This Date's Issues: 3083•
Johnson's Russia List
10 March 1998
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Newsweek: What's Wrong With Yeltsin?
2. RFE/RL Newsline: YELTSIN RESIGNATION WOULD OPEN WAY FOR STALINISTS,
3. Moscow Times: Gary Peach, THE ANALYST: FIMACO Shows All Hope Is Lost
for Future of Russia.
4. Michael Intriligator: FIDDLING WHILE RUSSIA BURNS.
5. An Open Letter on the Russian Crisis.
6. Russia Today: Rod Pounsett, The Final Nail? (Oil prices).
7. Chicago Tribune: Colin McMahon, TROUBLED RUSSIAN ZOO, APE GET TV,
8. New York Times: Michael Gordon, Russian Jews Turning Edgy as the
Country's Chaos Creates an Ugly Mood.]
March 15, 1999
What's Wrong With Yeltsin?
Since his re-election in the summer of 1996, Boris Yeltsin's health has not
allowed him to work for more than a few weeks at a time. What's really
wrong with the Russian president? Yeltsin's latest hospitalizations (Feb.
27 and Jan. 17) were for bleeding stomach ulcers. The cause: probably
chronic alcohol consumption, says Prof. Brian Pentecost, a British heart
expert (but not a part of Yeltsin's medical team). The problem is almost
certainly aggravated by the aspirin routinely given to heart-bypass
patients to reduce the risk of blood clots. Other factors: stress and a
weakened immune system. Doctors agree that Yeltsin's ulcer problem is
unlikely to directly affect his heart. But they say the heart surgery and
weakened immune system have left him vulnerable to respiratory diseases,
notably influenza and pneumonia. Pentecost suggests Yeltsin may also suffer
from what he describes as "heart failure," a progressive malfunction of the
heart muscle. This can cause a buildup of fluid in the lungs, and a
shortage of blood supply to the rest of the body, resulting in difficulty
with walking, talking and concentration. Yeltsin's doctors say the
condition of his heart is "normal."
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 47, Part I, 9 March 1999
YELTSIN RESIGNATION WOULD OPEN WAY FOR STALINISTS, AIDE SAYS.
In an interview with "Die Welt" published on 8 March, Oleg
Sysuev, first deputy chief of the presidential staff, said
that President Boris Yeltsin and his government are working
to stabilize conditions in Russia and that Yeltsin's
premature resignation would open the way to "a representative
of the third force," namely, nationalists and Stalinists.
Sysuev added that Russia will achieve stability and become a
"state power with democratic and market-oriented principles"
no sooner "than the end of the term of the next president, in
March 9, 1999
THE ANALYST: FIMACO Shows All Hope Is Lost for Future of Russia
By Gary Peach
If you ever again hear an optimist claim that Russia will defy the world's
expectations, that the worst of the economic crisis is behind and an
upswing is around the corner, that the country's leaders have learned from
past mistakes and are ready to lay the foundation for a story-book
recovery, just look them condescendingly in the eye and whisper one word:
This article is a confession of sorts. I never write in the first person,
as I believe that such an approach to writing columns is somewhat
conceited, if not narcissistic. A good columnist, while maintaining an
editorial spirit, informs or proves a point, and does not emote. No "I
this" or "I that" should be forced upon readers' better judgment. But due
to the appalling "offshore" events recently revealed, my emotions have
gotten the better of me. I can no longer restrain myself.
This is what I must confess: Russia is going nowhere. Forget about it.
Progress in a country that doesn't punish those who flagrantly rip off the
state is impossible. Progress in a country where the FIMACO scandal is not
only possible, but acceptable, is impossible.
So long as shameless connivance continues to be the predominant value in
Russia's political culture, we can get on with our lives knowing that
nothing good will come out of this country in the next 30 to 40 years. If
the entire system is so thoroughly apathetic, so hopelessly corrupt, that
no one will stand up to these self-serving parasites who sucked the
nation's reserves to a British Channel backwater and stuffed their pockets
with part of it, then let Russia wallow in its own misery for another
century. The country deserves no better.
FIMACO, when all is said and done, adds new dimension to the Russian
kleptocracy. All those years the nation's leadership f from Yeltsin and
Chernomyrdin on down the ladder f whined and moaned about flight capital,
about how the nation was bleeding hard currency by the billions, yet they
and their cronies were doing the exact same thing f with the nation's
strategic reserves. With money that belongs to the citizens of Russia.
FIMACO, the Financial Management Co. based in the tax haven of Jersey, was
used to conceal up to $50 billion of Russia's hard currency that churned
through it between 1993 and 1998.
We still have not received adequate answers to questions about the size of
profits and management fees, and who exactly were the beneficiaries. In any
civilized country Viktor Gerashchenko and Sergei Dubinin would have been
arrested and put before judge or grand jury until every last question was
answered in full. But in Russia they walk on water. Because f as far as
this operation went f everyone was is on it. The blatant audacity and
hypocrisy of FIMACO is so mind-boggling that its magnitude doesn't sink in
straight away. At some point, a group of individuals, acting under the
guise of the highest authorities in the land, decided to siphon off part of
Russia's international reserves to a nameless fund manager located on a
piece of mud between England and France and get rich in the process. It
made everyone feel warm and fuzzy because there was plenty of profit to go
around. It was an offshore orgy in which communist and capitalist alike
could partake in.
