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30 January 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. AP: Judith Ingram, TV Satire Skips Over Yeltsin.
2. Reuters: DAVOS-U.S. says Russia IMF deal key for stability.
3. Itar-Tass: Lebed to Keep Clear of Association of Regional Leaders.
4. RFE/RL NEWSLINE: Donald Jensen, IS RUSSIA ANOTHER SOMALIA?
5. Moscow Times: Robert Devane, IMF-Russia Symbiosis
6. Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Roy Medvedev, Yeltsin and Primakov.]
TV Satire Skips Over Yeltsin
January 29, 1999
By JUDITH INGRAM
MOSCOW (AP) -- Two years ago, the satirical Kukly television program marked
Boris Yeltsin's birthday with an episode showing the ailing president far from
the corridors of power, dressed in pajamas and absentmindedly playing with
This year, the Yeltsin figure isn't even putting in an appearance on the
weekly puppet show that has lampooned the president consistently since its
November 1994 premiere.
Once a central character, the Yeltsin puppet has been conspicuously missing.
``In his absence, Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin is like a figure of silence in
the theater,'' said Grigory Lubomirov, the program's producer. ``The person
isn't there, but everyone's constantly talking about him.''
Yeltsin, who turns 68 on Monday, has become almost an invisible player in
Russian politics. He has suffered several heart attacks and underwent
quintuple bypass surgery shortly after winning reelection in 1996.
Most recently, he's suffered repeated respiratory illnesses and a bleeding
ulcer, which have kept him out of public sight for increasingly long periods.
Many Russians find Yeltsin, with his unpredictable and sometimes clownish
behavior, an embarrassment. And they note that the man who so dramatically
championed Russia at the beginning of his first term has practically no
achievements to show for his second.
``He considers himself a sort of father of the nation, though I think he's
much more a father of the power pyramid, because the nation does not want
Boris Yeltsin any more, as numerous ratings show,'' political commentator
Alexei Pushkov said.
Yeltsin has conferred the responsibilities of daily government on Prime
Minister Yevgeny Primakov and confined himself mostly to formal, written
statements on protecting Russia's constitutional freedoms.
But every so often, he dramatically demonstrates the powers he still
by firing prime ministers or simply shooting down political initiatives
through aides. And by all accounts, he's determined to hold onto those powers.
``When it comes to Russian politics -- to the Russian economy, to the social
dimension, to foreign policy -- Yeltsin is almost absent,'' Pushkov said. ``So
this is the paradox: He is still an important part of the power game, (yet)
he's almost not a part of either Russian politics or economics.''
Many argue that Yeltsin's continued grip on power is blocking any chance of
change, and that in his weakened state he is incapable of leading Russia out
of its deepest economic crisis since the 1991 Soviet collapse.
A ``sick president means a sick country and a sick economy,'' the Itogi
said last week.
Still, Russians seem to have grown accustomed to Yeltsin's absences, and his
illnesses no longer spark a frenzy of speculation over whether or not he'll
``Just as in the old story about the little boy who cried wolf, it's
the point that no one's rushing to strike the president off the page -- too
often, such a hurry has turned out to be premature,'' the Kommersant daily
This month, Yeltsin had a chance to prove the point again when Primakov
floated a compromise proposal to stabilize Russia's political situation ahead
of parliamentary elections in December and next year's presidential ballot.
Some media interpreted the proposal as an attempt by Primakov to protect
himself and further sideline the president.
The proposal called for lawmakers to halt their impeachment attempts and
Yeltsin immunity from prosecution after his term ends in mid-2000, and for
Yeltsin to promise not to dissolve the Duma or dismiss the Cabinet.
Yeltsin rejected it.
Lubomirov, the Kukly producer, said Russians could forgive Yeltsin his
``purely human weaknesses.''
``But some things can't be forgiven, especially when they affect the
dignity of the country,'' he said.
DAVOS-U.S. says Russia IMF deal key for stability
DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 30 (Reuters) - The United States on Saturday urged
Russia to work with the international community on ways to ensure continued
support from abroad as it struggles to emerge from economic turmoil.
``The whole world has an enormous stake in the success of the Russian
in stability in Russia,'' U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers told
a news briefing at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps.
He said Washington was ``very much aware'' of the dire economic situation in
Russia and of the growing difficulties Moscow faces in living up to its debt
``But ultimately, the stability has to be grounded in strong policies that
ensure that any resources provided are well used,'' Summers said.
``We believe the best appproach from here is for Russia to reach an
with the (International Monetary) Fund on a framework in which the resources
can be well used,'' he said.
``That will maximise the prospects for stability in Russia and that needs to
be, and I believe it is, an enormous focus of the Russion government,'' he
An IMF mission is currently working in Moscow on an annual review of the
economy and an assessment of policies which might serve as the basis for a new
credit programme from the IMF.
