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Johnson's Russia List
16 April 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Itar-Tass: ANNUAL OUTFLOW OF CAPITAL FROM RUSSIA IS 12-14 BLN
2. Anne Applebaum: Russia and Yugoslavia.
3. Paul Quinn-Judge: re Boris gets angry (JRL 8 April).
4. Edward Owens: Atlantic Council Meeting with Alexei Arbatov in DC.
5. Reuters: Yeltsin fighting fit, critical of PM-aide.
6. John Knab: More on Hough on a Russia Brigade in Serbia.
7. Ted Kirkpatrick: Re: Representative Weldon.
8. Moscow Times editorial: Let Voters Not Duma Judge Yeltsin.
9. Moscow Times: Melissa Akin, New Campaign Law Gets Little Applause.
10. NTV: Poll: Support Growing for Zyuganov as President.
11. NTV: 'Big Money' on Impeachment, Privatization.
12. Reuters: Yeltsin honours diva with kisses and old joke.
13. Slate magazine: Tamara Straus, A specter haunting Europe. The war in
Yugoslavia brings U.S.-Russian relations to the brink. (Stephen Cohen
and Dimitri Simes interviewed).
14. David Johnson: A few personal comments for those who read to the end.]
ANNUAL OUTFLOW OF CAPITAL FROM RUSSIA IS 12-14 BLN DLRS.
SOCHI, Russian Black Sea resort, April 15 (Itar-Tass) - According to
estimates of the Russian Tax Ministry, annual outflow of capital from
Russia totals 12-14 billion U.S. dollars, Prime-Tass quotes Tax
Minister Georgy Boos as saying to reporters.
He also said that his ministry submitted proposals to the government to
stiffen hard currency control, which provide for setting up a roadblock
to capital outflow and are based on international experience of
countries where such control is in force.
Boos explained at the same time that he favours balanced measures in
the sphere of currency control, providing for support and protection of
legal business, including foreign economic operations.
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 1999
From: Anne Applebaum <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Russia and Yugoslavia
Given the high level of skepticism that they usually show, I am
struck by the willingness of most commentators on Russia to take Russian
leaders at their word when they say they are "really angry" about
Yugoslavia, regardless of the merits of the bombing campaign. For one, it
is clear from both official and unofficial statements of Western leaders
that the Russians are saying something different in private. More to the
point, the angry rhetoric did get somewhat muted shortly into the war,
after the IMF arrived and quickly announced that it was, after all, lending
money to Russia (an event buried on page 99 of most newspapers). Some of
the shouting about Yugoslavia is clearly electoral politics and should be
welcomed: it is evidence, perhaps, that democracy in Russia is working
better than we sometimes think it is.
As for the Russian public, I would question their long-term
interest in this issue too. Some opinion polls do show that they are angry
about Western involvement in Yugoslavia. Other polls show that extremely
low numbers would actually want to go there and fight. In any case, the
last presidentical election proved that the media has enormous influence
over Russian public opinion, and as it is nearly unanimous in its
opposition to the bombing, no one should be suprised that opinion polls
reflect this view. But will it last? After all the fuss about NATO
expansion - which initially created the same apparent outrage - no one in
Russia reacted much when it actually happened, as the media were at the
time preoccupied with other issues.
I am sure some of the anger is authentic: this issue surely does
touch raw nerves at a time when Russians are paranoid about everything. But
they were bound to become disillusioned with the West sooner or later, and
now they have a focus for their frustration about the failure of free
market reforms, the failure of Western aid and so on. In the end, the fact
that Russia is not included in this military action might even prove a good
thing: Russia is in an ideal position to broker a peace deal. I hope it
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 1999
From: "Paul Quinn-Judge" <email@example.com>
Subject: re Boris gets angry (JRL 8 April)
In his comments of April 8 ("Boris gets angry") Richard Pipes raises some
very interesting points about the way decisions are made here.
Boris Yeltsin's reactions, often unpredictable and sometimes incoherent in
the past, are becoming increasingly idiosyncratic. As one watches him from
Moscow, it is hard to avoid the impression that a very limited number of
stimuli influence the president's decision-making these days. I can think of
three off- hand. One certainly is pique, as Pipes notes. Another is
political jealousy of anyone whose influence seems to challenge his. The
current target here, of course, is Yevgeny Primakov. The third and newest
stimulus is self preservation in the face of growing interest in the
financial dealings of his family.
This disturbingly narrow range of stimuli is further compounded by one other
important factor: where and how Yeltsin collects the information he needs to
make a decision. Unlike most modern national leaders, he is known not to
watch the TV news unless pressed to do so by aides, and seems to have a
similarly lethargic attitude to newspapers. (This is in sharp contrast to
Primakov, who professes no interest in media coverage but in fact shows
extreme sensitivity to it). Yeltsin receives a daily press digest of about
17 pages. The articles seem ot have been selected quite dispassionately, but
it is not clear how much of it he reads. In the past , one might argue,
public meetings and travel offered, theoretically at least, one relatively
unfiltered source of information. For the past few years, though, he has had
few meetings that transcend the level of protocol, and those who observe him
regularly at close range now say that his physical and mental reflexes seem
slow. Few ministers may call him directly, and even fewer would dare have a
spontaneous chat with him about policy. His information base for decision
making, in other words, is remarkably circumscribed for someone of his
position. And conversely the small number of people who have frequent access
to Yeltsin enjoy a vastly disproportionate amount of influence.
