Center for Defense Information
Research Topics
CDI Library
What's New
CDI Library > Johnson's Russia List

Johnson's Russia List


March 27, 1999    
This Date's Issues: 31123113   

Johnson's Russia List
"The bible of serious Russia watchers"
27 March 1999

[Note from David Johnson:
1. New York Times: Stephen F. Cohen, 'Transition' Is a Notion Rooted 
in U.S. Ego.

2. New York Times: Martin Malia, Communist Legacy Foreclosed Choices.
3. New York Times editorial: Russia and the I.M.F.
4. Boston Globe: David Filipov, Hard-liners recruit young Russians to 
aid the Serb cause.

5. The Economist: Glum Russia, abroad and at home.
6. Moskovskiy Komsomolets: Mikhail Rostovskiy, Five Lessons From 
Stepanych. (Chernomyrdin Fate Has Lessons for Others).

7. Itar-Tass: Yeltsin Marks 10th Anniversary of First Free Elections.
8. Jamestown Foundation Prism: Aleksandr Buzgalin, RUSSIAN CITIZENS ON 


New York Times
27 March 1999
[for personal use only]
'Transition' Is a Notion Rooted in U.S. Ego
[The full text of Stephen F. Cohen's "Russian Studies Without Russia" is
in Post-Soviet Affairs, January-March 1999, vol. 15, no. 1]

With the Russian economy in disarray, people are trying to figure out what
went wrong. Indeed, Russia's reaction this week to NATO's bombing of Serbia
-- one hand raised in anger, the other out appealing for Western aid --
underscores how this onetime superpower's fortunes have changed. 

Stephen F. Cohen, a professor of Russian studies at New York University and
the author of "Rethinking the Soviet Experience" (Oxford University Press),
accuses Russia scholars of creating an "intellectual shambles" of their
field. They have ignored the country's unique history and contemporary
economic conditions, he argues, and insisted that free-market "shock
therapy" is the only way Russia could transform itself into a capitalist
democracy. Such policies have not produced successful reform but one of the
worst catastrophes in Russian history. These transition scholars, he
concludes, have created a "Russian studies without Russia." His essay is
adapted from an article in the January-to-March issue of Post-Soviet Affairs. 

Martin Malia, emeritus professor of history at the University of California
at Berkeley, whose new book, "Russia Under Western Eyes: From the Bronze
Horseman to the Lenin Mausoleum," will be published by Harvard University
Press in April, disagrees. He responds that Russia had no choice but to
dismantle the Communists' command-style economy and try to replace it with
a free market. He says a gradual approach would not have been preferable.
Mikhail S. Gorbachev experimented with a kind of market socialism, he
points out, and it only made matters worse. While the transition to
capitalism has ended up being more difficult than Russian reformers and
Western analysts imagined, he faults not so much the analysts as the
disastrous mess left by the Soviet system.

The academic field of Russian studies, which has long played an important
role both in American university life and in policy-making, is in an
intellectual shambles and at risk of being discredited. 

During the seven years since the Soviet Union ended, the field --
particularly political scientists and economists -- has embraced a new
guiding concept or paradigm that I call transitionology. Its basic premise
is that since 1991, however bumpy the road, Russia has been in a reform
process of transition from Communism to free-market capitalism and

Underpinning that premise have been two others. First, that the only
real reform policies for Russia's transition are the neoliberal,
shock-therapy, monetarist economic measures (and their attendant politics)
that have shaped the country under President Boris N. Yeltsin. Second,
that the transition, however costly and painful, is good, progressive and

Practitioners of transitionology claim that it is a great advance over
its predecessor, Sovietology. 

Because their work is devoutly comparative, placing Russia's transition in
the context of similar transformations in other times and places, they say
it transcends the limits of mere area studies. And because it applies
allegedly universalistic concepts and theories taken from Western
comparative social sciences to Russia, they insist it is truly scientific. 

In fact, transitionology has failed in the most fundamental empirical
and analytical ways. The presumption that Russia must be in transit to a
Western-style, even American-like system -- a notion that has also guided
American policy, investment strategies, foundation support and most
American reporting about that country -- is merely a political, cultural
conceit. Arrogant and deterministic, it is an unseemly academic expression
of America's post-cold-war triumphalism. 

It has led Russian studies into an intellectual and perhaps moral
quagmire. By imposing Western concepts and assumptions on Russia's very
different realities, even the basic vocabulary of scholarship has been
debased. Things Russian have been given names that are scarcely warranted
or applicable -- for example, free market, privatization, banks, middle
class, free press, constitutionalism, federalism, even capitalism. Such
mislabeling, almost Orwellian in its detachment from reality, obscured the
longest and most corrosive economic depression of the 20th century, which
has left some 70 percent of Russians existing below or barely above the
subsistence level. And yet transition scholars have often insisted on
calling this outcome remarkable progress or a success story. 

