This Date's Issues: 3102•3103
Johnson's Russia List
22 March 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. AP: Greg Myre, Russian Comes to U.S. Seeking Money. (Mike
"its time for some tough love for Russia.")
2. Los Angeles Times: Peter Reddaway and Dmitri Glinski, A Chance for
Democracy Amid a Rising Tide of Chaos.
3. AFP: Primakov faces difficult mission to United States.
4. Sydney Morning Herald: Neela Banerjee, Random sacking fails to halt
5. New York Times letters: Should the West Save Russia?
6. The Sunday Times (UK): A jolly piece of mischief in history.
Eleanor Mills meets Mikhail Gorbachev.
7. New York Times: Michael Gordon, Russia With Many Faces May Get Lift
in U.S. Visit.
8. Itar-Tass: Russian Official: NATO Peacekeeping Dictated by US.
9. Itar-Tass: Food Situation in Russia Encouraging and Dramatic.]
Russian Comes to U.S. Seeking Money
By Greg Myre
March 21, 1999
MOSCOW (AP) -- Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov heads to Washington with one
very specific and difficult task -- securing billions of dollars to help
Russia stay afloat.
Primakov will, of course, see President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore
to run down a long list of differences that include Iran, Iraq, Kosovo,
NATO expansion and arms control when he arrives Tuesday.
Key issues all. But from Russia's perspective, none matters as much as
Primakov's conference with International Monetary Fund chief Michel
Camdessus, and the Washington-based fund's verdict on whether Moscow is
worthy of a multibillion dollar loan to prop up its thoroughly depressed
``Certainly for Russia, the IMF loan agreement is the most important
issue,'' said political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky. ``However, I don't
think there will be a clear-cut decision just yet.''
A new loan won't save Russia, but the country does need money, and fast.
Millions of Russians are growing poorer, businesses and industries are
crippled, and the country faces $17.5 billion in foreign debt payments this
year, but can pay only half that at most.
The big crunch could come as soon as May, when several billion dollars of
debt come due.
Russia has already missed several large debt payments, and further defaults
may scare away remaining foreign banks and investors and deal an additional
blow to Russia's muddled attempts to build a functioning market economy.
Primakov has been widely praised for giving Russia political and economic
stability since becoming prime minister in the wake of Russia's financial
collapse last August. He guided Russia through a calm winter despite dire
warnings of food shortages and social unrest.
But critics say his government has merely treaded water, and has not
developed a coherent program to reverse the economic decline. And the
recent political peace has been fraying.
President Boris Yeltsin spent more time in a hospital bed than in his
Kremlin office in recent months, and is increasingly isolated politically.
His approval rating is in single digits and his Communist rivals have set
April 15 for launching an impeachment debate in parliament. Yeltsin is
expected ultimately to survive the challenge, but it will add to a
rancorous political atmosphere.
Yeltsin cannot point to any major achievements since his re-election three
years ago, and has simply ignored the country's recent economic woes,
leaving the entire burden to Primakov.
The president has retained his penchant for sacking and reshuffling his
staff. But aside from that, little is expected of Yeltsin, who has vowed to
remain in office until his term expires next year.
Primakov, meanwhile, sees Russia as a once and future world power that
should deal with the United States as an equal. Yet he will be reduced to
pleading, hat in hand, during his Washington visit.
Russia is so impoverished that the national budget for the entire year is
only $25 billion -- a sum the U.S. government spends about every six days.
Russia is already the IMF's largest single borrower and Moscow's debts this
year include $4.8 billion to the fund. In effect, the IMF may end up
lending to Russia so Moscow can repay the money it borrowed previously.
Before it does, however, there are certain to be questions raised about the
government's fiscal practices.
Last month, a state prosecutor disclosed that Russia's Central Bank had
secretly routed as much as $50 billion of the country's foreign currency
reserves through an obscure British company, possibly to siphon off
Clinton has been a big supporter of aid to Russia, and U.S. policy has
often been guided by the notion that Russia must not be allowed to descend
into chaos because of its political importance and its nuclear arsenal.
This line of thinking led the United States and other Western countries to
pour billions of dollars into Russia even while the economy was careening
from one crisis to the next.
The United States ``thinks that Russia is too big to fail, and because it
has thousands of nuclear weapons it gets certain kinds of conditions that
Zimbabwe could never dream of,'' said Michael McFaul, a senior associate at
the Carnegie Center in Moscow.
The money tap was turned off after the August crash, when the IMF and other
lenders abruptly halted aid. While Russia has complained loudly about the
strict conditions placed on new aid, McFaul believes a new, stricter
approach is needed to encourage fiscal discipline.
``I think its time for some tough love for Russia,'' said McFaul. ``If you
want the money, then you have to accept the conditions.''