As far as his staff is concerned, it is indeed clear that there are few
people who can influence him. It is equally clear that the quality of the
presidential administration leadership has declined sharply over the past
few years. The role and targets that the presidential staff sets itself
have, moreover, declined even more markedly.
A few years ago the presidential administration was the successor in
prestige and, mutatis mutandis, in power to the Central Committee. It both
propagated the presidential line and oversaw the work of the government. A
few months ago senior presidential administration officials, Yumashev and
Sysuev in particular, leaked to the Russian media the administration's new
central objective __ to keep the president in office and more or less
functional until the end of his term. This was a remarkable downsizing of an
institution's raison d'etre. I think, however, this raison d'etre has
narrowed even further. With corruption investigations getting closer to the
president's inner circle, the adminstration's main task __ as evidenced by
such actions as authorizing the screening of the so-called Skuratov video on
RTR television __ is now to protect the Yeltsin family from such inquiries.
Friends of the family seem already to be floating trial balloons in defense
of its most vulnerable member, Tatyana Dyachenko. "Tatyana was stupid but
not criminal" in her dealings with the Kremlin's chief land manager Pavel
Borodin, I was told last week. (Borodin is alleged to have received
kickbacks from the Swiss construction firm Mabetex. It was interesting that
my interlocutor made no attempt to defend Borodin, a longtime political
acquaintance). Likewise, it would be very surprising if the lifting of the
arrest warrant on Boris Berezovsky was not connected to an awareness in the
presidential entourage that Berezovsky could do the family great damage if
he felt aggrieved.
The change in prestige and functions of the presidential administration has
led to a swift draining of its recruitment pool. Thus, when Voloshin was
appointed head of the administration in place of Bordyuzha, someone privy to
the decision remarked recently, two criteria predominated: __ Voloshin was
loyal to the president; and he was the best of a very short list of
As far as Kosovo is concerned, the president's pique could be very
dangerous. One of the most effective tactics used by Yeltsin over the years
has been to depict the communists as alternately dangerous and eccentric.
The Kosovo rhetoric threatens to reverse that image. By sanctioning the use
of very loaded language (NATO genocide against the Serbs, for example) by
members of his government, Yeltsin runs the risk of legitimizing the
communists. They are not only using the same sort of language as Yeltsin,
but can claim to be more consistent. They after all are calling for military
aid to Yugoslavia, while the president is trying to reconcile tough words
with no action.
Interestingly enough, however, a recent poll by the FOM indicated that
Yeltsin might not be too far off track with his position. The FOM survey
showed a remarkable growth in negative attitudes towards the US since the
start of the bombing campaign (28 percent of respondents said they were
negative about the US before the bombing, 72 percent now), but only 13
percent support for the the idea of sending military aid to Yugoslavia.
Either Yeltsin is just lucky on this, therefore, or his innate cunning is
still serving him better than western observers like to admit.
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 1999
From: "Edward E. Owens" <Eeowens@acus.org>
Subject: Atlantic Council Meeting with Alexei Arbatov...
The Atlantic Council of the United States is hosting a meeting with
Alexei G. Arbatov
Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma
on "The U-Turn in U.S.-Russian Relations"
Tuesday, April 20, 1999 from 10:30 a.m.-12:00 noon
at The Atlantic Council
910 17th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20006
Please R.S.V.P. to Edward Owens at 202-778-4971; fax 202-463-7241 to ensure
a seat at the event.
Program on European Societies in Transition
The Atlantic Council of the United States
INTERVIEW-Yeltsin fighting fit, critical of PM-aide
By Adam Tanner
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin is back in fighting form
and critical of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's lack of progress in
repairing the ailing economy, a senior aide said Thursday.
``The president has always been very strict and critical in evaluating any
prime minister,'' Oleg Sysuyev, Yeltsin's deputy chief of staff, told Reuters
in an interview. ``Primakov is not exempt from this.''
Sysuyev's remarks come when Russia media have speculated that Yeltsin may
want to fire Primakov, a former spymaster and foreign minister who took
office in September. The two men exchanged verbal barbs last week, fueling
speculation of a split.
Sysuyev said, however, that he did not expect a change in prime minister any
``I think Primakov's relationship with Yeltsin is normal,'' he said.
Sysuyev, a deputy prime minister in the former government said Primakov had
``coped wonderfully'' with creating political stability. He added that
relations with the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, were ``very
positive in contrast to the previous government.''