Even the political implementation of Mr. Yeltsin's economic policies
after 1991 looks less like a transition than some kind of regression.
After all, this is not the first time a Russian government, ideologically
dogmatic and disdainful of gradualism, has used shock methods to impose
Western concepts, including Marxism, on society with woeful human
consequences. Nor is it the first time a Russian leader has ruled largely
by decree through a corrupt bureaucracy or been willing to destroy an
elected Parliament, as Mr. Yeltsin did in 1993. Here too, if it looks like
regression, why call it reform? 

If there has been no transition of the kind imagined in Russia since
1991, what has been the main development? In my experience, the words
collapse, disintegration, catastrophe come most readily to the minds of
most Russians. But what more specifically? 

So great has been the nation's economic and thus social catastrophe that
we must now speak of an unprecedented development: the demodernization of
a 20th-century country. I do not mean only the deindustrialization and
colonial-like economic dependence so often protested in the Russian
opposition press but also a literal and more general demodernization of the
foundations of social life: production, technology, transportation,
finance, education and more. Suffice it to say that many highly educated
Russian professionals now must grow their own food to survive, millions of
other citizens lack adequate nutrition, medicine and fuel, and male life
expectancy has plunged to barely 58 years. 

Any economic achievements since 1991 seem to have been barely more
substantial than a Potemkin village and were all but vaporized by the
financial meltdown in August and September 1998. As for political reform,
it also seems likely that the quasi-autocratic system imposed by Mr.
Yeltsin in 1993, linked as it was to his economic policies, will soon be
dismantled, substantially amended or transformed into full dictatorship. 

For Russian studies, there is a profound irony in all this. Theories and
concepts of modernization have long occupied a large place in the field.
And for all its social science pretensions and new jargon,
transitionology is itself little more than a latter-day version of those
old approaches in Russian studies, now equating modernization with an
American-style economy. 

And yet, our transitionologists missed the most important development in
Russia since 1991, the exact reverse of the process they professed to
study, the country's progressive demodernization. Indeed, who has been
most on target? The advocates of the transition who said that nuclear
perils were steadily diminishing or those of us who warned about the
unprecedented catastrophe unfolding in Russia? In the end, the result of
transitionology has been to create a Russian studies without Russia. 

To repair the damage done to the field, Russian studies must change
direction in fundamental ways. First and foremost, it has to liberate
itself from comparative political and economic theories that know little
or nothing about Russia and return to the kind of close empirical research
that underlies the best area studies. Without it, no purportedly
universalistic concepts can be assumed to fit the largest, most diverse
and perhaps most politically consequential country in the world. 

Second, Russianists have to reopen large historical questions. Why, for
example, insist that the country's real transition from Communism began
only under Mr. Yeltsin, when the process was already so far along in the
Soviet system under President Mikhail S. Gorbachev? 

Although many scholars argue that the Soviet Union was incapable of real
change, as evidenced by its collapse, I think a strong case can be made
that by 1991 the system had turned out to be remarkably reformable,
certainly much more so than Western experts had thought. And the Soviet
system did not collapse but was abolished by Mr. Yeltsin and his allies.
If so, it may be that President Gorbachev's much scorned gradualism and
goal of a mixed economy, based on combining marketization and
privatization with whatever was viable in the old state system, were (and
may still be) the best way to reform Russia and other Soviet republics --
that is, with more durable results and at lesser costs. 

I am not optimistic that such questions will be reopened, even though
they are being raised anew in Russia today. But if they aren't, there will
be no change for the better in the field of Russian studies, just as
there has been no such transition in Russia these past seven years. 


New York Times
27 March 1999
[for personal use only]
Communist Legacy Foreclosed Choices

Noo one would dispute that Russia is in dire straits. The economy is
prostrate, Boris N. Yeltsin's reign is ending, and the population feels
that Russia's market democracy has largely failed. True, freedom of
expression and association are now so widely accepted that all contenders
for the succession know they can come to power only legally. Still, the
predominant note among Russia watchers is gloom, often accompanied by
recriminations about who is responsible for the country's plight. 

Just as debate about Russia under Communism was always passionate, so
discussion of its post-Communist transition to democracy and the market
has proved chronically contentious as optimists and pessimists squared off
over the results. To the optimists, President Yeltsin's Young Turks,
Yegor T. Gaidar and Anatoly B. Chubais, despite mistakes and setbacks,
were basically winning the battle of reform. The prime exhibit of their
success was 80 percent privatization and a stable ruble by 1996. To the
pessimists, these very policies were in fact ruining Russia -- a
conviction often inspired by chagrin that Mikhail S. Gorbachev's
perestroika brought not the Soviet system's rejuvenation but its
precipitate collapse. And after President Yeltsin's re-election in 1996
with the aid of an oligarchy of tycoons, it became increasingly easy to
make the case for doom. 

Stephen F. Cohen is surely the gloomiest of the doomsayers, although such
Russia specialists as Peter Reddaway at George Washington University and
even Susan Eisenhower run him a close second. The burden of the radical
pessimist complaint is, first, that Mr. Yeltsin's false democrats, aided
and abetted by the United States Government and the International
Monetary Fund, have foisted on Russia an alien free market policy that is
destroying the country. Second, Western social science legitimizes this
policy with the arrogant thesis that the entire world is destined for
modernization, American style. Third, there exists some special Russian
way to modernity that was tragically missed in 1991, though we are told
nothing about that way except that it is gradual. In short,
Western-inspired policies are to blame for Russia's plight. 

