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Johnson's Russia List
28 April 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. AFP: Patients Cough Up For "Free" Treatment.
2. Moscow Times: Valeria Korchagina, Stepashin Wins in Cabinet Shuffle.
3. Jack Kollmann: JRL 3260 #3/Moscow the Third Rome.
4. AP: China-Russia Border Disputes Solved.
5. AP: Russian Prosecutor Explains Targets.
6. The Independent (UK): Jasper Rees, Prophet of the absurd. (Novelist
7. Moscow Times: Matt Bivens, ESSAY: Americans Safe, for Some Reason, in
8. Kathryn Laurell: Local businessmen protest in Bryansk. (DJ: An unusual
9. Russia Today: Rod Pounsett, Stop Baiting Russia.
10. New York Times: Ihor Junyk, Ukraine's Balancing Act.]
Patients Cough Up For "Free" Treatment
MOSCOW, Apr. 27, 1999 -- (Agence France Presse) In Russia, "free" medical
treatment does not come cheap at the country's public hospitals, where
under-paid doctors routinely expect hefty bribes in exchange for providing
"Our family spent about $500 during the 10 days my mother was in the
hospital," said Yelena Andreyevna, a school teacher.
The salary of a doctor at Moscow public hospitals is fixed at 500 rubles
($20). This can rise to 1,000 rubles if the doctor works nights or provides
instruction to trainees.
Any opportunity is good to earn a decent living, even when it means bending
the principles of medical ethics.
In the traumatology service of one large hospital, the patients were on
beds in the corridors even though several rooms were empty.
"We are keeping these rooms for patients needing surgery," explained the
doctors. But that is far from the truth.
"Everyone here knows very well that the rooms are 'for sale' at $200 or
$300," said Andrei, a male nurse.
"For me, this is a huge sum," said Lyubov Alexeyevna, a pensioner who has
to make do on 400 rubles a month ($16). "I would rather stay in the
corridor. That way there is more chance that the nurses will see to me. In
a separate room, I might be forgotten by the nurses," she said.
To make sure her own mother was not "forgotten by the nurses" who earn a
mere 300 rubles ($12) a month, Yelena Andreyevna paid them daily
"installments" of 50 to 100 rubles ($2-4), she said.
Relatives of patients said money "radically changes" the attitude of
doctors who are "much more attentive" when encouraged with a fistful of
"When I gave $100 to the doctor, he even came to the hospital on his day
off to bandage my sister's arm," one man said.
"In Soviet times, doctors were satisfied to get sweets or perfume. Today
they only want dollars," he said.
"I went to the hospital several times after being mugged by thugs," said
Grisha, a student. "I had no apparent injuries, only a high temperature and
doctors kept telling me it wasn't serious."
"But my mother who had doubts about the diagnosis preferred to give the
doctors some money and 10 minutes later I was in the operating theater,"
If he had not had the operation, he could have developed serious kidney
problems, he said.
"The nurses told me right away; the least effort on the part of the doctors
would have to be paid for," said Andreyevna with a sigh.
"I'm taking your money because I am living in poverty, a doctor told me,"
"Why refuse this money when you're offered it," said a doctor in one of
Moscow's biggest hospitals. The doctor -- who asked not to be identified --
said he was "very satisfied" with the "extra income" he made on the side.
He said that "in private clinics with bouquets of flowers in all the rooms,
the staff know how to be nice to the patients, how to talk to them and
smile at them. But the real specialists still work at the public medical
"Even the very rich people, like the billionaire Boris Berezovsky, come to
be treated at our hospital when they have serious health problems," he
Meanwhile, two heavily-armed guards were patrolling in the corridor. "They
are keeping an eye on a 'new Russian' -- read wealthy mafia boss -- wounded
in a gunbattle," whispered the patients.
April 28, 1999
Stepashin Wins in Cabinet Shuffle
By Valeria Korchagina
President Boris Yeltsin promoted his loyal Interior Minister Sergei
Stepashin to first deputy prime minister Tuesday, a move seen as an attempt
by the president to increase his power over Prime Minister Yevgeny
Stepashin replaces Vadim Gustov, who was dismissed suddenly Tuesday.
In his new post, Stepashin will be responsible for the conduct of elections
and relations with Russia's regions, while continuing to fulfill his duties
as Russia's top policeman, presidential spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin said.
"The president thinks that his principal task is to conduct clean and honest
elections." Yakushkin said.
Gustov's dismissal was the first reshuffle of high-ranking Cabinet members
since the appointment of the Primakov government in September.
Some suggested it was a gentle warning to the State Duma, parliament's lower
house, which is due to vote on Yeltsin's impeachment on May 12.
"It is a demonstration on Yeltsin's part. And the dismissal is a clear sign
to Duma that further more drastic dismissals can follow," said Andrei
Ryabov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Effectively, Stepashin's power in the government is second only to
Primakov's. The only Cabinet member of similar rank is First Deputy Prime
Minister Yury Maslyukov, a Communist who has the support of the
Gustov, who has played a low-key role in the government, was considered the
most expendable of Primakov's deputies. Yet analysts said his dismissal
appeared to change the balance of power in the government slightly in
Stepashin, 47, said he met with Yeltsin on Tuesday to discuss the
appointment and the president was "particularly concerned with the upcoming
elections and specifically with ways to prevent criminals getting into
power," Interfax reported.