``But all of this should be to some end,'' he said.
Russia's currency has lost 80 percent of its value since August, when a
meltdown of the banking system and devaluation of the currency toppled the
government of Sergei Kiriyenko.
The slide slowed after Primakov took power, but opponents say the new premier
has made little headway on needed reforms.
The Kremlin's willingness to criticize Primakov, who had seen his influence
grow as Yeltsin, 68, was sidelined by ill health, comes when Yeltsin has
again begun taking a higher public profile.
``He's back, as he once was,'' said Sysuyev. ``The president had fallen
seriously ill, but now he acts with full capabilities.
``The president has kept not only his mental sharpness but also the sharpness
of his actions.''
His apparent new lease on life -- which has coincided with the war in
Yugoslavia -- means Yeltsin will intervene in economic matters, Sysuyev said.
Aides, including Sysuyev, ruled that out several months ago.
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 1999
From: "John Knab" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: More on Hough on a Russia Brigade in Serbia
I would just like to add further comments, similar to Dale Herspring's, on
Hough's piece on how a brigade of Russian troops in Serbia would block
NATO. At first read, I was impressed with Hough's insight. Upon further
thought, I realized several questions must be answered before adopting
Even if the Russian Government sends troops to Serbia to stop NATO, would
it give the troops orders to fire first, and risk a nearly certain military
defeat to NATO? Assume the brigade blocks the road as an overwhelming
force of NATO troops lumber toward it, do the Russians begin firing? Would
the RF Government place all its hopes for gaining respect from the West on
that brigade, at the risk of its entire post-cold war relationship with the
West (and all that money), and the risk perhaps of starting WWIII?
And the alternative is equally unpalatable to the Russian government: NATO
approaches, and either the Russians do not fire and are disarmed, or the
Russian brigade steps aside and let's NATO pass.
It is doubtful that Yeltsin or Primakov would pursue a plan where two of
the likely outcomes are horrible for Russia. Both are more or less
practical men, who would err on the side of caution, not grandstanding, on
behalf of a country, which, although slavic, has not been a close ally with
Russia since the Tito/Stalin break in 1948.
Serbia now does not seem like the place or time where Russian leaders will
put themselves in such an "exitless circle."
From: TAKFP@aol.com (Ted Kirkpatrick)
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 1999
Subject: Re: Representative Weldon
In #3238 you describe Representative Curt Weldon as "a conservative who
nevertheless (my emphasis) has a substantial interest and involvement in
Russia", the connotation being that it is rather odd for a person to be
conservative and actually have an interest in Russia. It may come as a shock
to you, but there are people on the right hand side of the conservative
spectrum (like me) who are interested in and even somewhat knowledgeable
about Russia. Some of them (again like me) have advanced degrees in Russian
studies, traveled extensively in Russia, and, if you can imagine, even know
how to speak the language!!!! Perhaps in the future when you introduce
politicians you could just refer to their party affiliation and committee
positions and leave out the snide editorial comments.
April 16, 1999
EDITORIAL: Let Voters Not Duma Judge Yeltsin
Formally accusing a political leader of genocide ought to be the most weighty
and serious of matters. Not so in Russia, where the State Duma's frivolous
on-again off-again impeachment drive accuses Boris Yeltsin of just that -
genocide against the Russian people.
Yeltsin's terms in office have been no picnic. Whether it has been democratic
reforms, economic policies or relations with nonethnic Russians, the Russian
people have suffered from Kremlin incompetence.
But of the five articles of impeachment, only two - indictments of Yeltsin's
odious war in Chechnya, and of his use of force in dispersing the Supreme
Soviet in 1993 - have even a veneer of intellectual respectability. The other
three are absolute nonsense. They charge Yeltsin with genocide (on the
grounds that life expectancies have plummeted), blame him for the
disintegration of the Soviet Union and allege he has destroyed the Russian
army with his neglect.
It is true that Yeltsin must shoulder a great burden of guilt for Russia's
sorry state. But then, so must the Communists and all of those other
political forces who prefer to obstruct good government rather than expedite
it, and who refuse to recognize the errors and crimes of the Soviet system.
Whatever Gennady Zyuganov and his comrades may think, cries of "genocide" are
in particular more appropriately aimed at the Soviet Communist Party than at
Apportioning all of this guilt is a task for history in the long run, and for
voters on election day in the shorter run. Particularly given that elections
are now just months away, there is no good reason for parliament's lower
house to mount a serious drive to approve the impeachment articles when they
come up again - if they come up - in mid-May.
This is not to say to defend Yeltsin in his long-running battle with
parliament. He has played dirty too. Consider the Federal Security Service's
recent thuggish warning to the Duma that impeachment is legally flawed.
Getting the renamed KGB to threaten parliament hardly covers Yeltsin and the
Kremlin in glory.
This sort of tension means that the Duma will not want to surrender the
threat of impeachment completely. It is the one weapon that allows the Duma
to counteract this sort of foul play by Yeltsin's goons.