But it is no accident that Soviet Communism collapsed into a defective
capitalism. The old system's lumbering command economy was no longer
competitive internationally, and its party-state was a despotism that
stifled all innovation. Mr. Gorbachev's halfhearted reforms -- that
eternal will-o'-the wisp, market socialism -- simply brought matters to
overt crisis. Out of fear of Communist conservatives, he first dismantled
the party's central apparat and based himself instead on an elected
Soviet of People's Deputies, thereby sabotaging his ability to control
events. Next, he gutted the plan before creating market institutions,
thereby adding economic crisis to administrative chaos. A gradual
transition to anything therefore became impossible. 

So the nomenklatura, seeing that the Soviet game was up, moved to
privatize Russia's industrial rubble for its own benefit, and the parties
of the national republics privatized their territories right out of the
union. It is this general collapse that permitted a minority of
intelligentsia democrats, neo-classical economists and Mr. Yeltsin's small
counterapparat to come to power. And since the only alternative to plan
and party was the market and democracy, they took that route, of course
with Western advice and financial aid. This choice was not imposed by the
West, however. It was thrown up by circumstances and ardently espoused by
Mr. Yeltsin's reformers. For the alternative was the continuing stagnation
and despotism now observable in other former Soviet republics, most
strikingly Belarus. 

The first name for the new policy was shock therapy. Its advocates knew
it would be painful and its benefits deferred. But they also knew it was
intrinsically feasible, for it had been pioneered after 1991 in Poland
with notable success. In Russia, however, the positive results were
limited, and these were largely annulled by the crash of 1998. There are
many reasons for these differing results, but the principal one is that
Communism lasted much longer and cut much deeper in Russia than in
Central Europe. It is this heavy Soviet heritage, not the mistakes of the
last decade, real though those are, that is the major source of the
present impasse. 

Let us not forget how simple and crude that Soviet Communism was: a
military-industrial complex, based on a long obsolete plant of heavy
industry constituting some 70 to 80 percent of the economy. And though now
significantly demilitarized, this plant is still there. The problem is
that it produces little value, that is, goods salable on the free market.
Yet closing down this mastodon and dismissing its workers would be
tantamount to closing down the country, which is of course impossible. So
the system keeps going through the motions of being an economy, with its
various components purchasing materials and acquitting both debts and
taxes through barter, and paying wages with goods that are valueless
except for further barter. 

This surreal system has been called a virtual or fictitious economy. All
the same, it keeps people nominally employed; it even keeps them fed,
clothed and housed. So the country is remarkably quiet for a society in
such profound crisis, which is why the reformers never dared touch it.
Instead, they made the bet that by turning it over at fire sale prices to
the nomenklatura (who controlled it anyway) or to the infamous oligarchy,
eventually the logic of the market would force obsolete industries to
shape up. In fact, the reformers had little choice; for who would buy
these worthless, rusting ruins? Nor will most of them ever be successfully
reconverted. They will have to be broken up for scrap while a modern plant
is slowly created alongside. And this is the task not of one decade but
of many. 

Of course, there is also a real economy, producing goods salable around
the world for hard currency. This economy deals mostly in raw materials --
oil, gas, minerals -- and so yields little for the mass of the
population. Moreover, the struggle for control of these valuable resources
has been ferocious, and thus a major source of Russia's staggering

So now that we know who is to blame, what is to be done? The only honest
answer is that no one at the moment has a clue. And for good reason. In
the matter of reforming -- that is, dismantling -- a Soviet-type command
economy and its party-state, multiple alternatives simply do not exist. In
fact, there is only one possible policy: to marketize and privatize,
though the pace and mode of the transition will vary from case to case. 

Thus a baffling conclusion becomes unavoidable: the only possible policy
for an exit from Communism has been tried, and it didn't work, or at least
didn't work in the way anticipated. De-Communizing a country as hobbled
as Russia has turned out to be a far more intractable process than either
Russian reformers or Western analysts ever imagined. 

All the same, given the abject bankruptcy of Sovietism, at a minimum it is
clear that someday, in some form, Russia will have to resume active
marketization and privatization. For who wants to go back to the future
in Belarus? Indeed, Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov and even the Russian
Communist Party (as they wait for the next installment of I.M.F. credits)
have no alternative policy in mind. 


New York Times
27 March 1999
Russia and the I.M.F.

When Russia's Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, hastily canceled his trip
to Washington this week in protest against the air war on Yugoslavia, it
was understood that his planned discussion with the International Monetary
Fund could not be long delayed. Russia's financial situation is desperate. 

The meeting was quickly relocated from the United States to Moscow,
where Michael Camdessus, the head of the I.M.F., is talking this weekend
with Mr. Primakov and other Russian officials. While no final decision on
lending is expected, the fund should favorably consider Moscow's minimum
request for $4.8 billion to cover interest due on existing I.M.F. and
World Bank loans. Without I.M.F. help, Moscow would default on its
international debts, as it already has on its domestic loans. 