The IMF last year put together a $23 billion international rescue programme
for Russia, but the country's economic situation has deteriorated rapidly
since. Russia needs additional funds to help repay $17.5 billion of debt this
Lebed to Keep Clear of Association of Regional Leaders.
KRASNOYARSK, January 30 (Itar-Tass) - Krasnoyarsk regional governor
Alexander Lebed says he would keep clear of the association of regional
leaders proposed this week by Konstantin Titov, governor of the Samara
"I go it alone," Lebed said at a press conference in Krasnoyarsk on
Titov proposed a party on regional leaders to go into Duma elections due
this year, but they have no chances, Lebed said.
He said regional leaders are elected governors or else members of the
Federation Council, or the upper house of parliament, with leverage on
political and economic decisions that are important for Russia.
And people will not believe that they are willing to leave the
parliament's upper house to go into the Duma as "ordinary deputies", Lebed
If the plan spells some list of nominees the regional governors are doing
to back in the Duma election campaign, "this is from the Evil One and will
not carry through", he said.
Lebed called for a stop to privatisation. He said time has come for
Russia "to stop" privatisations "to think over what we have come to".
He said over eight years of Russia's reforms, "we have implemented a
string of not most appropriate of acts".
Russia needs a transition period to "pause and think whether we shall
create a new revolutionary situation when a huge mass of hapless people
will simply go against submachine-guns".
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 18, Part I, 27 January 1999
IS RUSSIA ANOTHER SOMALIA?
by Donald N. Jensen (email@example.com)
The author is associate director of RFE/RL broadcasting.
"Upper Volta with missiles" is how some foreigners
described the USSR shortly before its demise, an
allusion to the great disparity between the former
Soviet Union's vast nuclear arsenal and its lagging
economy. While Russia's economic miseries have hardly
eased since then, the inability of the Russian state to
carry out its core functions--the preservation of public
order, the maintenance of a monetary system, tax
collection, and income redistribution, and the provision
of minimal social welfare--invites comparison with
developing countries such as Somalia, Haiti, and
Liberia, where the nation-state has failed. Moreover, it
is the collapse of the Russian state, not the breakup of
the federation or economic depression, that may in the
long run prove the greatest threat to Russian democratic
development and international stability.
In a recent paper, Thomas Graham, senior associate
at the Carnegie Endowment, argues that a key trend in
Russia over the past decade has been the fragmentation,
decentralization, and erosion of political and economic
power. To some extent, this is a result of the policies
pursued by Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin as well
as of global trends. But it has also been both an effect
and a cause of the economic decline those policies
precipitated. While in Africa the collapse is primarily
the result of inter-tribal factionalism, in Russia it is
the by-product of bitter inter-elite rivalries, greed,
and administrative chaos in Moscow, all of which have
eroded the center's capacity to govern effectively. To a
large extent, however, Russia's degeneration reflects a
society atomized to the point where the concept of
national interest has been lost.
The diffusion of power, contrary to widespread
opinion in both Russia and the West, has not created
strong regions. Rather, the striking feature of the
Russian political and economic system, Graham argues,
can be summed up as "weak Center--weak regions," that
is, there is no concentration of power anywhere in the
country capable by itself of managing the situation or
creating coalitions for that purpose. As a result,
neither the Center nor the regions fully control the
political and economic situation. Thus, Russia's failure
to police its borders, eradicate pollution, pay overdue
wages, and prudently use loans from the IMF is not
merely the result of corruption, obstructionist economic
lobbies, or the lack of political will (the latter an
explanation frequently used in the West to explain the
economic collapse last August). They are due to the
"gangrene," which is how one prominent newspaper
recently referred to the weakening state.
There are nevertheless some things the federal
government can still do reasonably well. Its nuclear
force would deter any potential aggressor from invading,
while its ability to subsidize debtor regions is an
important lever of control. Even in these areas,
however, there are signs of disintegration. The
government is increasingly unable to bear the costs of
nuclear force modernization. The state is sometimes
unable even to meet Weber's criterion that central to
most viable nation-states is the legitimate monopoly on
the use of force. The August economic collapse,
moreover, has weakened the economies of the 13 regions
(out of 89) that are net contributors to the federal
Collapsing states are, of course, nothing new. But
today they are no longer isolated and can threaten their
neighbors. Such states harbor international criminal
organizations, serve as highways for narcotics
trafficking, and can have a major effect on the world
financial community. In Russia's case, the weak state
may be unable to prevent the transfer abroad of nuclear
weapons technology, while the natural gas firm Gazprom
is so politically powerful that it conducts its own
foreign policy, sometimes against the wishes of the
Russian Foreign Ministry.
For Russia the central question is where power will
finally be concentrated, both geographically and within
the state bureaucracy. It is also a crucial question as
to what consequences such concentration will have.