Relations with the regions, Yakushkin said, will be an especially important
task in the light of the election later this year to the Duma. "Regional
leaders are planning to play a serious role in them," the Kremlin spokesman
Relations with the regions was one of the vaguely defined areas under
Gustov's care, as well as Russia's youth and the remote north.
To Gustov, a former governor of the Leningrad region, his dismissal came as
a shock. He also met Tuesday with Yeltsin and "there was no talk about
dismissal," Gustov was quoted by Interfax as saying.
Immediately after Yeltsin issued his decree appointing Stepashin, Primakov
called an emergency meeting of his deputies. Primakov, who also met Tuesday
with the president, had been told of the change in his government ahead of
time, the government press office said.
Speculations of a Cabinet shuffle have been floating around with various
degrees of intensity for a number of weeks. When asked whether there will be
further changes, Yakushkin said that "questions concerning staff in the
government have always been Yeltsin's prerogative."
Sergei Markov, the director of the Institute for Political Studies, said
Yeltsin was likely unhappy with Gustov's work on building good relations
with regional leaders.
"It was Gustov who allowed regional governors to unite into political blocs.
And now it is simple - you did a bad job, got your "F" and it's now time to
leave," Markov said.
Illustrating Markov's point, Yeltsin spoke Tuesday with two of the most
influential regional leaders, who recently have formed political movements
joined by numerous other heads of Russia's regions and aimed at
participating in parliamentary and possibly presidential elections.
Yeltsin met with Samara region Governor Konstantin Titov and telephoned
Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev, the president's spokesman said.
The appointment of Stepashin also could be seen as a slap at Moscow Mayor
Yury Luzhkov, who has been courting both regional leaders and their new
Stepashin's appointment came the day after he was down in southern Russia
stepping up security measures on the Chechen border.
The interior minister has been Yeltsin's ally for many years. Stepashin
supported the president during the October 1993 confrontation with the
Supreme Soviet when Yeltsin used tanks to dislodge rebellious deputies
barricaded in the White House.
In 1995, Stepashin lost his job as head of the Federal Security Service
after a hostage crisis in southern Russia staged by Chechen rebels.
He returned to the government in 1997 when he was appointed justice
minister, and last year he moved to the Interior Ministry.
Gustov was invited to join Primakov's new government in September and quit
his post as governor of the Leningrad region to do so. Although elected as
an independent candidate, he enjoyed the support of the Communist Party and
thus was a convenient candidate to join the government after the August 1998
Gustov, 50, said that he was planning to remain in the political arena and
would run for office, although he did not specify which one.
Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1999
From: Jack Kollmann <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: JRL 3260 #3/Moscow the Third Rome.
FINALLY, JRL gets to the important stuff! I refer, of course, to Dusko
Doder's mention of the idea of Moscow as the Third Rome (JRL 3260 #3).
Most historians, including Martin Malia, whom Doder cites, have interpreted
the idea as calling for and justifying Muscovy's expansion: it was
Muscovy's sacred duty, so to speak, to be aggressive and expansionist.
Without meaning to downplay the fact that Muscovy expanded at the expense
of it's neighbors, indeed all the way across Siberia to the Pacific Ocean,
permit me to set the Third Rome idea in its original context.
The Pskovian monk Filofei (Philotheus) penned a long letter to the Moscow
grand prince sometime in the late 15th/early 16th centuries -- my own
guesstimate is around 1510, which was during the reign of Vasilii III, and
at the time that Moscow was absorbing Pskov into Muscovy. If you read the
entire letter (few do -- it's long and rambling), its underlying message is
clear: Filofei is reminding the grand prince of his sacred duty to guard
and preserve the last Orthodox kingdom on earth -- Rome fell;
Constantinople, the "second Rome," has fallen to the "godless Turks"
(1453); and, echoing the completion of the mysterious Trinity, Moscow as
the third and final "Rome" shall never fall. In my opinion, there is
nothing in the letter calling for aggression or expansion. Quite the
contrary, Filofei's message concerns internal policy: he is cautioning the
grand prince to respect the integrity of the Church and the territories of
Muscovy. My own interpretation is that Filofei, toadying up to his new or
soon-to-be grand prince, is urging the latter not to treat Pskov with the
kind of harshness that Novgorod had suffered a few decades earlier.
Summary observations. When Filofei mentions Moscow as the Third Rome, he
is calling on the grand prince to protect and preserve God's last kingdom
on earth until the Second Coming, the Last Judgement. The Third Rome
passage is brief, buried in the middle of a long and haphazardly organized
series of admonitions (the next passage after the Third Rome one is about
the grand prince's obligation to rid his realm of the horrible and
widespread sin of sodomy -- a typical admonition going back to Byzantine
History of the Third Rome idea. Towards the middle of the 16th century,
Muscovite image makers, including Metropolitan Makarii, assembled and
concocted plenty of myths justifying Moscow's greatness -- for example, the
myth that the Moscow grand princely family was descended from a brother of
Augustus Ceasar -- but not once, to my knowledge, was the Third Rome idea
ever touted in the 16th century (I haven't researched this topic in several
years -- as I recall there may be a couple of copies of Filofei's full
letter dating from the 16th century, but no separate citation of the Third
Rome idea). A more prominent analogy described Moscow as the "New
Jerusalem." A few citations of the Third Rome idea can be found after the
16th century, but it was not until the 19th century that historians fixed
upon the idea and concluded, quite without evidence, that the idea had long
been operative as justifying Russian expansion (one could cite other
inventions of 19th-century historians as they attempted to analyze
16th-century Muscovy, such as the "Chosen Council" that purportedly advised
the grand prince/tsar).