Los Angeles Times
March 21, 1999
[for personal use only]
A Chance for Democracy Amid a Rising Tide of Chaos
By PETER REDDAWAY (email@example.com) and DMITRI GLINSKI
Peter Reddaway Is a Professor of Political Science at George Washington
University and Former Director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian
Studies. Dmitri Glinski Is a Russian Scholar Attached to George Washington
University. Their Book, "Market Bolshevism: the Tragedy of Russia's Reforms,"
Is Due out Later This Year.
WASHINGTON--This week, the Clinton administration has an opportunity to
reverse the downward spiral in its relations with Russia. Monday, Russian
Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov arrives in Washington for talks with U.S.
and International Monetary Fund officials. With Russia's democracy--indeed,
survival--threatened, these officials should grasp the nettle and relieve
Moscow of some of its crushing foreign debt. This year, the Kremlin is due to
make debt payments roughly equal to the revenue the government is currently
expected to receive, barring any loans. The sum, roughly $16 billion, cannot
The visit will be difficult for Primakov. Some commentators have labeled
him a sinister "former spy master." But he was given that unenviable job by
Mikhail S. Gorbachev after an aborted hard-line coup in August 1991; Primakov
was one of only two members of the Soviet Security Council who opposed the
junta. At the time, the intelligence agencies were being dismembered, and
Russian democrats were at the peak of their influence. Had they doubted his
liberal credentials, they could have blocked his appointment.
However, this is secondary to one critically important fact: Primakov is
the first Russian leader since 1993 who enjoys broad-based legitimacy. Eighty-
five percent of the Duma voted him in, with only the Kremlin and the
ultranationalists of Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky opposed. Given the unpopularity
of his predecessors, his appointment was a major step toward representative
democracy. His approval ratings have consistently surpassed those of all other
Russian politicians. Though his government's economic performance has not as
yet justified this level of trust, his moral capital, if skillfully invested,
will greatly benefit a country where despair and mistrust are pervasive in the
How can the West help Primakov succeed? German Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder perceptively remarked, "Stabilizing Russia now means stabilizing
Primakov's government." However, Russia's democracy may not be strong enough
to keep Primakov in power, despite his constitutional legitimacy. A key
problem are the "oligarchs," the crony capitalists of the financial, media and
raw-materials sectors who shaped many of Russia's economic "reforms" in the
mid-1990s, so they could, with impunity, milk billions of dollars from the
state. They reaped their latest windfall during the collapse of the ruble and
treasuries markets last August, when the July IMF loan was partly used to
cover losses on their speculations.
Since his appointment, Primakov has blocked the oligarchs' easy access to
state coffers. In revenge, they are fiercely attacking him, through their
media empires and associated politicians. They keep predicting that Primakov's
Washington trip to renegotiate Russia's debt will fail. Then, they insist,
President Boris N. Yeltsin will restore them to their privileged positions.
Even though most Russians hate the oligarchs, they claim the IMF and the U.S.
government favor them. To promote this scenario, some have traveled to
Washington and lobbied against their own government. Thus, if Primakov's visit
goes badly, the oligarchs and other corrupt elements will be boosted in their
efforts to unseat the first government to combat their plundering. Russia's
democracy and economic performance would continue "muddling down," and anti-
Western sentiment among ordinary Russians would keep rising.
But if Primakov's visit produces positive results, it opens a window of
opportunity. Russia will have a chance to begin its long-awaited transition
from the supermonopolistic, robber-baron capitalism unleashed by Yeltsin's
"reforms" to a more efficient and just system. Then Primakov might finally
agree to run for president in the 2000 elections, for which his chances of
victory look good. Most Russians view him as a statesman who does not put his
personal interests above the nation's. He also represents that small,
enlightened sector of the elite who abstained from participating in the orgy
of capital accumulation, thus preserving their independence from the crony
It's unlikely that the U.S. government and the IMF, having sunk much
political capital into promoting reforms and reformers that could not succeed
in Russia, will now make a U-turn and embrace Primakov and his government. In
any case, he doesn't need the kind of uncritical support given his
In addition, there are not many things Washington can do in the short
term to improve the situation in Russia, given its mistrust of the West. This
is the result of a series of Western actions, from the expansion of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization to what many Russians perceive as deliberate
attempts to exclude them from Western markets. These perceptions help fuel the
Kremlin's support of countries like Serbia, Iran and Iraq.
There is, however, one major contribution that the West can--and
should--make on moral as well as pragmatic grounds. Russia's foreign debt
cannot be paid without triggering a societal collapse. A significant portion
of the debt involves loans procured by Yeltsin and other politicians to buy
support and remain in power. The 1996 presidential elections were a case in
point. Writing off at least some of these loans would help ward off chaos. It
would also be morally right. For six years, the IMF sanctioned dubious Kremlin
schemes such as floating treasuries at sky-high interest rates, which siphoned
funds from productive industries, enriched speculators and depleted the
budget. The IMF and the U.S. Treasury approved each loan because they
determined that the Kremlin was following IMF recipes for recovery and that
the Russian economy was "doing well."