Russia is likely far from having answers to those
For the United States, the challenge is how best
to take into account the state's deterioration, while
trying to make progress on the many issues of bilateral
concern. At a minimum, Washington should take greater
account of non-governmental actors such as Gazprom and
LUKoil as well as the few regional leaders, including
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who have political clout.
The U.S. should also take care to create clearer and
stronger incentives for the successful implementation of
policies that it supports. In this context, the tight
controls on Washington's food aid package and the recent
ban on contacts with three scientific centers suspected
of selling missile technology to Iran may prove small
but nonetheless constructive steps.
January 30, 1999
By Robert Devane (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Robert Devane is managing director of Renegade Capital, a Moscow-based
investment research and advisory firm. He contributed this comment to The
Why is the International Monetary Fund in Moscow? Because it is as
desperate to lend to Russia as the latter is desperate to borrow. It
realizes that if it doesn't come up with a way for Russia to refinance its
1999 IMF debt service, default becomes inevitable. This will bury any hopes
of progress in Russia's negotiations with its commercial and bilateral
creditors. For the IMF this amounts to "mutually assured destruction."
Russia would be effectively shoved back behind the Iron Curtain, and the
IMF's own credibility would suffer irreparable damage.
Key IMF and U.S. government personnel responsible for Russian policy are
facing a moral hazard problem of their own. Abysmal results of Russian
"reforms" and the crawling "red revenge" are putting them under a very
uncomfortable microscope. The impact of a Russian default on IMF debt may
well drive the last nails in the coffins of several careers. On the other
hand, renewed lending would at least delay this.
Finally, neither the IMF nor the U.S. government is eager to call
Russia's "nuclear bluff." Recent political chest beating has demonstrated
that the proliferation of sensitive technologies does correlate inversely
with Russia's economic well-being. Like it or not, the cost of keeping
Russia above water would be far lower than the cost of dealing with the
transfer of sensitive technology or another Chernobyl. Thus, the United
States and the IMF may really not have much of a choice but to grind their
teeth and cut a check.
The IMF and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright came to Moscow for
the same basic reason. Having realized that Russia simply cannot "get back
on track," both the IMF and the United States are searching for a "new
track" for Russia to get onto. This will be defined by a qualitatively new
set of rules and conditions, underpinning a mutually acceptable balance of
interests and influences. Unfortunately, none of the parties has a clear
idea about what those rules ought to be.
Historically, the IMF-Russia relationship has been based on political
coziness. The IMF effectively bet on people more so than on policies. By
funding President Boris Yeltsin and his "young reformers" as a
counterweight to the Communists, the IMF became trapped in a game of
pretense. Successive governments were given clear financial incentives to
pretend they were implementing reforms, while the IMF pretended to believe
them. In reality, the IMF for years funded a public-sector consumption
binge and capital flight. Most critical reforms haven't budged. Now, the
IMF and the U.S. government are stuck. Playing "let's pretend" with the
Communists in the government is not an option. Overtly financing a
Communist regime is irreconcilable with the West's political ideology.
Leaving Russia to tend to its own problems is a dangerous proposition, with
astronomical long-term political and economic costs. It is a foregone
conclusion that the West will keep Russia afloat.
The issue is what "afloat" might mean. Resumption of full scale lending
with First Deputy Prime Minister Yury Maslyukov holding economic reins is
unlikely. He is ideologically incompatible with the United States and the
IMF, and has failed to offer the IMF even the smallest excuse to start
lending. The most Maslyukov could procure is some $1.5 billion to $2
billion of "hush up" money. It would effectively postpone a real decision
on Russia, take some of the pressure off the IMF in the short term, but not
address fundamental problems. It would neither guarantee Russia against
defaulting on IMF debt, nor help in negotiations with other creditors. For
the government this scenario would be politically disastrous, undermining
its support in the Duma. For the IMF, it would be a highly controversial
half measure, whose two assured effects would be the loss of the
distributed funds and no progress to show for it in its Russia program.
The only remaining alternative is to reach a qualitatively new stage in
the IMF-Russia relations. This would require a major personnel change in
the government. Most likely, this is exactly what the IMF has been holding
out for. Its best "out" would be the appointment of a new, more market
reform- minded economic team under Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Then,
even with the abysmal record of the past four months and an unrealistic
1999 budget in tow, the IMF could make a credible case for sizeable
financing of a new program on a forward-looking basis.
Can Maslyukov & Co. step down? Primakov is unlikely to initiate this.
The Communists in the Duma would immediately turn on the prime minister,
something that he is eager to avoid. Yeltsin could sack Maslyukov for a
variety of reasons, not the least of which would be to put the breaks on
Primakov's popularity. However, the likelier scenario is that Maslyukov
would initiate his own departure, a face saving alternative for all
parties. Maslyukov has on a number of occasions signaled his willingness to
jump ship. It is quite conceivable that Maslyukov is feeling insecure in
his job, and may decide to resign to pre-empt being sacked.