While there certainly may have been some justification in 1992 to transfer
some reserves through an offshore investment operation and thereby beat the
annual inflation rate on the U.S. dollar, the complete lack of transparency
with which this operation was pulled off is stupefying. And herein lies the
criminality of it all.
If only these individuals could see themselves from outside, they could
hear how false their preposterous "explanations" sound. One person stands
out as a shining example of this: Sergei Alexashenko, the Dubinin-lackey
who now wants to set up monuments to Central Bank chiefs and who equates
the Jersey-island investment company FIMACO to an inviolable state secret.
Former Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov, while deserving credit for
revealing this disgusting episode of graft, obviously knew about FIMACO for
quite some time, and only decided to blow the whistle out of desperation.
(Which leads one to ask: What other nifty schemes is the prosecutor's
office keeping mum on?)
Russia is going nowhere because the nation's leadership is, and will
continue to be, devoid of anyone who will undertake any real efforts to
sweep up the widespread graft, budgetary misapproprations and endemic
ineffectiveness that is typified by this nation's economy. How can there be
improvement when those who are running the show are covertly pocketing
profits and fees through an offshore operation? How can these people f
Yeltsin, Chernomyrdin, Dubinin, Gerashchenko, even Kiriyenko f possibly
understand things such as integrity, virtue and honest enterprise, the
stuff needed to make an economy work? The truth is they can't. Which is why
we should give up all hope. I know I have.
Date: Tue, 9 Mar 1999
From: "Michael D. Intriligator" <email@example.com>
Subject: FIDDLING WHILE RUSSIA BURNS
Here is a recent short piece on Russia that has just appeared in the
World Bank "Transition" Newsletter. I'd like to submit it for possible
inclusion in the JRL. I'd also welcome feedback on it at
Best regards, Mike Intriligator
FIDDLING WHILE RUSSIA BURNS
Michael D. Intriligator
Professor of Economics, Political Science, and Policy Studies at UCLA
and Vice Chair of Economists Allied for Arms Reduction (ECAAR)
There is an event now occurring that is of immense historical
significance, with profound implications for this country and the world, yet
is being largely ignored. It is the catastrophic economic and political
situation in Russia that poses long-term dangers to it and the world at
large and represents probably the greatest threat to global security today.
While the problems of Kosovo are important, those of Russia are a thousand
times more important, but they are getting very little attention.
What had been a crisis situation in the Russian economy has become a
truly catastrophic one as a result of the desperate moves taken by the
Russian government on August 17, 1998 that included devaluation of the
ruble, default on foreign debt, and freezing of bank accounts. The
subsequent replacement of the government by a new one headed by Primakov
possibly signals the beginning of a new set of policies that will reverse
the collapse of the economy. Primakov certainly deserves our support and
help, as his government may represent the last chance of a democratic one in
Russia, but reversing the disaster of the Russian economy will be extremely
difficult at best.
The Russian economy is in a state of collapse, with a few wealthy
bankers largely in control, with extensive criminalization, and with most
transactions handled by barter or nonpayment. All other systems that are
part of a modern state, whether health, education, or the environment, are
failing. The Russians themselves are beginning to lose hope in their own
future and are turning to new leaders. Many of these new leaders would
return to authoritarian rule, whether communist or fascist, typically
combined with ultra nationalism and militarism. Russia, a country with
enormous stockpiles of nuclear and chemical weapons, is at the brink, and it
could return to militarism and authoritarian rule.
The complacency on this issue is truly remarkable. During the Cold
War era the West had a total fixation on the Soviet Union and its potential
military threat, especially its nuclear weapons. Now many tend to regard
this problem as "solved" with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the end
of the Warsaw Pact, the advent of democracies in the former East bloc, and
their transition from socialist to market economies. The problem of the
future of Russia is, however, by no means "solved," and we ignore it at our
peril. Russia's future evolution could totally undermine global security.
Indeed, the present situation is remarkably like the one between World Wars
I and II. Now may be a comparable lull between "Cold War I" and "Cold War
II," depending on the future of Russia.
No one can precisely predict Russia's future, but there are some
possible scenarios that could have substantial impacts on it and the rest of
the world. One scenario would be the advent of a new authoritarian regime,
in effect, a new Stalin. This result could come about through the democratic
election of an extremist President who would take advantage of the 1993
Constitution that grants the President sweeping powers or through a putsch,
like that of August 1991 or a coup, which would repeat earlier Russian
history. The result would be, as happened in Russia in 1917 and more
recently in Iran in 1979, a brief period of democracy between two
Another scenario would be the breakup of Russia into smaller states,
much as the Soviet Union broke up, while another is the continued collapse
of legal authority, leading to chaos and anarchy, with criminal gangs taking
over whole regions of the country. There are yet other scenarios, but few if
any bode well for global security. Virtually all involve potential dangers
in Europe, Asia, and other regions of the world. Several involve possibly
another Cold War or even the use of nuclear or chemical weapons, whether by
intent or by accident in a chaotic situation.