These calculations and recipes led straight to the financial collapse of
last August. They were egregiously wrong and caused Russia enormous harm. Why,
then, should Russians alone foot the bill for bad advice? Even if the loans
are eventually forgiven, as they should be, Russia will need several decades
to repair the damage.
Some critics of the IMF's discredited advice cite Russia's 30,000 nuclear
warheads as a key reason for more sensitive policies. This is a sound
argument, but less important morally than the long-term plight of 147 million
Russians, whose faith in democracy, capitalism and the West's good intentions
is virtually shattered. Without debt relief, they will be paying off the loans
in taxes for the rest of their lives.
The issue of debt relief for poor countries is gaining wider acceptance.
The Catholic Church and such world leaders as British Prime Minister Tony
Blair and now President Bill Clinton have been calling for urgent, wide-scale
action. In Russia, the debt mountain compounds the already ominous threats of
political breakdown and nuclear proliferation. Taken together, they endanger
the entire world, not just one region.
Debt relief would provide Russians with some compensation for the dashed
expectations of 1991-92 that their country would soon be a full-blooded
participant in world markets and institutions. It would restore some hope to
the Russian people and help atone for Western policies that stimulated anti-
Americanism. Over time, it would serve U.S. interests better than the futile
and damaging efforts of the past decade to remold Russia in the American
Primakov faces difficult mission to United States
MOSCOW, March 21 (AFP) - Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov begins what
promises to be a difficult visit to the United States Tuesday, dominated by
economic questions which could seriously erode his authority, and the Kosovo
Vital negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are high on the
agenda of the former foreign minister's first trip to Washington since he was
appointed to head the government last September.
Though his nomination ended a serious political crisis sparked by Russia's
financial collapse some weeks earlier, Primakov's honeymoon period now seems
to be over.
Accused by his critics of displaying a prudence bordering on inactivity,
Primakov claimed on the eve of his departure from Moscow that some progress
had been made in the talks with the IMF.
But his communist deputy, Yuri Maslyukov, accused the IMF of exerting
"indecent pressure" on Moscow.
"We have done well but we are not going to make a song and dance about it for
all that," Maslyukov said.
The IMF delegation which has been negotiating with the Russians in Moscow is
to report on its mission before Primakov meets the fund's director general,
Michel Camdessus, on Wednesday.
US President Bill Clinton, who will also see the Russian leader, has already
warned that Moscow must take steps, notably in the form of legislation, before
it can expect resumption of IMF loans frozen last August.
Russia desperately needs a rescheduling of part of its foreign debt, because
it lacks the cash to meet repayments totalling 17.5 billion dollars due this
Failure to meet its external obligations, having already defaulted on its
internal debt, would make Russia a pariah on the world capital markets for
"This visit is very risky for Primakov, because he left the negotiations with
the IMF in Maslyukov's hands and they have failed. Now he has to correct the
mistakes which have been made, and if he fails (Russian President Boris)
Yeltsin will have every excuse to sack him," political analyst Yevgeny Volk
Primakov's problems are heightened by the fact that he does not have a very
good image in the United States, which suspects his willingness to make
Also on the agenda is the bi-annual meeting of the joint Russian-US committee
for economic and technical cooperation, to be chaired by primakov and US Vice
President Al Gore.
Some 30 accords will be signed relating to the committee's responsibilities,
which include food and agriculture, energy, nuclear power, the reconversion of
the defence industry, space and the environment, according to Interfax news
International political questions expected to be covered in talks Primakov
will have with Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright include Kosovo,
Iraq, the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Russia's
nuclear assistance to Iran.
Moscow and Washington have different views on all these matters, and
Primakov's stay could coincide with heightened NATO preparations to attack
Serbia in a bid to force Belgrade's compliance with a Kosov peace deal.
Russia has also voiced concern at last week's vote by Congress in favour of
development of new anti-missile defence system for the United States.
Primakov will wind up his visit Friday with a more congenial meeting, with UN
Secretary General Kofi Annan. Russia insists on the primordial role of the
United Nations in settling world crises in the face of US attempts to play the
Sydney Morning Herald
March 22, 1999
[for personal use only]
Random sacking fails to halt crisis
By NEELA BANERJEE in Moscow
On the eve of Russia's most critical talks yet with the International
Monetary Fund, the Kremlin and the legislature are locked in a power
struggle that intensifies the political instability that has gripped the
country for months.
The Russian President, Mr Boris Yeltsin, fired his chief of staff, Mr
Nikolai Bordyuzha, on Friday - apparently because he had not succeeded in
bringing the country's fractious parliament and politicians to heel. Mr
Yeltsin replaced him with a little-known economist, Mr Alexander Voloshin.