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the idea of Moscow the Third Rome took on
a life it had not previously enjoyed, and a significance beyond what
Filofei originally intended. The notion that the Third Rome idea justifies
Muscovite expansion has more to do with 19th- and 20th-century
historiography (the "gathering of the Russian lands") than with the thought
world of 15th- or 16th-century Muscovy. If you had gone into the Kremlin
in, say, 1560, after Muscovy's conquest of Kazan' and Astrakhan, and asked
what the locals thought of the notion of Moscow as the Third Rome, I
venture to say that you would have gotten blank, uncomprehending stares. I
don't mean to say that the notion that Muscovy being God's chosen kingdom on
earth was irrelevant as an underlying justification for expansion
(especially over the Muslim Tatars), but the Third Rome idea was simply not
referred to at the time.
China-Russia Border Disputes Solved
April 27, 1999
BEIJING (AP) -- China and Russia have completed an exhaustive demarcation of
their borders, resolving territorial disputes that brought the neighbors to
blows as recently as 30 years ago, a Russian official said Tuesday.
A Russian-Chinese border demarcation commission was to disband Thursday after
seven years of work that resulted in two treaties and 175 detailed maps and
supporting documents that together weigh about 100 pounds, Russian delegation
chief Genrikh Kireev told reporters.
All the documents have been delivered to the countries' political leaders for
their signature, Kireev said. He did not know when the agreements would be
The commission put up more than 2,084 border signs and markers along the
2,600-mile eastern border, from Mongolia to the Tumen River near the Sea of
Japan, and the 33-mile western border, from Kazakstan to Mongolia, Kireev
Some 2,444 islands on rivers along the border were also divided, with 1,163
going to Russia and 1,181 going to China, he said.
Despite the meticulous work, Russia and China still have not agreed what to
do with three large disputed islands, two on the Ussuri River near Khabarovsk
and another on the Argun River. Kireev said their fate will be decided in the
future and until then remain under Russian control.
Territorial disputes have plagued Russian and Chinese relations ever since
they signed their first border agreement 300 years ago. In 1969, at the
height of Sino-Soviet rivalry for the allegiance of the socialist world,
their troops skirmished along the Ussuri River.
Russian Prosecutor Explains Targets
April 27, 1999
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's embattled top prosecutor said his anti-corruption
probe was aimed at people close to President Boris Yeltsin, but again stopped
short of naming names, according to an interview published Tuesday.
Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov said his inquiry, which focused on alleged
bribe-taking by top officials who awarded large construction contracts to the
Swiss company Mabetex, contained many ``delicate'' issues ``concerning people
close to the president.''
In an interview with the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, Skuratov mentioned
controversial business tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who reportedly has close
links to Yeltsin's family, as a driving force behind efforts to oust him.
``He wasn't alone, other people also took part in that, including those close
to the president,'' Skuratov said.
Mabetex and Kremlin officials have denied any wrongdoing, and no one has been
Berezovsky was officially charged with money laundering relating to alleged
embezzlement of funds from the Aeroflot airline. He was barred from leaving
Moscow after being questioned by prosecutors for several hours Monday.
The tycoon insisted he was innocent and said a case against him was
politically-loaded and launched with Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's
Berezovsky met privately with Primakov on Monday night -- the first such
reported meeting during their months-long power battle. Neither side would
give any details of the meeting.
Yeltsin has long tried to fire Skuratov, but he can't do that without
approval of parliament's upper house. It has twice voted to keep the
prosecutor on the job.
After the first vote in March, state television released a tape that showed a
man who looked like Skuratov having sex with two women identified as
Yeltsin then suspended Skuratov pending an investigation into allegations
that criminal suspects had provided him with women in exchange for dropping
investigations against them.
Skuratov hasn't denied that he was the man shown on the tape, but called it a
provocation by his enemies.
Yeltsin said the suspension order remains in force despite parliament's
repeated refusal to fire Skuratov, and the prosecutor has been barred from
entering his office.