Such a default would do nothing to advance reform in Russia and could
make matters worse. Specifically, it could destabilize a government that
has maintained constitutional order and conducted a generally responsible
foreign policy. Despite current tensions over Yugoslavia, Mr. Primakov
seems committed to having Russia's parliament eventually ratify the 1993
treaty with Washington that would eliminate some 3,500 Russian nuclear
warheads now capable of reaching the United States. 

Still, it would be reckless to lend new money to Russia without proper
safeguards. As part of any deal, the fund should take precautions to see
that the money is not diverted for private gain as some previous loans
appear to have been. That can be avoided this time by handling any new
loan as an internal accounting transfer, with the funds electronically
moved from one side of I.M.F. and World Bank ledgers to the other. 

The I.M.F. will have to walk away unless Russia can offer credible plans
to further tighten its fiscal policy through better tax collection and new
spending cuts. 

Mr. Primakov has already persuaded parliament to pass the most austere
budget in four years. But satisfying the I.M.F. will require stronger tax
collection measures than the Primakov Government has been willing to

No significant new economic reforms in Russia are likely until after
presidential elections scheduled for next year. Until then, as long as
Moscow keeps working to narrow its budget gap, it should be lent just
enough to stave off a ruinous default. 


Boston Globe
27 March 1999
[for personal use only]
Hard-liners recruit young Russians to aid the Serb cause 
By David Filipov

MOSCOW - Vladimir Lokotsky likes American blue jeans, American cigarettes,
and American rock music. But yesterday, he strode into the makeshift
recruiting center in central Moscow to sign up to fight Americans.

Before NATO began bombing Serb forces in Yugoslavia, Lokotsky, an
unemployed sailor, had no reason to like, or even think much about Yugoslav
President Slobodan Milosevic. Now, Lokotsky says, he is ready to die for him.

Lokotsky is one of hundreds of young Russians who, encouraged by communist
and nationalist Russian politicians, have volunteered to fight against NATO
on the side of the Serbs. To hear these recruits tell it, the American-led
alliance's airstrikes pose a clear and present threat to Russia.

''We have to stop the advance of NATO now,'' Lokotsky said as patriotic
music blared from a loudspeaker and young men in fatigues carried stacks of
new uniforms and boots past a poster that read, ''The Motherland is calling
you!'' ''It's only thanks to the Yugoslavs and Milosevic that NATO has not
occupied Russia.''

Russia, mostly made up of Orthodox Christian Slavs like the Serbs, has
struck an increasingly hawkish pose as NATO's airstrikes against Yugoslavia

Yesterday, Russia expelled NATO's Moscow representatives and refused all
contacts with alliance officials. Moscow called for a world tribunal to
charge the NATO leaders who planned the bombing. And in an apparent display
of military might, the Russian Navy sent two of its most powerful warships
to sea.

The saber-rattling and rhetoric has been largely for show. Russia, which
will renew talks tomorrow for a $4.8 billion loan from the West with the
International Monetary Fund, cannot afford to match its aggressive words
with action.

The same cannot be said of ordinary Russians, angered that NATO launched
the airstrikes in defiance of Russia. Many people who a week ago might have
had little sympathy for Milosevic have reacted to the bombing against
Yugoslavia as if the airstrikes were aimed at Russia. For the second day,
crowds of young men, looking for an outlet to vent their anger, have pelted
the embassies of the United States and other NATO countries with eggs and
bottles. Hardline politicians, sensing an opportunity to play on those
emotions, have set up the recruiting centers.

''I am an Orthodox, a Slav,'' said Igor Gnusov, a professional driver who
had just signed up at a recruiting center run by Russian ultranationalist
leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. ''I am doing this out of patriotism. We have
to defend Russia.''

Zhirinovsky's aides say they have collected more than 200 signatures in
Moscow and 5,000 across Russia. While that claim is impossible to verify, a
steady stream of recruits marched into the Moscow office, some of them
veterans of the wars in Afghanistan or Chechnya. Russia's Communists and
several other anti-Western parties have also started similar sign-ups.

Most of those questioned knew that Russia has fought alongside Serbia over
the past 150 years. Their common enemies, until now: Ottoman Turkey,
imperial Austria, and Nazi Germany.

''When I am young, I love America. I love rock group Kiss,'' said Dima, a
30-year-old volunteer whose blue jeans and long hair made him look a bit
like Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley, without the makeup. ''But when I turn 30,
I change my mind. America force its ideals on us. I'm tired of America.''

Weary as he may be, Dima may never get to fight. For that to happen, first
the volunteers have to get permission to go to Yugoslavia. Then there has
to be something for them to do. Right now, said Eduard Yanglayev, an aide
to Zhirinovsky, the center is looking for experienced pilots or
anti-aircraft specialists. 

Critics dismissed the recruitment drive as an effort to derive political
capital by Zhirinovsky, the once-immensely popular legislator whose
national standing had fallen in polls to under the 5 percent needed by his
party to win seats in parliament. Russian leaders, meanwhile, considered
ways to help Yugoslavia without resorting to force or jeopardizing their
chances for financial aid.