His departure would be a blessing and a curse for Primakov. He would gain
significant flexibility in economic policy, and a realistic opportunity to
avoid a full-scale default. On the other hand, the Communists would no
longer have any strings attaching them to the prime minister, and may well
set him up for the "Chernomyrdin treatment" to score political points in an
election year. Primakov would have to move swiftly to get the upper hand in
this situation. His new appointee would have to be bankable with the IMF,
and as uncontroversial as possible in Russia. The most obvious candidate
would be Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, the only IMF-friendly politician
with a team and a program.
Roy Medvedev: Primakov's Achievements, Qualities Lauded
28 January 1999
[translation for personal use only]
Article by Roy Medvedev under the "Key Figure" rubric:
"Yeltsin and Primakov"; first four paragraphs are introductory
letter from Medvedev
To Rossiyskaya Gazeta:
I am sending you the article "Yeltsin and Primakov," which I finished
only yesterday. I regard Rossiyskaya Gazeta as the most objective
newspaper and would like you to publish it. I am agreeable to some cuts at
your discretion. Moscow newspapers are so politicized and subjective
nowadays that cooperation with them is becoming almost impossible for me as
an independent historian.
The debate about Primakov's new proposals started after I had already
written this article. Unfortunately this debate is as yet going in the
The accord among the branches of power that emerged almost
spontaneously during the most dramatic days of the September crisis started
to fall apart as soon as the situation in the country and society improved
a little. In the past few days Primakov's attempt to strengthen this
accord by the adoption of a number of agreements and laws has come up
against vicious polemics and rabid resistance from a number of people and
groups who are creating precisely an atmosphere of crisis and chaos --
evidently the best conditions for their political activity. In an election
year this is a dangerous position.
It is not a question of accord on the ideology of the political
principles that distinguish different parties. It is a question of
agreeing the rules of the game, the procedure and rules of political
behavior and political struggle, which must be brought within a civilized
framework. What happens when the struggle is waged without rules we can
see today from the example of Vladivostok and will be able to see in
December 1999 from the example of the whole of Russia.
[signed] Roy Medvedev, historian.
It was during the most anxious days of the autumn crisis after the
second vote in the Duma, when the Presidential Staff had split into
Chernomyrdin supporters and Luzhkov supporters, that the question of
Primakov was raised. Yeltsin agreed without hesitation. "Why was I not
told of this candidacy?" he upbraided Valentin Yumashev. Primakov himself
felt hesitant on being invited to the Kremlin. He had neither a program
nor a team. But the President accepted all the new candidate's conditions,
and on 11 September 1998 the State Duma, with unprecedented rapidity and
unanimity, confirmed Yevgeniy Primakov in the post of chairman of the
Russian Federation Government.
The circumstances in which Primakov became the new premier do not mean
that Yeltsin and Primakov hardly knew each other beforehand. For many
years Yevgeniy Primakov had gone to brief Yeltsin at least once a week, and
they would discuss not only problems of foreign policy and intelligence.
But none of the high state posts that Primakov had held since 1989 was a
result of solicitation on his part. A doctor of economic sciences,
academician since 1979, director of top scientific institutes of the USSR
Academy of Sciences, journalist, and researcher into problems of the East,
Ye.M. Primakov was ready to give advice to Andropov and Gorbachev as long
ago as that but did not strive to play an independent role in public
politics. It was nevertheless during the Yeltsin era that Primakov became
one of the best-known and most respected Russian politicians, and it was
this that now focused universal attention on him. For the first time in
recent Russian history not only a major academic but also a major
politician was being nominated for the role of premier.
In the past Yeltsin had told all premiers: "Politics is not your
business." Ivan Silayev was an expert in the field of aircraft
engineering. Yegor Gaydar was a theoretical economist of average ability
who was a stranger to both politics and economic practice. Viktor
Chermoyrdin was a narrow industry man and "gas baron." Shipbuilding
engineer Sergey Kiriyenko had 10 changes of job in 10 years without
specially distinguishing himself anywhere. But now a politician even more
highly educated and experienced than Yeltsin himself in many respects had
been appointed premier.
Authoritarian leaders do not like strong [krupnyy] people in their
entourage, and Yeltsin's personnel policy has only confirmed this rule.
But now a sick president who was being hounded by the opposition and the
press and had already given up any thoughts of a third term needed
precisely the kind of premier that Primakov is. Yeltsin realized this not
so much as a result of political analysis as from intuition and his
instinct for power. And, maybe for the first time, he was not wrong.
If you survey all the political leaders of present-day Russia without
exception or even just noteworthy people in the establishment or the
opposition camp it is hard to name a person better suited than Primakov to
the work of premier in current conditions. Throughout all the years of his
presidency Yeltsin has not made a single appointment to a high post that
was so spot-on.