Also Tuesday, Yeltsin fired Vadim Gustov as first deputy prime minister and
named Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin to the post. Stepashin will remain
head of the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the national police
Stepashin will take over Gustov's duties of monitoring relations with
provinces and former Soviet republics, presidential spokesman Dmitry
Yeltsin also approved Stepashin's call to effectively seal the border with
breakaway Chechnya to stem a wave of abductions and other violence. Chechnya
considers itself independent, but Moscow insists the territory remains part
The Independent (UK)
28 April 1999
[for personal use only]
Prophet of the absurd
A pig who goes to the moon. A soldier who tells the future through his
buttocks. Victor Pelevin's satirical novels of post-Soviet Russia are
bestsellers - and have made him the reluctant heir apparent to Gogol. By
Victor Pelevin is the future of the Russian novel. His satires take the
temperature of post-Soviet Russia, in all its amoral, dystopian chaos. The
Clay Machine-Gun, just translated into English, has sold more than 200,000
copies on its native territory. Generation P, recently published, has
shifted 70,000 in less than a month, and sits proudly at the top of the
bestseller list. In a reading culture where the stock-market rating of
literary fiction has never been lower, he is a phenomenal blip.
In Russia, this sort of pre-eminence brings with it a practically official
position, like the patriarch of the orthodox church. Pelevin ought to be
apprenticed to the prophet Solzhenitsyn, making ready to take over as the
conscience of the motherland, in the footsteps of Yevtuschenko, Gorky and
Tolstoy. He should also be a household face. But here he is, freshly landed
in London, doing what he never does on home turf. He's giving an interview,
and having his picture taken.
In The Clay Machine-Gun, Pelevin takes a hilarious swipe at the cult of
literary celebrity. We're in the middle of nowhere in the civil war of
1919. One night, a ramshackle branch of communist irregulars are
entertained by a soldier who can tell the future by talking through the
cheeks of his posterior. Pyotr, Pelevin's narrator, sees in his gift a grim
prophecy for the future of the arts. "Poems will only be considered
interesting if it is known on the basis of sound documentary evidence that
their author has two pricks, or at the very least, that he is capable of
reciting them through his arse."
The novel commutes between 1919, with Russia in revolutionary turmoil, and
1991, with Russia in counter-revolutionary turmoil. Its cautionary
structure invites the reader to be aware that "a culture constantly
reproduces the same forms". Thus Pyotr's fears for literature at the birth
of Communism remain just as current after the death of Communism. "Poetry
ceased to exist," says Pelevin of the coming of the free market. "Then only
pulp started to sell. First it was Western pulp, and then Russians started
to produce their own pulp, which is much worse, actually." With writers now
having to flog themselves in bookshops and on television, Pelevin's choice
has been to withdraw entirely from domestic promotional chores and abstain
from the babel of public discourse.
"For me it's just more convenient. For some reason it's believed that
writers are interesting as persons. I don't think that I'm an interesting
person. When you are asked what you think about this and that, in 90 per
cent of cases you don't think anything about it at all." He has even fallen
into the habit of visiting a monastery in Korea for weeks at a time to
empty his mind of that final 10 per cent. I ask him when, with his atheist
upbringing, he discovered Buddhism. "Oh. I think a couple of lives ago."
Hence the sunglasses. "I am naturally shy. I hate physical attention. It's
torture. I am wearing these sunglasses because it's the only way to be
photographed without being photographed." It makes him look like a
character from A Life of Insects, his novel set in a Black Sea holiday camp
in which a ragbag of low-lifers - tarts, tramps, pushers - mutate back and
forth into varieties of insect.
Pelevin is at a loss to explain his popularity. "I just write books that I
would like to read myself. Reading and writing is actually the same
process. When you write you are just the first reader. Perhaps my taste
just coincided with the taste of the majority." But it's clear that his
finger-on-the-pulse iconoclasm appeals to the perestroika generation, who
have only ever known freedom of speech (Pelevin has an unfashionable
admiration for Gorbachev). In Generation P, all politicians are
computer-generated images, "like Max Headroom, but on very sophisticated
Pelevin's engagement with the apparatus and imagery of low-brow culture has
infuriated the critical pharisees who zealously protect the Russian
literary tradition. "This is bullshit about the great Russian tradition,
because if there is any Russian literary tradition it is a constant denial
of everything that was done before, and that's how it develops." Having
said that, with his surreal fusion of oriental and sci-fi, there's no
mistaking Pelevin's place in the absurdist pantheon alongside Gogol and
Bulgakov ("a genius").
In Omon Ra, his first novel to gain international attention, Pelevin
dissected the Party's lunatic fringe in a story about a hog whose ambition
is to travel to outer space. "I realised once and for ever that only
weightlessness could give man genuine freedom," says the hog, and pretty
soon he's drafted by the Soviet space programme to man an "unmanned"
one-way mission to the dark side of the moon. It's a marvellous fable about
the lies disseminated in the name of ideology, and the involuntary heroes
that ideologues thrust upon innocents.
As the son of a military officer, Pelevin grew up among defenders of the
faith, although he says "no one believed in the ideology". His father, who
died this February, was a colonel in air defence, and Pelevin spent the
summers of his childhood on a Moscow army base. "I really loved the place
actually. It was like a big playground full of soldiers." Though you could
mistake him for a squaddie, with his cropped hair and combat trousers, he
didn't love army life so much that he wanted to join up himself. To avoid
military service, he enlisted at the age of 15 at the Moscow Institute of
Power Engineering, and with the resultant qualifications found himself
working on a project to protect Mig fighters from tropical insects. "We
spent two or three months in so-called military camps playing cards and
smoking dope. Sometimes they took you to an airfield where you would relax
by lying on the wing of some fighter. I guess I killed a couple of insects
one summer lying on the wing."