But Russia does not need the disruption of an impeachment procedure now. Let
parliamentary polls in December and presidential elections next year pass a
political judgement on Yeltsin's legacy. So long as the polls are allowed to
proceed with a modicum of fairness and freedom, impeachment is unjustified.
April 16, 1999
New Campaign Law Gets Little Applause
By Melissa Akin
Russian election officials say they don't want to let December's
parliamentary elections turn into a nationwide replay of the scandal-plagued
municipal poll in St. Petersburg last year.
So, with that experience in mind, the State Duma has finished reworking
national election legislation. The problem,a number of analysts say, is that
the changes won't work - and may even open new opportunities for mischief.
The criminal "thinks up newer and newer methods" of skirting election laws,
said Duma Deputy Viktor Sheinis, a member of the Yabloko faction and a
respected authority on election law. "The lawmaker thinks up newer and newer
ways of stopping him. But, of course, he will think up something else."
"Elections laws are like the tax code," said Nikolai Petrov, an elections
expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "Ten people think up the law and
millions break their heads to find a way around it."
The December elections to the St. Petersburg city legislature made the city a
byword for dirty tricks, with publication of false slates, candidates with
identical names and people with criminal records running for office.
But the Duma's measure against same-name parties or candidates - which pop up
to siphon votes away from a well-known candidate - simply says candidates can
take pseudonyms to differentiate themselves.
How that will discourage doubles, no one can say. But it was the only
solution the drafters of the amendment could come up with, Sheinis said.
"This isn't very serious," said Pyotr Shelishch, a Duma deputy from St.
There was also skepticism about measures to control the selling of absentee
votes and the spreading of disinformation.
The law sets up an additional control on absentee voting: Voters must now
submit a written request for permission to vote in advance of election day.
That means campaigners now must convince - or bribe - voters to take the
extra step of writing a letter to the local Izbirkom. But that doesn't stop
the vote buying that was the essence of absentee ballot violations.
And while the changes hold candidates responsible if they conduct
disinformation campaigns against rivals, it doesn't ban disinformation from
outside campaign circles.
Analysts did praise parts of the law for requiring detailed information from
candidates about their criminal records and finances. But these tougher
regulations also mean more power in the hands of Veshnyakov and local
election committees - which local governments generally control.
That means that whether or not elections are clean and honest depends less on
the laws but the powers behind the election commissions.
The provision that garners the most praise is the one that allows potential
candidates to pay their way onto the ballot with a deposit: 800,000 rubles
for individuals and 2 million for parties. Winners get it back.
Before the amendments, candidates had to gather thousands of signatures to
get onto the ballot. But many simply bought signatures or had them faked by
companies offering this service for a fee.
Poll: Support Growing for Zyuganov as President
April 11, 1999
[translation for personal use only]
The latest opinion poll shows that the leader of the
Communist Party of the Russian Federation could become the country's next
president, Russian NTV television reported.
Asked who they would vote for if the presidential election was held now,
21 per cent of respondents chose Communist leader Gennadiy Zyuganov.
Prime Minister Yevgeniy Primakov came second with 16 per cent, followed
by Moscow mayor Yuriy Luzhkov and Yabloko party leader Grigoriy
Yavlinskiy, both on 13 per cent, and Krasnoyarsk Territory governor
Aleksandr Lebed on 7 per cent.
Since none of the candidates in the election is likely to get more than 50
per cent of the vote in the first round, a runoff between the top two
contenders looks inevitable. The opinion poll shows Primakov as a clear
favourite, provided he reaches the second round. Should the runoff be
between Primakov and Zyuganov, the former will be supported by 45 per
cent and latter by 25 per cent of those polled. Primakov's lead over
other candidates in the second round is even greater: 46 per cent against
23 for Luzhkov, 48 per cent against 21 for Yavlinskiy and a massive 53
per cent against 17 for Lebed. The problem is, however, that Primakov
himself has repeatedly said he will never run for president.
This leaves Luzhkov in a good position, provided he can get through to
the second round. Asked who they would vote for, should the runoff be
between Luzhkov and Zyuganov, 37 per cent of respondents chose the Moscow
mayor and only 29 per cent chose the Communist leader. The poll also gave
Luzhkov a second-round lead over Yavlinskiy (32 per cent against 26) and
Lebed (37 per cent against 23).
However, should the second round be contested by Zyuganov and Yavlinskiy, the
Communist leader will end up as winner, backed by 32 per cent against 29
for the Yabloko leader. Zyuganov will also win if he faces Lebed in the
second round, the backing for the two being 31 and 25 per cent respectively.
In the unlikely event of the runoff being contested by Yavlinskiy and
Lebed, the former will prevail with 32 per cent against 23.
A total of 1,500 people from 56 towns and villages in 29 constituent
parts of the Russian Federation took part in the opinion poll, which was
carried out on 3rd-4th April by the Public Opinion foundation, NTV said.