In A. Chernev's book "229 Kremlin Leaders" [229 kremlevskikh vozhdey]
you can find the names of both Yeltsin and Primakov: They were both
candidate members of the CPSU Central Committee Politburo at one time.
They may have seen each other at Central Committee meetings in 1986-1988,
but their first meetings and conversations took place only in June 1989
during the First Congress of USSR People's Deputies and sessions of the
USSR Supreme Soviet. Yevgeniy Primakov was elected chairman of the USSR
Supreme Soviet Soviet of the Union. Yeltsin was elected chairman of the
USSR Supreme Soviet Construction and Architecture Committee. They were
both members of the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium that met very frequently
during the summer of 1989.
Together with Andrey Sakharov, Gavriil Popov, and Yuriy Afanasyev
Yeltsin headed the Interregional Deputies Group -- MDG -- which was in
opposition at the time. On Gorbachev's instructions Primakov spoke with
the leaders and influential members of the MDG on several occasions in an
attempt to ease or eradicate differences. These attempts did not succeed,
and the estrangement between Gorbachev and Yeltsin shifted gradually into
political confrontation. Many members of the party leadership stopped
acknowledging Yeltsin at meetings of the Supreme Soviet the CPSU Central
Committee. Yevgeniy Primakov always greeted Yeltsin with a handshake and a
very welcoming manner. Primakov was loyal to Gorbachev and was on the
Presidential Council and the USSR Security Council. But he did not rush
around all over the place telling him of his approval of him all the time.
After the events of August 1991 Primakov remained in Gorbachev's
entourage. But he was not in the front rank, and the emotions that swept
the population of Moscow at that time passed Primakov by.
After the defeat of the State Committee for the State of Emergency,
Vadim Bakatin was appointed USSR KGB chairman on Yeltsin's insistence. The
chief of the KGB Main Directorate for Foreign Intelligence at the time was
Lieutenant General Leonid Shebarshin, and Bakatin had no intention of
replacing him. But in September 1991 Shebarshin himself tendered his
resignation. "Shebarshin's departure," Bakatin wrote in his memoirs,
"complicated the situation. It was necessary to find a major and
well-known political figure capable of heading up, in new conditions, a
specific independent department of great importance for the Union.
Yevgeniy Primakov became that person. Everyone who had a say or was
consulted on this regarded him as the most suitable candidate. Everything
hung on Yeltsin's attitude. At that time he was a long way away from
Moscow. I managed to persuade him on the telephone, and he gave his
consent. The President of Russia trusted me. He said as much. He later
told Primakov that it had been a hard decision for him. But even later,
after a personal meeting with intelligence personnel, he was convinced that
it had been the right choice." Bakatin knew Primakov and noted among his
character traits his experience, effectiveness, organizational talent,
analytical mind open to new influences, and commitment to Russia's real
It was Gorbachev who signed the first decree on Primakov's appointment
as chief of the USSR KGB Foreign Intelligence Service. After the
disintegration of the USSR the intelligence service was transformed into an
independent department directly subordinate to the Russian Federation
President. In January 1992 Yeltsin came to the headquarters of Russian
intelligence at Yasenevo. Having called the officers together Yeltsin
presented them with a list of several candidates. The overwhelming majority
of those present voted for Primakov, and Yeltsin signed the decree
appointing Ye.M. Primakov director of the Foreign Intelligence Service
right there at Yasenevo. This was maybe the only instance when a person
appointed to such a high post by M. Gorbachev kept it under Yeltsin.
Soviet and now Russian intelligence has always been regarded as one of
the best secret services in the world. It obtains and processes a huge
volume of information, only a small proportion of which becomes publicly
available. Every week the Service director presents this information in
extremely condensed form to the Russian Federation President. Yeltsin
always listened attentively to Primakov, and their relationship developed
constructively but did not immediately become warm.
The Western and particularly the American special services have always
been very diligent collectors of all possible information about the leaders
of the USSR and Russia. Some of this information may have proved even more
important for the Western services than technical data about Russian
fighters and missiles. But Russian intelligence has also gathered
information not only about American politicians but also about what they
might know about the most influential Russian politicians and businessmen
and their Russian and foreign dealings and connections. Primakov did not
conceal from the President the information that his service collected, and
Yeltsin, according to Ekspert magazine, started to feel "respect verging on
fear" for Primakov.
A Good Game With Bad Cards
At the end of 1995 Boris Yeltsin came to the conclusion that he just
could not win the presidential election while keeping as foreign minister
Andrey Kozyrev, who was not only pursuing an overtly pro-Western and
pro-American foreign policy but was often also unable to represent Russia
properly in the international arena and did not enjoy respect among either
Western or Russian politicians. Back in 1993 the influential French
newspaper Le Monde had written that "Russia has no foreign policy as such.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has lost authority and its decisions are
unconsidered and improvised. Minister Andrey Kozyrev has limited access to
the President, is criticized in parliament, and is isolated in his own
ministry. Confusion reigns in Russia's foreign policy structures, and
Russia's pro-Western foreign policy is unreliable. Russia is too huge and
complex to be swallowed and digested by the West. So Russia should not let
Europe determine its foreign policy course. Such a Western 'consensus' is
bound to be short-lived."