He took up writing in his mid- twenties - he is now 36 - because "I didn't
want to go to work every morning. Literature is the kind of art where
you're left absolutely on your own. If you grew up in a communist society
it's normal that you get so many psychic traumas that it makes it hard for
you to communicate with other people. You have a lot of complexes. You are
crippled by the time you are grown up. Writing helps you to cure yourself.
It's like those long-distance runners who can't stop running because their
bodies start to produce a drug. At first it's an effort and then it
provides you with the shortest access to endorphins. You get high, start to
laugh, and become very friendly to other people."
The Clay Machine-Gun was published three years ago, and yet there's no
overlooking its relevance to the latest imbroglio in Yugoslavia, although
Pelevin wouldn't dream of saying this back home. "The Serbs talk about this
great Slavic brotherhood every time they are in trouble. In 1914 Russia got
involved in war because of some killing in Sarajevo. After that Russia had
a revolution and 70 years of communism. It was the direct result. I hope
that the people in Russia are not total idiots. I hope that they remember
some lessons. There's something really terrible about war in Europe - it
sounds strange. But war has its own engine. You never know what will happen
next." Spoken like a true Russian prophet.
April 28, 1999
ESSAY: Americans Safe, for Some Reason, in Moscow
By Matt Bivens
Matt Bivens is the managing editor of The Moscow Times.
An editor at Moskovskiye Novosti called me two weeks ago to ask whether it
was true: Was The Moscow Times really advising our readers not to get caught
reading the paper in public, because of NATO's war in Yugoslavia?
Not exactly, I said. But I also understood where that rumor had come from.
Ever since NATO attacked the Serbs - and protesting Muscovites attacked the
U.S. Embassy - there has been some uneasiness in the American expatriate
community. About a month ago, at the height of the embassy violence, panicky
rumors were making the rounds. All of these rumors were duly passed on to
the reporters and editors of The Moscow Times: An American banker at
Troika-Dialog had been viciously beaten by crowds furious over the bombing
of the Serbs! The Starlite Diner, a popular restaurant for Americans, had
been savaged in a pogrom of protest! An employee of the computer company
Terralink had been nearly lynched on the metro when his fellow passengers
realized he was an American - because he was reading The Moscow Times in
Research by editors and reporters, in particular by our reporter Oksana
Yablokova, turned up the real stories. The Troika-Dialog banker had not been
savagely beaten; he had simply had a heated verbal exchange with someone
over Kosovo. The Terralink employee who barely escaped the metro with his
life was shocked and alarmed when we contacted him - he couldn't believe
this trivial incident might make the newspapers, as all that had happened
was that some babushka had yelled at him.
Diplomats, police, foreign business associations - none reported any rise in
violence. And the lunch crowds at the Starlite Diner were as placid as ever.
A survey released last week of foreign companies working in Russia seemed to
agree well with our earlier reporting. Of 55 companies that responded to the
queries of the American Chamber of Commerce, almost half had taken
additional security precautions because of the war in Yugoslavia. But even
though they are warily checking all incoming mail, almost none of these
companies could cite a Yugoslavia-related problem of any kind.
That's not to say that being cautious is somehow cowardly or a bad idea.
After all, there was a botched grenade attack on the U.S. Embassy in late
March and a car bomb attack that blew out the windows of the U.S. and
British consulates in Yekaterinburg this Saturday. Russian media also
reported about two weeks ago that St. Petersburg police found four kilograms
of TNT near the U.S consul general's residence there, although police and
consular officials have refused to confirm that.
Nevertheless, I can't say I put much stock in formulaic warnings like those
ritually put out by the U.S. Embassy these days. Americans in Russia should
avoid clothing "such as team logo jackets or T-shirts that identifies you as
an American," avoid speaking English on the metro, avoid anti-NATO
demonstrations and decline to discuss Kosovo with strangers.
"If you observe a demonstration of any kind, leave the area immediately and
stay away. If unable to leave the area, seek refuge in a public building
until the demonstration passes," an embassy warning issued over the weekend
suggests. "Should you be approached in public by someone wishing to engage
you in a conversation about the events in Yugoslavia, politely excuse
yourself and walk away."
I understand and respect the embassy's motivation, but this is cookie-cutter
advice - it could have been pulled from a State Department manual about how
to frame the perfect warning memo. And I particularly dislike the bit about
how all Americans should decline to discuss NATO's actions in public. I
personally think Americans are at their best when they earnestly explain
their politics to foreigners. (The embassy warning also overlooks that many
Americans in Moscow probably agree with Russia and disagree with Washington
on this one).
Russians are very good at separating the actions of individual people from
that of a government. I just don't see mobs of Russians attacking tourists
from Idaho on Red Square; quite simply, it's not that kind of a place. I
suspect that whatever the rumors and rhetoric, there is no more reason to
expect to fall victim to a politically-motivated assault here than there
would be in Los Angeles or IRA-plagued London or any other major city.
Unless, of course, you have a really broad definition of "victim." Consider
an e-mail we received from a U.S. citizen who was dutifully reporting yet
another "Kosovo-related incident."