Moscow NTV 'Big Money' on Impeachment, Privatization
April 11, 1999
[translation for personal use only]
Presenter Igor Pototskiy devoted the programme to the
current political developments in Russia and the economic situation in
the country at the end of the first quarter of 1999.
He said that the Communists are offering society two very simple but
absolutely counter-productive tools for solving Russia's problems:
impeachment against President Boris Yeltsin and renationalization.
Director of the centre of political technology, Igor Bunin, said that
impeachment articles are unlikely to pass the State Duma, but if it
happens, the situation in Russia will become totally unpredictable.
Journalist Konstantin Sardovskiy commented on the forthcoming impeachment
hearings in the State Duma over archive video, calling them a Communist
PR-action in view of the forthcoming elections. Those who initiated them
cannot explain what they are going to do if impeachment succeeds, he said.
Sardovskiy then moved on to the problem of improving the efficiency of
managing Russian enterprises.
Russian Deputy Minister for Management of State Property Sergey Molozhavyy
said that most of 13,000 state-owned enterprises are mismanaged and bring
First Deputy Minister for Management of State Property German Gref was
shown as saying that many Russian enterprises are owned partially by the
state and partially by private investors, and neither of them can
effectively control the directors.
Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Property, Privatization and
Economic Activities Ivan Grachev, Yabloko faction, said that he warned of
this at the very beginning of privatization.
Communist deputies Yevgeniy Ishchenko and Igor Bratishchev were shown
speaking in favour of total nationalization.
Novgorod Region governor Mikhail Prusak was shown as saying that Russian
enterprises need efficient owners able to make them profitable.
Journalist Inna Leshchiner commented on the results of the government's
economic activity in the first quarter of 1999. The video report included
excerpts from Russian Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov's interview to
Ekho Moskvy radio on the same issue.
The inflation rate is lower and the rouble exchange rate higher than
expected, Leshchiner said, but the main result has not been achieved.
Domestic production is not growing despite rouble devaluation, because
people's incomes and demand are shrinking.
Pototskiy said in conclusion that most of Russia's economic problems are
caused by the lack of political stability. A consistent policy can be
worked out only after people decide what they want: a liberal society or
an empire with some kind of state capitalism. The forthcoming elections
will probably make it clear, the presenter said.
Yeltsin honours diva with kisses and old joke
April 15, 1999
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin conferred the nation's
second highest honor on its top pop diva with flowers, kisses and an old
Yeltsin, who has returned to active public life after months of illness,
offered effusive 50th birthday greetings to Alla Pugacheva, a singer and
actress who became the Soviet Union's most celebrated superstar in the
1970s and 1980s.
"I will be remembered as one of the political leaders of the era of
Pugacheva," the president said at a Kremlin reception.
A popular, irreverent joke of the 1970s was that Soviet leader Leonid
Brezhnev would be remembered precisely that way.
Pugacheva, who has a gravelly voice and a shock of red hair, performs less
frequently than she once did. But several of her friends and relatives,
including her sequin-clad young husband Filip Kirkorov, continue to
dominate Russia's pop music scene.
Yeltsin presented Pugacheva with a bouquet of flowers, three robust kisses
on the cheeks, and the Order of Service to the Fatherland, an honor that he
also bestowed on veteran former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.
April 13, 1999
A specter haunting Europe
The war in Yugoslavia brings U.S.-Russian relations to the brink.
By Tamara Straus
The post-Cold War relationship between the United States and Russia has
always been uneasy, but the past week saw a level of tension unrivaled in
recent years. President Boris Yeltsin escalated his rhetoric denouncing the
bombing in Yugoslavia, and warned that the cordial state of East-West
relations could deteriorate into a European and possibly world war if NATO
persists with airstrikes against Yugoslavia. While reports last week that
Russia would re-target its nuclear missiles toward NATO nations and forge a
union with Serbia were denied soon after they became public, they served to
underscore the sudden frostiness between the two Cold War antagonists.
Does the tension foreshadow a permanent frost? Certainly Yeltsin's
complaints are reminding U.S. leaders of Russia's ability to act as a
destabilizing force in the Balkans region. Although Russia is in economic
and political turmoil and appears unwilling -- and probably unable -- to
take military action on the ground, the Yeltsin-Primakov government still
has at its disposal a large nuclear arsenal. Moreover, Operation Allied
Force has intensified anti-American sentiments in Russia, tarnishing the
image of the United States as a helpful partner in reform and a model of
Russian specialists disagree about what Moscow's latest moves mean. But
most are united in dismay at the Clinton administration's current policies
toward the former Soviet Union. Salon asked two Russia experts to talk
about the current state of American-Russian relations and the war in
Yugoslavia. Stephen F. Cohen is a professor of Russian studies and history
at New York University and a contributing editor to the Nation. Dimitri K.
Simes is director of the Nixon Center and served as a policy advisor for
the Nixon, Reagan and Bush administrations. He emigrated from the Soviet
Union in 1973.