There were not many candidates for the post of foreign minister; even
Ivan Rybkin was among the names. Yeltsin's choice fell on Primakov, who
agreed with the President's proposals without hesitation. The changes in
the Russian Foreign Ministry leadership were the subject of extensive
comment in the Russian and Western press in early 1996. I will cite only
the reaction of the Kiev Russian-language newspaper Zerkalo Nedeli [Mirror
of the Week], which wrote: "Whereas Kozyrev was despised and disliked at
the Foreign Ministry, Primakov will be feared, and rightly so. Whereas
parliamentarians regarded Kozyrev as a 'whipping boy,' as liberal and
pro-American, they will now think more than twice before summoning Primakov
yet again. This is no Kozyrev. Experienced. Intellectual. Cool.
There is no need to spell out the content of Russian foreign policy in
1996-1998. Primakov managed to win the respect of all leaders with whom he
had dealings. Observers ranked him among the world's most influential
foreign ministers. It is important to note that he was respected not only
as a representative of Russia but also as an individual. The Western press
never ceased to be amazed that this "veteran warrior of the Cold War" could
conduct foreign policy in such a relaxed and tireless manner in such
difficult conditions. As one newspaper wrote, "he spells out Russia's
stance on all problems absolutely definitely. He often has very bad cards
in his hand, but he always plays them very well."
It was Primakov's work as foreign minister than enabled him to display
many of his abilities. Both in Gorbachev's entourage and in the post of
Foreign Intelligence Service director he had looked like a second-rank
politician -- bright, cautious, honest, but not outstanding. His work at
the Russian Foreign Ministry propelled him into the front rank of Russian
politicians. Parties and politicians of almost all persuasions seemed to
recognize his merits and services. This "Primakov phenomenon" even become
a subject of study by certain analytical centers in Russia and the West.
People spoke and wrote about him as a person who has absorbed a number of
the features of an oriental politician, as the "grand vizier" at the court
of "Tsar Boris."
Primakov indeed has the oriental habit of not saying much and speaks
from a rostrum completely differently from how he talks at diner parties,
where he is almost always the toastmaster. Even the simplest phrases sound
weighty and significant when he says them. One of the rules that Primakov
follows is to not make enemies. Primakov has a unique ability to make and
keep friends. He had practically no enemies in either Gorbachev's or
Yeltsin's entourage. And Yeltsin himself has always trusted Primakov
completely, despite clearly disapproving of many aspects of the Russian
Government's socioeconomic policy and often saying so -- but without
resorting to sharp language.
Russia Will Not Be Brought to Its Knees
Yevgeniy Primakov got down to work in the White House and started
working hard and intensively here, but without loud rallying cries and
hysterical statements, without urgent summonses and nighttime sessions.
The new government was in no way reminiscent of a fire brigade, but the
anarchy and chaos in the economy rapidly began to abate. The panic ceased,
and a rapid restoration of the normal activity of the social and state
organism began. And this was without any of the economic dictatorship that
V. Chernomyrdin had proposed to impose, or the "shock therapy" that Gaydar,
Chubays, and their Western advisers had tried to employ. The government
acted cautiously, not using surgical instruments. To use medical
terminology, Primakov took as his principle the ancient Hippocratic rule --
"do no harm."
The accord that sprang up in the country between the main political
forces and institutions of power did not, however, extend to the press, a
large part of which greeted the arrival of the new government with open
hostility. When the absurdity of accusing Primakov of "communist revanche"
and a "red coup" became obvious to everyone, the government began to be
accused of doing nothing. "In several weeks in the White House," the
magazine Itogi declared, "the cabinet has done nothing -- neither bad nor
good." "The Government Has No Energy," "No Government -- No Problems,"
"Dizzy With Lack of Success," "Power Vacuum" -- these are headlines from
articles in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Obshchaya Gazeta, and Kommersant (in
speaking about the mass media from this perspective I am of course aware of
the extent of their freedom in the context of a harsh economic crisis).
When the government's successes in all salients could no longer be
denied, they started accusing Primakov of lacking a detailed program for
his activity. "There Was and Is No Anti-Crisis Program" -- several times
Kommersant put this phrase in large letters at the head of its reviews of
the government's work. But Primakov calmly responded in an interview that
he has "no desire and no time to start writing out long, useless
declarations. The government is carrying out concrete measures to
extricate the country from the financial crisis and save it from
bankruptcy. The government has a general understanding of what must be
done, and therefore it chooses the tactics of prompt reaction in the most
important economic salients" (Sovetskaya Rossiya).