A diplomatic effort was foiled yesterday when the UN Security Council
overwhelmingly defeated a Russian resolution demanding an immediate halt to
the airstrikes.

Later, Anatoly Kvashnin, head of the Russian General Staff, declined to
take a phone call from his American counterpart, General Henry Shelton.
Kvashnin said there was ''nothing to discuss,'' Russian news agencies

Two of the most powerful vessels in the Russian Navy, the nuclear-powered
cruisers Admiral Kuznetsov and Petr Velikhy, sailed from the Arctic port of
Murmansk for what NTV television, quoting Defense Ministry sources, called

''Clearly this looks like a show of force,'' NTV anchorman Mikhail Osokhin

Many politicians want to send Yugoslavia advance anti-aircraft systems, but
the Interfax news agency quoted a military expert as saying it would be
''difficult'' to get shipments to the Serbs through international blockades.

Interfax quoted another source on the general staff as saying Russia could
provide Yugoslavia with Moscow's satellite intelligence on NATO aircraft.

Russia's parliament, which will hold an emergency session today to discuss
responses to the NATO bombing, has already decided to once again postpone
ratifying the 1993 Start-II treaty nuclear arms reduction. Legislators said
they would propose removing a Russian peacekeeping brigade in Bosnia from
under the command of a larger NATO peacekeeping force there.

''All the political forces,'' said centrist leader Vladimir Ryzhkov, ''have
consolidated'' on this issue.


The Economist
27 March 1999
[for personal use only]
Glum Russia, abroad and at home 
It disagrees about Kosovo. Ah, yes 
When Yevgeny Primakov turned round over the Atlantic, he was heading back
to an even bigger mess than the one he had just left 

ALL Russia wants from the West is
money and respect. But, as Yevgeny Primakovs aborted trip to Washington
this week showed, the two do not mix easily. Rather than risk the
embarrassment of being in Washington when NATO was bombing his protg
Serbia, the Russian prime minister turned round over the Atlantic and flew
homeat the price of abandoning, for now, his attempts to wheedle more money
out of a reluctant IMF. 

Russias policy on Yugoslavia is more sentimental than practical: it chiefly
reflects a dislike of NATOs growing influence, not any great interest in
the nitty-gritty of Balkan politics. Had Russia ignored Yugoslavia during
the past decade, rather than flapping about it, Mr Primakov could have
spent the week concentrating on his countrys crumbling financesa more
urgent matter to most Russians. Russia owes $17.5 billion in debt payments
this year; planned federal budget revenues are less than $25 billion. 

Mr Primakov is now likely to have a meeting with the IMF outside the United
States. Michel Camdessus, the Funds head, may visit Moscow soon. But there
is little chance of a speedy deal. The talks so far have been marked by a
striking difference in language: blithe confidence on the Russian side that
a deal will be done; polite impatience from the IMF at Russias slowness on
practical questions, such as taxes and the banking system. 

At best, Mr Primakov would have probably returned from Washington with an
encouraging communiqu rather than with cash. Even that would have been a
poor prize. Russia can afford to pay its biggest debts only for another
couple of months. Now the brinkmanship will continue. Revelations about the
Russian central banks unorthodox relationship with an offshore company that
managed its reserves had already dented American willingness to lean on the
IMF. A Russian tantrum in support of Serbia will go down even worse. 

No money, thereforeand not much respect either. So far, Russia has been a
stumbling-block to western policy in Yugoslavia rather than a threat. Could
that change Russia has not broken sanctions, yet, Mr Primakov said
ominously on March 23rd. If sufficiently annoyed, Russia could conceivably
try to sell Serbia anti-aircraft missiles that could threaten NATO
aircraft. The authorities in Azerbaijan this week said they had seized a
Russian shipment of fighter aircraft bound for Yugoslavia. But Mr Primakovs
policy means Russia is more likely to be humiliated by its impotence than
respected for its importance. 

The fall-out at home looks equally damaging. Though many Russians feel a
vague sympathy with the Serbs, their own concerns come first. Milosevics
regime was more important for Primakov than his own countrys need, wrote
Kommersant Daily, a Russian newspaper, on March 24th. The rouble fell 5% on
news of Mr Primakovs return as Russians voted with their wallets for the
American currency over their own. 

But their prime ministers problems pale beside their presidents. In an
action that would have been unthinkable a few months ago, officials from
the prosecutors office last week raided the Kremlin. They seized files
belonging to Pavel Borodin, housekeeper for the secretive presidential
administration. The prosecutors office was searching for details of
kickbacks in an expensive Kremlin renovation project, carried out by a
Swiss firm, Mabetex, which handles much of the presidencys business
affairs. The skeletons in the Kremlins cupboards, if found, will be golden:
Mr Borodin wrote in a newspaper article justifying building-work costing
$179m that he had visited the Vatican and found it a clean little place but

Never before has Mr Yeltsin looked so weak. Days earlier he had been made
to sack his chief of staff and top security official, Nikolai Bordyuzha,
who had bungled an attempt to remove the prosecutor-general, Yuri Skuratov,
from office. This involved a video, broadcast on Russian television, of a
man resembling Mr Skuratov cavorting with two naked women. This was
supposed to persuade the upper house of parliament to accept Mr Skuratovs
resignation, which he had offered some weeks earlier under pressure and
then withdrawn. It backfired. The upper house, composed of regional
governors who have until now been reliable allies of the president,
rebelled. Mr Skuratov stayed, with Mr Borodin already in his sightsand,
even worse, Mr Yeltsins daughter, Tatiana Dyachenko, next in line. 

