principles will
determine its behavior in the future. But whichever way the future turns,
this book will be essential reading for everyone who wants to understand
why America's Cold War rival acted the way it did and what caused that
opponent to become a colossus with feet of clay.
17 January 1999
[for personal use only]
THE REHABILITATION OF TAMERLANE
By Colin McMahon. Colin McMahon is the Tribune's Moscow correspondent.
SAMARKAND, Uzbekistan -- The first picture in the book "Amir Temur in World
History" does not show Amir Temur, the legendary Central Asian warlord
known in the West as Tamerlane. Nor does the second. Nor the third.
In fact, none of the opening photos of this government-approved
hero-ography features the image of the 14th Century conqueror. Instead,
they show the current president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov.
At first blush, Tamerlane and Karimov hardly make a natural pair. One
was a nomadic adventurer and empire builder, not to mention a frightful
butcher. The other is a former Communist Party climber described as
cautious and pragmatic.
Yet Tamerlane serves Karimov today as a kind of poster boy for unbending
leadership. And both men are riding high.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Tamerlane has been rehabilitated as
a symbol of Uzbek pride, never mind that he was not Uzbek but a Mongol
Turk. The nation is counseled to turn to him for inspiration, almost
paradoxically, even as it struggles to build a modern economy, a civil
society and a political system with a whiff of democracy about it.
Monuments honor Tamerlane in the Silk Road city of Samarkand, where his
tomb is a tourist draw. In Tashkent, in a spot where a statue of Karl Marx
once stood, a somewhat European-looking Tamerlane sits on a very
European-looking horse. A gleaming museum, built in record time by three
shifts working around the clock, propagates the Tamerlane myth.
Karimov, meanwhile, is always somewhere in the picture, his wisdom and
image sharing space with Tamerlane's.
"If somebody wants to understand who the Uzbeks are," Karimov said in
words immortalized on the Tashkent museum walls, "if somebody wants to
comprehend all the power, might, justice and unlimited abilities of the
Uzbek people, their contribution to the global development, their belief in
the future, he should recall the image of Amir Temur."
What image depends on who does the recalling.
Amir Temur was born April 8, 1336, near Kesh, what is now Shahrisabz in
southeastern Uzbekistan. His father and grandfather were devout Muslims,
and at an early age, he was sent to religious school.
The history that follows is more open to interpretation.
Many independent scholars see in Tamerlane a lust for power, conquest
and blood. They point not only to Tamerlane's remarkable military campaigns
and an estimated death toll of as many as 17 million people but also to his
"The inhabited quarter of the world isn't such a place that two men can
claim," Tamerlane is said to have said. "The only creator of the world is
God, so there should be only one king in the world."
The Tamerlane coffee-table book counters reassuringly that its hero "had
no intention to take possession of the world." His subjugation of what are
now Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, southern Russia, Syria, India
and elsewhere, like his final, unrealized campaign to China that ended with
his death in 1405, were driven mostly by a desire to help the oppressed and
build civilizations, the book claims.
The book indicates he was also a great thinker (experts say he probably
was illiterate), and a pocket version of "The Utterances of Amir Temur"
(with, naturally, an introduction by Karimov) collects his wisdom along the
lines of Mao Tse-tung's Little Red Book.
"In ruling the country, I was guided by gentleness, goodwill and
patience," is one utterance.
The dead of Baghdad, whose skulls were built into pyramids by
Tamerlane's soldiers as a message to other future subjects, might have
quibbled. So too the Indians. Tamerlane's armies massacred much of the
population when they took Delhi in 1398, but in the coffee-table book, the
India campaign is said merely to have been "full of adventures."
If Tamerlane's ways are sometimes misunderstood, if his excesses
exaggerated, Karimov says he can relate.
The Uzbek political opposition has been whittled to irrelevancy through
harassment, repression and media censorship. Devout Muslims are detained or
jailed without charges amid a campaign that Karimov says is aimed at
controlling Islamic fundamentalism.