In the last days of October the government adopted a major document
edited by Primakov personally and modestly entitled "On Measures by the
Russian Federation Government and the Central Bank To Stabilize the
Socioeconomic Situation in the Country." Nezavisimaya Gazeta recognized the
premier's victory. "Only a very talented politician and diplomat," the
newspaper wrote, "could so easily present an economic document that in
effect satisfies both right and left, and frame it in such a way as to
guard against criticism while avoiding going into too much concrete
detail." This was the document that was submitted to the IMF. There, it
prompted patent dissatisfaction and extremely unconvincing criticism.
Primakov responded with restraint but firmly: "Russia is still a country
that will not just lie down and will not be brought to its knees, everyone
should know that for sure. It will be easier for us to stand on our own
feet now if we get support. If we don't get support, all the same we will
not be brought to our knees and we will not lie down."
"The Russian Sphinx"
Top officials of various departments, on first beginning to work with
Primakov, were struck not only by his outward restraint, but by an inner
imperturbability that they found hard to understand. Even in critical
situations where other leaders have broken into a shout, Primakov did not
even raise his voice. This also had a positive effect on Yeltsin, who
found it very hard in September and October to contain his feelings.
Although ill-wishers wrote of Primakov as a "reputable and respected Soviet
bureaucrat" and a "boss who is all buttoned up and hide-bound by protocol,"
his colleagues in the government resolutely rejected that image because in
his dealings with ministers and officials Primakov was always very direct
and tried to persuade, not to give orders.
Summing up the first three months of the government's work, the
British newspaper Financial Times called the government chairman a "Russian
sphinx." Although Primakov speaks fairly frequently, the French newspaper
Liberation calls him a "devotee of secrecy who has mastered the art of
compromise and of silence with a significant smile."
The overall results of 1998 were not reassuring, and Patriarch Aleksiy
II had every reason to say: "We have spent this year living in a crazy
world." However, singling out from the whole year the period from 12
September to 31 December, nearly all observers said: "It could have been
Speaking at the end of December in his first television interview for
four months, Boris Yeltsin expressed complete satisfaction with the work of
Prime Minister Yevgeniy Primakov. The new government could not take the
country back to the level of 1997, but in did manage to minimize the
consequences of the 17 August collapse and to preserve hope.
Although the work done by the Primakov government in all salients is
very great and perfectly obvious, some newspapers and journals continue to
accuse it of inaction. Summing up the first 100 days of the Primakov
government, Mikhail Berger wrote in the magazine Itogi: "The Primakov
government is implementing the principle: 'Inaction for the sake of
peace.' This is a very effective policy. Nobody is attacking the
government because there is nothing to attack it for. A government that
does nothing annoys no one. Therefore everyone is loyal to Primakov."
Georgiy Bovt from the newspaper Segodnya is more condescending toward the
premier: "Primakov arrived at a dramatic moment. Everyone was saying that
something must be done quickly. The alternative was default, collapse,
isolation, famine, mass death. But Yevgeniy Maksimovich proved to be a
magician and managed to turn economic tragedy into slow stagnation. What
is Yevgeniy Primakov's secret? In our view, Yevgeniy Maksimovich's secret
lies in his solid and respectable appearance and his measured way of
uttering words. Nothing much may actually be said, but it sounds weighty.
And everyone hears what he wants to hear. The liberals hear 'market.' The
communists hear 'state regulation.'"
Ilya Milshteyn from Izvestiya has a different view of the force of the
premier's words. "Primakov is respected not for his easy-going and sleepy
manner," he wrote in an article under the striking headline "Primakov's
Sleepy Charm." "He has strength behind him. The strength of experience,
strength of character, the strength of the special services add an almost
physical, tangible weight to what he says. This is the sleepiness of a
Nile crocodile, the easy-going nature of an antitank mine. You don't argue
much with his proposals. Because of this, it is somehow not the done thing
within the country to enter into polemics with him." "Russia is
collapsing," the French newspaper Le Monde wrote in amazement, "but without
the noise and fuss that usually brings thousands of people out into the
streets and makes the banks and stock markets quake."
These images are very colorful but, I think, erroneous, even
deceitful. In fact the fire did start, but it was put out. The
destruction of Russia was stopped, but certainly not thanks to the
premier's respectable appearance or the strength of the special services.
It happened thanks to the strong will, intellect, and diplomatic talent of
a premier who managed to do a very great deal of work in the right
direction in the fall and winter of 1998. Primakov likes not only to repeat
but to follow the wise dictum of the Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca:
"When a man does not know what harbor he is heading for, no wind is
favorable to him."