Winston Churchill, in his book, While England Slept, published in
1938, criticized Britain for focusing on domestic issues and ignoring the
threat from Nazi Germany that erupted in war the next year. There are
striking similarities, however, between Russia today and the Weimar republic
that preceded Hitler's coming to power in 1933 -- loss of empire and status,
economic collapse, destruction of the middle class, etc. The question has
often been raised as to how the German people, a highly civilized and
educated people, could have democratically installed Hitler with a clear
plan for war and genocide. Of the various answers that have been proposed,
perhaps the best is the simplest: desperate people will do desperate things.
The same could happen in Russia, with comparably disastrous results. While
England was "sleeping" in the 1930s, America may be similarly "sleeping"
today, focusing on domestic issues and ignoring the problems of Russia. It
is time for us to wake up and to help Russia overcome its problems.
Date: Tue, 09 Mar 1999
From: "Vladislav G. Krasnow" <"firstname.lastname@example.org>
Organization: Russian-American Goodwill Ass
Subject: An Open Letter on the Russian Crisis
We, the undersigned, ask JRL subscribers and other readers to read the
following statement. If you agree with its substance and recommendations
please consider joining us in endorsing the statement.
We plan to submit the statement to US government officials in hopes of
improving relations between Russia and the United States.
Please send your name and affiliation to W. George Krasnow at
Or write to: W. George Krasnow
1332 Vermont Ave. NW
Washington DC 20005
An Open Letter on The Russian Crisis
We, a group of American scholars, business people, and journalists, are
alarmed over the ongoing financial crisis in Russia and the deterioration
of U.S.-Russia relations.
Mortimer Zuckerman and Christian Caryl write in the February 8 issue
of U.S. News and World Report,
"Death is one business that flourishes in the catastrophe that has
overtaken Russia. Elderly pensioners dying of starvation no longer make
news. Life expectancy for adult men has fallen from 64 in 1990 to 59 in
1998. And the question for the country now is whether it can survive at all
as a coherent state, still less as a civilized society. The statistics are
staggering: At least 70 percent of Russians live near or below the
For those Americans who remember our history, they bring the point home:
"The decline of Russia in the 1990s is deeper than even the Great
Depression in the United States. From 1929 to 1935, American national
incomes and gross domestic product fell by a third; in Russia, real per
capita incomes are down by as much as 80 percent."
We feel deep sympathy with the millions of ordinary Russians forced to
confront this winter in conditions of misery not seen since WWII. We
admire their patience, perseverance and common sense, attributes which
have kept them from choosing mass rioting and violence.
Catastrophe has overtaken even the Russian military. As the U.S. News observe:
"Once a superpower, Russia now fields a military that looks more like a
beggar's army, unable to pay itself, house itself, or, as seen in Chechnya,
fight. No one trusts the police. The judicial system is impotent. Laws are
openly disregarded. The press protects the oligarches who own most of it."
The weakening of the Russian state should give us no reason to gloat over
the demise of our former Cold War opponent. On the contrary, if Russia
disintegrates we would be faced with an arch of instability, starvation, and
armed struggle, stretching from the borders of NATO countries to China and
the Sea of Japan. Should this happen, with Russia's enormous stockpiles of
nuclear weapons and fissionable materials, our present problems in the
Middle East, Bosnia and Kosovo would pale in comparison.
We agree with the U.S. News and World Report that Russia's present
near-catastrophic predicament is "man-made," and that the U.S. and other
Western governments and institution have actively, if inadvertently,
participated in its creation. It was on their advice that Yegor Gaidar,
Chubais and other "young pro-Western reformers" in President Yeltsin's
entourage administered "shock therapy" and "privatization" to Russia. The
"shock" produced no "therapy.""Privatization" produced the rule of the
oligarchs who made a mockery of free-market ideas. The financial crash of
August 17, 1998, was a collapse, not of the reforms that Russia needs and
seeks, but of the peculiar course of reforms that the "young reformers"
imposed on Russia, with America's advice and encouragement.
As Janine Wedel so clearly demonstrates in her new book, "Collision and
Collusion: The Strange Case of Western Aid to Eastern Europe 1989-1998"
(St. Martin's Press), the Harvard Institute for International Development
(HIID) managed to monopolize and privatize U.S. economic aid to Russia..
Its principals, Andrei Shleifer, Jonathan Hay, and Jeffrey Sachs colluded
with their Russian counterparts, Chubais and company, to serve as the main
conduit of U.S. assistance to Russia. Jointly they pushed Russia in the
direction which proved so disastrous. Not only were the ideas of "shock
therapy" economically unsound and politically unsuitable to Russia. While
squandering U.S. taxpayers' money, key participants on both sides came
under investigation for involvement in insider trading and shady financial
schemes. Hay and Schleifer remain under investigation by the U.S. Justice
Originally the IMF was open to different approaches to reforms. Jakues
de Groote, the most senior director on its board, in a 1993 memorandum
suggested that Moscow should "develop its own approach, based on its own
national characteristics," and it may need to regulate economy "along the
lines followed in many western countries during the postwar period." De
Groote also put priority of restoration of Russian production.