Karimov scrapped the last presidential election by putting forth a
referendum proposal to extend his term. He got 99 percent of the vote in
favor, and here is why: Those who wanted to support the president merely
had to turn in their ballots unmarked. Those voting against the proposal
were made to take a ballot from government officials supervising the vote,
then go into a special "no" booth to mark the sheet. There were few takers.
Karimov dismisses complaints. His heavy hand, he says, is employed to
ensure economic justice and to pave the way for democracy.
"I understand that some forces are anxious to present Karimov as a
dictator," he said. "I agree that some of my actions seem authoritarian.
But I can easily explain this:
"In historic periods, especially when a people attains statehood or in
transition periods from one system to another, a strong executive power is
indispensable. It is necessary to avoid confrontations and bloodshed."
Tamerlane knew about historic periods, about strong executive power,
about bloodshed. Despite suffering battle wounds--his name in the West
comes from Temur the Lame--he built a vast empire encompassing competing
ethnic groups and warring khans and emirs.
He also forcibly gathered the best architectural and design talent of
the time to turn Samarkand into a treasure. Its mosques remain a marvel, as
does the Tamerlane mausoleum.
Nearby is a huge monument of Tamerlane seated on a throne. In a city
thousands of years old, in a land where most traditions date back
centuries, a new custom has been born.
Newlyweds and their wedding parties gather at the site for photos,
taking turns in groups to huddle at Tamerlane's knee and smile for the camera.
The Sunday Times (UK)
January 17 1999
[for personal use only]
Russian priests get rich on back of big business
by Mark Franchetti
LIFE as a parish priest has been good to Alexei Novikov. A former policeman,
he now spends his weekends at a dacha in an affluent Moscow suburb. He has
close friends in the business world and keeps his pager on even during prayer
Novikov, 45, has had to make some sacrifices. He recently gave up his white
Mercedes for a Volga after parishioners complained about his lavish lifestyle.
However, priests are coming under greater pressure from the top of the
Orthodox church to mend their materialistic ways. Last week Patriarch Alexy
II, its highest authority, said he could no longer remain silent about "the
bad influence on some of our priests. This is a sinful display of egotism,
self-confidence, vanity and superiority over others due to a wealth which is
often earned in an illegal and criminal way".
Indignant at such behaviour when half the population was living below the
poverty line, the patriarch scolded parishes with black market contacts
seeking to legalise their business through the church.
As it rebuilds itself after 70 years of communist repression, however, the
church has not shied away from the less than holy world of Russian business.
Dioceses across the country have formed a variety of lucrative business
One of the church's largest known earners is MES, the International Economic
Partnership, a large oil exporter. Co-founded by the finance department of the
Moscow patriarchy, which owns 40% of its shares, it has an annual turnover of
President Boris Yeltsin granted the church tax breaks that enabled it to
receive imports of spirits and tobacco marked as "humanitarian aid" which it
sold, duty-free, through middlemen. In 1996 the church imported one in every
10 cigarettes sold in Russia, and netted an estimated £6m from the sales of
alcohol and cigarettes.
Alexy II was forced to put an end to the privileges after the trade became
public, but its finances remain a closely guarded secret.
"In terms of its leadership and secrecy, the Russian Orthodox church is the
most Soviet of all Russian institutions," said Larry Uzzell, of the Keston
Institute in Oxford, which monitors religious freedom in eastern Europe. "The
place smells of money but it is useless to ask where it's coming from."
Officially, the Russian Orthodox church denies involvement in most of its
business activities by claiming that its financial branches are separate. Last
August, Archbishop Iov, the highest representative of the Russian Orthodox
church in the city of Chelyabinsk, received death threats from criminals
believed to be pressing him for a cut of the church's commercial operations.
"What we have now is a church born out of the KGB," said Gleb Yakunin, a
dissident priest and gulag survivor who was defrocked by the church.