The prevailing wisdom was that Mr Bordyuzha had become the fall guy for the
failure of the Government's campaign to force the resignation of the
country's prosecutor general, Mr Yuri Skuratov.
The Kremlin reshuffle comes just as the Prime Minister, Mr Yevgeny
Primakov, leaves today for Washington to meet the Vice-President, Mr Al
Gore, and lobby the IMF for a $US4.5 billion ($7.15 billion) loan so Russia
can roll over its old IMF loans due this year. The IMF has been reluctant
to lend Russia more money after it defaulted on its short-term debt in August.
Mr Yeltsin's latest round of punishments was unleashed by a political
stand-off and tawdry scandal which broke last week.
On Wednesday, Russia's Federation Council, or upper house of parliament,
voted against Mr Yeltsin's dismissal of Mr Skuratov, following the
appearance of a videotape at television stations showing the married
prosecutor frolicking with two prostitutes.
The council's refusal to go along with Mr Yeltsin on this and several other
crucial votes demonstrated his eroding grip on power as he battles against
illnesses that have beset him since last autumn.
The governors, who voted to keep Mr Skuratov in his post, also approved a
cut to Russia's value-added tax (VAT), a populist move that would greatly
reduce the country's already-meagre tax revenues and render an agreement
with the IMF impossible. Without the IMF loan, Russia will not be able to
restructure its debts.
The restructuring is critical if Russia does not want to default on its
obligations: its entire Budget for 1999 is about $US20 billion, and it owes
about $US17 billion to lenders, says the Russian-European Centre for
Mr Yeltsin will probably veto the VAT cut this week, but it is unclear what
he plans to do about Mr Skuratov.
New York Times
March 21, 1999
Should the West Save Russia?
To the Editor:
Anatol Lieven (Op-Ed, March 17) asks if it is in the West's interest to see
The answer is yes.
The tendency toward political decentralization in Russia does not present a
danger to Russia or to the international community.
The loosening of central control over Russia's many regions leads not to
anarchy but to the strengthening of local control.
Artificially propping up the center with infusions from the International
Monetary Fund will only prolong the chaos.
Let Russia disintegrate.
New York, March 17, 1999
To the Editor:
Anatol Lieven (Op-Ed, March 17) argues that the International Monetary Fund
should continue to give money to Russia. But he disregards the idea in
economics of sunk costs. An additional $22 billion could repay what Russia
already owes, but what billions would pay off the second installment? Without
any change to the Russian system it would be similar to the revolving debt
associated with excessive credit card use.
Also, Russia's policies on Iraq and other rogue states should make us
its foreign policy. Russia pulled out of Europe because there was no other
viable option. If it has not invaded another state, it is not out of respect
for international law but out of its inability to do so.
DAVID A. PACKMAN
Boston, March 17, 1999
To the Editor:
Anatol Lieven (Op-Ed, March 17) criticizes the International Monetary
making large loans to Russia in 1995 and 1996 while "turning a blind eye" to
the economically ruinous policies employed by President Boris N. Yeltsin to
secure his election victories. But he is mistaken to urge the I.M.F. to renew
lending to Russia to prevent its international isolation.
Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov's agenda for survival is lacking even the
pretense of structural reform. More significantly, the "sick central state"
that Lieven hopes to keep alive is already a thinly disguised fiction. The
national clans and and regional barons that vie for power agree on little
beyond the need to keep the Russian people disenfranchised and the central
If it was wrong to subsidize Yeltsin's policy of buying his re-election with
state money, how can it be right now to turn a blind eye to Primakov's cynical
embrace of the status quo?
New York, March 18, 1999
The writer is an assistant professor of political science, Columbia
To the Editor:
Anatol Lieven (Op-Ed, March 17) argues that the International Monetary Fund
should lend money to Russia so it will be able to repay the fund and other
lending institutions the $4.8 billion it owes this year.
Should Russia default on its financial obligations, he argues, the country
will become far more dangerous to the United States.
However, the I.M.F. loan to Russia was made for exactly this reason, but the
money was siphoned out of the country to line the pockets of corrupt
bureaucrats. For the I.M.F. to lend money to Russia so it can repay money it
took from the I.M.F. in the first place is not only absurd but dangerous.
Until the Russian economy achieves some transparency -- accounting
and accountability -- it is ridiculous to throw good money after bad.
FRANK J. CILLUFFO
Washington, March 17, 1999
The writer is a director of the Russian Organized Crime Task Force, Center for
Strategic and International Studies.
The Sunday Times (UK)
March 21 1999
[for personal use only]
A jolly piece of mischief in history
Eleanor Mills meets Mikhail Gorbachev (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Meeting Mikhail Gorbachev is a pretty nerveracking business. Not, you
understand, because the former president of the Soviet Union, the man who
dismantled communism and ended the cold war, is unfriendly. Quite the
contrary. In the flesh - and there is rather a lot of it - he is cherubic,
charming and exudes the most infectious, upbeat jollity of anyone I have met.