Could the war in Yugoslavia mean a return to the Cold War?
Cohen: The short answer is yes, absolutely. The reason is that the bombing
has aroused latent Cold War feelings on both sides, in Moscow and in
Washington, but more so at the moment in Moscow. The anti-American feeling
there is authentic and widespread and is being expressed by both the
political elite and ordinary citizens. Now you can't replicate the Cold
War. The circumstances were different. But certainly driving Russia out of
the West, out of Europe, and erecting some latter-day variant of the Iron
Curtain between the countries is possible. It is not inevitable, but the
bombings have been a substantial stride in that direction, a stimulus to
that kind of development.
You want to remember there is no one Yeltsin administration, no one Russia,
no one set of Russians, and that there are different groupings and points
of view that are struggling over this very issue. Based on what I know, on
firsthand discussions in Moscow on a fairly regular basis and on reading
the Russian press, there is no one point of view. Even within the Yeltsin
administration there are several. There is the viewpoint that there should
be a very hard, even military, reaction to the American bombing, which
would be strengthened if ground forces were introduced. There is the
viewpoint that under no circumstances should the Russians resort to any
kind of military reaction; i.e, that Russia should remain rhetorically
engaged but practically laid back in order to A) avoid spoiling the
relationship with the West, and B) hold Russia in reserve for an important
diplomatic role when it becomes clear that a military solution is in the
Simes: Russia is a country which throughout history has been slow to
adjust to new foreign policy situations. But once it begins to change it
unfortunately also begins to change with great speed and goes beyond
reason. And what you see in the making is a serious anti-Western, and
particularly anti-American, political wave in Moscow. Up until now, the
Russian government and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov were trying to
control this wave by offering a lot of pseudo-patriotic rhetoric, but
substantively doing very little that would harm the United States. I do not
know where the red line is beyond which Primakov would make a choice
between losing domestic legitimacy and starting to create problems in the
U.S.-Russian relationship. But I think we are moving in the direction of
this invisible line and perhaps are very close to it.
I think our relations with Russia depend very much on how this war ends. If
this war ends with a negotiated solution, in which Russia is invited to
play a role and has helped to bring about a settlement, I think we can
limit the damage and create perhaps not a new foundation but at least a new
impulse for the U.S.-Russian relationship. If NATO prevails on the
battlefield through air strikes and Milosevic is forced to surrender, it
would do a lot of damage to the U.S.-Russian relationship. It would move
Russian public opinion and the Russian political process in a more
nationalistic and xenophobic direction. But hopefully it still would be
controllable, at least in the short run. If contrary to our hopes,
Milosevic resists and the war continues on the ground for a couple more
weeks, then all kinds of political scenarios may become possible. You have
to understand there is a potential for a very dangerous escalation of
global tensions. We do not want to start the 21st century by prevailing in
Kosovo but losing Russia and China.
But is this conflict about more than Yugoslavia?
Cohen: What you've got is a bombing arousing conflicts within the Kremlin
and the Russian political class coming at a moment when a political
succession struggle is under way. Yeltsin won't be around too much longer.
Therefore a struggle for power and policy is underway, which affects
Simes: The anti-Americanism that we see in Russia today did not begin with
the bombing. It originated in the disastrous impact of Yeltsin's economic
policies -- of so-called shock therapy -- which fairly or unfairly millions
of Russians believe were made in America. That was the origin of the
current anti-American sentiment. It was exacerbated by the expansion of
NATO. It was further exacerbated by the bombing of Iraq. And now it is
greatly exacerbated by the bombing in Yugoslavia.
So it is a process, a process of the Russian backlash against American
policies. Part of that is an enormous disillusionment by the generally
pro-Western middle-class intellectual professionals, who believed that, if
nothing else, America was a humanitarian nation that would not do the kinds
of unhumanitarian things the Soviet regime had done over the years.
How could Russia escalate the current conflict?
Cohen: There is a powerful view in Washington that Russia has no options,
that Russia is on her knees, and even though Russia is hollering and
bitching and complaining, there is nothing Russia is going to do about it.
This is a mistaken view. Russia has options. The problem is we won't like
any of the options.
In the short run, for example, if provoked, or if the more militant
factions in Russian politics win, the short-term option for Russia would be
to break the weapons sanctions against Yugoslavia and possibly against
Iraq. In the long run, if America decides to punish Russia by refusing to
let Russia into the West, by cutting off financing, Russia could become an
arsenal on a long-term basis to all those nations that the United States
does not want to see undergo a military build-up. That would mean Iran,
Iraq, China, perhaps India, Pakistan and maybe even Libya. And Russia could
earn billions of dollars doing this, a lot more than the pittance that the
IMF is offering. So Russia has options, but none of them good from the
American point of view.
If you want stability in the Balkans you must have: A) a stable Russia, and
B) Russian cooperation. And if you're bombing Iraq because you're worried
about weapons of mass destruction, the great number of weapons of mass
destruction that you should be worried about are in Russia. So this
priority makes no sense from America's own interests.