The President and the Premier
The well-known journalist and diplomat Aleksandr Bovin was surprised
that Yevgeniy Primakov, whom he has known well for a long time "as a solid,
serious, and cautious man who does not tolerate dramatic shifts and
frivolous improvisations," agreed to act as "Chernomyrdin's understudy" and
take on the duties of prime minister. Bovin believes that this shows the
mentality of Caucasus man. "There is another Primakov," he wrote, "who
grew up in Tbilisi and absorbed the local ideas of loyalty and honor, the
idea that there are situations when cold reason, cold calculation, and
political pragmatism should give way to other considerations dictated by
human relationships. Yeltsin, with a string of mistakes, vacillations, and
downright stupidities, had driven himself into a corner, an impasse. What
was needed was a loyal man who, even taking a desperate risk and putting
his own reputation in jeopardy, could save the President and drag him out
of the impasse. That man was Primakov."
There is no doubt of Primakov's high degree of loyalty to President
Yeltsin and readiness to help him in a difficult situation. However, the
main -- by no means supplementary -- motive for Primakov's decision to
become head of government was the interests of the country, society, and
the state, and not considerations of personal loyalty. I myself was born
in Tbilisi and spent many years there in my youth and I see in Primakov
many traits of "Tbilisi man." But in September 1998 Primakov made a
decision with both heart and mind. He behaved like an honest Russian state
and public figure and a man of certain ideological preferences. Yeltsin
understands that. All the facts of recent months indicate that Primakov
received carte blanche from Yeltsin for complete freedom of action in three
areas of policy -- foreign, domestic, and cadre policy. But the Kremlin
did not extend Primakov's influence to the power ministries, although the
power ministers consult Primakov on many things. It is not surprising that
Yeltsin removed from his staff such politicized figures as Yastrzhembskiy,
Sevastyanov, and so forth, and appointed Russian Federation Security
Council Secretary Colonel General Nikolay Bordyuzha as chief of the
Unfortunately an accord between all the branches of power is not to
the liking of certain radicals on the left and right or of many press
organs. Some newspapers have in recent months been trying to frighten
Primakov with talk of Yeltsin's unpredictability and jealousy. "The
support of the political elite," Segodnya wrote, "could cost the premier
his job. The decapitation of those who put their heads above the parapet
is a threat to Primakov." "Knowing Boris Nikolayevich's character,"
Izvestiya wrote, "it is easy to imagine with what hidden vexation and
jealousy he is watching Primakov's actions. For all his respect for the
government chairman, the President is not likely ever to forget the
circumstances in which he became head of government. Yeltsin must be
increasingly alarmed to see how successfully the premier takes his place in
Other newspapers, conversely, try to frighten Yeltsin with talk of
Primakov's growing popularity and influence. "Primakov could take the game
to himself, and it is a pity he does not do so," Obshchaya Gazeta wrote
back in October. "Russia's main boss is now not the President but the
prime minister," Nezavisimaya Gazeta claimed.
The President's new illness in the second half of January 1999 has
boosted the attempts to drive a wedge between the premier and President.
Grigoriy Yavlinskiy made a bizarre appeal to Primakov to explain the state
of affairs in the Kremlin and in the country. The journalists Tatyana
Koshkareva and Rustam Narzikulov of Nezavisimaya Gazeta called on Primakov
to put an end to the situation of "de facto anarchy and government
inactivity which is leading Russia toward economic and political isolation
from the entire civilized world, and...take full power in the state into
his own hands."
These are bizarre and even dangerous calls. The main task of the
government and premier, apart from overcoming the economic crisis, is to
organize honest elections to the State Duma in 1999 and presidential
elections in 2000. The people have an opportunity of dictating their
sovereign will to all politicians in these elections. The Russian people,
who have gone through a unique historical slice of their history in the
past 10 years, are now much more difficult to manipulate than they were a
few years ago.
Certain politicians and journalists have in recent weeks written
hopefully of an impending cooling-off between society and Primakov.
"Primakov is talented and intelligent," Vasiliy Golubev wrote, for
instance, "but he is no longer young. Primakov's advent objectively
retards the process of renewal and rejuvenation of the country's political
elite. And it badly needs renewal. Primakov's popularity among the main
bulk of the country's population has begun to fall in the past month, and
that process could become irreversible in January-February 1999. Primakov
is the personification of the formula of survival, but not the formula of
hope. The people no longer want to hear about programs, they want to see
results and experience an increase in prosperity. There is in effect no
guarantee that they will see and experience this under the present
government" (Nezavisimaya Gazeta).
That view is mistaken. What the people put first is not a
politician's age, but the stability, predictability, and honesty of that
politician and his statesmanlike wisdom. Poll data indicate in January
1999 too an unprecedentedly high level of confidence among the country's
population in Primakov and his government.
The Russian ship of state, when steered by the young radicals,
suffered disaster, began to list dangerously, and took on a good deal of
water. Yevgeniy Primakov corrected the list, helped to pump out a large
part of the water, and directed the ship onto a calmer path, but still
toward the same goal -- the well-being and prosperity of Russia. In this
the Primakov government can only be wished success.
[Description of Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta -- Government daily