He is, I must confess, a mischievous little darling.
No. The reason why I feel sick with terror, sweaty with fright, is because
it's really him. Gorby. The man who freed 300m Soviets from the straitjacket
of socialism. The peasant boy who rose through the ranks to be general
secretary of the Communist party (like Stalin before him) and, rather than
becoming a tyrant, changed the entire system because he believed it was
Gorbachev, you see, is the real thing. In 20 years' time the Spice Girls,
Michael Jackson and Madonna will be forgotten. Gorby, however, will be going
strong; his deeds taught in history lessons to the world's children.
So where do you rendezvous with an icon? At an international hotel in Mayfair,
central London: upmarket, bland, discreet, the kind of place where rich
Americans arrive in black-windowed Mercedes and nobody would dare to admit a
president is in residence.
Gorby is late. That, I suppose, is his prerogative. Eventually, I ring an aide
to hurry him up. "Excuse me," I say, "we need Mr Gorbachev soon. He's late."
We wait. Half an hour later there is still no sign. We ring again. "Could Mr
Gorbachev possibly get a move on?" I can't believe I am saying this.
Suddenly, he is there. The president, as he is called, is accompanied by a
phalanx of menacing flunkeys: a Rosa Klebb-style female bodyguard (serious leg
muscles) a beefy security man and an interpreter (Gorbachev speaks no
English). Gorby, though, is all smiles, talking fast in guttural Russian while
his interpreter plays catch-up.
Gorbachev is a pro. Within seconds he is crooning to Sally, our photographer,
Ochie-chorniye or Dark Eyes, an old Russian love song she heard as a child.
Gorby is working his magic.
There is, however, nowhere for me to sit - all those henchmen - so I find
myself cross-legged at his feet. He twinkles at me appreciatively - later I
realise he had a perfect view down the front of my shirt. "This is the way an
interview with a president should be done," he says. "You should be on your
knees in front of Gorbachev." Everyone in the room laughs and he grins. I
remind him that his most high-profile recent appearance in the West was
advertising pizza - would he do it again?
"I think once was enough," he chortles. "The advert worked very well for me
because I didn't say a single word and I didn't have to eat any pizza. Even my
granddaughter, who appeared with me, didn't eat anything." At this, he laughs
so hard I think he might burst.
"But seriously," he adds, "the best thing about the advert is that it
celebrates my achievement in opening up Russia to business."
But was he not worried, I ask, that such a tacky undertaking would ruin his
gravitas? "I agreed to do this commercial," he says, suddenly serious,
"because the Gorbachev Foundation had its building confiscated by Yeltsin
[Russia's current president, who ousted him]. We needed to raise money to
build our own headquarters. All the royalties from the pizza went towards the
new building, which will house a library, archive and museum of perestroika."
Although Gorbachev is phenomenally popular in the West - the noun Gorbymania
even appears in the Oxford English Dictionary - many of his fellow Russians
blame him for the chaos that now envelops their country. He has been branded a
"Judas" for destroying the communist system and dismantling the empire.
Has he, I ask, ever considered leaving Russia, where he is not so popular, and
coming to live in the West? He does, after all, spend many months of each year
on the kind of book tours and speaking engagements so beloved of Margaret
Thatcher and other members of the former leaders' club. And he has a penchant
for the Mediterranean, where he often holidays with his wife Raisa.
"Not at all. I would never leave Russia," he says, looking rather hurt by my
question. "This idea that I am so unpopular in Russia is generally more
speculation than fact. The truth is that as a result of what I did - in our
country, in Europe and indeed the world - everyone benefited. We have nuclear
disarmament, we don't have the cold war, my country is open now and I know
that my people welcome and support these moves. But Russia is moving from one
system to another and many people live in great hardship."
But if the Russians welcome his reforms so much, why did he only receive 1% of
the vote at the last election?
"During the presidency campaign in 1996," he explains, "I travelled throughout
Russia. Everywhere I went I had very good, lively meetings with large groups
of people. Often I would talk to them for three or four hours." No surprises
there, all those years as propaganda chief in the local Communist party have
left him with a propensity towards verbosity that Neil Kinnock would envy.
"Most of the meetings," he continues, "began rather sharply. The communists,
you see, were sending their people along in order to try and demoralise my
campaign. But the meetings ended very differently. The people stood up and
applauded me. One independent body in Russia has said that I got at least 15%
of the vote in 1996 but was denied the true result because of vote-rigging.
Boris Yeltsin is scared of me."
Why, I ask, does he think that?
"Over the past five or six years, Yeltsin and his team have done their best to
isolate and discredit me. I was not allowed to speak on live television and
they would not publish my books in Russia. Why would they put an embargo
around me if they were not afraid?"