Simes: If Russia wanted to, I think it would be very easy for them to stop
the NATO alliance. The question is: What price would they be willing to
pay? If President Milosevic appears in Moscow to sign a defense treaty and
President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Primakov announce that Yugoslavia is
now a part of Russia's vital national security interests, if Russia puts
its strategic nuclear forces on increased alert, it is very difficult for
me to imagine that NATO would be willing to risk World War III over
Yugoslavia. Needless to say, if Russia were to accomplish that, it would
pay an enormous price: isolation from the West, no new Western loans.
Essentially Russia would be put outside the global mainstream. One very
much hopes that they will be smart enough and pragmatic enough not to allow
something like this to happen. But history is not just about pragmatic
relations. History is also about political processes, about emotions, about
leaders trying to enhance their domestic standing. And if this situation in
and around Yugoslavia continues much longer, there is a risk of escalation
and miscalculation on all sides.
There is no way Russia can make a difference on the ground in Kosovo, if
for no other reason than that there is no way for them to have either an
airlift or to deliver forces by train or by ship. Even if they wanted to
move their air defense missiles into Yugoslavia, and NATO for some strange
reason decided to allow these missiles to arrive without bombing Serbian
airfields, I don't know how they could be delivered.
What role could Russia play in securing peace in the Balkans?
Simes: I think Primakov is not going to do the bidding of the Clinton
administration. If Vice President Gore asks him to go to Milosevic and
persuade him to accept NATO positions, I don't think that Primakov would
want to do it. And even if he wanted to do it, he couldn't do it. If
Milosevic wants to surrender, on the other hand, it might be easier for
Milosevic, psychologically and politically, to surrender to Primakov than
to the United States. But as along as Milosevic does not want to surrender,
I don't think Primakov will be pressuring him to do so.
What worries me is not how Russia may meaningfully help Milosevic, but the
escalation of tensions around Yugoslavia. Remember, Russia is a weak and
sleeping giant, but it is still a giant. And if you provoke the Russians,
as they were provoked many times in their history, you may find their
responses very surprising. Russia started World War II with humiliating
defeats. Russian campaigns against Napolean initially resulted in defeat
and surrender after defeat and surrender. Most Americans don't talk about
history when it comes to situations like this. History is important.
The Russians are already desperate and angry and there is a great
accumulation of anger against the West. Until now, in the competition
between pragmatic national interests and public indignation in Russia,
national interests were prevailing. But we cannot take for granted that if
this conflict continues, this situation could prevail indefinitely. A
victory of common sense in Russia is not something one can ever take for
What about Russia's historic and religious ties with the Serbs?
Simes: Religious and ethnic ties are important. However, I would not
overstate the importance of these ties. Historically, the Russians have had
difficult relations with Yugoslavia. Under Tito, Yugoslavia if anything had
a pro-American rather than a pro-Soviet orientation. But Russia did
traditionally protect the Serbs -- against the Ottoman Empire, against the
Germans, against the British Empire.
I think to appreciate the Russian response to Yugoslavia, you have to
consider two other factors. The first thing is that the Russians have had
their own experience with the United States and with American policy. They
do believe that the United States backed radical reformers in Russia, using
the IMF as a proxy, and in this way contributed to Russia's financial and
economic disaster. They do feel that the Clinton administration, while
talking about strategic partnerships with Russia, was careful to reduce
Russia down to size and limit Russian international effectiveness. In the
case of Yugoslavia, they do feel that the Clinton administration did
whatever it wanted in Yugoslavia, and that helping Albanians was much more
important than taking Russian views into account. It is this sense of
humiliation mixed with impotence that emerged in Russia vis-à-vis the U.S.
before the current crisis, which explains the extreme radicalism of some
Russians in response to the war.
Cohen: So long as images of Slav cities burning are being broadcast back
into Russia, it generates a profound revulsion against America on two
levels. One, it's sentimental: "My God, they're bombing Slavs." Second,
it's fear-inducing: "They're bombing closer and closer to Russia. We could
be next." Some people think that the anti-American sentiment to the bombing
in Yugoslavia is not authentic. They think it is all for show. And
admittedly, some people are showboating, namely Zhirinovsky and that crowd.
But for the people I know in the political establishment as well as
ordinary rank-and-file citizens, it's a horrifyingly authentic reaction.
Does the war affect the internal power dynamics for Yeltsin and Primakov?
Cohen: First, physically and probably mentally, Yeltsin is not capable of
sustaining the energy necessary to be a day-to-day leader. We've known that
for the last two to three years. What he does seem to be capable of is
periodic interventions. But bear in mind something else: It is widely
understood in Russia that Yeltsin was part of the pro-American faction in
Russian politics. It was Yeltsin who conceived of the idea of My Dear Great
Friend Bill and My Dear Great Friend Kohl. It is now American and German
warplanes that are bombing Serbia. Therefore, Yeltsin's political position,
not to mention his health position, are in shambles. A poll last week, for
example, shows that 6 percent of Russians support Yeltsin.