According to John Helmer, the Moscow correspondent of The Journal of
Commerce, de Groote's memorandum was ignored. Since 1993 "radical
monetarism" has been enthroned as the indisputable orthodoxy of the IMF.
Like Wedel, Helmer suggests that George Soros, the international financial
speculator, participated in the Harvard group's lobbying of the IMF. Anne
Williamson, in her forthcoming book "How America Built The New Russian
Oligarchy" demonstrates that covert lobbying of the U. S. Treasury and the
IMF did indeed deliver nomenklatura-like insider benefits to George Soros
and other Western investors.
No wonder, that both the IMF and the U.S. government have remained deaf
to any other proposals for economic reforms in Russia, including those
advocated by prominent Nobel Prize winning American economists.
We do not wish to exempt the Russians from the main responsibility for
their present situation. However, as concerned American citizens, we want
the U.S. government to acknowledge that serious mistakes were made in both
formulating and implementing our Russia policy.
We join former U.S. Senators Gary Hart and Gordon Humphrey in deploring
that "we have handed the U.S. foreign policy mandate to the International
Monetary Fund, while all but abandoning unilateral efforts to stimulate
Russia's dormant productive capacity." We too wish to summon "America's
vision and creative spirit" to assist Russia in her efforts to extricate
itself from the dangerous situation in which it landed on the advice of U.
S. officials. (The Washington Post, February 11)
We agree with Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen that a new
policy toward Russia is urgently needed. It should be "based on a very
different principle--not the intrusive, ideological conditions imposed by
US and IMF officials, but...by letting Russians, not our State and Treasury
Departments, decide what constitutes reform in Russia." George Kennan,
fifty years ago, foresaw the end of Communism and advised U.S. leaders,
"Give [the Russians] time; let them be ussians; let them work out their
internal problems in their own manner."
Instead of continuing the inherently doomed and dangerous crusade to
transform Russia into a replica of America, say Heuvel and Cohen, the
United States should support "any Russian government that promotes the
well-being of ordinary citizens without abrogating the still fragile
process of democratization." (The Nation, January 11-18). This advice the
U.S. and IMF officials cannot ignore without further jeopardizing
Russia-U.S. relations and world peace itself.
Unfortunately, the government which has so prided itself on having
re-invented itself domestically, has shown no willingness to acknowledge
the obvious failure of its Russia policy. Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright continues to nudge Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to the
same course of "reforms" that, under his predecessors, brought Russia to
the brink of disaster. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin continues to cajole
the Russians to accept the dictates of the IMF--or else.
IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus continues to refuse Russia
desperately needed loans "unless the government overcomes internal
resistance to market reforms." The trouble is that the catch word "market
reforms" has become anathema for the majority of the Russians whose incomes
have plummeted under the "reformist" oligarchic rule, for which the IMF is
partially responsible. What the IMF deems as a "realistic plan" is exactly
the opposite to what Primakov's government can do without disrupting the
precarious political balance on which it is built. In effect, the IMF is
pushing Primakov's government to commit political suicide and open the
floodgates for civil unrest and the final disintegration of Russia. But
what about democracy? After all, Primakov's is the first government since
1993 that is built on a consensus with the Duma and that enjoys the support
of nearly all political forces.
We are convinced that making our aid to Russia conditional upon the
Russian government's support for U.S. policy, be it on Iraq, Kosovo, or
NATO, must seem humiliating to the Russians. It is also unwarranted, as
even our NATO allies sometimes disagree with us on vital issues. We should
respect the right of Russia to conduct its own foreign policy based on her
* We appeal to the U.S. government to re-invent its policy toward
Russia. Stop encouraging the intransigence of IMF. Give a clear signal
that we are ready to cooperate with Primakov's government in rooting out
the oligarchy and the corruption it breeds. Instruct the FBI to work with
the Russian authorities in preventing the illicit capital flight from Russia.
* We appeal to the U.S. Congress to exercise its oversight duty over
U.S. foreign policy with greater vigor and rigor. Break a monetarist
thought monopoly and allow a free market of economic ideas to flourish.
Don't fall into the trap of "the weaker Russia, the better for us." Russia
is already weak way beyond what is good for U.S. national security and
* We appeal to U.S. non-profit organizations working in Russia to open
their hearts and minds to all Russians, regardless whether they agree or
disagree with us. Advocate the principles of democracy, civil society and
free enterprise not just among the converted (or self-proclaimed)
"Westernists" and "reformists," but among all Russians of good will.
* We appeal to the U.S. private sector. Be more creative and imaginative in
helping the Russians build a private sector. Don't tolerate the oligarchic
monopoly in Russia. Teach Russians to use anti-trust laws. Don't wait for
the governments. Do business, ignoring ideological strings. Small private
enterprise especially should be able to advance economic development in
Russia more efficiently than any bureaucracy.
* We appeal to the American people to show magnanimity to our World War II
ally who sacrificed tens of millions of lives to secure our freedom, too.