Who benefits Mr Primakov, perhaps. If Mr Yeltsin had been thinking of
sacking him, either for being too pushy or for failing to do a deal with
the IMF, it will be even harder now. And if Mr Yeltsins presidency proves
fatally weakenedit might be hard pushed to survive a criminal investigation
of his daughterthere could even be a snap presidential election. Mr
Primakov might win. Looming financial collapse. Perhaps a constitutional
crisis. Poverty and misery for certain. All in all, this spring is likely
to be as dismal as the fading winter. 


Chernomyrdin Fate Has Lessons for Others 

Moskovskiy Komsomolets
March 24, 1999
[translation for personal use only]
Article by Mikhail Rostovskiy: "Five Lessons From Stepanych" 

Three Hundred and Sixty Five Days Without Chernomyrdin

If a poll on the role of this day in history had been carried out in 
the streets of Moscow yesterday, the majority of citizens would surely 
have just shrugged. Yet exactly a year ago a significant event took place 
in Russia: It lost Viktor Chernomyrdin, who was "five minutes away from 
becoming president." Currently, press and television journalists are 
again thronging Viktor Chernomyrdin's news conferences. But the attitude 
toward his speeches is completely different than a year ago. At that time 
each one of his slips of the tongue was literally dissected under a

And now people are treating Stepanych as yesterday's hero, today's 
mediocre politician, or a candidate for the post of chairman of the 
Gazprom board of directors at best. 

Perhaps this indifference is completely justified. Yet it is incorrect to 
forget about Viktor Stepanovich's existence either. One can learn many 
useful lessons from his fate... 

Lesson No. 1. Back on 1 March 1998 Chernomyrdin was almost the main 
candidate for the Kremlin throne. It was impossible to make one's way 
through important petitioners in his reception office. And those who had 
doubts about the presidential chances of "Chernomor" were ridiculed in 
newspapers. Currently, these same newspapers are mocking the presidential 
ambitions of Viktor Stepanych, and he himself is described as a man "who 
has become entangled in time and the political area." Meanwhile, 
according to eyewitnesses Chernomyrdin himself has changed extremely 
little during this year. Only the name of his post has changed. This, 
however, has turned out to be enough to give up for lost his brilliant 
Kremlin future. Current presidential candidates should not forget this. 

Lesson No. 2. Exactly a year ago the Russia Is Our Home [NDR] bloc had the 
reputation of a scandalous though still quite decent outfit. In any 
event, few people had doubts about its chances to be represented in the 
next parliament, and in terms of the number of functionaries living in 
Our Home Chernomyrdin's party could compete only with the late CPSU. 
Currently, even the leader of Chernomyrdin's deputies, Vladimir Ryzhkov, 
openly says that the NDR stands almost no chance of overcoming the 
5-percent threshold. Of course, nobody is interested in Our Home anymore. 
Yet the NDR is by no means the only party built according to the 
principle of uniting its members not around ideology but a promising 
official. It would not be a bad thing for current presidential candidates 
to think about this as well. 

Lesson No. 3. That the political situation would become much more unstable 
without Chernomyrdin was clear back on the day of his dismissal. 
Kiriyenko was a political lightweight, and the Kremlin's clout alone 
evidently was not enough to ensure stability. The president's retinue 
could not but realize the evident danger. Still, this had no impact 
whatsoever on [Yeltsin's daughter] Tatyana Borisovna's decision to finish 
with Chernomyrdin. We are still using logic in our current attempts to 
predict the Kremlin's behavior in the future. But is it not a time to 
understand that the words "logic" and "Yeltsin's retinue" too often turn 
out to be incompatible?

Lesson No. 4. When Viktor Chernomyrdin agreed to return to the White House 
in August 1998, he was absolutely convinced of the support of the Duma 
and other bigwigs of Russian politics. During his first term of office he 
eventually always managed to reach an agreement with the denizens of 
Okhotnyy Ryad, and this time Zyuganov himself was assuring him of his 
ardent support. Why did everything turn out the other way around? The 
second rise of Stepanych gave him too many advantages in the fight for 
the presidential office. So the wolf pack of candidates torr to pieces 
their comrade who had shot ahead of them too much. 

And finally, here is the last lesson, but not for everyone. "We Have Had 
It! Down With the Government!" -- this was the most popular slogan at the 
end of the last winter. During the past year as many as four cabinets 
have been replaced in Russia, and now people at the Kremlin say to their 
utmost that it would not be a bad thing to replace the government once 
again. For some reason, however, no changes for the better are taking 
place in the country. Moreover, the situation in the economy is becoming 
worse and worse. And nobody is taking the blame for the crisis. Ministers 
from every government have held their post for no longer than a few 
months. So perhaps it is indeed time to put an end to the personnel 
disorder at the White House...? 