Dan Hites, an American who usually resides in Sochi, was in Moscow and had
business at the U.S. Embassy. But the embassy was closed because of the
protests, and Hites - wearing a cowboy hat, brown leather jacket and blue
jeans - ended up sitting outside, watching the egg-throwing and waiting for
America's doors to open.
"I should have left earlier, knowing that I might be in danger," Hites wrote
melodramatically. "Suddenly, from behind me it happened ... I was severely
attacked. A babushka had noticed me ... She scolded me for a couple of
minutes." Hites went on to say it was "a real battle fending off the
babushka, so shortly after she broke off her attack, I decided to leave."
Hites' is the right attitude, because his recognizes - with the sort of
humor Washington has always lacked, and these days more than ever - the
difference between "danger" and "discomfort."
And why should things be comfortable? If the babushka - that conscience of
Russia - wants to cry "shame," that seems only fair. An American-led
coalition is bombing civilian targets in another country without any legal
mandate - and apparently without much rhyme or reason. This has happened
because we Americans have let ourselves get bored with Bill Clinton's casual
use of cruise missiles ("are we bombing Iraq? Again? Change the channel!");
because we have shown zero interest in exploring why we even need a NATO;
and because so many of us, myself included, suffer from this delusion -
America's greatest strength and her greatest weakness - that all of the
world's problems are solvable.
In fact, we don't even have to understand the world's problems to solve
them. Ethnic disputes in the Balkans? Simple! Just tell them to stop
fighting! Economic difficulties in Russia? Just put your trust in the pure
beauty of an unregulated market! Steel workers in America losing their jobs
to competition? Oh, that's bad - regulate the market, keep out that cheap
Russian steel! Steel workers in Russia losing their jobs? Easy - send food
Moscow is not dangerous for Americans. But sometimes I'm amazed it's not. In
the end, probably the only thing that keeps us unharmed from year to year is
that, like holy fools, we are at least sincere in our cheerful and earnest
Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1999
From: "Kathryn Laurell" <email@example.com> (by way of David Johnson
Subject: Local businessmen protest in Bryansk
The chasm between the rich and the poor is one of the phrases used
frequently to define Russia today. But there is also the small,
middle-class business that would mend the chasm and is finally desperate
enough to fight for it.
And not only Moscow is the battlefield. In Bryansk Region that used to be
one of the staunchest Communist strongholds, local businessmen decided to
present their complaints to the public view - and those had little to do
On a clear Sunday afternoon, a group of people some five hundred strong
stood solemnly on a large square, listening intently, trying to catch
through blaring music what a few well-dressed businessmen had to say.
It was a meeting that was originally planned as a democratic forces’ strike
back at the Communist regional administration, an unusual thing in itself
for a Red Belt city like Bryansk. Those plans did not come true. There were
few political slogans on the meeting that discussed what was far more
important to its participants - economy.
“I for one have no problems with Communists,” Vladimir Solovyov, guest
speaker and Moscow-based leader of a businessmen party, said, earning
applause from his audience that featured many former Communists. “We must
not do the same thing that Bolsheviks do and yell that if you are of some
party, that means you are bad. The important thing is to be honest and be
willing to work.”
No single age or occupation limited those participants. Pensioners stood by
the side of young students, businesspeople near the unemployed. As they
poured out their grievances of the unpaid salaries, stopped factories,
favoritism toward monopolistic companies, they repeated the main slogan of
that meeting - We Cannot Continue This Way.
The story began when a local businessman, Mr Alexander Kolomeitsev,
realized that his fight against the regional administration that
arbitrarily hampered his business - a number of local stores, - was a
“When [the governor Lodkin] was elected, I was in a great mood, I prepared
a few suggestions and brought them to one of his deputies and said, Let’s
do this for the businesses, so that the region could rise up,” Kolomeitsev
remembered. “I did not divide them into left-wing and right-wing, I thought
this team had come to work. But we see what’s really going on.”
What was going on, he said, was that while companies dealing in retail had
to pay additional taxes, markets were flourishing, without taxes to pay,
pushing retail firms out of business. “We made an economic analysis,” he
said, “and found that the money mass is mainly brought to the market. But
there are no cash registers there, there is no control. So they evade
taxes. Stores are closing, and industry is not profitable - it fell by 4-5
times over the 2,5 years that Lodkin is governor. Those factories that are
more or less stable try to get under the wing of Moscow-based trade and
The deputy head of administration, Mr Andrei Karpov, admitted that the
local industry did indeed go through some hard times. “This region’s
factories worked mainly for defense,” he explained. “So when the Defense
Ministry stopped paying its bills, they found themselves in a tough
position.” But many, he said, especially the automobile factories, were
quick to recover.
Mr Karpov also assured that the governor’s team paid close attention to the
concerns of small business. “There is a council on small and medium-sized
businesses in the region,” he said. “It helps the private businesses,
supports them and offers them credits. Many people come to us with their
Mr Kolomeitsev, however, said it was arbitrary checks and robbing taxes
that he faced, and decided to find allies of like mind for the fight. First
he addressed his friend, Sergei Maslov, head of local officers’
organization and an indomitable opponent of the governor’s team.