Remember that Russian veterans, Russia‘s "Best Generation" who saved Europe
from the scourge of Nazism, are now barely surviving on the meager pensions
seldom paid on time. Why should we let inept bureaucrats penalize the
people who in 1991 chose freedom and proclaimed the sovereignty of the
Russian Federation, thus putting an end to both Communism and the Cold War?
We want the Russian people to know that the American people have not
abandoned them in their most difficult times, that "Friends in need are
Dr. W. George Krasnow, former professor at the Monterey Institute of
International Studies, now president of Russian American Goodwill
Associates (RAGA), Washington, DC.
Abraham Brumberg, independent writer, former editor of Problems of
Communism, contributor to the Los Angeles Times, Times Literary
Supplement, and a number of other periodicals in the U.S. and Great
Britain, Chevy Chase, MD
Anne Williamson, the author of the forthcoming How America Built the New
Russian Oligarchy, who since 1989 has shuttled between Moscow and New
York City where she now lives.
William Mandel, Hoover Institution Fellow since 1947, Berkeley, California
Dr. Ronald R. Pope, Associate Professor of Russian Politics, Illinois State
University; President, Serendipity: Russian Consulting & Development, Ltd. .
Stephen G. Wright, President, The Global Community Project, Inc.; Associate
Professor, Johns Hopkins University, Cross-cultural Management and Business
Communications; Visiting Lecturer, Georgetown University,
Understanding U.S. Culture and Business Etiquette
Alexandra Mattson, Vice President, RAGA; intercultural communications
specialist and trainer, Washington, DC
Richard D. Jacobs, President and CEO of Newstar, Inc., Washington, DC,
has extensive business experience in both the USSR where he managed a
number of Armand Hammer operations, and in post-Soviet Russia where he
bought and then was forced to sell a large piezoelectric materials factory.
James K. Galbraith, Professor, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs,
The University of Texas at Austin and Chairperson of Economists Allied for
Arms Reduction (ECAAR).
Andrei Nikitchyuk, an aerospace engineer and translator, Senior Consultant,
RAGA, Herndon, Virginia
Erin Nikitchyuk, a software engineer, Program Manager, RAGA, Herndon, Virginia
Janine R. Wedel, Associate Research Professor, Department of Anthropology,
The George Washington University
Mar. 8, 1999
The Final Nail?
By Rod Pounsett
Latest news from oil analysts that prices for crude oil could fall even
lower than its current fluctuating price of around $10 a barrel -- perhaps
as low as $5 -- will come as a broadside to the Russian government. Half
the country's hard-currency revenues are derived from the sale of crude
oil, and many have hoped that privatization within Russia's oil industry
would mean a large boost for the national coffers. Given this level of
reliance, sustained price slumps could justifiably be seen as the final
nail in the country's coffin.
According a report from the international accountants Arthur Andersen and
CERA, the energy consultancy, this is not going to one of the usual down
one minute up the next price fluctuations. This time, they say, the
contributing factors are fundamentally different and there are no signs
that the price will bounce back when the industry has adjusted itself.
As one who has frequently argued that many of Russia's economic woes of are
its own making, it is hard not to feel some sympathy on this occasion.
Although Russia's oil industry has not been the best-run sector of the
economy, it cannot take the blame for the downward spiral of prices. Nor
can the Russian government.
In fact there are several factors that have contributed to the drop in
price of the commodity they used to call "black gold." New technology and
productivity gains together with an increased number of producers has led
to a glut of oil on the world's markets. This has been accompanied by a
corresponding fall in demand, mainly because of other economic problems,
especially in Asia. Also concern about global warming has pushed the world
to exploit cleaner energy sources, such as natural gas.
As a detailed report in the current issue of The Economist points out, this
is, of course, not purely a problem for Russia. Many other countries around
the world are heavily dependent upon revenues from crude oil exports to
survive. This in itself poses a further risk. With their revenues depleted
by the lower market price, some countries may be tempted to increase
production in a bid to make up shortfalls in revenue in the short term,
thus exacerbating the glut problem in the long term.
It is hard to see how Russia can respond to this latest bombshell. Even at
the current low prices, oil export revenues made up a major portion of the
government's budget predictions. If the analysts are right, and the price
does continue to fall -- and soon -- Russia's financial planners will have
to do some fast work on their calculators. Unfortunately these are the sort
of sums too easily done in the head. And the results would give anyone a
It may, however, win extra sympathy from funding agencies like the World
Bank and the IMF. If the Russian government can go some way to meeting some
of their other demands in respect of economy mending policies, then these
agencies may be prepared to give extra assistance.
9 March 1999
[for personal use only]
TROUBLED RUSSIAN ZOO, APE GET TV, NEED VCR
By Colin McMahon, Tribune Foreign Correspondent.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia
Do not be too harsh with Monika.
The female orangutan at the Leningrad Zoopark is a bit overweight. And yes,
it seems she would rather watch television than care for her newborn son.
But Monika is a sensitive soul, even though her difficult childhood
contines to affect her family life. She is an accomplished artist and a good
mate for Rabu, the zoo's other adult orangutan.