Yeltsin Marks 10th Anniversary of First Free Elections.

MOSCOW, March 26 (Itar-Tass) - An informal meeting on the occasion of the 10th
anniversary of the first free elections in Russia and the establishment of
national parliamentary law was held at the presidential office in the Kremlin.

Speaking at the meeting, Yeltsin noted that parliament should not claim
"omnipotence and flawlessness". The president said that "we know now exactly
what parliament should be like: it should be professional and fully engaged in
legislative activities". 

The Russian chief executive also stated that changes, launched by the first
Congress of Soviet People's Deputies, "were revolutionary, but they had not
brought about a real division of powers at that time". 

Yeltsin noted that Alexander Yakovlev (of the Russian Academy of Sciences) and
former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev were among architects of perestroika. 

Yuri Afanasyev, rector of the Russian State Humanitarian University, who was
present at the meeting, told reporters later that the meeting participants
discussed Russia's future, the coming elections and the improvement of

Speakers stressed that elections should be honest: "money and crime must be
barred from them". Afanasyev especially stressed that the Russian president
"normally responded to critical remarks, which were expressed often enough". 

For his part, Yegor Yakovlev, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Obshchaya
Gazeta, stressed that "we should try during the coming elections and return
hope to the people, which they had in 1989". 

Novgorod Region governor Mikhail Prusak who was also present at the meeting,
said that an evolution took place in the minds of the Inter-Regional
Parliamentary Group over these years. "We understand now that democracy is not
the quantity of powers but a quantity of opportunities to realise one's
powers," he emphasised. 


3/26/99 No.6 Part 2

By Aleksandr Buzgalin
Aleksandr Buzgalin is a Doctor of Economics and a professor at Moscow State
University. He is a leader of Russia's Democratic Socialist Movement.

The late 1980s and the 1990s were turbulent years of change for Russia.
Familiar stereotypes and norms and standards of individual behavior were
lost; the yardstick of ideas and values changed. What sort of people have
Russia's citizens become after such radical changes, and how have their
views on themselves and the world around them changed? To avoid arbitrary
claims, we will use the results of sociological research which the Russian
Independent Institute for Social and National Issues undertook for the
Moscow office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. 

One of the more obvious facts of Russian political life is the significant
divide between the values embraced by different generations. But how great
is this divide and how is it manifested?

The chasm between social and political views is wide. Of the 16- to
24-year-old age group only 27.4 percent believe that Marxist ideas were
right, whereas 50.3 percent of 56- to 65-year-olds believe so. Similar
figures exist in opinions on Western democracy, individualism and
liberalism: 62.9 percent of the 56- to 65-year-old age group think that
these values do not suit Russians, while only 24.4 percent of 16- to
24-year-olds agree. The concept of "Fatherland" is important for only 33.6
percent of the 16- to 24-year-old age group, but for 71.8 percent of 56- to

Considerably more common ground, however, exists between the generations if
we look at their assessment of the historical and cultural aspects of life
in Russia. There is some communality even in political views. While only
33.6 percent of young people think "Fatherland" is important for them, even
in this age group the figure is higher than for those who believe the
concept outdated (27.4 percent). Most of the younger generation (75.6
percent) believe that the crimes of Stalinism against the people and
nationalities can in no way be justified; most of the older generation (53.1
percent), though, agree.

Assessment of Russia as a World War II victor and a country to be proud of
is practically identical among the youngest and the oldest generations (83.2
percent and 83.9 percent). The number of those who are proud of the
democratic freedoms in Russia today are equally low across the generations
(6.9 percent and 2.6 percent). A similar convergence of views is evident in
generational regard to the cosmonauts and the space program, and to the
great Russian poets, writers and composers. In all age groups significantly
more than half of respondents are proud of such achievements.

These values, which show a significant affinity in the views of different
generations, can be ranked among the nation's basic historical and cultural
values. This closeness of views is confirmed by the clear agreement among
the majority of respondents on certain features of modern Russia. From
71.7-93.5 percent of those polled identified as characteristics of Russia
today such elements as criminality and banditry, uncertainty in the future,
interethnic conflicts, the opportunity to get rich, crisis, corruption,
bribery, a lack of spirituality, a grave economic situation, social
injustice, civil and political freedoms.

However paradoxical, the level of agreement observed in views on the Soviet
past, while it was not quite this high, was high nonetheless. The Stalinist
period, when compared to other periods in Russian history, received the most
positive responses for such features as discipline, order (80.7 percent),
fear (67.9 percent), love of country (51.6 percent), the existence of ideals
(46 percent), rapid economic growth (42.5 percent) and authority in the
world (41.7 percent). The Brezhnev period led in such categories as social
protection (78 percent), achievements in science and technology (66.9
percent), achievements in education (65.1 percent), trust between people
(65.1 percent) and bureaucracy (57.2 percent).