Simes: Prime Minister Primakov is no friend of the United States. But he is
no friend of Slobodan Milosevic either. I am sure he resents Milosevic
almost as much as he resents Clinton because, after all, it is Milosevic
who put him in this terrible predicament, where he has to make a choice
between surrendering to NATO demands and alienating Russian public opinion
or moving against NATO and the United States and risking his vital American
connections. I think Primakov is a man in a very difficult position. He did
not have any plan when he went to Belgrade. He was sent there by President
Yeltsin, which is an important reminder that Yeltsin cannot govern but
still can give orders and fire prime ministers. Primakov left Belgrade
empty-handed and since then he has been trying to cool the situation, while
proceeding with vicious and often totally unfair criticisms of NATO
actions. To some extent, his rhetoric was designed for domestic
consumption, to allow him to do little that would damage the U.S.-Russia
relationship beyond repair.
Primakov is a Russian patriot and he does not like the idea of the United
States being the only superpower and NATO acting unilaterally without a
U.N. mandate, meaning without consultation with Russia. It is also clear
that Primakov's domestic power is limited. He has high public opinion
polls, but Yeltsin now resents him, precisely because of that popularity.
His domestic economic results are modest at best, and he can survive and
have whatever effect on the system he has because the Russian parliament
supports him. So if it appears that he goes against the Russian political
mainstream, he may survive but he would not be able to do anything. He
would not be able to continue with reforms. That is why he is maneuvering.
That is why his conduct appears inconsistent. I think he will avoid radical
steps as long as he can. His instinct essentially is: "Do as little harm
as possible but don't take chances, don't stand tall in the name of some
higher objective." Primakov is not sufficiently strong politically -- and I
think it is not in his very flexible and pragmatic nature -- to take tough
positions and risk his political neck.
David Johnson/15 April 1999
A few personal comments for those who read to the end:
I am strongly tempted to make more use of JRL as a vehicle
for opposing the war in Yugoslavia. (Opposing in the sense
of providing information and analysis.) I shall try to resist
overdoing this. Those interested might contact me as I
have started, as a separate endeavor, to distribute some
articles that dissent from the pro-war media coverage
which is so dominant in the US, and perhaps in other NATO
countries. That will NOT, however, be a vehicle for debate.
Just modest distribution of a few articles and analyses.
For those who object to the anti-war bias of JRL I might
recall that JRL was started in 1996 when the pro-Yeltsin
bias was so strong in US (and other Western) media. I went
out of my way at that time to disseminate dissenting materials.
I have the same reaction today to the pro-war consensus.
Let me add another point. Russia has important elections
coming up this year and next. Western organizations and
individuals are heavily involved in various programs aimed
at influencing the course of Russian domestic politics.
The past record of such activities to "help our friends and
other democrats" does not evoke confidence that these
Western programs to "help" Russia are genuinely nonpartisan
or even constructive. The possible violation of Russian laws and
flouting of Russian sensibilities related to foreign political
activities needs to be very carefully monitored, beginning now.
The understandable and rational Russian reaction to NATO's war on
Yugoslavia, portrayed in Western media as an extreme nationalistic
backlash, will resurrect fears that Russia is turning
communist or extremist. We will be back in the apocalyptic cartoon
atmosphere of past election seasons in Russia. This will provide a renewed
motivation for outsiders to try to provide one-sided help to those
perceived as friendly to the West. Such interference suggests
lack of respect for the capacity of Russians to make their own
political decisions without Western guidance. My suggestion is
that Western political consultants and experts keep their hands off
Russia. For the most part they don't really know what they are doing and
do more harm then good. Their ability to distinguish the "good
from the "bad" Russians is very limited. They also happen to now
be representatives of the countries conducting the war against
Yugoslavia. Russian authorities should enforce the law rigorously.
Those recipients who object to my thoughts should PLEASE respond.
My comments are not offered ex cathedra but to stimulate a discussion
and anticipate events that will soon be upon us. There may be a more
positive side to all of this.
My third subject, to be saved for another time, is the lingering
suspicion that some US officials seek to displace the
Primakov government because it is perceived as too left wing.
They may cooperate with Russians, including Yeltsin's Kremlin, in
trying to bring this about. This is wrong-headed and another example
of overreaching, uninformed interference in Russia's political evolution.
And, to judge by the rather full record of US policy to date, basically
incompetent and self-destructive.
I'll close with the words of Thomas Friedman, the influential columnist
of the New York Times: "I wouldn't underestimate the impact on a modern
European state of sustained NATO air bombardments, which should be
intensified once the weather clears. People tend to change their minds and
adjust their goals as they see the price they are paying mount. Twelve days
of surgical bombing was never going to turn Serbia around. Let's see what 12
weeks of less than surgical bombing does. Give war a chance."