Date: Sat, 16 Jan 1999
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Renfrey Clarke)
Subject: Lake Baikal
#THE KILLING OF LAKE BAIKAL
#By Renfrey Clarke
#MOSCOW - There are not many places in the world where you can
leave an industrial plant in operation, and doom hundreds of
species of plants and animals to extinction. One such place is
Siberia's Lake Baikal.
#Under the impact of human intervention, a 1995 report by the
Institute of Biology at Irkutsk State University concludes, the
lake's unique ecosystems are likely to vanish from its southern
basin by the year 2010. Unless action is taken to radically
reduce flows of industrial, agricultural and municipal waste into
the lake, the report predicts, the majority of close to a
thousand species of plants and animals that are endemic to Baikal
- that is, exist nowhere else - will eventually die out.
#Findings such as these helped prompt the United Nations agency
UNESCO in 1996 to add Lake Baikal to its World Heritage list. But
this recognition that preserving the lake in its natural state
ranks as a priority for humankind has cut no ice with Russia's
industrial lobbyists. Nor has it impressed Russian President
Boris Yeltsin, who in July 1997 vetoed a law ``On the Protection
of Lake Baikal'', drawn up on UNESCO's urgings and passed almost
unanimously by the Russian parliament.
#As a result, the lake's defenders are now waging a new campaign:
to have Baikal added to UNESCO's list of ``World Heritage in
#Baikal is a place to exhaust the dictionary's stock of
Part of a rift system that in the view of some geologists is an
incipient ocean, it first appeared 25 million years ago. It is
the world's oldest lake, and at 1637 metres, its deepest. With a
volume of 23,000 cubic kilometres, it holds 22.5 per cent of the
fresh water on the earth's surface.
#A striking feature of the lake's biology is the large proportion
of endemic species - according to some counts, as many as 80 per
cent. The flora and fauna make up two relatively distinct
ecosystems: a common European-Siberian community inhabiting the
shoreline and shallows, and a unique Baikal community found in
the open waters. The latter community has evolved over millions
of years in highly distinctive conditions - exceptionally pure
water with an impoverished but delicately balanced mix of
nutrients. It is this chemical environment, and the organisms
that have developed in response to it, that make the place what
it is: Baikal, rather than simply another cold-temperate northern
hemisphere lake. While most of Baikal is still remarkably clean
by usual standards, relatively tiny chemical changes can favour
the common Siberian over the endemic species, and have drastic
#The significant human impact on Baikal dates back about 45
years. Now, the once-pure waters along the southern shore are
unfit for swimming, and the endemic organisms are in retreat. The
creatures affected are not merely phytoplankton, but also fish
whose taste receptors and hence foraging behaviour have been
seriously disrupted by pollutants. Other victims of anthropogenic
changes may include the lake's unique fresh-water seals. In May
and June 1997 stretches of the coastline were littered ``like
battlefields'' with seal carcasses.
#The first serious pollution of Baikal came in the mid-1950s from
industrial development and population growth along the Selenga
River, the largest of the streams that flow into the lake. Then
in the mid-1960s the building of a hydropower dam on the Angara
River, which flows out of Baikal, raised water levels, flooding
shoreline areas and adding to the load of pollutants. In the
decades since, logging in the lake's catchment area has also
played a role.
#The greatest impact, however, has come from the Baikal Pulp and
Paper Plant (BPPP), in operation since 1966 near the town of
Baikalsk on the lake's southern shore. With a workforce of 3300,
the BPPP mainly produces cellulose pulp for tyres and for the
paper and packaging industries. In recent years, as much as 80
per cent of its output has been exported.