Thus, while the Soviet period has been demythologized for Russians, they
have nevertheless retained a conception of this period as a standard--at
least in some respects--against which earlier and later periods of Russian
history are measured. These standards are by no means all positive.
Alongside the negative assessment of the crimes of Stalinism noted above,
only 8 percent of Russians are proud of the 1917 October revolution, and
about 25 percent believe that life would have been better had it not occurred.

Nevertheless, the assessment of the Bolsheviks' political enemies is equally
low, despite a decade of mass anticommunist propaganda dominating the media.
A mere 2.5 percent of the population admire the White struggle against the
Bolsheviks in the Civil War. Only 18.4 percent of respondents agreed that in
the 70-year history of the Soviet Union there is little for Russians to be
proud of, while some 75 percent strongly rejected this statement. 

It is not likely that there will be any further disillusionment with the
Soviet period among Russia's citizens: Propaganda to this effect has almost
disappeared, and comparisons between the past and the realities of modern
Russia are more likely to lead to a partial rehabilitation of the Soviet era. 

According to their own assessments, 66.6 percent of respondents had a
monthly income in June 1998 (before the August financial crisis) of less
than US $100 per family member, and 24.8 percent earned less than $50. But
people assess their position not just by their income at a given time but
also by how this income changes.

During the reform period, the material position of Russia's citizens changed
in different ways. From the viewpoint of these changes, Russians can be
divided into six groups:

1. Those who believe that their situation has improved in comparison with
others: 10.5 percent (the new rich).

2. Those who believe that they lived better than others before and that they
still live better than others now: 4.7 percent (the old rich).

3. Those who believe that their position then and now is just like other
people's: 39.2 percent (the middle-of-the-road).

4. Those who believe that their position has deteriorated during the reform
period: 27.1 percent (the aggrieved).

5. Those who believe that their standard of living has fallen disastrously:
14.1 percent (the new poor).

6. Those who believe that their position then and now is worse than other
people's: 4.5 percent (the old poor).

Those who have maintained or acquired privileged material status total 15.2
percent, and those who have forfeited their material well-being or have not
managed to climb out of poverty total 45.7 percent.

In this respect it is worth noting the opinions of Russians on the new
social structure in our society. The majority of those polled (55.6 percent)
consider that Russia today has developed a pyramid social structure, meaning
that the wealthier a social group is, the smaller it is. A sizable number of
respondents (31.9 percent), however, indicated a different model. In this
one, as in the first, the vast majority of the population are poor, and only
a minority are rich. This second model, however, differs from the first in
the extremely small size of the social strata between the rich and the poor.

If we consider people's assessment of their material wealth, it seems that
in contemporary Russian society most belong to the average strata, some 33
percent number among the poor, and only a small percentage rank among the
rich; the stratum between the average and the rich is very small. Status in
Russian society has shifted disproportionately downward. Society is divided
into two groups--a small elite and everyone else--and there is practically
no social link, no "bridge" between them.

Russia's citizens have a relatively clearly expressed set of preferences
regarding the economic and social functions of the state. Despite the fact
that the radical market reforms were based on liberalist and economic
individualist propaganda, and that commitment to these principles to a great
extent provides contemporary Russia with a chance of economic success, there
are not very many consistent supporters of these values.

On the one hand, 50.3 percent of respondents believed that everyone should
look after their own material well-being (36.5 percent disagreed). But even
among these 50.3 percent, almost 80 percent agreed that the state could
provide each person with a minimum income. Altogether, 86.1 percent of those
polled had that view. Almost all respondents (94 percent) agreed that the
state should guarantee to pay for work in accordance with the quantity and
quality of work done, and 85.6 percent thought that the state should
guarantee a job for everyone who needed one.

Although the individualist economic model has had a noticeable influence on
Russians' judgment, this model was not the dominant one. In Russia today the
predominant view is a mixed paternalist-individualist one toward the
functions of the state, but with stronger traditions of paternalism.
However, this paternalism and adherence to the principle of equality are not
reproductions of the paternalism and egalitarianism of the Soviet period.
Russians believe that the state should provide, not equality of income, but
equality of opportunity.

The inclination towards state paternalism can also be seen in the form of
ownership Russians prefer. It appears that there is no branch of the economy
in which the majority of Russians want to see a predominance of private
ownership. However, this does not mean an obsession with nationalizing
anything and everything. The predominant opinion (from 42.2-60.6 percent of
those polled) favored both private and state enterprises in such fields as
construction and maintenance of housing, the press, agriculture and the food
industry, road construction and banking. At the same time, more than 60
percent of respondents favored retaining state ownership in such areas as
energy, railways and air transport, pension funds, oil and coal mining,
higher education, metallurgy and medical insurance.

It is clear that Russians are prepared to accept the presence of the private
sector in branches which work directly for the consumer market. At the same
time, they want the state to maintain control of the primary industries and
the basic social services. Russians thus incline towards a mixed economy
with a strong state role, which is in direct contradiction to the market
reform ideology foisted on Russian society from 1992 onward. In this sense,
Yevgeny Primakov's government can rely on a much broader base of social
support than any other government under Yeltsin. 

(to be continued)



Return to CDI's Home Page  I  Return to CDI's Library