Monika wants to be a good mother, her keepers say, she just does not know
how. So the St. Petersburg zoo, which has retained the city's former name, is
trying to teach her, pinning their hopes in part on television.
Like Monika, the Leningrad Zoopark has its share of problems and its
Much of the place, the grounds, the cages, the buildings, is dismal. Low
wages and overwork plague the staff, and security is poor on the 18-acre
campus. The zoo's budget is barely adequate to keep it open.
So the zoo, like the rest of the country, is looking for help. It has
started a program in which donors can "adopt" the zoo's animals. A capital
improvement drive is under way as well.
At the same time, the park's veterinarians and zoologists are enlisting
advice from their colleagues in Europe and the Americas. With Monika, for
example, zookeepers turned to the Brookfield Zoo in suburban Chicago.
Monika's child, Ramon, was born in November. Monika and Rabu took to Ramon,
showing him gentle affection. But Monika failed to nurse him, and after a
couple of days zoo personnel had to remove Ramon to feed him.
Ramon is now a healthy, 7-pound baby orangutan with arms like tentacles, a
grip like a vise and the typical old-man primate visage. He is healthy and, by
all appearances, happy, but he cannot be returned to his parents anytime soon.
Without his mother's milk, Ramon has failed to build up the immunities he
needs to live with his own.
Instead, he lives in an anteroom of a zoo office, cared for by Elena
Goroshenkova and other veterinarians. He sleeps in a wooden crib on sheets
decorated with cars, wears Pampers and charms anyone who pops by, even a
visitor who interrupts his midday nap.
"Monika's problems are fairly common with young mother orangutans,
especially those who have been raised artificially with humans," Goroshenkova
Monika's early history is also cloudy, Goroshenkova said, implying that the
orangutan's documents were doctored before she arrived at the zoo in 1987.
What seems clear is that Monika was not born in the jungles of Borneo and not
raised in an orangutan family.
She has, though, come a long way at the zoo, even learning to draw and
paint well enough that she had an exhibit where the zoo sold her work. (Asked
the top price a Monika painting fetched, chief curator Natalia Popova
demurred. "It's a commercial secret," she said.)
Alas, Monika's skills do not carry over into family life.
This is where the Brookfield Zoo people, and television, come in.
Goroshenkova and her colleagues hope to teach Monika how to be a mother so
that her next child will not have to be taken away. They also want Ramon to
one day go back to her.
Brookfield keepers had success training their orangutan Sophia to perform
maternal duties. And when Sophia's second daughter was born, mother and child
got along well and stayed together.
"I firmly believe in the results of positive reinforcement training
programs as I have witnessed fantastic results from a variety of efforts,"
said Carol Sodaro, lead keeper of the orangutans at Brookfield Zoo. "A
training program of this type is worth every bit of the time invested if it
pays off in the mother raising her own infant."
Brookfield has made a video of its keepers working with Sophia and of the
birth of Sophia's second daughter. That video has been sent to zoos around the
world to help instruct keepers and, in some cases, to show to the orangutans
This appears to be what the Leningrad Zoopark has in mind, but it is
putting its program together on the fly.
After a local newspaper reported that zoo officials were interested in some
kind of program for Monika, Samsung donated a television. The keepershung it
outside the cage, and now Monika and Rabu watch Latin American soap operas,
Russian game shows, whatever. Rabu likes nature shows, though the ones with
tigers unnerve him.
It's odd. The keeper switches on the tube, and the two orangutans climb up
from the floor of their small cage and perch themselves on a pole. Monika
leans to one side or guides Rabu out of the way to see the screen. He,
meanwhile, takes the prime viewing seat up front.
On this afternoon, Rabu also keeps an eye on a couple of male visitors
outside his cage, even coming over a couple of times to try to spit on his
guests. The message is clear: Monika's mine.
"We're interested in molding behavior," Goroshenkova said of the television
viewing. "If they are interested, they watch. If not, they don't. It does not
The orangutans do not have control of the remote. ("They'd take it apart in
a second," Popova said.) Nor do they get to watch much more than an hour a
"They are just like children," Popova said. "They could get too accustomed
to it and spend too much time watching."
For now, Monika and Rabu will have to be content with what comes on over
Russian broadcast stations. A video player remains just one more item on the
zoo's long wish list.
The New York Times
March 9, 1999
[for personal use only]
Russian Jews Turning Edgy as the Country's Chaos Creates an Ugly Mood
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
MOSCOW -- Like many of Russia's Jews, Anatoly Vugman would like to stay in
Russia. But since the financial crisis hit last August, the 20-year-old
student has begun to hedge his bets by attending evening Hebrew classes.
Vugman has plenty of company. With the economy distressed and political
extremists making anti-Semitic tirades, enrollment in Hebrew classes here has
tripled in the last year.
Some students have already decided to move to Israel, while others simply want
to know the language of their ancestors. Then there are Jews like Vugman, an
earnest young man with wire-rim glasses, who seem to be in a quandary about
The demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 opened a fresh chapter for Russia's
Jews. Synagogues and yeshivas started up. The top echelons of government and
finance were opened to people of Jewish descent.