So will he be standing in the presidential elections next year?
"No, I will not be running," he says, a trifle regretfully. Perhaps the
famously glamorous Raisa has finally had her way. (She is not with him on this
trip but at home with her grandchildren. Gorby's daughter is accompanying him
"I am supporting Primakov," he adds. "I have met him twice recently and we
have a good understanding. Luskov, the mayor of Moscow, would be a good prime
minister for him. They would make a good team."
Is he, I wonder, worried that all the social and economic turmoil will lead
Russia to seek a more tyrannical ruler? "Well," he says, pausing and looking
grave for the first time. "I don't want to talk about that because I am really
doing my best, everything I can, to stop that from happening. The West can
help, too. The International Monetary Fund loans that we expect imminently
will not save Russia. They are a drop in the bucket towards reviving our
economy, but every little drop is important to keep the situation under
control. Next time I am in Britain I will talk to Tony Blair about this."
He is in London to promote the International Green Cross, an environmental
equivalent of the Red Cross which he set up in 1992 to clean up after
environmental disasters all over the world. It transpires, however, that
"yesterday" he met Margaret Thatcher, his beloved sparring partner of old.
"I love seeing Margaret," he says fondly. "I do like and respect enormously
the people with whom I worked on the crucial task of ending the cold war, and
Margaret was the first person I met at that level. We are still good friends."
I can easily understand how Gorby's twinkly charm appealed to Thatcher - she
always liked flirtatious men and I'm sure he is much more fun over cucumber
sandwiches than General Pinochet.
Has he ever chatted to Thatcher about what it is like to go from wielding
great power to being a normal citizen?
"No," he says. "I never discussed that with her because she knows and I know
what it feels like." He laughs uproariously and winks at me. Okay, I counter,
what does it feel like?
"It feels fine," he says. "Really, Eleanor, I feel all right. I am not crazy
about power. Had I been crazy about power, I would never have made the reforms
that I made to the Communist party and to Russia. Remember, I used the power I
wielded as general secretary of the Communist party of the USSR to transform
it into a different system."
How could I - or any of us - forget?
New York Times
21 March 1999
[for personal use only]
Russia With Many Faces May Get Lift in U.S. Visit
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
MOSCOW -- In his long and somewhat mysterious political career, Yevgeny
Primakov has dealt with the United States in many guises: reform communist,
intelligence chief and an occasionally quarrelsome foreign minister.
But now, as prime minister and effective leader of the Russian government
under an erratic, ailing and jealous President Boris Yeltsin, Primakov is
facing one of his most important challenges.
In Washington this week, his goal will be to win several billion dollars in
credits from a skeptical International Monetary Fund. The prize would help
Russia to regain a modicum of respectability on the world financial markets
and to restructure its colossal foreign debt.
It would also make Primakov a conquering hero at home, with greatly improved
chances of succeeding Yeltsin.
It is a testimony to his dogged persistence -- and the anxiety of the West
about Russia's stability -- that he is likely, eventually, to prevail, despite
an economic policy that is little more than a vague and sometimes
contradictory prescription for muddling through.
His supporters say this is all the West can expect from a nation exhausted
by its tainted experiment with capitalism. With Yeltsin's health fading by the
day and Russia's market reformers in political exile, they say, the United
States would be wise to recognize Primakov as its best bet.
"The fact is we have had a more or less stable situation," said Yuri
Kobaladze, the deputy director of the Itar-Tass government news agency, who
also worked for Primakov when he ran the nation's intelligence service.
"Nobody else could have achieved this very small positive result."
To his critics, however, Primakov is a classic Soviet apparatchik, an
official who has established a political equilibrium largely by avoiding the
tough decisions needed to yank Russia out of its economic mire.
"He is part Andropov and part Brezhnev," said Andrei Piontkovsky, one of
Russia's leading political analysts, referring to Yuri Andropov, the former
Soviet leader and KGB chief who urged discipline, and Leonid Brezhnev, the
stolid Soviet leader who preceded him and presided over 18 years of social and
"Like Andropov, he has been efficiently promoting people from the former KGB
community. Like Brezhnev, his style for running the country is to do nothing,"
Nobody would deny that the 69-year-old Primakov inherited an onerous
situation when he became prime minister following the financial crisis in
The ruble had crashed. Inflation was soaring and the harvest was a bust.
Critics warned that Primakov would blunder his way into an even greater
However rich his experience in Kremlin intrigue, nothing had prepared him
for this. Born in Kiev and raised in Tbilisi, now the capitals of Ukraine and
Georgia, he studied at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow and became
a Pravda correspondent in the Middle East.
In those days, Soviet correspondents were often spies or collaborators with
Soviet intelligence. Many Western analysts assume that Primakov was no
exception, though Primakov vigorously denies it.