Sergei Maslov headed the organization named With Honor, that dealed with
various problems officers might face - apartments and financial support
among others. “Our organization won 35 court cases to give apartments to
the soldiers,” he said. “But the executors of the court decisions would not
fulfill the verdicts and only refer to the administration, which already
owes us billions.”
The problems of his organization is not the only concern Mr Maslov had for
the city. In the region where the average life expectancy is 47 years and
where some 531 people died of using fake vodka last year alone, tax police
was unable to charge a company which allegedly produced some 200,000
bottles of fake vodka, Mr Maslov said.
“Our people are dying out, dying of bad-quality products, lack of money,
inability to get a job, so there is crime,” he mourned. “All of this can
lead to irreversible consequences.”
“We spoke to all the parties in the region,” Mr Kolomeitsev described,
“Yabloko, Democratic Choice of Russia, even LDPR and Bryntsalov’s party. We
said - the enemy of an enemy is a friend. Let’s unite and kick their ass.
A joint announcement of the forthcoming meeting was sent to the
administration by six organizations in the allotted time - 23 days before
the scheduled meeting. The rally itself was to feature various musicians
and open buffet. Oleg Shenkaryov, a prominent State Duma deputy and one of
the rally’s organizers, came to attend. Vladimir Solovyov, a star anchor of
the Moscow-based radio station Serebryany Dozhd, who had recently
registered a party for ready-to-work businessmen like Kolomeitsev, also
threw his support behind the rally.
The administration could not rightfully refuse, but it did not approve
either. It issued a statement, saying that the “planned activity
contradicts the rules and creates complications for the work of local
administrative buildings” such as a hotel or a library. Moreover, it cited
the cultural value of those buildings as another cause for concern.
Moreover, more and more parties pulled out of the original alliance, citing
the governor’s pressure, Mr Kolomeitsev said. Seven days before the rally,
Kolomeitsev, Maslov, Shenkaryov and Solovyov found themselves alone.
Worse yet, on the day of the rally fierce activity began on the central
square which was to house the meeting. Smooth asphalt was peeled away and
replaced with one equally smooth, road marks adorned the square where no
cars were allowed, and Soviet songs of sweet romance blared out of
None of that daunted some 500 people that gathered for the rally to speak
of their problems - unpaid salaries and pensions, corruption and crime, and
the hardships of the stopped factories. The political affiliations of the
administration were not used and were sometimes even doubted.
“What kind of Communists are they?” Pyotr Luzhkov, a railroad worker,
demanded of the audience. “They got themselves apartments and money and
took our constitutional rights away from us. People faint with hunger,
people live badly, and they increase their own salaries.”
“I asked, what factories still work around here? They said, a poultry
farm,” Solovyov told the public after a brief conference with the front
rows. “Do they pay well there? Yes. Who is the director? A young guy, they
say, he’s even invited to Moscow. No one cares whether he is a Communist or
a supporter of Zhirinovsky. Everyone cares about his directorship. So work
- without work, people drink themselves to death.”
This vein pleasantly surprised many of the older participants who expected
Communist-bashing, and the young ones who cared little about politics. The
ensuing mood inspired the organizers.
“We would like to make another event on May 9, as a holiday for the
veterans, to help them instead of giving them the slops the authorities
give them,” Mr Maslov said.
The regional administration claimed indifference to the city’s first
protest rally in the last 2,5 years. “To put it mildly, this is such a
microscopic event,” Mr Karpov said. “It really should not attract any
Apr. 26, 1999
Stop Baiting Russia
By Rod Pounsett
NATO's decision to impose an oil embargo against Yugoslavia may be
tactically understandable in terms of its military objectives, but it is
politically suicidal if NATO is to avoid confrontation with Russia.
Russia is a main supplier of oil to Yugoslavia and says it will not
recognize any NATO imposed embargo. If NATO goes beyond making this a
voluntary embargo and tries to enforce the blockade, it could be setting
its warships against Russian tankers. Ship-to-ship encounters would almost
certainly then become head-to-head encounters with Moscow and suck Russia
into the conflict.
Washington and Brussels are banking too much on President Boris Yeltsin's
assurances that Russia does not want to get militarily involved in this
conflict. It is common knowledge that big game are at their most dangerous
when they are wounded. NATO should recognize it is dealing with a wounded
bear. Economic woes have weakened Russia's commercial and military
infrastructure and, perhaps even more importantly, dented its pride. And it
must still be regarded as big game, not least because of its substantial
NATO's action against Yugoslavia has dealt a severe blow to U.S.-Russia
relations. Anti-Western feelings are sweeping Russia, and not just because
of extremist Communist and nationalist agitators. As I have said before,
ordinary Russians are angry. They are angry partly because of what they see
as aggression against fellow Slavs, but more significantly because NATO has
blatantly disregarded Russia in its power play. Having suffered the
indignity of Russia constantly going in cap in hand to the international
money lenders so that their once proud nation can afford to merely feed
itself, it now sees its once mighty military machine being virtually
written off by NATO as irrelevant.
With a domestic landscape so bleak, mass unemployment and little hope for
the future there is a real risk ordinary Russians may arrive at the
conclusion they have nothing to lose from a confrontation with the West.