But Russia's Jews are now facing a collapsing economy as well as the fresh
burst of anti-Semitic statements.
For the first time in nearly a decade, emigration from Russia to Israel is
starting to climb. Though relatively modest, the number of Jews leaving for
Israel in January, 1,774, was 70 percent higher than the 975 who left in
January of last year.
While many Jews want to remain in Russia, there is a growing realization that
they will have to fight the old battles against anti-Semitism all over again.
The fears are more acute in Russia's provinces. Just Monday, Jews in
Novosibirsk reported that the lone synagogue in that Siberian city had been
vandalized and swastiskas painted on the walls. But many Jews in Moscow and in
liberal St. Petersburg are also on edge.
"Of course, things were worse in Soviet times," said Zinaida, 70, a retired
woman who was waiting for a meeting at Moscow's Choral Synagogue and declined
to give her last name. "But now anti-Semitism is again threatening us and our
Russia has never been an easy place for Jews. Under the czars there were
restrictions on where Jews could live, and violent pogroms.
During Soviet times Jews often filled the professional ranks, but they were
generally barred from leading universities and from top jobs. Worship was
suppressed. Jews were identified as a separate nationality in internal
The collapse of the Soviet Union unleashed a virtual tidal wave of emigration.
So many Jews have intermarried and assimilated that estimating how many remain
in Russia is an arcane science.
Mark Kupovetsky, a demographer at the Jewish studies program at the Russian
State University for the Humanities in Moscow, says there is a "core" Jewish
population of 332,000. That figure is derived, in part, from the number who
described themselves as Jewish in the last Soviet census.
The estimate increases severalfold if it includes those with a Jewish parent
or grandparent -- important because Israel accepts immigrants who can show
that at least one grandparent is Jewish.
While Jews represent only a small fraction of the country's 147 million
people, their status has long been taken as a measure of Russia's struggle to
build a more democratic and tolerant society. In recent years, in fact, the
situation for Jews has largely been considered to be a Russian success story.
Jews have used their new freedoms to reclaim their heritage. Moscow State
University recently began a joint program of Jewish studies with Hebrew
University. To the tune of "Hava Nagilah," ads for matzo appeared on Russian
television during Passover.
Nationalist politicians have also been free, however, to exploit Russia's deep
undercurrent of anti-Semitism, which they have done more frequently since the
financial collapse last August.
"Russia has never known democracy, and democracy is a very intricate thing to
put so suddenly on the shoulders of millions who are used to the tradition of
a strong hand," said Tankred Golenpolsky, the editor of the Jewish Gazetta, a
"In the old days they used to keep horses in the mines and not take them out
until they got old," he added. "When they did they would have to cover their
eyes or they would go blind. Well, Russia is like a horse that has been taken
out without his eyes covered and is running around and shouting whatever it
Jews have certainly been a very visible target.
Much of the government team that has guided Russia's painful transition to a
market economy is of Jewish ancestry, as are many of the country's bankers and
tycoons, though few are practicing Jews.
Sergei V. Kiriyenko, the former prime minister, who adopted his mother's
Ukrainian family name, is part Jewish, as are the former Kremlin aides Boris
Y. Nemtsov and Anatoly B. Chubais. Yegor T. Gaidar, the former prime minister
who promoted a free market, also has some Jewish ancestors.
But then Jews have also been on different sides of the debate, a fact
overlooked by Russian militant nationalists. Grigory A. Yavlinksy, the head of
the Yabloko Party, who is part Jewish, has long assailed the Yeltsin
government for its halfhearted support of economic reform. One of the most
strident nationalists, Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, and Yevgeny M. Primakov, the
cautious prime minister, also have Jewish roots.
Neither Zhirinovsky nor Primakov has ever been assailed by anti-Semites, which
Jewish leaders say shows that the recent wave of anti-Semitism is part of a
broader assault on the Western and pro-capitalist attitudes epitomized by
Russia's more liberal Jews.
Many Jews in fact believe that their acceptance in Russian society will
ultimately depend on the nation's ability to develop a capitalist democracy
with rising living standards and Western-style legal protections.
"The future for Jews in Russia depends on the success of economic reform,"
It is the virulent anti-Semitic tirades of extremists like Albert Makashov, a
Communist legislator and former general, that have alarmed many Jews.
He recently gave a fiery address in the southern Russian town of Novocherkassk
in which he virtually invited Cossacks to ramsack Jewish homes.
"They are so brave and cheeky because we are dormant so far," he said.
Another self-proclaimed anti-Semite is Aleksandr Barkashov, the leader of the
neo-Fascist group, Russian National Unity, whose emblem resembles a swastika.
He recently told a rally in Yekaterinburg that he was changing the name of his
political groups to "Movement Against the Jews."
Viktor Ilyukhkin, chairman of the Parliament's defense committee and a
Communist, has charged that Yeltsin and Jewish members of his "inner circle"
are committing "genocide" against the Russian people.
Public opinion polls indicate that these extremists do not speak for most
Russians. And many Russians Jews say that their situation is not as bad as
that of other groups.