For a leader who has cultivated a reputation as a steely defender of Russian
interests, Primakov remains surprisingly sensitive about his image in the
West. Nothing seems to rankle him more than the charge that he is an
unreconstructed intelligence operative or Cold Warrior.
"I won't kill you, so don't kill me," he implored at the start of an
interview with The New York Times last year, when he was still foreign
Then he waved a sheaf of critical editorials and columns from U.S.
newspapers in dismay. "It is unpleasant for me that the American press
sometimes depicts me as some kind of monster," Primakov said. "I like the
satirical articles of Art Buchwald. Those are classics."
The image Primakov likes to project is that of a scholar-turned-government-
minister who never intended to climb the rungs of power. His heavy glasses and
mumbled speech are reminiscent of those of Soviet leaders, and that serves as
an odd public relations advantage in a nation where the older population and
left-wing opposition are still nostalgic for the communist past. Not everyone,
however, takes Primakov's humility at face value.
"The assertions that Primakov did not have career ambitions are all
exaggerated," the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote in October. Following
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Primakov persuaded the Soviet
leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to authorize a round of shuttle diplomacy, casting
himself in the starring role, the newspaper noted.
The Soviet foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, was so unhappy with
Primakov's self-appointed mission that he alerted the Americans to the fact
that he had opposed it, James Baker, President Bush's secretary of state,
recalled in his memoirs.
Though his diplomacy failed to avert the Persian Gulf war, Primakov was
named chief of foreign intelligence. He was the highest-ranking official to
hang onto his post despite the collapse of the Soviet state.
Quietly tending to his spycraft, however, was not enough. From his
intelligence post, he issued a stern report on NATO expansion, assailing the
United States for taking advantage of a weakened Russia. That made him a
politically convenient choice to become foreign minister in January 1996, when
Yeltsin decided that his pro-Western foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, had
become a political liability.
Even then, Primakov kept up his nationalist rhetoric, though he was always
careful to keep Russian-American relations one step short of confrontation,
for instance over the Balkans.
"We Russians have been in the Balkans for 200 years," Primakov said in his
Times interview. "Once I told my American friends, it reminds me of a
situation where we Russians come to Mexico without taking into consideration
the opinion of the United States. Of course, the United States knows the
situation in Mexico much better. First, they had taken away Texas. Now they
are acting through NAFTA to prevent the repopulation of Texas by Mexicans."
Those kinds of barbs, as well as his criticisms of the IMF, endeared him to
the left-wing opposition. After the August financial collapse, Primakov became
the consensus candidate for prime minister, acceptable both to the communists
who dominate Parliament and to some market reformers.
In Russia's topsy-turvy politics, Primakov has won the warmest praise for
what he has not done as prime minister. He has not renationalized key
industries, enforced Draconian currency controls or flooded the country with
newly printed rubles.
But he has also done little to keep Russia marching along the path of market
reform. His government team -- an ungainly coalition of Communists and Social
Democrats -- has never spelled out its economic plan.
"What is Primakov's secret?" the newspaper Segodnya recently asked. "It is
his solid outward appearance and his measured manner of expression. It seems
he says nothing special, yet his words sound weighty. As a result, everyone
hears what they want. Liberals hear 'market,' and communists 'state
Uninspiring and murky though it may be, the message seems to work, at least
to a point. Public opinion polls indicate that he is the most trusted of
Russia's generally detested politicians. Primakov was supported by 27 percent
of those surveyed this month by the Public Opinion Foundation, several points
ahead of the second most popular politician: Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist
Primakov, however, is not relying on the polls. He has cemented his control
of the bureaucracy by inserting former aides at the intelligence agency in key
Kobaladze, a suave executive at Itar-Tass who previously served as the
spokesman for the foreign intelligence service, is just one member of the
fraternity. Lev Koshlyakov, a former intelligence officer in Australia and
Norway, is now chief of the news division of RTR, the government television
Grigory Rapota, a former Primakov aide at the intelligence agency, heads the
powerful Rosvooruzheniye, the government company in charge of selling arms.
Another loyal Primakov aide now runs the Customs Service. Along with the
Rosvooruzheniye appointment, that gives Primakov control of two of the
government's leading sources of revenue, tightening his authority over the
government and giving him the important advantage of a potential source of
campaign funds, Piontkovsky said.
As he has in the past, Primakov insists that he has no higher aspirations.
He is certainly interested, however, in extending the Kremlin's power.
Primakov's authoritarian streak recently surfaced when he proposed that local
governors be appointed by the Kremlin instead of chosen by the voters, a step
that would require amending the Constitution.
Much of Primakov's jockeying for power appears to have displeased Yeltsin.
But so far the president has been too weakened physically and politically to
do much about it.
Yeltsin, however, has made it clear that he expects Primakov to deliver the
credits from the IMF. Aides to the president have even hinted that Primakov
might be ousted if he falls short.