Especially if some rightwing extremist emerges to lead them into the fray.
We need only look into the history books to see just how easily this can
Russia came out of its Soviet nightmare believing cooperation with and
mimicry of the West would lead to greater security and a generally better
way of life. What Russians see now is their nation bankrupt, widespread
crime and corruption and Europe on the brink of a major war.
There is increasing support for the belief that Russia's current economic
plight and social disorder is the result of Western imposed disciplines and
too rapid change. They are also perceive cooperation and lowering of their
guard against the West as bringing even less security. For instance, NATO's
recent expansion to include former states of the Soviet block is broadly
seen as a potential increased threat to Russia.
It is all very well for Washington and Brussels to write off this anti-NATO
expansion as extremist inspired paranoia. But it does not take much of a
propaganda campaign for Russian politicians to put an entirely different
and convincing spin on such issues. Look how ordinary Russians have needed
little persuasion to label NATO's military campaign against Yugoslavia as
an illegal invasion of a sovereign state. Might not NATO consider Russia an
equally justifiable target in the future?
Stopping Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's persecution against the
Kosovo Albanians is a just cause. Moscow has no argument with that, neither
I am sure do most ordinary Russians. But NATO's strategy for cutting out
this cancer in the heart of Europe is dangerous surgery with high risk of
infection from the wounds, which could spread rapidly. Russia needs to be
brought more into the theater of operations not as a protagonist but as a
respected partner with the power and influence to heal.
Paying lip service to Russia's attempts to mediate with Belgrade is not
enough. Washington and Brussels must be more proactive in assisting Russia
along the alternative diplomatic path. Baiting Russia with further action
such as the proposed oil embargo is hardly designed to keep Moscow on
New York Times
April 27, 1999
[for personal use only]
Ukraine's Balancing Act
By IHOR JUNYK
Ihor Junyk is a lecturer in history at the University of Chicago.
CHICAGO -- The noise about a so-called Slavic Brotherhood made up of
Russia, Belarus and Yugoslavia is not likely to have much practical
influence in stopping NATO's air strikes in the Balkans. Yet the West
cannot afford to play down the threat such an alliance poses in one
crucial quarter: the battle for the support of Ukraine.
To date, the Ukrainians have walked a tightrope between East and West,
and played one off against the other. On March 12, the Ukrainian
Government officially welcomed the eastward expansion of NATO, expressing
hope that the addition of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic would
contribute to "the further promotion of the ideals of democracy and liberty
on our continent."
That same day, Leonid Kuchma, the President of Ukraine, was host to
Aleksandr Lukashenko, Belarus's authoritarian leader, who vigorously
condemned NATO's expansion and urged a united front of Russia, Belarus and
Ukraine to oppose the Western military alliance. Kuchma avoided commenting
on Lukashenko's more radical pronouncements, saying only that "it's a great
joy to welcome a good neighbor."
Kuchma was also noncommittal at a meeting of the Commonwealth of
Independent States, the loose grouping of former Soviet states, in early
April, where President Boris Yeltsin of Russia urged a "strategic
partnership" between Moscow and Kiev to oppose NATO's Balkan policy.
This fence-sitting makes political sense domestically. Although Russia
is their most important trading partner, the Ukrainian people are deeply
divided. Opinion polls have shown that Russian-speaking Ukrainians, who
mostly live in the eastern part of the country where there is nostalgia
for the Soviet Union, are twice as likely to side with their Slavic
brothers as they are with NATO. But the same polls show that Ukrainian
speakers, many of whom live in the western part of the country and have
historical ties to the West dating from the Hapsburg Empire, are twice as
likely to support NATO.
With national elections approaching this fall, Kuchma knows that he
cannot come down on one side or the other without losing half the
electorate. As a result, he has condemned NATO's "military interference"
in Yugoslavia, for example, while continuing to follow through on
pro-Western policies, like agreeing to open a permanent NATO military
mission in the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and to be host to a NATO
peacekeeping exercise this August in Lviv.
This juggling act is increasingly difficult to keep up, especially
because of the country's economic problems. Ukraine's gross domestic
product may contract by 9 percent this year and inflation could skyrocket
by 70 percent, according to one independent estimate. Also, unemployment
is rising dramatically, and, as in Russia, the Government owes back wages
and pensions to millions of people.
Still, public opinion has not turned decisively against the West as it
has in countries like Russia and Belarus. In part this may be because the
Clinton Administration has recognized the geopolitical importance of
Ukraine, which has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign
The West should seize this moment to push Ukraine into closer contact
with NATO and the European Union. Instead of threatening to strip Ukraine
of its Council of Europe membership for failing to carry out political
and economic reforms, the Europeans should be taking more positive steps
to encourage democratization and discourage corruption.
As the situation in Yugoslavia has shown, even trouble in small states
can destabilize Europe -- and Ukraine is a big state. Even worse would be
if Ukraine joined a coalition of disgruntled rogue nations working to
undermine Western interests and values. In case of increased hostilities,
Ukraine's role as a buffer between Russia and NATO's Central European
states would become even more crucial.
Ukraine is now sitting on a fence. It is up to the West whether the
country lands in Europe or falls into the Slavic Brotherhood.