#Pulp and paper manufacturing was an almost unbelievably bad
choice as an industry for the shores of Lake Baikal. The plant's
effluent, more than 200,000 cubic metres of waste water per day,
is equivalent to that from a city of half a million people. To
bleach its cellulose, the BPPP uses an outmoded process involving
elemental chlorine. The products of this process include
organochlorides, chemicals that do not occur in nature, and many
of which are highly dangerous. Among the most lethal of the
organochlorides in the BPPP wastes are dioxins, long-lived
compounds that in almost infinitesimal quantities play havoc with
animal immune and reproductive systems. Other substances in the
effluent include lignin, phenols, sulphates, nitrates and
#From the start, the plant's treatment facilities have been
unable to cope with the wastes. According to the Irkutsk province
Committee for Nature Protection, the discharges in 1996 exceeded
legal limits for 12 out of 19 indices - in the case of
organochlorides by 84,000 times, and for organic sulphur
compounds, by 1300 times. An additional problem has been the flow
of contaminants into the lake via a huge lens of polluted
#As far back as the early 1960s, Soviet biologists were outraged
by the plans to construct the plant. In the 1970s the threat to
Baikal provided much of the impulse for an important growth in
the country's environmental movement. In 1987 pressure from
environmentalists led to a decision by the Soviet government to
reprofile the plant, converting it to non-harmful production,
within five years.
#Nothing, however, was done. In 1992 the government of the
Russian Federation reconfirmed the decision to reprofile the
plant. But in December 1992 the BPPP was privatised. With 51 per
cent of the stock nominally in the hands of the workers, the
plant was now effectively controlled by its managers. Forcing
changes in its products and processes was accordingly more
#By this time, after more than 25 years in operation, much of the
plant's equipment was morally obsolete or physically worn out.
Unwilling to reprofile the plant - with unpredictable economic
consequences for themselves - and without the massive capital
needed to modernise it, the managers chose a third course: to
continue as before, defended by supporters in the state
bureaucracy. Meanwhile, accidental waste emissions due to worn-
out equipment became increasingly frequent.
#By this time also, the BPPP was in gross breach of Russian
environmental protection legislation. Plying favours in the
Irkutsk provincial administration, however, the plant directors
were able to persuade a ``conciliation committee'' to minimise
the penalties. A more serious threat to the directors appeared in
late 1995, when a government commission on Baikal was due to
discuss the future of the plant. The directors weathered this
storm with the help of a commission from UNIDO, the United
Nations economic development organisation. Made up almost
entirely of representatives of the logging and pulp industries,
the UNIDO commission stated in its final report: ``Due to the
fact that, at present, no harm to Baikal is done by the Baikalsk
plant, we recommend modernisation....''
#The plant directors could not, however, prevent UNESCO from
adding Baikal to its World Heritage list in 1996. At the time,
the United Nations agency presented the Russian government with
six recommendations that the Russian authorities agreed to
fulfil. These measures included the passage of a Lake Baikal law;
conversion of the pulp and paper plant; the cessation of logging
in the area; and improved monitoring.
#The law on Baikal was adopted by the lower house of the Russian
parliament by a vote of 393 to 1 in June 1997. Approval by the
upper house followed soon afterwards. The law broke new ground
for Russian environmental legislation by introducing the
principle of ecological zones; in the central zone, all
environmentally unsafe activity was to be banned. President
Yeltsin vetoed the law on July 21, his staff claiming that it
conflicted with existing legislation. Roman Pukalov, Baikal
Campaign Coordinator for the environmental organisation
Greenpeace Russia, told journalists: ``In our opinion, the very
same industrial lobbies which for years have interfered with the
preparation of this law are responsible for the president's
[veto].'' The law has now been redrafted, and the revised version
passed a first reading in the parliament in November 1998.
#In other areas where UNESCO called for changes, progress has
either been scant, or the situation has continued to deteriorate.
Real financing for the nature reserves and national parks around
the lake has declined in recent years by around 50 per cent. The
BPPP continues to operate, and its accident rate has risen.