"The average Russian is more upset about the presence of Caucasians in Moscow
than about Jews," said Rashid Kaplanov, the president of Sefer, a Moscow-based
center of Jewish studies, referring to the people from the southern Caucasus
mountains region. "Still, one does feel vulnerable."
The main worry for Russia's Jewish leaders is that the barrage of from the
extremists will begin to stir up ordinary Russians, particularly in the
In Novosibirsk, where the report came Monday that the synagogue had been
vandalized over the weekend, a new rabbi, Shnaior Zalman Zaklos, had arrived
only 10 days before. Miriam Zaklos, his wife, said in an telephone interview
Monday that prayer books were torn up, and Torah religious scrolls were
ripped. The name of the neo-fascist group, Russian National Unity, was painted
on the walls.
Russian National Unity has also distributed virulently anti-Semitic material
in Borovichi, a town of 70,000 people 240 miles north of Moscow.
"At least in Moscow there's some regulation," Eduard Alekseyev, the 29-year-
old leader of the local Jewish Association, said in a telephone interview.
"Here swastikas are legal. Its legal to say, 'Yids Get Out.' "
Jewish fears have been aggravated by the mixed response from mainstream
politicians. President Boris N. Yeltsin has denounced anti-Semitism, and Mayor
Yuri M. Luzhkov of Moscow has banned marches by fascist groups.
But the Communist-led Parliament has refused to censure Makashov. Gennady
Zyuganov, the Communist leader, has criticized Makashov for his "intemperance"
but in an appeal to national sentiment has also implied at times that Russians
of Jewish origin are overrepresented in government and finance.
Or, as Zyuganov put it, "Too many people with strange-sounding family names
mingle in the internal affairs of Russia."
Jews themselves are not always certain about how to fight the problem.
Vladimir A. Gusinsky, a news media tycoon who is the leader of the Russian
Jewish Congress, has taken a head-on approach.
Gusinsky said in an interview that he had asked the World Economic Forum not
to invite Zyuganov to its conference in Davos, Switzerland, because of his
failure to condemn the anti-Jewish remarks by Makashov.
Zyuganov, in fact, was not invited this year, though organizers of the forum
insist his statements regarding Russian Jews were not the reason. Many Jews,
however, are uncomfortable with too confrontational a strategy.
"There is a dispute between generations," observed Rabbi Pincus Goldschmidt of
the Choral Synogogue. "The older generation, which lived under Stalin and
survived, believes in bending. It thinks silence is more effective than
confrontation. But the young people are ready to fight."
One prominent Jewish writer, Eduard Topol, stirred up a stormy debate by
publishing an open letter in a Russian newspaper urging Jewish financiers to
devote their energies -- and their newly made millions -- to the common good.
Topol wrote that such pre-emptive measures would defuse anti-Semitic
sentiment, but critics say his letter may encourage the very sentiments he
Some Jews have strayed so far from their traditions, however, that they are
not above making anti-Semitic slights themselves. When Nemtsov, the reform-
minded Kremlin aide, sought to combat the influence of Russia's tycoons last
year, the financier Boris Berezovsky responded with an anti-Semitic jibe.
Berezovsky, a Jew who once held an Israeli passport but who christened his
infant son in the Russian Orthodox faith, said Nemtsov would never be elected
president because his mother was Jewish.
Nemtsov, he sneered, has a "purely genetic problem."
At the after-school center on Vadkovsky Pereulok, in central Moscow, the
worries are palpable. On Sundays, some 700 Russians attend Hebrew classes here
and even on weekdays several classrooms are full.
Alla Levy, the director of the Moscow office of the Jewish Agency for Israel,
which assists Jews in emigrating, says that immigration to Israel could reach
20,000 in 1999, compared with fewer than 15,000 in 1998.
That is small compared with the massive wave of emigration that came on the
heels of the Soviet Union's demise, but it is still a significant change.
Anti-Semitism is just one factor in decisions to emigrate. Before the
financial crisis, many young and middle-aged professionals felt they had a
better chance of making good in Russia than they would if they started over
again in Israel.
But now many are worried about building a future for their children. And
unlike most of Russia's ethnic groups, Jews have a homeland to which they can
Viktor Rechistyev, a 38-year-old entrepreneur who is studying Hebrew, declared
he had made up his mind to leave.
"Russian history here has always been stormy," Rechistyev said. "We have had
enough of this."
Vugman, a student at one of Moscow's most prestigious management academies,
"I am a Jew, and I want to know the language of my parents," he said. "But I
don't want to live in another country. Anti-Semitism is not the state policy.
There is not complete anarchy in the country, and we are not threatened by
pogroms. None of that has happened."
That brought a sharp retort from Irma Yelasvili, a 28-year-old Jew who moved
to Moscow from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia five years ago, "When the
pogroms happen, it will be too late to leave. It will be too late."
As the class resumed, Vugman seemed to be careworn and tense.
"You know my wife is Russian and I am sure her parents would not want her to
emigrate to Israel," he added softly. "But maybe in the future we will go to
the United States, Canada or Israel, after all."
to CDI's Home Page I Return
to CDI's Library