Certainly, Primakov has done his best to create the proper atmosphere for
this week's meetings. He has pushed for approval of the Start II treaty (the
Russian Parliament is scheduled to begin debate on ratifying the treaty on
April 2). And he has cooperated just enough on halting Serbian repression in
Kosovo to avoid a head-on fight with the United States.
His favorable working relationship with Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright is well known; he even made a surprise phone call to the secretary
one snowy night to wish her a happy New Year.
While Primakov has yet to produce an economic plan, his aides have sought to
close the gap with the IMF, calculating that U.S. pressure will prompt the
fund to settle over the remaining differences.
None of this, however, will solve all of Primakov's problems. The IMF funds
that Russia hopes to receive would largely offset the $4.8 billion the
government owes the fund this year. The IMF's blessing would make it easier
for the Kremlin to renegotiate other foreign loans and to unlock about another
$1.2 billion in World Bank and Japanese aid.
But the foreign assistance will not take all of the pressure off Russia's
domestic budget. With tax revenues lagging behind expectations, experts say,
Russia may face further wage delays, decisions to print more money and rising
Deeper economic reforms have also been put on hold. The privatization of
state enterprises has all but ground to a halt and the government has yet to
carry out its long-overdue restructuring of its collapsed banking sector.
Primakov appears to be calculating that Russians' craving for stability is
so strong that they will not be distressed by the government's inaction.
If he can escape the wrath of Yeltsin, who dismissed two prime ministers
last year, his cautious incrementalism might win him the presidency next year.
While Primakov denies that he is running for president, he has made clear
that he is aiming at a broader political legacy.
"I do not want my legacy to be that of KGB agent," he said in his Times
interview, alluding to his image in the West. "Absolutely not."
Yet he could not resist a telling quip about his days of intrigue,
displaying the humor that is said to mark his private conversations, in
contrast to his dour public demeanor. He recalled that when he ran the foreign
intelligence service, he had invited several U.S. lawmakers to visit him.
"Two congressmen who visited me asked if they were the first Americans to
visit the headquarters," he said. "I said, 'You are the first who are not our
Russian Official: NATO Peacekeeping Dictated by US
Moscow, March 17 (Itar-Tass) -- NATO's desire to
participate in peacekeeping operations is dictated by the United States
and NATO is turning into an organisation which, while retaining its
previous functions, is assuming new ones, the director of the Russian
Institute of Strategic Studies, Yevgeniy Kozhokin, said.
He spoke at a round table hosted by the military newspaper Krasnaya
Zvezda and devoted to security in Northern Europe and in the Baltic Sea area.
Kozhokin noted that U.S. arguments in favour of NATO's participation in any
operation are simple -- "this operation meets the U.S. national
interests". All other arguments are put by U.S. Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright in the category of "ideology," he added.
This U.S. tactic "creates new phenomena, for example, the state of
Bosnia-Herzegovina," he said.
Kozhokin stressed that "this is a very peculiar experiment to create a new
state from outside". He believes that the situation in Kosovo develops by
the same scenario. Russia's opinion and its national interests are being
Speaking about stability in the Baltics, Kozhokin noted that "the political
elites in these countries have this conviction that their independence is
fragile and it must be guaranteed in the most harsh and definite way --
that is by admission to NATO." Russia's objections are ignored.
One of the problems in Russia's relations with the Baltic states is that
"understanding between the Baltic political elites and the Russian elite
is at its lowest right now," he said.
Food Situation in Russia Encouraging and Dramatic.
WASHINGTON, March 19 (Itar-Tass) - Russian Deputy Premier Gennady Kulik, on a
working visit in Washington, described Russia's situation with food supply as
both "encouraging" and "dramatic".
Speaking at the US-Russian Business Council on Thursday, the deputy premier
said the drama lies in the fact that the Russian food market consists of
imported products to 40 percent. "If a country is not independent as regard
food supply, all other problems are difficult to solve," he said.
Kulik has said that, at the same time, it is of positive importance that
Russian citizens have learned the market principles and do not reject them.
Kulik noted it had become profitable to engage in farm produce with the rise
of food products prices after the rouble rate plummetted in August 1998. He
said "unique conditions" appeared for investment in the agroindustrial complex
on a long-term basis.
Regarding the present situation in the Russian food market, Kulik said it has
a very small supply of grain. For instance, 14 Russian regions have a negative
balance for grain until the new harvest begins to be taken in. As regards meat
production, "this industry cannot be restored promptly," the deputy premier
said. So the government will shortly have to start the import of meat for
processing. US deliveries of maize and oil-seed meal are needed to restore
Kulik believes US food aid is essential at the present stage. In a number of
cases, US supplies are used as raw materials for the manufacture of food
products. He believes this aid is important not only economically but also
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