Active logging continues on the northern and eastern shores of
the lake, and the pollution load in the Selenga River has
increased. According to Greenpeace Russia, the monitoring system
operated on the lake by the Russian Hydrometeorology Committee
has ``practically collapsed due to lack of funds.''
#Although the decline in monitoring has made data more sparse, it
is clear that the position of the endemic Baikal organisms is
worsening, with typical Siberian species making steady advances.
Dangerous pollutants have now reached high concentrations in
animals near the top of the food chain. ``One of the highly
disturbing factors which suggests that the lake's ecosystem is
close to a catastrophe,'' Greenpeace Russia has pointed out, ``is
the discovery of high concentrations of organochloride substances
in the bodies of Baikal ringed seals.'' Dioxin levels in the
tissues of Baikal seals are now similar to those found in seals
in the badly polluted Baltic Sea. While the immediate cause of
the mass deaths of seals in 1997 was a distemper-like viral
disease, Greenpeace's Pukalov believes that the underlying cause
was probably damage by pollutants to the seals' immune systems.
#During recent months the campaigning by Russian
environmentalists around Baikal has focused on court action and
on pressuring UNESCO to place Baikal on its ``World Heritage in
Danger'' list. With help from Russian State Committee on the
Environment head Viktor Danilov-Danilyan, the Irkutsk province
Committee for Nature Protection has now brought an arbitration
court suit against the BPPP. This suit seeks to invoke
legislation under which polluters can be compelled to pay for
cleaning up the environmental damage they inflict. A hearing in
the case has been set for April.
#The cost of the damage by the BPPP over the past four years
alone has been estimated at the equivalent of US$3.5 billion. A
court victory for the environmentalists would thus force the
plant into bankruptcy. As a bankrupt enterprise, it would again
be under state control, and forcing its reprofiling would be
#With their campaign to have UNESCO list Baikal as an endangered
site, environmentalists are seeking to increase the pressure of
international opinion on the Russian authorities. The World
Heritage Committee discussed the question of the listing at a
session in Japan early in December. Largely on the basis that a
law on Baikal was before the Russian parliament, the committee
agreed to postpone a decision until next June.
#Even if the World Heritage Committee recognises that Baikal is
under threat, there are no guarantees that the Russian
authorities will act to convert the BPPP to environmentally safe
production. Environmental consciousness has never made much
headway among Russian bureaucrats, and the BPPP managers have the
backing of what Greenpeace Russia describes as ``a bizarre love
quadrangle'' consisting of the Irkutsk provincial administration,
the State Forestry Service, various federal agencies, and
representatives of academic science.
#Overcoming this opposition would be much easier if defenders of
Baikal could point to obvious sources of the money needed to
reprofile the plant and save the jobs of thousands of workers.
Seeking the funds from the Russian government is almost certainly
futile. This indicates that if Western governments take
environmental protection and the World Heritage seriously, they
have an obligation to advance special-purpose credits.
Note: this text is available for unrestricted reproduction. Please credit
to Green Left Weekly, Australia
Russia admits it failed in fighting organised crime
MOSCOW, Jan 15 (AFP) - The Russian interior ministry on Friday admitted police
had failed in the fight against organised crime and set political and economic
crime as their main targets for 1999, news agencies said.
"Despite adopted measures, the police failed in its fight against organised
crime which undermines Russia's foundation by crawling into all levels of the
power structure," ministry officials said Friday, according to a message to
employees quoted by the Interfax news agency.
"Crime is rising in all countries. Criminals have become tougher, more
aggressive, more resistant to the authorities and are even prepared to kill
police officers," the text read.
Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin said the ministry's main task this year
would be to maintain order ahead of legislative elections in December and a
presidential vote in the summer of 2000, Itar-Tass reported.
Thewministry will take measures to prevent political crimes, Stepashin said.
Russia was shocked by the November assassination of influential Saint
Petersburg deputy Galina Starovoytova just days before a local election, in a
slaying many political figures called a "political crime". No one has been
arrested for the killing.
The ministry also set the fight against economic crime as a goal,
the need to combat corruption, which is rampant at all levels including the
top layers of government, Stepashin said.
The ministry also plans to fight alcohol smuggling. In 1998, more than 3,000
illegal vodka plants were dismantled and more than 4.5 million decalitres of
ethyl alcohol was confiscated, the ministry's press service said, quoted by
"Since the August financial crisis, offences, especially thefts, have
increased," and the trend is expected to continue, Stepashin told Russian
"The people must stop fearing the police, otherwise we will never be able to
put an end to crime," he said.
During the period January-November 1998, police registered more than two
million crimes and misdemeanors, vice-minister of interior affairs Vladimir
Kolesnikov said in early December.
January 16, 1999
BOOKWORM: New Rich Not So Different From Old
By Igor Zakharov
In the early 1900s, a petty entrepreneur cheated Nikolai Varentsov, a
Moscow merchant, out of a substantial sum of money. The victim decided not to
Several years later, after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the swindler
brought the impoverished Varentsov, whose family was near starvation, a sack
of food that he had received from an American relief organization. He then
asked for forgiveness.
The deed saved several lives and made it possible for the elderly
record, in the early 1930s, voluminous reminiscences about his business
ventures and private life in tsarist Russia.
The manuscript was kept under the sofa by his descendants for 50 years
then submitted to a Moscow archive. Nearly 20 more years passed before the
memoirs were released, in November, by the Novoye Literaturnoye Obozreniye
publishers. The 850-page illustrated book "Slyshannoye. Vidennoye.
Peredumannoye. Perezhitoye" ("What I Heard, Saw, Thought and Experienced") is
on sale at larger bookstores for 50 to 60 rubles, or less than $3.
There are scores of political, literary and artistic memoirs in Russia about
the late 19th - early 20th century. But there are fewer than a dozen
noteworthy books written by national businessmen.
This new offering by Varentsov will certainly become one of the most
sources of firsthand information about business life in tsarist Russia on the
eve of the Revolution. It has detailed and useful commentaries, several
indexes and can justly be deemed a serious publication.
It is also a good read for the curious layman: well-written, light, with
of charming details about the everyday life of Russian merchants of the "first
guild" - the richest ones.
One cannot help but compare the professional behavior and personal traits of
those people with those of the "New Russians." I could not find much
The very first person we meet in the book, one Nikolai Kudrin, is the
first boss and chairman of the company he works for, located next to the Stock
Exchange on Ilyinka Street. Kudrin saw nothing wrong in leaving a business
presentation with somebody else's hat, explaining that his own was too old. He
also picked up a pair of someone's galoshes, "because it was wet outside."
And as for the marriage of private business and state power, here is one
story: A group of merchants from a Russian town approached Konstantin
Skalkovsky, a high-ranking official at the Railways Ministry. "We want the new
track to go through our town. Here is 10,000 rubles that nobody will ever know
"Double the sum," answered Skalkovsky, "and you can talk about it
From: "Ilvi Jõe-Cannon"
Date: Sat, 16 Jan 1999
Dear Mr. Johnson,
I would like to make some comments on writer Rasputin’s interview with
Viktor Kozhemyako (JRL 3010, item 6), but I request that you WITHHOLD my
e-mail address from being released. You can disclose my name as the
author of the remarks. I think the reasons for this request will become
I understand Valentin Rasputin’s pain and outrage over the suffering of
his people. I myself have been in similar circumstances. But in the
course of coming to the defense of Russians, whose history is filled with
tragedy, indeed, he makes some serious errors unbecoming to a man of his
erudition and accumulated years of wisdom.
He defines fascism as “extreme chauvinism, dictatorship of one people
over another”, and goes on to ask: “Is there anything at all in our
history or in the character of our people ... to provide grounds for
accusing them of fascism?” Yes, there is Mr. Rasputin. Brushing aside the
historic fact that for centuries Russia was an empire, and empires by
definition are an extensive territory comprised of a number of nations and
ruled by a single supreme authority, let us simply take a closer look at
the mid-20th century. I suppose Stalin did not conspire with fascist
Germany when he entered an alliance with Hitler’s regime in 1939. After
the Red Army invaded the Baltic states, Moscow initiated arrests, tortures,
killings and deportations of the native populations. (At this point, I think
I should insert that by birth I am Estonian, my family fled the country
during the war and ended up in the US, whence I have returned to live in
It is difficult to understand these actions by the neighbors from the East
as “supremely tolerant, having made supreme sacrifices, and supremely
beneficially disposed toward other peoples even to their own detriment.”
Then there is also the example of Finland. Finland’s leaders refused to
capitulate to the ultimatum given by Moscow in 1939. What happened?
Moscow attacked Finland and the brutal Winter War ensued. I think
attacking another people qualifies for inclusion in the general rubric of
“dictatorship of one people over another.” The latter act even gained
Soviet Union the distinct honor of being the only country to be thrown
of the League of Nations. I have already the feeling, Mr. Rasputin, that
you want to point out to me the distinction between Russia and the Soviet
Union, and I, therefore, reply, I know, I know ....
Nevertheless, in practice, there was not much difference between the
Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Only in degrees of brutality, but
russification policies occurred under both. My mother started school in
Estonia under Tsar Nicholas. All her life she talked about how she never
could master that Russian alphabet and thanked God that Estonia became
independent before her schooling was finished. Her grandparents were
and although Tsar Alexander emancipated them, they could not buy a farm
unless they became members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Interesting
that this condition was attached. People in Estonia, including the
peasants, had been Christians of the Lutheran persuasion for centuries,
that good Tsar evidently was concerned about everybody’s salvation in his
empire. Wasn’t that it? Or was it 19th century pan-Slavism, as
historians generally tend to interpret these actions? When a belief or
an ideology is forced by one people on another, it suggests to me
Mr. Rasputin handles the question of anti-Semitism in Russia
dispassionately and I think it should be discussed dispassionately, as
should be done with any subject. He identifies the core of the problem
as “the principle of being “chosen””. Perhaps it’s the translation, or my
own penchant, but principle doesn’t quite cut it. “Myth” sounds more
appropriate and I’ll explain why, later. Mr. Rasputin declares that
Russian people “would never accept the right to impose one people’s will and
taste on others, the expectation of the world’s special gratitude for just
being there.” Oh, how quickly memories can fade! Mr. Rasputin has already
forgotten the agonizing efforts by the Baltic peoples to regain their
independence from Moscow rule during Gorbachev’s era. No way was Moscow
going to allow them to become independent.
I’m afraid that Mr. Rasputin fails to see Russia’s incursions and captives,
because he is a victim of a myth himself, namely the myth that Moscow is
the third Rome. Although he considers the myth of the chosen people as
an explanation for Jews’ behavior, he fails to see - or at least, he does
not state it - that his own people may be governed by a myth. I suggest to
Mr. Rasputin that he study that “third Rome” myth and help his people to
understand that they do not have a special mission from God. Most
nations have myths, epics, sagas that give spiritual strength and a sense of
unity to a people over ages. Who is to say whose is better? It is
though, when that myth fails to respect other people. The result is the
kind of history my comments contain - or, for that matter, the conditions
that now prevail in Russia.
Russians’ myth wanted to destroy the identity of my people. At times,
Moscow propaganda even called Estonians “fascists”. Do you remember
that, Mr. Rasputin? And when the first stirrings for freedom manifested
themselves in the late l980’s in Estonia, and my cousin hung outside his
home the Estonian tricolor, as did many people, two Russian women, passing
the house, noticed the flag and one said to the other, “Fascists live in